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Best New Christmas Books for 2023

 

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

COUNTDOWN FOR NOCHEBUENA:
A Celebration of Christmas Eve
Written and illustrated by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
(Little, Brown YR; Available in H/C $15.99 + Board Book $7.99; Ages 0-3)

Countdown for Nochebuena by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom brings young readers a bouncy bilingual picture book (and board book) inspired by the author-illustrator’s Cuban American heritage. There is lots to love about Hernández Bergstrom’s story, from her use of English and Spanish made understandable to non-Spanish speakers with easy-to-follow illustrations that are rich in culture and drenched in color and spirit to the counting structure in Spanish starting at one then working up to 12 before going back down. Perhaps the most meaningful part for me is how the story begins and ends with family.
Children will be captivated by the different aspects of this Christmas Eve celebration where we’re introduced to vocabulary (with a glossary in the backmatter) that describes the action in each scene. We see tables (mesas) invitingly decorated, irresistible and delicious nougat desserts (turrones), and kids (muchachos) making handclapping music. Adults dance and the countdown to presents (regalos) is on everyone’s minds. Then it’s wrapping paper ripped, cleaning up the mess, a cortado for the drive home armed with leftovers and memories of special time spent with family. This truly festive and loving look at Nochebuena is sure to fill many hearts this holiday. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Goodnight Santa cover kids and Santa in sleighGOODNIGHT SANTA
Written by Michelle Robinson
Illustrated by Nick East
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $8.99, Ages 1-4)
What a sweet bedtime board book, just one in a popular series, to share with toddlers and preschoolers who are eager for Christmas and need a calming read to help them settle in.
The gentle rhythmic rhyme coupled with the charming, muted jewel tones of the artwork makes this an ideal story to share in the lead-up to the holiday. Like the classic Goodnight Moon, the repetition of the word goodnight will lull little ones to sleep. “Goodnight snowman. Goodnight choir. Goodnight stockings by the fire.”
An older sister enjoys her snow globe, a little brother looks out for Santa, reindeer await on rooftops as Santa delivers toys after a magical trip to Santa’s workshop, and just the right amount of text to keep things low-key as children can dream about Christmas Day. First published in picture book format, this new 28-page board book provides a sturdy alternative for younger readers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

We Disagree About This Tree cover Bear Mouse and TreeWE DISAGREE ABOUT THIS TREE
Written and illustrated by Ross Collins
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 2-5) 

Whether you’re a fan of the two previous Bear and Mouse books or if you’re new to the series, you’ll enjoy the playful (sometimes cranky) antics as these two housemates debate over how the Christmas tree should be decorated. The over-the-top—and even upside-down—trees will give the kids lots of giggles. Collins’s rhyming text is a fun read-aloud and his art captures the range of emotions these friends experience as they navigate toward their just-right holiday tree.

Companion books include There’s a Bear on My Chair and There’s a Mouse in My House. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

Otto the Ornament cover happy Otto hanging from a Christmas tree.OTTO THE ORNAMENT
Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings
(Random House Children’s Book; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

With Otto the Ornament, Troy Cummings has created a rewarding Christmas story your kids will want to read year-round! You’ll first be greeted by cheerful ornament-filled endpapers and Christmas tree-shaped text on the copyright page. Early on I could see that Cummings nailed it when it comes to the book’s festive mood in the illustrations that had me eager to turn the page.

Otto, a snazzy multi-colored Christmas ornament, is rather full of himself. Bouncing out of a box, this new ornament on the block announces, “ME­RRY CHRISTMAS, BULBS AND BAUBLES! I’M OTTO! I’M HERE TO BEDECK THE HECK OUT OF YOUR TREE!” He’s warmly welcomed to the décor family which includes a candy cane, a green glass bell, a wooden Santa, and a mitten kitten. They invite him to take his place in the middle of the tree. But Otto feels the only spot he deserves is at the top. He soon finds fault with the other ornaments who then have no need for him and vice versa.

Otto’s search to hang on a tree suitable for his awesomeness, while humorous to the reader who want him to have his comeuppance following his appalling behavior, soon proves futile. After claiming what he considers his rightful spot atop a massive city tree not unlike the one at Rockefeller Center, a shocking event plummets him down into the storm drain. Cummings art perfectly captures Otto’s transformation. Emotionally shattered, disheveled, dented, cracked and paint-chipped, Otto realizes he’s lost his bragging rights. Meeting an unexpected lost ornament in the storm drain helps Otto get on the right track. In rescuing the mitten and taking him back to his pair, Otto learns where his true home and friends are. He also sees what really matters, making this not only a learning moment for little ones but a moving one as well. Being the best and brightest ornament doesn’t mean much if it means being alone. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

 

Elves are the Worst cover elf on stepladder beside goblinELVES ARE THE WORST! 
Written and illustrated by Alex Willan

(Simon Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Santa’s elves look like goblins, right? Gilbert the Goblin makes the comparison and decides to sneak into Santa’s workshop in elvish disguise to see if all the tales about these super cute, hardworking (blech) creatures are true. However, Gilbert soon finds that maybe it’s not that they’re so perfect, but, rather, that they know how to work together as a team.

