CHRISTMAS WITH AUNTIE
Written by Helen Foster James
Illustrated by Petra Brown
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 0-4)
My Aunt Shirley wasn’t my real aunt but she treated me as if I were her niece and I loved her the same as all my other aunts. Since Aunties can be blood relations or close family friends, Christmas With Auntie should find a large readership.
When Auntie picks up little bunny for the day, preparations for Christmas get underway. “Bunny-kins bunny, we’ll make and then bake/gingerbread goodies, sweet cookies, and cake.” Taking time to nibble carrots together, Auntie and little bunny spend quality time together. I love the snow bunny they build together and how attentive Auntie is to all bunny’s needs. Foster James writes in gentle rhyme and coupled with Brown’s tender illustrations, Christmas With Auntie exudes warmth and love like hugs and kisses in book form. What’s extra nice is this Keepsake Edition provides a page to write a letter and add a photo so this copy will be a personalized family treasure.
MOO, BAA, FA LA LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon Books; $6.99, Ages 1-3)
If you or your kids are fans of that perennial fave, Moo, Baa, La La La!, you’ll be happy to know the adorable farmyard friends are back with a rollicking animal-centric altered rendition of “Deck the Halls.” While the meter may not be spot on in this board book, the silliness of what Boynton does best—cows, sheep, ducks, pigs, ducks, doggies, and chickens having a blast— is too good to miss. See the animals sing while they decorate the barn and get in a holiday mood along with them. The playfulness of the pigs getting piggy with it, the bock, bock, bock of the chickens looking like they are about to Rockette it out, and the touch of the final fa la la la la fun at the end promises to entertain readers young and old.
Written by Jonathan Emmett
Illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Nosy Crow; $17.99, Ages 2-5)
This fold-out, lift-the-flap, two-sided board book is one your children will return to again and again every Christmas until they outgrow the make-believe play this book invites. My daughter would have asked me to make cut-out characters to insert into all the scenes when the street is completely unfolded. But I can also see kids using little animal figures they might already have to join with those in the cheerful art.
Penguins, bears, dogs, cats, bunnies, tigers, reindeer, giraffes, foxes, frogs, and walruses populate the pages of this rhyming alphabet book. Youngsters lift the flaps as they travel from store front to store front on bustling Christmas Street to discover what’s happening inside the shops and above them. “I is for icing on freshly baked cakes. J is for jingle, the sound a bell makes.” A snow-covered festive park scene is on the reverse side where a band practices beneath a gazebo, Christmas carols are sung, vendors sell hot drinks, and animal children skate and toss snowballs. This book makes a great gift for toddlers and pre-schoolers learning the alphabet and into pretend play. The nice thing is that it can be read simply as a board book or opened up for a longer interactive experience depending on how much time you have.
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE NUTCRACKER
(American Ballet Theatre Presents)
Written by John Robert Allman
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
(Doubleday BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)
As a huge Nutcracker fan, I found myself totally enthralled while reading this behind-the-scenes look as four young dancers go through auditions, rehearsals, costume fittings, and ultimately the opening night performance of the beloved Nutcracker ballet. Not only does Allman manage to pull off the upbeat rhyme based on “The Night Before Christmas,” but he’s done so while using an abundance of ballet and theatre terminology which is not easy. This is such a captivating way to engage young readers!
Our first introduction to the characters is as they lay sleepless in their beds thinking about opening night and then we go back to the different stages of getting ready for the big event. When at last we’re back on stage just before “Places!” is called, the excitement is palpable and we’re rooting for these kids. I especially liked how The Nutcracker story unfolds with glimpses backstage. Children who are not familiar with the plot can easily follow along with Clara and her nutcracker. In full-page bleeds, Swaney’s art depicts movement and magic with a diverse group of performers in colorful costumes and graceful poses. Backmatter includes “Richard Hudson’s original costume designs for the ABT’s production” while explaining Act 1 and Act 2. If you or your child has never attended a performance of The Nutcracker, this book might just be what gets you to finally reserve tickets. Enjoy!
