Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein

DEAR SANTA,
LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN
Written by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer
Illustrated by Christine Davenier
(Doubleday Books for Young Readers: $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

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(NOTE: Sing to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It) … If you’re Jewish and love Christmas raise your hand!
My hand goes up as does the titular Rachel Rosenstein’s in the delightful Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein. And while the title certainly gives away the premise, the execution of this story is so entertaining it’s certain to keep readers turning the pages. In fact, this reader felt as though the story was written with her daughter in mind. Growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, my daughter yearned for all things Christmas, especially when the start of Hanukkah fell close to Christmas.

In this charming picture book with Davenier’s cheerful and atmospheric watercolor artwork which fans of Julie Andrews’s The Very Fairy Princess series may recognize, it’s easy to see why all Rachel wants for Hanukkah is Christmas. Shops are full of enticingly decorated windows, glowing stars light up the streets, pine trees and wreaths are everywhere with no sign of a Menorah, especially on Rachel’s street. “The Rosensteins didn’t celebrate Christmas because they were Jewish. Being Jewish was fun most of the time.” Rachel knew there were plenty of wonderful holidays and reasons to celebrate in Judaism, yet still yearned to share the accoutrements of the Christmas season. She wanted to string lights or have a tree, but her family wouldn’t give in to her requests.

The story’s humor kicks in full force when Rachel secretly writes a letter to Santa, then meets him in person and asks if he’s coming to her house. This is the part I can see parents having fun with when they read Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein aloud. Like my daughter used to do, Rachel prepared the house with high hopes for Santa’s arrival, but alas he never came. Rather than leave young readers disappointed about Saint Nick’s no show, Peet and Troyer end this tale on a positive note, with the Jewish tradition of going out for a Chinese meal. There, to Rachel’s surprise, she sees “some familiar faces: Lucy Deng from her class, and Mike Rashid and Amina Singh.” It turns out that Rachel’s not the only one who doesn’t celebrate Christmas! I believe children, both Jewish and non-Jewish, will enjoy this picture book, whether or not they share Rachel’s sentiment because it gently and humorously depicts a different perspective of Christmas than what is typically in books. And I can raise my hand to that!

    • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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And Then Comes Christmas by Tom Brenner

AND THEN COMES CHRISTMAS
Written by Tom Brenner and Illustrated by Jana Christy
(Candlewick, $15.99, Ages 4-8)

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When your children seem especially eager for Christmas to come, then it’s time to reach for Brenner and Christy’s gentle, sequential countdown story AND THEN COMES CHRISTMAS. In a lovely lyrical style, Brenner follows a When/Then narrative that evokes all the special sights, sounds and smells of the season. “When the days barely start and they’re over again, and red berries blaze against green shrubs, and bare branches rake across the sky … Then hang boughs of fir or spruce or pine, dotted with cones and bits of holly, welcoming winter.”

In a snowy setting that looks vaguely like rural New England, two siblings engage in holiday traditions at school, at home and in the community. Brenner introduces wonderful imagery (“Wrap yourself in layers and tumble out of doors to romp in snow as smooth as bedcovers”) and accessible yet descriptive vocabulary (blaze, cling, dwindle) to set a joyous anticipatory scene. Visiting Santa, selecting a tree, baking goodies and making gifts are just a few of the holiday highlights.

 

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Interior spread from And Then Comes Christmas by Tom Brenner with illustrations by Jana Christy, Candlewick Press ©2014.

Christy’s illustrations balance cool, snowy outdoor landscapes with warm, cozy interiors. The blotted, misty edges add to an overall dreamy glow with lots of child-like appeal. The sister and brother are a cheery pair of role models, cooperative, considerate and connected. Parents will certainly hope young listeners feel inspired to recreate the satisfying scenes with as much seasonal spirit as these two do! Following the family’s lively little black dog throughout the book will be a fun attention-keeper for little ones.

AND THEN COMES CHRISTMAS is a well-paced picture book that highlights many of the special down-to-earth holiday moments that children savor. It is a lovely choice to add to your family’s Christmas reading traditions!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of AND THEN COMES CHRISTMAS and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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