Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season

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CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR KIDS

A ROUNDUP – PART ONE

 

Here’s the first of several roundups full of great new Christmas books for kids that we hope you’ll enjoy. There’s really something here for everyone under age 10 who’s interested in a great story or activity during the long holiday break. Let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!

 

A World of Cookies for Santa cover imageA World of Cookies for Santa:
Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World

Written by M.E. Furman
Illustrated by Susan Gal
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

In A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World, Santa takes a journey across the globe to drop off gifts and savor treats children leave for him.

The story begins appropriately on Christmas Island in the South Pacific where Santa finds the children’s gift of chewy coconut macaroons. From Christmas Island, Santa visits Asia, Africa, Europe, South American and North America before heading home to the North Pole. Santa’s entire journey may be traced by using the map at the beginning of the book.

Splashes of orange and dashes of red flood the 48 pages and create warm cheery scenes. The joy of giving and receiving is vividly expressed on the faces of smiling children. Parents may stumble over a few foreign words, but there’s lots of opportunities for fun-learning. Furman provides recipes for baking Santa’s cookies which may inspire children and families to try new multicultural holiday recipes. Countries may have different Christmas customs, but they are similar in keeping the traditions of preparing and enjoying treats.
Reviewed by Randi Lynn Mrvos

Bear's Merry Book of Hidden Things cover imageBear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things:
Christmas Seek-and-Find
Written and illustrated by Gergely Dudás
(HarperCollins; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

Growing up, I was always a fan of the “find the hidden objects” puzzles, so it’s no surprise that I love Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things even now as an adult. As the title suggests, the reader is invited to help bear find the items he needs for his upcoming holiday party. Children will enjoy the challenge of perusing through the crowd of cute critters, the jumble of gingerbread, and the sea of snowmen to get bear’s party going. The 32 pages of colorful confections, gift bags galore, and a multitude of mittens make a Christmasy camouflage that will keep the young ones engaged while they look for ice-skates, an ornament, and an array of other goodies. Some things are easier to spot than others so don’t be surprised if this turns into fun for the whole family.

If you’re looking for something to keep the kids entertained while you’re planning a party of your own, Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things should do the trick. And don’t worry, this is not a one-and-done book either. Even after they’ve found everything for Bear, little ones will enjoy looking through the wintery scenes again and again to see what else they might have missed.
Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

Love, SantaLove_Santa_cover_image
Written by Martha Brockenbrough
Illustrated by Lee White
(Arthur A. Levine Books; $17.99, Ages 5 and up)

Will this be the year your child learns the truth about Santa? You may want to hold off sharing this purposely green foil-banded book until your youngest is ready to have “that conversation” with you about whether or not Santa is real. While Scholastic suggests that this picture book may be appropriate for children aged 5, another publication recommends it for ages 6-9 and still another says it’s for kids ages 9-12. To be honest, only a parent knows when their child will appreciate the heart felt message Brockenbrough so beautifully and thoughtfully conveys.

The story is interactive in that a little girl does her annual correspondence to Santa and young readers can actually open an envelope, pull out the letter and then have it read to them or read it themselves. Naturally she’s curious about all things North Pole, until she turns eight. That’s when she leaves Santa’s note for her mother instead, inquiring whether she is actually the wondrous world traveler. Her mom’s response will no doubt resonate with all readers of a certain age. “Santa,” replies the mother, “is bigger than any one person. He always has been.” The message that the truth and tradition of Santa is carried on by all who cherish the magic of believing in something good and selfless is one that will touch everyone this Christmas. Certain to be treasured by all who receive it, Love, Santa is THE book to reach for whenever a child questions the existence of Mr. Claus.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

 


Best Kids Picture Books for Valentine’s Day

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HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY 2015!
❤️A ROUNDUP TO SHARE THE LOVE ❤️

In-My-Heart-cvr.jpgThis book is great for Valentine’s Day, but is not limited to the holiday.

Even as an adult, feelings are hard to pinpoint, much less express. Written by Jo Witek, with illustrations by Christine Roussey, IN MY HEART: A Book of Feelings, (AbramsAppleseed, $16.95, Ages 2-4), may be a book intended for toddlers, but its universal theme will appeal to all ages.

