Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season – Part Three

BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS
A ROUNDUP – PART THREE

 

Here’s the third of our kids’ Christmas books roundup. There’s really something here for everyone from ages 3 to 12 (we’ve even included some board books for the littlest ones). So please take a look, buy the books at your local independent bookseller then let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!

 

Nativity by Cynthia Rylant Cover ImageNativity
Written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Cynthia Rylant’s Nativity combines the story of Jesus’ birth with well known passages from His ministry in beautiful text adapted from chapters of the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke. Rendered in acrylic paints, Rylant’s colorful and straightforward illustrations allow young readers to experience the poetry of the King James translation of the Holy Bible.  

The story begins on the cover flap:  “A child is born…” which brings us to a pastoral setting. The animals are white and cloudy; human figures are faceless but, ironically, it’s the simplicity of their forms that communicates the scene: shepherds with staff in hand guarding their flock. As we follow their visit to the Baby Jesus, we notice familiar features, such as the star and wise men, absent from this Nativity scene. As a result,  the presence of shepherds are highlighted all the more; they dominate over half the book — a fact I thought was interesting and appropriate, considering Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). Shepherds are spreading the news of Jesus’ birth to passers-by; in the privacy of their homes, they are wondering “at those things which were told them” by “the angel of the Lord.” Young readers may not understand the deep theological matters raised with the coming of Christ, but they can grasp its contemplative effect in the simple and humble bow of a shepherd’s head.

In addition to such quiet gestures, bold colors also help children connect with Scripture. As the angels proclaim peace on earth and “good will toward men” the sky is illuminated with a rainbow of warm, exciting colors-the colors of pure joy. My personal favorite is the way purple is used to illustrate the most poignant points of the story. Against a backdrop of rich purple, Mother Mary “kept these things” she witnessed “and pondered them in her heart.” The color appears once more when the story shifts to show Jesus as a grown man preaching His famous words (taken from the Sermon on the Mount): “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Both these scenes express powerful and profound principles that invite reflection and meditation. The depth of the color calls readers to pause and wonder about the mystery of God and the peace of His Presence. If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas story, this is a book I’d highly recommend.  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Ninja Claus book cover imageNinja Claus!
Written and illustrated by Arree Chung
(Henry Holt and Company, $17.99, ages 4-7)

Every child hopes to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus placing presents under the Christmas tree or filling their stockings with candies and trinkets on Christmas Eve. Most share the tradition of putting out cookies and milk for the jolly old fellow. There are however, probably a lot fewer who, like Maxwell, a mischievous young ninja, in Ninja Claus!, set traps in an attempt to capture Santa. Utilizing nets, a fishing pole, ropes, hula hoops, and his best ninja tricks, Maxwell manages to capture his dog and his father nibbling the cookies, but he’s swept off to bed by his mother before he can capture Santa.

Arree Chung has written and illustrated yet another Ninja picture book, his third in the series, that is bound to be a hit. With his deft use of acrylic paint and Adobe Photoshop, Chung sets the tone of the night before Christmas, with only the lights from the tree illuminating the pages. And his writing? He had me holding my breath and praying that Christmas wouldn’t be ruined for little Maxwell. And then came the big exhale. The greatest ninja of all, Santa Claus, came and went unnoticed. Hands down, this book is a delight.  • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

The Nutcracker in Harlem book cover imageThe Nutcracker in Harlem
Written by T.E. McMorrow
Illustrated by James Ransome
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