THROUGH THE NORTH POLE SNOW
Written by Polly Faber
Illustrated by Richard Jones
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-7)
This delightful picture book is quiet (except for some loud noises in the beginning), calming and heartwarming. It’s perfect for when you’re winding down your child’s day and are ready to snuggle. A small white fox seeks shelter and food amidst a snowy scape. It crawls down a chimney where it gets stuck and is aided by a jolly man with a white beard that little ones may not recognize despite the cover illustration. The art along with the old fella offers hints that he’s been on his Christmas rounds and is exhausted. Still, the fox doesn’t realize who he’s living with! Santa and the fox sleep until the season has changed and the man awakens to begin work on a new batch of toys. With the fox close by, Santa reads the letters, makes lists, and prepares his sack and sleigh for the night run. The fox is thrilled to be invited along. Then, as toys are delivered, Fox at last understands. “And when the sleigh was empty, the fox’s heart was full.” Jones’s warm tones and folksy style enrich Faber’s sweet text and make us feel good all over about this very special newfound friendship.
Written by Alastair Heim
Illustrated by Alisa Coburn
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 3-8)
Between the sly fox’s antics and the pages packed with visual treats—look closely—the hilarious Hello, Tree merits multiple reads. We meet Fox, fond of the five-finger discount, in the process of taking whatever strikes his fancy. The problem is he likes a lot of what he sees whether that’s a Christmas tree, a snowman’s nose (to munch on), gingerbread, candy canes (one of my fave illustrations),
ornaments, poinsettias, or a string of lights, all to decorate his home at everyone else’s expense. He swipes, and swipes to his heart’s delight! And though his intentions may be good, since he clearly wants to create an inviting atmosphere when giving presents as indicated by the many stockings hanging from his fireplace mantel, stealing is not the way. So, when Santa drops in, he makes Fox give back his ill-gotten goods. Only then can the true Christmas spirit shine. I love all the subtle and not-so-subtle humor in Heim’s rhyming read-aloud. I’m thinking of the illustration showing bear parents kissing under mistletoe with their kid sticking out his tongue. “Hello, kissy mistletoe.” I know kids will get a kick out of scenes like this too. It’s such fun to also find details in Coburn’s illustrations upon a second read that I didn’t catch the first time and I know there are more treats waiting for me to discover. Don’t miss the surprise on the endpapers!
THE LITTLE TOYMAKER
Written and illustrated by Cat Min
(Levine Querido; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
The Little Toymaker, though not a Christmas book per se, still feels like it delivers all the feels a holiday book should. This boy has a magical talent and it’s not for making children’s toys like the guy with the white beard and red garb. He repurposes old toys from grandparents and other older people’s childhoods. Kids probably don’t realize the elderly like toys too, in fact, I bet if you’re reading this you have a particular childhood fave too.
One day an old woman arrives at his toy-making tower and hands him a candy tin to fix. As he worked he chats with the woman learning about each other’s likes and dislikes. When his first attempt does not please her, the little Toymaker tries again. His second attempt also leaves something to be desired so it’s back to the drawing board. Over tea, the two talk some more. The boy gleans insight into exactly what he needs to do with the candy tin after hearing the old lady recollect a special time in her past full of love and romance. Finally, the little Toymaker’s last attempt succeeds because he listened. Inside the tin, he’s captured enough cherished memories to fill her heart for all her days. That sweet little bit of magic moved me as I remembered toys and happy times from my childhood. Watch your little ones create new memories playing with the toys and sharing experiences this holiday season. Min’s exuberant art is an added bonus to this lovely heartwarming tale.
THE CHRISTMAS PINE
Written by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Victoria Sandøy
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Told from the point of view of the pine tree, this story found its start as a poem by beloved British author, Julia Donaldson for the UK Poetry Society “to celebrate the 2020 Christmas tree” which was a gift from Norway to the British people.
