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Kids Book Reviews – Three New Christmas Picture Books for 2019

CHRISTMAS PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

 

Long Ago On a Silent Night cvrLONG AGO, ON A SILENT NIGHT
Written by Julie Berry
Illustrated by Annie Won
(Orchard Books, $17.99, Ages 3-8)

Written by Printz Honor recipient Julie Berry and illustrated by Annie Won, Long Ago, on a Silent Night connects the Biblical story of the birth of Christ with the birth of a mother’s newborn babe. Ancient and modern times meet to express the promise of peace, joy, and hope the Christmas season brings.

Won’s glowing, airy illustrations produce a dreamlike effect. Interchanging pages of light and dark color highlight the story’s juxtaposing themes: extreme joy and the deep mystery of the miracle of birth. Just as a “piece of heaven fell to earth” when God became flesh “at that sacred birth,”the mother feels her boy “came straight from heaven, too” from “the moment” she held him. Berry’s tender language, told in elegant verse form, captures the holiness of the relationship between mother and child, and in a broader sense, humankind’s relationship with the Christ Child. Though He had the power to “one day calm a tempest wild,” Jesus instead chose to save the world through His “gentleness” and humility. The birth of the baby is a reminder of the ripple effect of God’s loving kindness throughout the generations.

A great addition to your Christmas picture book collection, Long Ago, on a Silent Night highlights the relevance of the Nativity story to our modern times.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

TomiedePaolas Christmas Tree Book cvrTOMIE DEPAOLA’S CHRISTMAS TREE BOOK
Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Beloved children’s author/illustrator Tomie dePaola offers us a picture book full of fun facts about the most widespread of all Christmas traditions: the Christmas tree.

In its second edition, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book begins with a family visiting a Christmas tree farm to pick out their own tree. The children’s curiosity about “how Christmas trees [got] started” leads to a fascinating discussion of the historical role “decorated trees and branches” have played during the holiday season.  As far back as the Middle Ages, decorated evergreens were used during church plays and transitioned into people’s homes after the plays were no longer performed. It’s interesting to learn about the varied forms of the evergreens and shrubs as more people brought the plants indoors for decor. The children’s questions guide the family’s discussion naturally and fluidly in a gentle way that doesn’t feel like the reader is getting a “lesson.” We learn of other major transitions: the arrival of the Christmas tree in America, the addition of lights on the tree, and even the evolution of the Christmas tree stand. One piece of history is particularly delightful (and a matter of presidential importance) but you’ll have to get the book to find out!

Though much of the book presents factual information, the story arc takes readers from beginning to middle to end as we watch the family purchase, transport, and decorate their tree. The addition of the grandmother in the second half of the book adds a personal touch to the historical facts as she shares with her grandchildren her memories of Christmas trees long ago. As always, dePaola’s muted color palette, familiar shapes, and soft lines provide warmth and comfort to his words.

Perfect for school reports or for quelling those myriad questions from curious little ones, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book will both educate and entertain. Click here for bonus materials from the publisher’s website.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Dasher Book CoverDASHER
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Growing up as part of a demanding traveling circus is not much of a life for Dasher, a little doe with an adventurous soul. The harshness of hot days does not compare to the magical place in Mama’s stories where the weather is cold, the air crisp, “and the ground was always covered with a cool blanket of white snow.” Dasher’s days are filled with meeting children which she loves. At night, however, surrounded by her family, she wishes upon the North Star for the home Mama has described.

When one windy night’s unusual circumstances bring Dasher into contact with Santa and his tired horse, Silverbell, it’s as if her wish were answered. Because his sleigh filled with massive amounts of toys is getting too heavy for just Silverbell, Santa invites Dasher to help pull his sleigh. There’ll be no looking back now. Only something is missing. Her family. Of course, Santa makes that wish come true, too, when he takes Silverbell and Dasher back to the circus and invites Dasher’s family to join the sleigh. Now everything’s in place for Christmas to be perfect!

Dasher, the wonderfully imagined and illustrated tale of Santa’s team of reindeerbefore Rudolph came alongfeels believable and satisfying. The old-fashioned look of the art (done in watercolor, gouache, pencil, and pastel) depicting J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie and filled with rural folk dressed in their late 19th century garb, adds to the feeling the story is real. Youngsters will be easily convinced, too, and love the lyrical way Tavares has woven together all the threads of this charming origin story so skillfully. Let yourself be transported back in time with this clever tale that will have you convinced this is exactly how Santa’s reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen came to pull Santa’s sleigh.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another roundup of Christmas books here.