This beautiful die-cut board book uses colors, shapes, and symbolism to help children identify and verbalize what they are feeling. Witek’s lyrical writing and masterful use of vocabulary are awe-worthy, and are complemented perfectly by Roussey’s fanciful illustrations.

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Interior spread from In My Heart by Jo Witek with illustrations by Christine Roussey, Abrams Appleseed ©2014.

 

When I get really angry, my heart feels as if it’s going to explode!
Don’t come near me!
My heart is yelling, hot and loud.
This is when my heart is mad.

But other times, my heart is cool.
I bob along gently like a balloon on a string.
My heart feels lazy and slow, as quiet as snowfall.
This is when my heart is calm.

Sad, afraid, and shy are emotions which are explored by this perfect pairing of author and illustrator, along with hopeful, brave, and proud, to name a few. Witek ends the book with an open-ended question for the reader, sure to encourage a heart-felt discussion. She asks:

How does your heart feel?

Both Witek and Roussey live in France, and originally published their book in French under the title Dans Mon Petit Coeur, (Editions de La Martiniere/2013). Nothing has been lost in the translation to English, proving the heart speaks a language all its own. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Guess-How-Much-cvr.jpgIt must have been twenty years ago when I first read the touching tale of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare, and teared up. Then, when my oldest daughter was in high school, her boyfriend gave her a copy of the book for Valentine’s Day. I got choked up again when she let me read it. GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, written by Sam McBratney, and illustrated by Anita Jeram, (Candlewick Press, $9.99, Ages 4-8), is now available in a 4″x4″ special foldout, pop-up book format, and after all of these years, still makes me misty.

A timeless tale of love, this beloved book comes to life with Jeram’s ink and watercolor illustrations of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. In this most recent edition, the characters pop off the pages as they try to outdo one another while expressing their love.

“I love you as high as I can hop!” laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down.
“But I love you as high as I can hop,” smiled Big Nutbrown Hare — and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above.

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Interior artwork from Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney with illustrations by Anita Jeram, Candlewick Press, ©2014.

 

McBratney’s text expands upon the phrase, “I love you this much,” so often heard between parent and child, with his creative prose. The sentiment is appropriate any time, but tucked away in a beautiful red sleeve with a decorative gold title, Guess How Much I Love You  makes the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for loved ones of any age. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Love-Monster-cvr.jpgThis little Love Monster was a nice little monster living in a land called Cutesville. LOVE MONSTER, written and illustrated by Rachel Bright (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 2-4), is another terrific Valentine’s Day picture book to add to your gift list. Living in a world full of everything cute and fluffy can be hard when you’re a funny looking monster of bright red hue, and googly eyes. Or so it felt that way for our main character who was seeking someone to love him “just the way he was.”

NOTE: Make sure to point out the sign that reads BIG, WIDE WORLD as Love Monster sets off on his search.

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Interior artwork from LOVE MONSTER by Rachel Bright, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ©2014.

Monster looked high, low and he even looked “middle-ish,” one of my favorite words in the story. At the Fancy Dress Shop (costume store) he was almost fooled by a monster mask, then again by his shadow, and finally by his reflection. Was there no one for him?  It almost seemed as if he had a dark cloud hanging over his head. But in a moment of pure storybook serendipity, as Love Monster was almost running out of places to look for love, his luck changed.

“You see, sometimes when you least expect it … love finds you.”

Bright’s message is not a new one, but it’s an oh so important one to share with children. How many times have we said something similar to our kids?  This simple tale is one of hope and reassurance for any child feeling they don’t quite fit in.

Bright’s artwork is not only bold and colorful, reflecting Little Monster’s various moods, but unique. Bright’s created her illustrations with solar etching according to jacket copy.  She uses ultraviolet light to create printing plates, a truly illuminating technique!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other New & Noteworthy Picture Books

Zombie in Love 2 + 1 by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Scott Campbell (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)


Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light

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Louise-Loves-Art-cvr.jpgCELEBRATE THE LOVE OF ART

Author/Illustrator Kelly Light has created characters who are both lovable and relatable in Louise Loves Art, (Balzer and Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins, $17.99, Ages 4-8). Truly a work of art, Light’s first picture book, Louise Loves Art, will leave you satisfied, and wanting more at the same time. With a sparse text, (only about 130 words), you’d think it would be difficult to tell much of a story. Fuhgeddaboudit! (Sorry. Fellow former Jersey girl, Light, must have brought it out in me). This is a story brimming with a child’s passion for creative expression as well as a tale of sibling dynamics.