Gilbert is as lovably funny as ever whether in disguise or just as his goblin-y self. Alex Willan’s adorable art appeals to kids as does the almost graphic layout style with panels on many pages.

Other books in this series include Unicorns Are the Worst, Dragons Are the Worst, and Yetis Are the Worst. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Our Italian Christmas Eve brother and sister smiling in front of cheesecake and dessertsOUR ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE
Written by Danielle Sedita and Francesco Sedita

Illustrated by Luciano Lozano
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Along with lively artwork by illustrator Luciano Lozano, sibling author duo Danielle and Francesco Sedita have written a colorful tale inspired by their childhood that is not only joyful and funny but mouthwatering too.

Readers learn right from the start courtesy of the brother and sister narrators that while other families celebrate on Christmas Day, their family celebrates on Christmas Eve. They head to Aunt Babe’s for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, something I loved learning about. It’s also traditionally meatless. I enjoyed the big family energy since it reminded me of holiday get-together sat my aunt’s when I was growing up.

The book is a virtual food frenzy with all the various fish dishes depicted including bread stuffed with oysters and spaghetti with clam sauce. But the best part is how the kids get to pitch in and how much it’s appreciated. It seems Uncle Robert has forgotten to bring the struffoli for dessert so the kids make cheesecake, a recipe they’ve made before with their mom. The children note the family dynamics which play out each year, always ending on a note of love. Now that everything has turned out well and just when you thought the stuffed family would be loosening belts and napping, Aunt Babe says, “Andiamo!” It’s time for midnight Mass.

One of my favorite spreads is an overhead perspective where readers can see the platters of food set out on the dining room table. In addition to being a heartwarming story, Our Italian Christmas Eve is a visual feast for the holiday season.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney cover Santa on snowy roof staring at chimneyHOW DOES SANTA GO DOWN THE CHIMNEY?
Written by Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews- Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

This hilarious book explores all the possible ways Santa may be able to fit down our chimneys and what he does when there isn’t one. Kids will be onboard from the start because these are the questions and possible solutions that they are tossing about: Does he shrink down? Can he squeeze through the mail slot? Feet first or head? And how does he keep from getting dirty?

Mac Barnett’s spot-on text plus Jon Klassen’s lol art equals a hit with kids everywhere as they weigh in about theories and probably pose some of their own. Timeless questions are seriously considered yet balanced with plenty of humor and mystery. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Christmas Ahoy! cover festive boats and lighthouse.CHRISTMAS AHOY!
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Kayla Stark
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Holiday boat parades are magical and Erin Dealey’s rhyming picture book brings families right in so they can experience the festivities. Counting from one to ten, different kinds of vessels are introduced in fun ways that kids can relate to such as “Five fishers harmonize, ever so merry. / Six dancers twirl on the Sugar Plum Ferry!”

Kayla Stark’s art pops out from the beautiful blue background, highlighting the action—I love a reindeer-filled yacht! The informative backmatter adds another element, providing some background on fourteen of the ships including sailboat, dory, and barge. With its many interesting angles, this book is sure to be a hit with families and in classrooms. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Dasher Can't Wait for Christmas cover child and Dasher in snowy woods.DASHER CAN’T WAIT FOR CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

Matt Tavares’s picture book has a classic feel as he captures Dancer’s young exuberance when she (a little bit too eagerly) heads out on her own to test her flying skills. Kids who can’t wait until Christmas will totally understand and feel for Dasher when her adventure doesn’t turn out as she planned.

This beautifully illustrated book brings a beloved reindeer front and center, giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes on at the North Pole before the big night. The story is both cautionary and uplifting, one that kids will turn to again and again. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

24 CHRISTMAS STORIES:
Faith and Traditions from Around the World
Judith Bouilloc, Various Authors
Sky Pony Press

IT’S NAVIDAD, EL CUCUY!
Written by Donna Barba Higuera
Illustrated by Juliana Perdomo
Harry N. Abrams

A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA
Written by Deb Adamson
Illustrated by Anne Zimanski
McSea Books

ELMORE THE CHRISTMAS MOOSE (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written by Dev Petty
Illustrated by Mike Boldt

DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE SLEIGH! (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

SANTA YETI
Written by Matthew Luhn
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
Kane Miller Books

 

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Five Picture Books for Snowy Days – A Roundup

FIVE PICTURE BOOKS

FOR SNOWY DAYS

 

 

We may be fast approaching spring but many parts of the country are still getting snow so we thought we’d share five picture books to read on a snowy day.