In The Nutcracker in Harlem, Tchaikovsky’s ballet comes to life in the dreams of a Marie growing up in a musical family during the Harlem Renaissance. I love the illustrations, by multiple award-winner James Ransome, most of all. In the opening pages, author McMorrow and illustrator Ransome invite us into a bright and boisterous living room, crowded with happy people enjoying music and each other. The clothing and hats in bold blues, greens, and reds transport us to the 1920s. A Christmas party is underway. Marie’s uncle is playing the piano, her parents are dancing, and Miss Addie is singing. Everyone encourages Marie to participate, but she hangs back, shyly watching and listening. The atmosphere is so real and wonderful it makes me feel nostalgic for a party I never attended. When the story shifts to the world of Marie’s dream, the deep, vibrant watercolor illustrations keep the mood warm and happy even when what could be more frightening elements — such as an army of mice — dance into view. By the end, the dream, combined with the magic of Christmas, gives Marie the courage to join in the jazzy celebration.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares book cover imageRed and Lulu
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Thank you, Matt Tavares! As a former New Yorker who experienced the majesty of the Norway Spruce at Rockefeller Center most years of my childhood, I was transported by Red and Lulu to Manhattan, not unlike the tree in this simple yet very moving story about love lost then found again during Christmastime. Red and Lulu, cardinals inspired by those in Tavares’ own backyard, make a massive evergreen their home. It’s there the pair see the seasons change in all their glory while always remaining close to the shelter that nature has so kindly provided.  “Once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: ‘O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree.'” Then, while Red is away, the tree is cut down and Lulu clings to it not understanding what is happening. Written with few words that speak volumes and powerful and poignant illustrations, the story follows Red as he tracks the tree on its journey. Unlike adult readers sharing the story with their children, Red doesn’t realize the significance of his home being transported to New York City. He searches high and low to find Lulu amidst the twinkling lights, falling snow, skyscrapers and crowds. As carolers sing their special song, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Red’s determination is rewarded as the magic of the song, the holiday season and the Yuletide spirit in this famous city help reunite the cardinal couple and fill young (and old) readers’ hearts with joy. Don’t skip the back matter which includes facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition and an author’s note. Visit the Candlewick website to see a book trailer, some interior artwork and order the book for a 25% discount using the code CANDLEWICK at checkout.   • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Weird but True Christmas from NatGeoKids cover imageWeird but True! Christmas: 300 Festive Facts 
to Light Up The Holiday
(National Geographic Kids; $8.99, Ages 8-12 )

Here’s another great stocking stuffer for fans of outrageous facts. There are dozens of paper back books in the Weird but True! series and it’s no surprise since they are so entertaining. This one is no exception. Just when they think they’ve read all the facts, they’ll want to dive back in to share them and spread the holiday cheer. Included are some whammies such as “One family passed down the same fruitcake since 1878,” or “A whole sheep’s head is considered a  holiday delicacy in Norway.” Do your children know that “In India people decorate banana trees for Christmas,” or that “During the Australian gold rush, people baked gold nuggets into their Christmas pudding for good luck?” As can be expected from any National Geographic book, the photographs included are fantastic as are the added illustrations. The 208 page count should not put off any child since the info is written in large font and the graphics are bold and bright.Weird but True! Christmas can be read quickly to get a general overview then returned to when specific facts require further study. If your tweens cannot get enough of all these fun facts, they can download the National Geographic Kids Weird but True app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad!    • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other Recommended Christmas Books This Year Include:

This Little Reindeer
Written by Aly Fronis
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Christmas Eve
Annie Auerbach
(Barron’s Children’s Books; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

 

 

Don’t Push The Button!: A Christmas Adventure
Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
(Jabberwocky Kids; $8.99, Ages 2+ )

 

 

 

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Two

Holiday Gift Books Guide

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Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season – Part Two

BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS
A ROUNDUP – PART TWO

 

As promised, Good Reads With Ronna continues this year’s roundups of great Christmas books and activities to share with your children before and during the holiday. There are so many terrific new books to choose from that we felt it was important to review as many as possible so you could find some special ones that appeal to everyone in the family.

 

 

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Emma Randall cover imageThe Twelve Days of Christmas
Illustrated by Emma Randall
(Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages3-7)

The traditional Christmas song about a partridge in a pear tree can get to feeling a bit cluttered by the time seven lords are leaping around, but in The Twelve Days of Christmas, Emma Randall’s illustrations are a breath of fresh winter air, clear and colorful throughout. For example, each leaf and pear in the partridge’s tree is separate, forming a lovely mosaic that could be Swedish or Ukrainian. The characters are drawn in a homey style that reminds me of Jessie from Pixar’s “Toy Story,” with old-fashioned winter afternoon-wear replacing cowgirl duds. There are plenty of visual details to search for and enjoy, and of course you can sing the song while searching if caroling is your jam.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

 