As the title says, Louise loves art. She draws all kinds of things, a frog, a sailboat, and her little brother Art. Young readers will enjoy seeing her work displayed throughout the house. Art watches and idolizes his big sister, as she tries to create a masterpiece: a picture of her cat.

To be a great artist, you have to notice everything.
Every line…
every curve…
Wait–hold that pose! I will capture your cat-ness!

But while Louise is engrossed in finding the perfect place to display her pièce de résistance, she fails to notice Art, his attempts to get her attention, and “his own” creation.

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Interior artwork from Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light, Balzer & Bray ©2014.

Unlike Art’s inability to capture his sister’s eye, Light has no trouble getting our attention on and off the page. Frequently seen sporting red lipstick and matching eyeglasses, while on her book tour, Light told me, “Strong, by Lush Cosmetics, is the color of lipstick I like. Louise is a strong character.” Yes, she is, and with her primarily black and white and red all over style of artwork, Light makes that very clear. Using a black Prisma color pencil on vellum, scanning her drawings into the computer, and coloring them in Photoshop with “Louise Red” (also known as Pantone 1788), has her illustrations popping off the page.

missinglastspread.jpg

Interior artwork from Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light, Balzer & Bray ©2014.

Louise inspires her brother, and Light’s book encourages children across the country to pick up a pencil and draw. In a time when art classes are being cut or eliminated from schools, it’s good to shed a little “Light” on the subject.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


Whatever the Weather! Series by Carol Thompson

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As diverse as the weather is, so are the babies illustrated by Carol Thompson, in this four book Whatever the Weather! board book series which includes: SNOW, RAIN, SUN, and WIND, (Child’s Play International Ltd., $4.99, Ages 0-3).

In SNOWSnow-cvr.jpg, a child puts on his warm clothes and goes out to experience the sounds and sensations of playing in the snow.

Slide…
… and…
… slip.
Whump!

When the sun gets low in the sky he must say goodnight to his snow monsters (snowmen), and go inside to warm his chilly nose and toes.

Sun-cvr.jpgIn contrast to the cold and snowy weather, Thompson has brightly illustrated the book, SUN, with babies donning sun hats and sunscreen, and little else. They strip down to the bare necessities of clothing for a day of fun in the sun.

Shoes off, socks off…
…clothes off!

This barefoot romp takes us from sun up to sun down.

RAINRain-cvr.jpg is a delightfully lighthearted dance through the raindrops. Little ones will love the onomatopoeia and rhythm of the text.

Drip drop, Plip plop, Splish splosh……sploosh!

From first drop to sunshine and rainbows, this is a fun read!

 

Wind-cvr.jpgHold onto your hats and hounds when you read WIND. Thompson’s illustrations capture the movement and chaos of a windy day.

Wind ruffles and tickles …
…and snatches!
Wheeeeeeeeee…

This briskly paced read lends itself to drama and sounds effects, as the wind lifts us up and sets us back down to a calm ending.

It’s no surprise that Thompson has done such a beautiful job of illustrating stuffed bunnies, pinwheels, and kiddie-pools, as well as many other easily recognizable items in this delightful 12 page board book series. She’s illustrated more than forty-five books for children and is the recipient of the Mother Goose Award for Children’s Book Illustration.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn

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Booklist Starred Review

Spirit’s Key written by Edith Cohn, (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 8-12) is a middle grade novel packed with emotion, humor, and mystery.

spiritskey-smallAll Spirit Holden’s dad has to do is hold someone’s key, and he can see their future. Spirit comes from a long line of psychics, but for some reason, even though she’s twelve-years-old, the age when her ancestors received their gifts, she hasn’t gotten her powers. When Spirit holds someone’s key, she feels nothing. She is worried her elders didn’t pass along their gifts to her.