 

 

AlltheLittleSnowflakes coverALL THE LITTLE SNOWFLAKES
Written by Cindy Jin
Illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

This 18-page, die-cut board book for little ones invites readers to explore all the lovely cut-outs of snowflakes while learning about their magic effect on all who see them. Children will see all the different places snowflakes fall in a rhyming text that highlights the word snowflakes to help with word recognition. The exuberant illustrations are achieved by hand-cutting, something parents can try with kids. Every joyful scene as snow falls all around is colorful and will motivate kids to go outside to play. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

Can Bears Ski coverCAN BEARS SKI?
Written b
y Raymond Antrobus
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
(Candlewick Press; $16.99; Ages 3-7)

Award-winning deaf poet Raymond Antrobus, and partially deaf author-illustrator Polly Dunbar, tell a story with feeling and emotions that only those who have lived a non-hearing life could tell in Can Bears Ski? Antrobus’s picture book debut takes the reader into the life of Bear who awakens in the morning by shakes on the banister, and stairs flinching, but not quite sure what Dad Bear is saying. The young bear is confused with everyone’s question of “Can Bears Ski?” Is that what all the bears are asking? The sweet drawings of Bear’s confused face as Dad Bear speaks are heartwarmingly touching. Turning the page, Bear is surrounded by all the young bears in school who are laughing but our main character doesn’t know why. What a wonderful read for children going through their own difficulties with deafness. The excitement is palpable when Bear receives hearing aids, and we see the happiness on his little brown face. Antrobus wrote a book that he said he could have used as a child. I love the strong connection of this father/son duo and the happiness the bear feels when he realizes that Bears CAN Ski! – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

APolarBearintheSnow cvrA POLAR BEAR IN THE SNOW
Written b
y Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Shawn Harris
(Candlewick Press; $17.99; Ages 3-7)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal

Acclaimed author Mac Barnett, winner of the Caldecott Honor and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Extra Yarn sends a polar bear on a majestic adventure through snow, visiting seals and hunkering in caves, while each page turn asks where is he going? A Polar Bear in The Snow features illustrator Shawn Harris’s white torn-paper illustrations layering white-on-white hues and bursts of blue. I read the book a few times, including once to a first grader that I tutor, and with each read, I discovered new aspects of the art I hadn’t noticed before. There is excitement as the story progresses while readers ponder will the polar bear be alright as he wanders through the snow. The turquoise art that suddenly appears is truly beautiful to view when the polar bear sees his reflection in the water. That blue continues through the remainder of the story until returning to the white pages of snow. Barnett leaves a lot of room for a child’s imagination with each delightful read. – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

IfWinterComes coverIF WINTER COMES, TELL IT I’M NOT HERE
Written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo
(Candlewick Press; $16.99; Ages 3-7)

Living in Southern California, I don’t have a lot of experience with the changing of the seasons. But reading London-based author-illustrator Simona Ciraolo’s 32-page picture book If Winter Comes, Tell It I’m Not Here, showed me the relationship of a big sister and her little brother as she warns him to beware because summer won’t last forever. The expressive soft colors depicting the young main character floating in the still turquoise water invite the reader into the moment as he relishes his love for swimming. His sister warns him that summer is going to end soon, as we turn the page to the red and orange colors of the changing seasons. This is a fabulous book for both parents and teachers to share with kids who live in a place where they see the leaves fall and the cold rain turn to snow. It’s also for those of us who could eat ice cream all year and bask in the sun but sure would love to throw a snowball once in a while and cuddle with the family on the couch. The boy comes to realize that living in the moment can be an adventure no matter what time of year. – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

RaccoonsPerfectSnowman cover

RACCOON’S PERFECT SNOWMAN
Written and illustrated by Katia Wish
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Raccoon’s qualities will resonate with many young readers and that made me really appreciate the premise of this adorable picture book. Since Raccoon has invested a lot of time perfecting his snowman-making skills he’s now offered to help his friends work on finessing theirs. The catch is that he’s so busy focusing on creating yet another perfect snowman that he neglects helping out his friends. In fact, he hogs all the good stuff needed to make one he considers just right.

Rabbit can only find dirty snow. Fox cannot master the snowball shaping and poor Mouse cannot find a single worthwhile item to use for decoration. When it’s time to check in with everyone’s progress, Raccoon is less than complimentary. He criticizes their humble efforts and offends everyone leaving him feeling “perfectly awful.” And rightly so!

When Raccoon realizes how selfish and hurtful he’s been to his pals, Raccoon convinces them to give it one more go. Unlike the first attempt, this time Raccoon’s encouragement makes all the difference. With his friends all pitching in, they create a charming snowman far from perfect by Raccoon’s original standards but perfectly wonderful just the same. This snowman has been built on forgiveness and friendship, so who really cares how it looks? What matters is that when working together, everyone’s contribution counts. Wish’s art is lovely, full of white space that works well for the wintery environment. And the forest animals’ expressive faces add to the reading enjoyment.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Q&A With Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Plus Giveaway

An Interview With Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
About Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
Plus a Giveaway!

 

 

Sam Dave Dig Hole cvr

 

Ready? Grab your copy (it’s the book birthday today for Sam & Dave Dig a Hole), brew a cup of tea (in honor of Jon), sit back and enter the world of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, two of today’s most creative talents in the children’s book industry. After you’ve read the Q&A, scroll down for a link to my review of the book and to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4-8) – in stores now.

 

INTERVIEW

Good Reads With Ronna: I read in the promotional material that you were eating together at a diner here in L.A. when you began discussing the book. So, which came first, the chilaquiles or the egg, I mean the fried egg that is? Okay, joking aside, – when you sat down to brainstorm, did Sam & Dave exist already or just a hole to dig?

Jon Klassen: Oh! That morning? Everything. It was Sam & Dave and the hole that we came up with that morning. We left breakfast with basically that Sam & Dave are two kids going down and digging a hole, and missing what they wer searching for and ending up somewhere different from where they started off. All that stuff was kind of worked over the breakfast table.