The Christmas Pine, now a picture book with spare rhyming text, was inspired by a true story. A young tree recalls how it grew and then came to find a home in London, a tradition that began in 1947, one that I, having lived there for over seven years, was not aware of. When it’s old enough for felling, the tree (back matter explains it’s usually a Norwegian spruce) journeys via sea to reach the UK. Eventually, it takes its place in Trafalgar Square near Nelson’s column and other statues and monuments. The spread of Londoners and perhaps visitors too, gazing upon the tree is my favorite because it shows people from all walks of life admiring nature’s beauty and majesty. The Christmas Pine, on the other hand, would probably tell us the illustration featuring children caroling at its base is its favorite.
THE CHRISTMAS BOOK FLOOD
Written by Emily Kilgore
Illustrated by Kitty Moss
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Kirkus
This is a story about a good flood, a flood of books in Iceland that get published in autumn. Many of the books are then bought, and gifted annually on December 24 since WWII. This stunningly illustrated book uses collage mixed with newsprint/book text that captures the spirit of this wonderful tradition. The palette is warm, dark, and rich reflecting the magical short days and long nights in this northern country leading up to Christmas. Kilgore’s lyrical language conveys the anticipation building among the people like a dam about to burst. The search for the right book to give friends and family is almost as exciting as the pleasure of getting to read the books at last. If you know a book lover, young or old, consider gifting this lovely picture book celebrating the joy of reading and starting your own book flood!
THE PERFECT TREE
Written by Corinne Demas
Illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan
(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
This story unfolds on the day before Christmas as Bunny is searching for the perfect tree. Each kind forest friend she encounters tells her the different things the perfect tree should have. Squirrel, Mole, Cardinal, and Skunk suggest a tree that’s bushy, has a point at the top, and has the right color, and smell. When Bunny has looked high and low with no luck, Deer posits that perhaps there is no perfect tree but Bunny is not about to give up. Heading back home as night falls, Bunny spots a tree she hasn’t seen before and realizes it’s too perfect to cut down. With her friends helping, Bunny decorates the tree and celebrates the perfect Christmas Eve with the perfect tree. While the story is a simple one, it flows easily from scene to scene. Dullaghan’s sweet illustrations bring the right amount of winter chill and charm to each spread. Add this feel-good Christmas tree tale that’s perfect for storytime or bedtime to your Christmas book list.
CELEBRATE WITH ME!:
Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun From Around the World
Edited by Laura Gladwin
Illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
(Magic Cat Publishing/Harry N. Abrams; $22.99, Ages 8-12)
This time of year when it seems there’s a party around every corner, the perfect book to keep this mood going is Celebrate with Me! Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun from Around the World. Beginning with January 1st, middle-graders learn fun facts that span the globe. Each holiday is presented by a different contributor which gives the book a wonderful range of information.
In February or March, make a papier-mâché mask to celebrate Portuguese Carnival.
On April 13th, learn about Songkran (or Thai New Year) when Thai people literally wash away anything negative by splashing each other with water. What kid won’t get behind this holiday?! The accompanying recipe for Thai-Style Congee is simple and delicious.
In Spain, Christmas is celebrated with the chewy and nutty Turrón de Navidad. Make a batch, then pop it in the fridge to set up while you sing festive songs called villancicos together.
Every page’s amazing information is accompanied by Dawn M. Cardona’s cheerful illustrations showcasing our world in a rainbow of colors. I like the closing pages which encourage kids to ask each other what holiday they celebrate, what’s important about it, and why it’s special to them. This is a great way to get to know a new friend or learn something new about someone already in your life. • This book was reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.WriteforSuccessEditing.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@WriteforSuccessEditing.com
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:
by Jay Fleck
(Chronicle Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)
Illustrated by Kathrin Fherl
(Cottage Door Press; $9.99, Ages 1-5)
WHEN SANTA CAME TO STAY
(Dial Books; $18.99, Ages 4-7)
HOW TO CATCH A REINDEER
Written by Alice Walstead
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $10.99, Ages 4-8)