Her dad is unusually tired, and hasn’t been able to do readings for the islanders in a while. Spirit doesn’t know how they’re going to survive without the income from his readings. She’s also preoccupied with the mysterious recent deaths of the Baldies, the wild island dogs that the natives believe to be evil spirits. Spirit doesn’t believe the superstitious islanders. She even had a pet Baldy, her beloved Sky, whom she lost to the mysterious illness that was threatening to wipe out all of them. Now, the illness is spreading to the islanders, and her father is quarantined! Spirit thinks she sees Sky everywhere. She can feel him, smell him, and even hear him barking! Could Sky be trying to help Spirit solve the mystery of the dogs’ deaths?

First time author Cohn has created a page-turner of an adventure with colorful characters and vivid settings. She’s incorporated all the makings of a great novel; a flawed, but likable, main character, high stakes for her to succeed on her quest, and the ability to suspend the reader’s sense of reality.

I’d be remiss to not mention the lovely cover design by Eliza Wheeler in which she so perfectly captures the feel and mood of the book. You can judge this book by its cover, and not be disappointed.

Following is a very brief excerpt from Spirit’s Key:

“It’s easy to be brave, child, when you don’t know any better.You don’t understand about the baldies.” Mrs. Borse shudders like the thought of them, even in all her fur, gives her a chill. “You didn’t grow up hearing their history like I did, because you aren’t from around here. But maybe it’s time someone told you a thing or two about those devil creatures.” She pushes me back onto the couch and gets herself comfortable like we’ll be there awhile.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


The Winter Train by Susanna Isern

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The Winter Train by award winning author Susanna Isern
with illustrations by Ester Garcia

The-Winter-Train-cvr.jpg

A tale of friendship, kindness, and teamwork, can be found in The Winter Train, written by award winning author Susanna Isern with illustrations by Ester Garcia, (Cuento de Luz, November 2014; $16.95, Ages 3-5). Originally written in Spanish under the title, Tren de invierno, Jon Brokenbrow has successfully translated this beautiful story into English.

Every year, all of the animals in the Northern Forest, except for White Owl, Frog, and the fish, pack up their bags and board the Winter Train. They help each other prepare for their trip to a warmer climate in the Southern Forest before the snow hits.

Rabbit, Wolf, and Hedgehog are all on board. Wolf, Goat, and Bat have worked out their seating arrangements, and even Tortoise has managed to get to the train on time. The train chugs along, while the animals are playing games to pass the time, when Genet (a nocturnal, catlike mammal) realizes they’ve left one of their friends behind.

“We’ve forgotten Squirrel! We’ve got to go back and get her!”

“But if we go back, we could get trapped in the snow,” said Beaver, pointing to the dark clouds outside the window.

‘We can’t leave Squirrel behind. She can’t stand the cold,” said Ferret.

“Well, that’s settled then. Let’s go and find her!” said all the animals together.

In this picture book, Garcia’s illustrations show how quickly the landscape can change when autumn turns to winter, and snow covers everything. The bravery of Genet, trotting across the snowy ground to rescue her friend, Squirrel, tugs at your heartstrings. I found myself cheering the cat along on her trek.

Isern’s lyrical style of writing is both appropriate and appealing in this tender-hearted book for pre-schoolers.

“You came back to rescue me!” said Squirrel, shuddering from the cold.

But, of course the animals went back for their tiny friend. Who cares that a train can’t “turn around” or that in reality the animals would have eaten each other? Isern has managed to suspend our sense of reality in this wondrous magical picture book, which is sure to please the child in all of us.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

 


Great Christmas Books for Kids – A Holiday Roundup

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Kids Christmas Books Roundup –
Reviewers Rita Zobayan and MaryAnne Locher
Share Some of This Season’s Kidlit Faves

Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish'Twas-Nochebuena-cvr.jpg written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by Sara Palacios (Viking/Penguin, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

While Christmas is celebrated all around the world, different cultures have their own traditions and ways of celebrating. ‘Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish is a new spin on the classic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

A Latino family is preparing to host relatives and friends on Christmas Eve. They are busy making tamales stuffed with pollo (chicken) and queso (cheese). When ready, they participate in posadas (the reenactment of the Nativity) where families stroll from house to house, asking for shelter. Once back home, the family drinks warm mugs of chocolaty champurrado (a thick hot chocolate drink) and play loteria (a game similar to bingo). Then, it’s time for Misa del Gallo (midnight mass) before the celebration continues with more food and a delicious dessert called bu~nuelos (a sweet fritter covered with cinnamon). It’s a wonderful night of family and festivities.