GRWR: Now why digging as opposed to building? I’m just curious as they’re both things kids love to do.

KLASSEN: I think that maybe initially, it was. The idea of vertical movement through the book either up or down was kind of maybe the first little bit of the thing we got talking about.

Mac Barnett: Yeah, we did talk about both that morning.

KLASSEN: Yeah, I think we did talk about going up. … if you’re building up you kind of know what’s up there, there’s not really any mystery to it because you are just going higher into space. But digging down, if you start the way the book starts, where the ground is at the very bottom of the page instead of being able to see everything, you’re kind of finding things out as you turn the page. It’s just more exciting as a story and also something that kids can see their way to doing. If you’re building something that seems really complicated, it’s not as relatable …

BARNETT: Jon and I were both diggers as kids … We’ve dug a lot of holes. Everything that I built as a kid I was disappointed in and never looked like I wanted it to look. But I was never disappointed by any of the holes I dug. Those came out great!

GRWR: Has either one of you ever dug up any neat stuff as a child?

BARNETT: My best friend when I was a kid, we dug a lot of holes. And then he told me one time, when we dug a hole, that he found this little plastic skull that had red eyes that he told me were made out of diamonds and created this elaborate mythology around it. I was so amazed that we had dug this thing out of the ground.

And then he told me like three years later that he had just dropped it in the hole before he put his shovel in and then pretended to pick it up. I was devastated. I had created an entire mythology that just crumbled. I lost three years of my childhood that day. That was my big discovery which turned out to be false.

KLASSEN: There was a tree in a field behind our house. We lived in sort of a suburb in Toronto for a while. There was this big field that they kept promising they were going to turn into a school but it just being this crappy field. And it wouldn’t grow anything because it was sort of filled with … half-hearted attempts to pour cement or dump bricks. It was just a horrible little field, but we really liked it because you could run around and we built baseball diamonds and stuff back there. But the only thing that grew was this one tree that looked like it was never gonna ever sprout a leaf, but it was this gnarled thing. And I had a long row of unfortunate hamsters that got buried under the tree one by one after you know, you get a new hamster and it would die, you get a new hamster and it would die. There were probably like eight of them under the tree.

And every now and then I would go and try to find one of the hamsters. I don’t think I ever did though, I think I kept forgetting where I had buried them.

BARNETT: That’s amazing. Your story managed to be even more depressing than mine, Jon.

GRWR: When you collaborate on a book as a team, do you check in with each other daily?

BARNETT & KLASSEN: On this one (Sam & Dave) we did.

BARNETT: Particularly. Extra Yarn – a little bit less so. We talked about that book a lot and had a lot of conversations. That was probably closer to weekly, if that. Jon and I talk a lot anyway, though, and so were just talking everyday probably before we started working on this book. So this gave us something to talk about.

GRWR: Now you’ve got skulls and hamster skeletons to talk about.

BARNETT: You know what? You know there were skeletons in this book for a little while.

KLASSEN: Yeah.

BARNETT: And then, maybe then, they got taken out. But at one point there were a lot of skeletons in this book. Monster skeletons. Yeah Jon and I would talk. We’d open up an audio link between our computers every day and just talk about the book. And Jon would be making sketches and send them over to me and then we would talk about those. And sometimes he would create something that was so good that I would have to rewrite the text to support the illustration that was a moment that hadn’t occurred originally to us, but Jon would have a good idea. I think we each had a lot of impact on the other’s work. More so than any other collaboration I’ve done and I tend to collaborate closely with the illustrators I’m working with.

GRWR: Were all the fabulous “so close yet so far” visual gags always planned or did they evolve organically as the story evolved – in other words, was the book carefully plotted and dummied from the start so every page turn would be full of anticipation or did some of the things you came up with actually surprise and delight you, and maybe move you in a different direction?

BARNETT: It was definitely written for every page turn to have something like a near miss to build anticipation. That said, the exact mechanics of it changed. For instance, when they split up and go around the diamond. That was a way to miss the diamonds that wasn’t in it originally., but was just a drawing Jon did that we both really liked. It was definitely written very consciously to create that sense of anticipation and frustration. But it defitintely kept evolving after that as well. It was Jon’s job to kind of then work out how to exactly to maximize the emotional impact of all the near misses.

GRWR: Did you intentionally want an ending that’s open to interpretation, something to spur little and big imaginations or do you feel what occurs (without revealing too much) is obvious to the reader?

BARNETT: I think that any book is a conversation between the person who is making it or people who are making it and the reader. Any piece of art is a conversation between the creator and the reader, and some conversations demand a little bit more from their listeners than others do. Some conversations somebody is just talking right at you, they’re not really listening or making any contribution back. I think this isn’t one of those books.

This is a conversation that invites the listener/reader to participate a little more closely and that’s particularly true with the ending.

KLASSEN: I think that for me with this book, with the ending of it, what I’ve come around to and settled on, is that  everything that, I think, that we want them (readers) to know is in the pictures.

BARNETT: Yes.