Susan Jeffers Jingle Bells cover imageJingle Bells
Written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Susan Jeffers offers a new interpretation of another classic holiday song, Jingle Bells. Her cover illustration gives us the main characters: a boy carrying a gift, a girl snuggling a dog, a beautiful horse, and lots of snow, including raised sparkling snowflakes just asking to be touched by little fingers. Open the book and the front endpaper lays out the path the sled will follow, from the children’s barn, over a river, through a forest and on to a little house. Working with such a familiar song, Jeffers takes the opportunity to include new things for readers to ponder. The children would like to stay bundled up in the sled, but their dog is determined to discover every winter animal playing or hiding in the white world outside the sleigh. Readers can look for the animals, too; the last two pages identify them for reference. Near the end, we find out where the children are going and who will receive their gift. In a surprise, the story shares some insight about what it might be like to have a famous neighbor. Add this one to your songbook collection.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

A Charlie Brown Christmas Deluxe Edition cover imageA Charlie Brown Christmas
Deluxe Edition
(Part of Peanuts)
By Charles M. Schulz
Adapted by: Maggie Testa / Illustrated by: Vicki Scott
(Simon Spotlight; $19.99, Ages: 4-99)

I tried to share my favorite holiday television special with my own kids twenty years ago — and it didn’t really work. Maybe the animation techniques or sound quality didn’t hold up, or maybe I had loved it partly because I could only see it once a year, whenever CBS decided to air it. At any rate, my kids couldn’t relate to my anticipation. I opened A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe Edition (Peanuts) hoping this book might be a way to share the Peanuts magic more successfully with my grandchildren. I’ll know for sure when I see them before the holidays, but I’m thinking this version is a “yes!”  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

This deluxe edition, by Maggie Testa (Adapter), Charles M. Schulz (Author), and Vicki Scott (Illustrator), is big, with an almost-velvet red cover framing a smiling Charlie Brown holding his special little Christmas tree. The endpapers are sheet music of the Christmas carols “Jingle Bells” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The art throughout pops with bold colors and stylized shading. In case you’re unfamiliar with the characters or story, Charlie Brown is a kid who has few friends and can’t do anything right. He is correspondingly depressed, yet embodies optimism, always coming back to try again. In the Christmas story, his true friend Linus thinks he knows how to cheer up Charlie Brown. “You need to get involved. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?” Charlie Brown takes charge, but after he gets a straggly little tree to decorate the stage, the other kids convince him he’s ruined everything again. Later, led by Linus, everyone comes together to decorate the tree. It shapes up like only a cartoon tree could, and the true spirit of Christmas shines. This adaptation hits the important notes I remember from the animated special, including my favorite scene: Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 after assuring Charlie Brown, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More!
Authors: Valerie McKeehan, Valentina Harper, Thaneeya McArdle,
Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam
(Design Originals, an imprint of Fox Chapel Publishing; $19.99, Ages 6+)

With a title like Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More! it’s no surprise that this book contains cards, envelope templates, and gift tags. The “more” includes bookmarks, mini cards, full-page images called frameables, and scrapbook paper (which makes nice two-sided gift wrap). Most pages are perforated and easy for a child to use on their own. Kids can choose an item, then draw or write on the mostly blank second side—some have short quotations. The envelope templates are straightforward as are the instructions for bookmark tassels or fridge magnets.

The artwork is that of best-selling artists Thaneeya McArdle, Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam, Valentina Harper, and Valerie McKeehan. A variety of styles showcases the holiday sentiments. Images are produced on thick paper and in full color—except for a few in black and white for self-coloring. While most pictures are appropriate for a range of holidays, in keeping with the book’s title, many of the quotes on the back of the cards refer to Christmas and some are of a religious nature. If the quotes aren’t suitable, the card’s second page can be omitted and used as postcard-size instead.