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Holiday Gift Guide – The Christmas Cat by Maryann MacDonald

Could a cat have become baby Jesus’s pet?
Find out in this engaging picture book perfect for Christmas.

The Christmas Cat cover image

The Christmas Cat by Maryann MacDonald with illustrations by Amy June Bates, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013.

You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to find something special about The Christmas Cat (Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 3-5) by Maryann MacDonald with illustrations by Amy June Bates. All that’s required to be swept back in time to the nativity is to love cats, crave an imaginative tale and desire dreamy artwork. “Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of La Madonna del Gatto, which show Mary cuddling both the baby Jesus and a cat,” MacDonald has crafted a story that will captivate the hearts of little ones while introducing them to the nativity and the power of love bonding a baby to his pet.

On the night that Jesus was born he cried like every baby does. All the animals in the stable tried to quiet the infant, from cooing doves to lowing cows. Even the donkey brayed a lullaby to no avail. Joseph and Mary fretted, wondering how to settle the child. But it wasn’t until a tiny kitten made his way onto Mary’s lap and nuzzled baby Jesus’s neck and let out a “calm, contented purr” that the newborn’s crying began to wane. As time passed the two grew close and the kitten became a cat, always at Jesus’s side to help him fall asleep.

When an angel alerted Joseph that a jealous King Herod might harm this baby destined for greatness, Joseph knew he, Mary and young Jesus had to flee. In the rush to leave Bethlehem there was scant time to find Jesus’s beloved cat. “We can’t leave him behind!” cried Mary. She knew her baby would be inconsolable without his pet. Joseph and Mary tried to quietly cross the desert to Egypt to avoid Herod’s soldiers, but a screaming baby Jesus could bring harm to the three travelers. Nothing, not his mother’s warm, soft embrace nor the donkey’s “rocking gait” could lull him to sleep. But a clever cat had hidden in the side basket and baby Jesus’s wailing woke him up. With the crying now subsided, Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus and an adorable, devoted cat could safely make their way to Egypt. “Love had saved them.”

Could the legend of a kitty being born on the same night as Jesus possibly be true? You decide. I know Bates’s beautiful illustrations will stay with me long after Christmas ends and it will be hard to see a nativity scene and not search for a little kitty in a corner somewhere.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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With a Mighty Hand, Adapted by Amy Ehrlich

With a Mighty Hand: The Story in The Torah, (Candlewick Press, $29.99, Available on audio, All Ages) adapted by Amy Ehrlich with paintings by Daniel Nevins, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

With a Mighty Hand adapted by Amy Ehrlich with paintings by Daniel Nevins

With a Mighty Hand: The Story in The Torah adapted by Amy Ehrlich with paintings by Daniel Nevins, Candlewick Press, 2013.

The High Holy Days or Hanukkah are ideal times to introduce children to Amy Ehrlich’s With a Mighty Hand. This reader-friendly adaptation of the Torah covers the first five books of the Hebrew Bible; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  But you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this beautiful volume. Christians, who refer to the Torah as the Old Testament, will also enjoy the carefully constructed through line Ehrlich’s worked hard to convey in what is a seamless series of stories to come back to again and again. 

Whether you choose to start at the beginning with “Let there be light!” or skip ahead to “I am Joseph, Your Brother” in Genesis, you’ll be pulled into the biblical tales not only by the beautifully wrought words, but by the stunning and evocative artwork Nevins has designed with paint on wood.  Together they manage to make the reader feel in awe, that they are holding something special, something to be cherished. They honor the original text in a re-telling that makes the Torah accessible for first timers or for individuals with a lifetime of biblical knowledge.

With a Mighty Hand is so much more than just the story of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Moses. It’s about “genealogy, law, and ritual.” It’s about faith. About struggle. It’s about a people who to this day still question the Torah’s writing since there is so much contradiction, confusion in parts (sometimes due to translation) and mystery. That is why, as Ehrlich states in her introduction “it is ever new.” As a companion to our synagogue visits, not just on holidays but throughout the year, With a Mighty Hand will provide my family with a wonderful reminder of our rich heritage while also serving as a resource for countless conversations in the years to come.

 With a Might Hand Includes: 

• an introduction by the adapter 

• a Torah genealogy 

• a map of the region 

• annotated endnotes 

• a bibliography 

• an artist’s note 

Click here to read Amy Ehrlich’s enlightening introduction to the book.

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