KLASSEN: The specifics in terms of discussing it like this or talking about it in a review or in a paragraph that describes the book for booksellers, or whatever else, it’s a tricky one. Because you can’t exactly say what happens. There’s not much of a term for it, but you know what happens because it’s in the pictures.

As specific as we want to get is the picture. I think that’s the best way of putting it. That is as much information as we know and as we want to know.

BARNETT: And that’s as much as we’re giving. I think that’s true of the sublime. That it’s a place where words can’t necessarily go.

GRWR: I think there needs to be more of that in books for kids’ imaginations these days.

BARNETT: I agree completely. It’s a reason that I come to literature and that I’ve always come to literature. And yet mystery, ambiguity, the sublime, these are things that are sometimes considered off limits in children’s books. And I don’t know why? They’re some of the greatest pleasures that art can offer.

GRWR: Do either of you have any rituals you practice before beginning work?

KLASSEN:  I eat a lot of peanut butter.

BARNETT:  Jon you make tea.

KLASSEN: I make what?

BARNETT: You make tea.

KLASSEN: I do make tea, yeah that’s true. I usually wake up and put water on for tea in sort of a blind stupor before I’m even knowing what I’m doing. Yeah, and just all of the  stuff that goes along with that. I don’t know, I think that right now I’m in a spot, and I was for this book as well, where I don’t really have a studio place that I go to a lot. I work at home in a makeshift area ’cause I’m kind of between places I work and so I didn’t have as much of a routine with this one as I did with some of the other books. Usually I like to make the same lunch for weeks and weeks …

GRWR: Okay so Jon your routine is that you have tea in the morning.

KLASSEN: (Laughing) Yeah!  Short answer is I have tea in the morning. (Laughter)

BARNETT: Yeah, that was all Jon’s ritual right there. My working is a kind of, my process is ugly and chaotic and there’s a lot of anxiety over not working and a lot of pacing around the house. I don’t know … the impetus to write has to come from the excitement of the idea or a contractual obligation (laugh). Those are the only reasons that could get me into a chair. I don’t have any kind of regular writing process.

GRWR: That’s cool.

BARNETT: I was gonna say both of us … would like to have a studio space. I don’t have one. I’ve always wanted one which is one reason that I think we always open that audio run between our computers. It kind of creates the illusion on some days when it feels … because it’s a lonely job writing books … it will create the illusion that you’re sharing a studio space with someone. A lot of our conversations just become quiet like, I just hear like shuffling of papers, the clinking of a mug over on Jon’s side of the desk for, you know, 20 minutes, 40 minutes or whatever, but it can be reassuring to have the sense of another person kind of struggling along working on stories, too.

GRWR: Wow what did people do 30 years ago?

KLASSEN: Well, they wrote pretty good books. (Laughter)

BARNETT:  I was gonna say, 30 to 40 years ago, you do know the all those stories about like, Sendak sleeping on … Ruth Krauss’s couch and that kind of stuff? I mean people were collaborating on books so many of them lived in Manhattan or on that corridor from basically Manhattan to Maine that they were in the same room so much of the time. I think that it’s kind of cool that after a period where I think it’s a good thing that you don’t have to live in New York to write a children’s book or to illustrate them. Technology has allowed us to get a little bit closer to that romantic ideal I always have of you know Sendak and Krauss in the same room.

KLASSEN: There doesn’t seem to be those meccas anymore of like creative people headed for one town to do whatever it is is going on there, as much, so you have to sort of replace that with something.

GRWR: That’s great that lots of avenues have been opened for people that wouldn’t have existed. That’s what we need.

BARNETT & KLASSEN: Yeah, exactly.

BARNETT: That’s the good thing about it, right, that you don’t have to live in Manhattan to make picture books?

GRWR: I mean you could collaborate with someone in London now.

BARNETT: Yeah. I would definitely do that. Jon, you know, Jon hates English people so he would not do that.
(Laughter)

GRWR:  But he likes tea. (Laughter)

KLASSEN:  The world has opened a little bit too wide. (Laughter)


BARNETT: Yeah, I think that is. That’s so cool. And you do see more of that. You do see people collaborating with illustrators in different countries.

GRWR:  … I actually lived in London, so I think it would be pretty cool.

BARNETT: I lived in London for a little while, too.

KLASSEN: It’s a great town. Mac was kidding. I like English people.

BARNETT: That is true, Jon does love English people. He was just there.

KLASSEN: I was just in London like two weeks ago. It was great. 

GRWR: Oh, were you doing promotions?’

KLASSEN: I was actually there twice this year for stuff. Walker books who publishes these books, the parent company of Candlewick, puts on these really cool events for this book. We went to a bookstore in London and saw a whole shop window full of dirt for the Sam & Dave book. it was really neat.

GRWR: Oh, that’s fantastic 

KLASSEN: Yeah, it was fun. 

GRWR:  Guys, what’s the wildest question you’ve been asked by a kid when you’ve been at a school or at a signing?

KLASSEN: Mmm…I always think it’s weird that they want to know how old I am. And I don’t know what they think of the answer. When I say I’m 32 or 33 or whatever the heck I am. I don’t … and they always go, “Whoa!” I don’t know what that is?

BARNETT: They think you’re old. When they ask how long have you been doing books and you say seven years, then that means that’s older than them. I think it is crazy.