If you’re strapped for time, Christmas Paper Crafting can give your cards a more homemade feel. It may also be less costly than buying individual greeting cards or boxed card sets. Kids who enjoy making their own choices and crafting will appreciate the freedom to pick what they like then to embellish a bit, adding their special seasonal touch.  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Mary Englebreit's Color ME Christmas Book of Postcards coverMary Englebreit’s Color ME Christmas
Book of Postcards
(HarperCollins; $9.99, Ages 4+)

I picked up Mary Engelbreit’s Color ME Christmas Book of Postcards because it looked like a fun, creative project to do with my granddaughter, coloring in holiday postcards, gift tags, and ornaments illustrated with designs in Engelbreit’s signature vintage style. I love that at Christmastime, every arts and crafts project is also an opportunity for young kids to make presents for the people they care about. The book is printed on thick card stock, so after coloring, the items will be ready to mail, tie onto gifts, or hang on the Christmas tree. Paired with a package of colored pencils or markers, these postcards make a wonderful gift for any young visitors you may be expecting. Recommended for ages 4 and up, in other words, for anyone who’s a kid at heart like me.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

 

 

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Three

Holiday Gift Books Guide

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

ENTER TITLE HERE
Written by Rahul Kanakia
(Hyperion; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

enter-title-here book cover
Just in time for back-to-school comes ENTER TITLE HERE from Hyperion. Rahul Kanakia’s debut YA novel examines the fierce competition for college admissions in a fresh, surprising, and funny package, with a bonus meta element for those of us readers who are also writing our own novels. The main character is Reshma Kapoor, a Silicon Valley high school senior who employs unhealthy and unsavory means to achieve her all-consuming end: admission to Stanford.

Reshma is convinced that her application — with its stellar grades but average-after-several-tries SAT scores — needs a hook in order to stand out in the admissions slush pile. She thinks she’s found her “in” when an essay she published in the Huffington Post earns her an email from a literary agent: “If you were to someday write a novel, I’d love to read it.” Boom, goal-oriented Reshma has a new aim: secure a contract with this agent, and write a novel to be under submission (or maybe even sold) in time for Stanford’s Early Action deadline.

And that novel is ENTER TITLE HERE. Or is it? I enjoyed the argument in my head as I read: is this really happening, or is this just for the novel? Reshma the narrator certainly encourages the confusion. She scopes out a brief synopsis in her head, epiphany and all, and then writes a “SEPTEMBER TO-DO LIST” of the experiences she needs to have to write the novel convincingly: make a friend, go on a date, attend a party, get a boyfriend, have sex. In the pages that follow, she sets about checking off each item. Oh, and this isn’t on her list, but no way is she going to loosen her grasp on her school’s valedictorian spot. She won it by hook and by crook, and keeping it is as essential to her plans (and her self-image) as writing the novel is.

You may have guessed by now that Reshma is not a very likable person. When she writes, for school assignments, newspaper articles, or her novel, she maintains two versions: an honest one and a pretty one. But when she meets people face-to-face, “…they start to hate me. That’s because when I speak, I find it hard to create a pretty version.” But even as we dislike much of what Reshma thinks, says, and does, we keep reading. Why?

For one thing, I was curious to find out which of her many enemies deserved the title. There’s her mother, who thinks Reshma should lower her sights from Stanford. There’s her “perfect” classmate Chelsea, who couldn’t possibly be as nice as she pretends to be. And then there’s Alex, Reshma’s Adderall supplier. Reshma blackmails Alex into being her friend (item number one on the TO-DO LIST) and then wonders if she can trust Alex to have her back. Meanwhile, will Reshma ever notice that George, whom her parents allow to live in the basement so he can go to a good school, consistently behaves like a real friend?

Kanakia keeps us rooting for Reshma, in spite of all her faults. We want her to figure out how to stop the train before the wreck. Her mother tries to help her, sending her to a therapist. As a writer, I found some of the funniest moments of the book occurring in Dr. Wasserman’s office. He’s not just a therapist; he’s also an unpublished novelist, and his line of questioning is familiar to any fellow striver: “…you’ve mentioned your agent…Who is she, if you don’t mind me…?” He has lots of advice for Reshma, but it’s never clear. Are the ideas for the novel, or for her life? Does Reshma imagine Dr. Wasserman’s decline into obsession with her plot line and character arcs? Or is he a horrible therapist but a pretty good editor?

I enjoyed ENTER TITLE HERE and recommend it as a work of evil genius that will be especially appreciated by students currently competing in the college admissions rat race. Their parents will like the novel too — though it may send some of them searching their kids’ backpacks for stray Adderalls.