The artwork is bright and inviting. Little details, such as colorful banners and the town’s architecture, give a feel for the setting. I found the facial expressions, including that of the family cat and dog, to be especially engaging.

The rhyming text makes the book easy to read, even for non-Spanish speakers. With satisfied bellies and sleepy eyes, we head to the sala for one last surprise. Giggling and cheering, we dash for the tree, where regalos are waiting for you and for me! A glossary of 47 Spanish terms is included, as is an author’s note about the origin of this story.

With diverse literature in high demand, ‘Twas Nochebuena provides fun insight into a cultural celebration of Christmas Eve. Feliz Navidad! – Rita Zobayan

Link to review of Round is a Tortilla, also by Roseanne Greenfield Thong.

 

Maisys-Christmas-Tree-cvr.jpgIf you’re looking for a sweet board book to tuck in a special little person’s stocking this Christmas, Maisy’s Christmas Tree, (Candlewick Press, 2014; $6.99, Ages 2-5) is the perfect pick. Written by Lucy Cousins, the ever-popular Maisy is decorating her Christmas tree with her friends. Cyril the squirrel, Tallulah the chicken, and Charlie the crocodile are all helping out in their own special way, stringing lights, hanging candy canes, and wrapping presents. Eddie the elephant is in charge of the tree topper: an angel who looks exactly like Maisy!

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Interior image from Maisy’s Christmas Tree by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press ©2014.

Bright primary and secondary colors with a bit of silver sparkle make this a visually appealing book. Its small size and Christmas tree shape make it easy for little hands to hold and help turn pages. Even a toddler full of Christmas anticipation will sit through this book of under fifty words which gently builds to a grand finale. Maisy and friends sing carols around her beautiful tree then shout, “Merry Christmas, everyone!” – MaryAnne Locher

Link to review of Peck, Peck, Peck, also by Lucy Cousins.

 

Everything-About-Christmas-cvr.jpgEverything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book written by Diane Muldrow (Golden Books, 2014; $9.99, Ages 4 and up)

Little Golden Books are endearing. I’m not sure if it’s the vintage-style art work or the sense of innocence that seems to emanate from the words and pictures of a bygone era, but there’s no denying the “aww” that goes along with the series. So, it’s no surprise that Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow draws in both young and old. Compiled from the art of a variety of LGB, this is a guide to keeping your sanity during one of the happiest yet busiest times of the year.

“Christmas is coming!” waves a happy Santa. But, what about all that baking, the endless cycle of cooking and cleaning, and the rounds of social obligations…when you could be taking a nap. Then there’s the snarled holiday traffic…and the scary holiday crowds! The excess! The expense! Then comes the weight gain. Yes, Christmas certainly comes with stresses and obligations. It’s easy to get caught up in the commotion and consumerism. However, don’t spend all your time preparing…It’s a time for traditions, a time for giving the very best of yourself…a time to reach out to someone who’d otherwise be alone. For one night in a manger, under a star, a night witnessed by both shepherds and kings, when gifts were given to a waiting world…and the gift of hope for a peaceable kingdom.

While younger children might not understand the message about keeping the crazy out of Christmas, they will almost certainly enjoy the illustrations and message of love and family. Filled with LGB favorites, such as the Poky Little Puppy and Richard Scarry’s artwork (among many talented others), the book harkens to the wonder and nostalgia of childhood. This is something that LGB does so well. Adults are transported back to their childhoods (and perhaps will remember reading LGB as youngsters), and children will adore the sense of warmth that the illustrations create.

Everything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book is a new Christmas favorite in our household, and once you read it, you’ll see why. – Rita Zobayan

Link to review of We Planted a Tree, also by Diane Muldrow.