BARNETT: Oh, I was with some kindergartners in Chicago over winter and a little guy asked me how do you make a book? And so I ran through that and then he raised his hand again. And he said, “How do you make a baby?” And I was … was not ready for that presentation. That’s definitely the wildest thing I ever got asked. I told him I don’t make babies, I make books.

(Laughter)

GRWR:  That’s a classic, just fantastic! Can you share any of your secrets for writing a successful picture book or maybe just tell me the elements that you strive for?

BARNETT: One thing that I think is so important for me because I can’t draw, but I do think picture books are a visual form and that even writing a picture book is a visual act. So, I’m always very conscious of the fact that there have to be strong images that I’m trying to create in my texts. And a really tight relationship between text and image. To essentially use the text most often to create opportunities for illustrators to look good, and to have some of the most exciting things in the stories that I’m working out happen in the pictures, the pictures that I’m not drawing, right and I don’t even have any conception of how it will turn out necessarily. I would say the three things that I’m always pretty conscious of is that relationship between text and image. Page turns, I think page turns are like the basic building blocks of a picture book. Each page turn is an opportunity to turn on the light or surprise and then lay out. Just like trying to create opportunities for interesting lay out and making sure that I’m writing about different kinds of images and that the scenes are changing or that the things we’re seeing are changing.

GRWR: That’s super. What about you, Jon?’

BARNETT:  Just go with animals, that’s all he does.

KLASSEN: Yeah, it’s as simple as that (Laughter).

KLASSEN:  I had a friend in college who, we were talking about what we think makes a story, and when we think we have a story versus just like some weird cool idea. And he said it was when you feel like it ended, at the end. Even if you didn’t know it was headed somewhere, he thought that as long as you feel like something ended, that’s when you have a complete story. And I like that … even my definition of what an ending feels like is kind of changing and this book changed it for me again, I think. You don’t really know what you want an ending to feel like, but as long as it lands in the definition of that word … picture books, especially are so short … have all sorts of different ways of making that happen and satisfying, whatever it is. It could be a totally local problem – it doesn’t have to be a big philosophical point although the better ones end up finding those things even accidentally. But as long as it feels like something that started ends, then you’ve got the book. I love the idea of how wide open that is and how you can sort of satisfy an audience with ways that they didn’t even know they could be.

GRWR: Or ways that you didn’t even know.

KLASSEN: Well, yeah. Well I think that works both ways, exactly. Like it surprises me as much as it surprises an audience I think when anything works. You don’t plan it. You’re trying to find a way to make it end and to make it feel like it just ended under its own power kind of.

GRWR: That’s how I felt at the end of this book. I was “Yes! Just a loud, “Yes!”

BARNETT: Oh, cool!

KLASSEN: Oh, that’s great!

GRWR: That’s just how I felt. Like, they did it, they did it. I love it. This is excellent, you got me and you’re gonna get everybody with this.

BARNETT & KLASEN: Aaaww.

GRWR:  Can we count on you for a third collaboration, a kind of picture book trifecta?

KLASSSEN: Oh, yeah probably.

KLASSEN: I don’t know. I don’t know if it will feel like, you know a trilogy or anything like that.

BARNETT: I think this book is very different from Extra Yarn and I think the next thing that we do would probably be different again. But yes, yes.

GRWR: Yes? Oh awesome. You could be chameleons. I feel you both are very chameleon-like in what books you do. …  If we took away your names, could people still identify you?  Each story, each picture book, everything is so different. It’s very chameleon-like … Do you intentionally do that or do you just feel like that’s part of the creative process that when a person creates it’s just constantly changing?

BARNETT: Well I don’t like to repeat myself I think first and foremost. The stories that I tell or just in general, I don’t like to repeat myself .. and to do so in a book feels like such a wasted opportunity. Particularly picture books are such a young form. We’re just still figuring out what’s possible in them. I mean something that looks like a contemporary picture book doesn’t really even come around until like Wanda Gág, you know, and even then there’s a long time before Wanda Gág’s vision of what a book should be sort of won out. So we’re working with something that’s less than a century old and I feel like I’m just like running around on a blank map trying to like put flags in as many different areas as I can and it’s exhilarating!

GRWR: That is such an exciting way to put it!

BARNETT: Top that, Jon!

KLASSEN: Yeah. Now I can’t talk at all.

GRWR: That said, Jon, how do you feel about that?

KLASSEN: I think Mac’s got more range than I do that way. I think that even though I read a lot of Mac’s things, sometimes he’ll send me a text he’s working on … and I just I can’t believe he switched gears so quickly from the last thing he did. It’s all self-contained. It’s working under the rules of this particular one. I think he understands that concept of just following a very local set of rules to the story and having fun with that inside of it. There are probably themes and things that you could find. But it would take a minute, I think, because they are so self-contained. I like changing things myself and I always try to keep the decisions and the work kind of local to the story … I mean, I’m not sure that I stray as far from the things that I like, maybe story wise a little bit. To think of the ideas I’m working on for other books in the future are consciously sort of trying to keep trying different things. But I have a few things I like very much that I keep sort of going back to and I’m not sure I’m done with yet. So I don’t know if I have as much range that way. I’d like to think I do but I’m not sure when it all finally comes out of the printing press, it kind of looks like if it sits next to the other one it’s pretty close. (Laughter)