  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

OUTRUN THE MOON
Written by Stacey Lee
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

Outrun The Moon book cover

 

Ever since I finished reading Stacey Lee’s debut Under a Painted Sky, a YA novel following two girls escaping along the Oregon Trail, I’ve been hankering for more of Lee’s historical fiction, especially her lively and likable characters. In Outrun The Moon, out on May 24, Lee delivers, giving us Mercy Wong, a fifteen-year-old growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It’s 1906, and the Chinese are restricted to a crowded corner of the city, but Mercy is determined to break out for the sake of her family, especially her overworked father and weak-lunged little brother. Mercy wants to change their destiny, but her mother warns that destiny is “like the moon. We can see it differently by climbing a mountain, but we cannot outrun it.” Or can they?

The story takes off — literally — as Mercy helps her lifelong friend and marriage prospect, Tom, with his hot-air balloon. Mercy’s mother is a revered fortune-teller who uses facial characteristics in her character assessments and predictions. You can imagine what happens when the daughter she calls “bossy cheeks” is left alone in the balloon for a moment, with the simple instructions, “Don’t touch anything.” The balloon seems to be collapsing, and Mercy will never sit still doing nothing if she thinks she can fix a problem.

And lots of problems are coming. If she can survive the hot air balloon, Mercy has a plan to win herself a scholarship to the best girls’ school in the city, but she may not understand the depth and breadth of prejudice against the Chinese. Dependable Tom is acting aloof. Ma has a chilling premonition — of her own death. Worst of all, it’s springtime in San Francisco. In 1906, that means the earth is about to crack open.

I love how Lee places many intermediate points of suspense along the story’s path, and I don’t want to spoil that suspense by telling any more about the book’s plot. But I can tell you that you will meet interesting young people of different backgrounds and prospects — and some crotchety older people, too. There will be leeches, and a mystical cow. There will be wisdom from Mercy’s fortune-telling mother, and from Mrs. Lowry, a Texan with a big ranch and a big personality. Food plays an important role, too, especially once disaster strikes; you may want to have some pasta available for the cravings you’ll get as you read. Chocolate, too.

I recommend this novel wholeheartedly. YA readers looking for strong, independent female characters will enjoy it. The book is also an excellent diverse read, giving an intimate perspective on the attitudes, injustices, and practical difficulties associated with the Chinese Exclusion Act. Finally, I recommend Outrun The Moon to my fellow historical fiction fans, and to anyone who’s ever left their heart in San Francisco.

Click here to see Lee’s book tour dates.
Visit Lee’s website to learn more about her here.

  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

 

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING
Written by Nicola Yoon
(Delacorte Press; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

EverythingEverythingcvr

⭐︎ Starred Review – School Library Journal

Madeline Whittier has read more books than you, but she hasn’t been outside her house for as long as she can remember. The protagonist in Nicola Yoon’s #1 New York Times Bestseller, Everything, Everything, lives an air-locked, filtered existence, with no outings and virtually no visitors, because she’s “basically allergic to the world.” She has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or “bubble baby disease.” While she could have grown to be a weird or bitter eighteen-year-old, it’s clear from the funny drawings and comments with which she annotates her life that she has remained sweet, optimistic and thoughtful.

Since Madeline’s father and brother were killed in an accident when she was a baby, Madeline and her mom are almost everything to each other. Then Olly moves in next door, with his all-black wardrobe, his parkour litheness, and his off-the-wall sense of humor. Madeline realizes she won’t really have everything unless she can leave her germ-free house and be Outside with Olly.

I enjoyed the unusual format of the book, its short chapters that don’t necessarily follow each other, the hand-written notes and drawings. Appropriate as well as charming, the format reinforces how Madeline feels about herself: “If my life were a book and you read it backward, nothing would change.” Before Olly, her “life was a palindrome — the same forward and backward.”

That being said, eventually sequence matters, and the real “Book of Maddy” — Everything, Everything — is different if read backward. In the interest of not giving away too much, I won’t tell you the questions the book made me ask beyond “What would it be like to be a bubble-baby?” But rest assured Yoon’s novel provokes other thoughts as well, about the nature of love, and risk, and life itself.

  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
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