BARNETT: Oh, I think there’s something to not being attached to a visual style just writing picture books that is really liberating, too, and there’s something self-erasing about it. Kids will look at Extra Yarn or Sam & Dave Dig a Hole and see them, I think, as Jon Klassen’s book. That’s certainly how I saw books as a kid even when they were written by different people. I always identified them as the illustrator’s first. And so I think that if Sam & Daves or Extra Yarns sit comfortably, visually next to the Hat books, kids will often kind of lump them together that way, so you could see that as … self-erasing, but it actually … allows you to write in so many different styles.  And part of why I feel so liberated, is it’s a completely different set of rules if I’m writing in Jon Klassen’s visual universe. Things work very differently in that world than they would in Adam Rex’s visual universe. And it is sort of like writing stories that take place on two different planets.

GRWR: Yep. That space on the shelf is getting larger and larger.

BARNETT: Oh, man. I know. It’s too big. People are tired, tired of my books, Ronna. They don’t want to get the phone call that I have a new book anymore. (laughter)

GRWR: What about you Jon?

KLASSEN:  I think so. Yeah, I think we line up pretty close on that.

GRWR:  If you guys weren’t creating books for kids, what would you be doing?

BARNETT: I think I would be teaching in some form. The plan I had right before I decided to write books, I was going to go and get my Ph.D. and become a medievalist. I may have been, you know, stroking a fat beard and reading Icelandic poetry.

GRWR: Did you say a medievalist?

BARNETT: A medievalist, that’s right.

KLASSEN: If you go to Ren (Renaissance?) faires, they’re all over the place.

BARNETT:  I wasn’t a Ren faire medievalist. I was one of the cool ones, Jon. There’s a whole club. (Laughter)

KLASSEN: There’s always one guy in a Ren faire saying you have to call me doctor. And that’s the guy with the PhD.

GRWR: (Laughter)

BARNETT: And The turkey legs are outstanding.

GRWR: But anyway, parents and caregivers who purchase these books will be reading my interview with you on the blog so what would you like to say to those parents?

BARNETT:  Hmmm, with me I think one interesting thing about the way picture books work … I would just say kind of thank you to them because they’re so much a part of it, not just for buying the books and choosing to read this book. By reading the book, a picture book, they’re so often read by a parent or caregiver or teacher, librarian or babysitter, they’re really as much of the creation of the experience as Jon and I are. They’re kind of the unsung 3rd creative force in putting a picture book together. I made this text. Then Jon interprets the text in illustrations which is then interpreted again by a parent before it finally reaches the audience. They’re choosing voices and telling our jokes and sometimes choosing to take out little pieces of dialogue or add things in. So really they’re like actors interpreting a performance so I thank them not just for getting the book, but for being part of an experience of bringing this thing to life.

KLASSEN: Yeah, I would try and say the same thing. My first picture books, well, we didn’t have a lot of picture books  in our family’s house growing up. But my grandparents had all their books from when their kids were young. I think they had a lot more book clubs and stuff back then. There were all of these Dr. Seuss books and the reader books and things like that. They just had shelves of these things that were all the same size, but they were done by different authors and different illustrators and stuff. I still don’t really think of those guys very much. I think of those books and that room and that house and that time, all together as one big sort of feeling, and I still think that that’s still mainly the reason why I make books is because of that room and that house and those years and them having those books in that house it just creates a place you want to revisit. And this is the best way I sort of knew how to go back there was to keep trying to make these things. And the idea that they are in these houses and these rooms, they are making a place for their kids and memories that sort of you know the books are sort of merged into the memories of these rooms and those times. And it’s all sort of one thing, and they’re making it for them by having these books around. They are sort of creating a place for these kids that they can go and hear these stories, but also just feel like they feel in a really general way. It’s very important. It’s one of my most important memories.

GRWR: It’s hard getting rid of books.

BARNETT: I still have all of mine from when I was a kid. It’s true. I like what you said that, Jon. I always feel so grateful. We’re really, when we make books, like in a very intimate way invited into families and it’s such a privilege.

GRWR: I agree. I have to say that it’s been a privilege for me to chat with you guys but I’ve kept you long enough so I just want to say if there’s anything else you’d like to add before I let you get back to the rest of your day.

BARNETT: I just wanna say thank you, Ronna, this is a lot of fun talking to you.
KLASSEN: Yeah, thanks for the time. We really appreciate it, and thanks for liking the book so much. That’s really great.

GRWR: Oh, that’s fantastic. Jon, I guess I’ll see you in L.A. or at the Ren (Renaissance) Faire.

BARNETT: We’ll all see each other at the Ren Faire. I’m coming down. (Laughter)

GRWR: Best of luck to you guys. I know the buzz is continuing to grow over Sam & Dave and I just wish you the best of luck. Thank you so much.

Interview by Ronna Mandel with special thanks to Armineh Manookian for her invaluable help!

Click here to read Ronna’s review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.

Want more humorous insights from Barnett and Klassen? Click here to read Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen Make a Book: A Transcript

ABOUT BARNETT & KLASSEN

Mac Barnett is the author of several award-winning books for children, including President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, and Extra Yarn, illustrated by Jon Klassen, which won a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and a Caldecott Honor and his most recent, Telephone. Mac Barnett lives in N. California.

Jon Klassen is the author-illustrator of I Want My Hat Back, a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor book, and This Is Not My Hat, winner of the Caldecott Medal. He is also the illustrator of House Held Up by Trees, written by Ted Kooser, which was named a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children’s Book, and Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett, which won a Caldecott Honor. Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Jon Klassen now lives in Los Angeles.

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Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Written by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!

Once upon a time (okay, maybe three years ago), in a not too distant land (okay, California), two talented (okay, multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling) picture book pros teamed up and created EXTRA YARN … Published in 2012 and awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2013. Now, once again, the winning and wickedly funny team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen have joined forces, this time to bring us SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE.  I’m delighted to say that with their latest (on sale October 14), these guys (Barnett & Klassen not Sam & Dave) have outdone themselves, and that’s going to mean lots of happily ever afters.  ENTER THE GIVEAWAY ENDING SOON BY CLICKING HERE.

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Pick up a copy of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4-8) written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen and you’ll see what I mean in just a few short pages. Then, at the end, which you’ll arrive at in no time because you’ve been turning the pages so quickly to see how things for Sam & Dave turn out, you’ll find yourself, along with your kids, racing back to the beginning to check things out because you’ll love, love, love what you think has happened, but want to be sure. Or not be sure, it’s totally open to interpretation and that’s all I’ll say.

In a nutshell, or in this case a hole, Sam & Dave set out (parents and caregivers take note: the action begins even before the title page), shovels on shoulders, to dig a hole. They’re joined by an attentive dog whose presence is instrumental in the story.  Sam wonders when they’ll stop, but the hole is only waist high. Dave says, “We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.” Who doesn’t recall having that same feeling of anticipation during a childhood adventure just like these boys do? So, they dig on. And readers, well readers are rooting for them, too!

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Klassen wastes no time in complementing Barnett’s excellent yet economical prose with visual humor that will keep kids engaged and thoroughly entertained. In a hilarious Abbott and Costello-like manner, the two boys seem to play Abbott’s straight man. They carry on with their mission of finding a treasure that readers see is almost within reach, so when they find nothing and change directions, or eventually split up and dig separately, the humor and tension build in the best possible way. The adorable dog, with a keen nose or sixth sense, takes on the role of the comic relief in true Lou Costello-style, and knows exactly where all the treasures are. The “so close yet so far” theme Barnett has mapped out and Klassen has illustrated is both exciting and irresistible. The pacing of each page turn is so perfect that I can almost hear kids calling out as Sam & Dave is being read to them. “Wait, don’t change direction! It’s over there!” And that kind of interaction is a treasure in itself!

It isn’t until all dug up routes lead to nothing but exhaustion that this picture book takes a final comical turn (or fall …. ) courtesy of the boys’ trusty companion, the dog. Its pursuit of a buried bone leads to what I’m certain will be this season’s most clever and talked about ending, guaranteeing countless re-readings, imaginative conversations and a spate of shovel purchases.

Recently, two adult friends and I sat down for a discussion of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, another great thing about this already terrifically entertaining picture book. It got us talking about our childhood experiences and how those might be influencing our responses to the book. One friend pointed out how the layout of the text in each spread mimicked the depth, width or action of the simple, understated yet totally spot-on artwork. The other friend wondered if the boys were brothers or cousins, and I sat thrilled to hear how animatedly we were talking about the plot and how it had affected us. In other words, just imagine what your children will be thinking after reading this gem of a book, and how wonderful it will feel to have shared that experience with them.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Mac Barnett on Twitter: @macbarnett

Jon Klassen on Twitter: @burstofbeaden 

 

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Telephone by Mac Barnett

Heard it through the grapevine!

Have you heard about Telephone, the new picture book written by award-winning and bestselling author Mac Barnett with illustrations by Jen Corace?

☆Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

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If you read this blog often you’ll certainly know we’re big Mac Barnett fans and now we’re spreading the word that we’ve added Jen Corace to our list of faves.

Telephone, the schoolyard game so beloved by generations of kids, has been playfully reimagined and reaches new heights of humor when birds on a telephone wire pass along a message. You know the game, a simple sentence, in this case “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner,” is changed by each consecutive messenger until it’s unrecognizable.

The hilarity comes not only from the misunderstandings, but from Corace’s artistic interpretation of the tale. My favorite spreads are of an acrophobic turkey, “Tell Peter: I’m too high up on this wire,” which in turn gets misinterpreted by a fire fearing bird with “Tell Peter: Something smells like fire!”

Kids are going to love how each bird on the telephone wire hears the message based on his or her own particular interests. The variety of birds and their hobbies are beautifully illustrated by Corace. Don’t miss all the details she’s so carefully created such as the shadows of the birds in the first spread and the way neighbors seem to also be sharing news.

The picture book’s theme of communication and listening versus hearing lends itself well to a discussion with children about how our own experiences and feelings can play a huge role in what we hear, thought we heard or want to hear. Of course Barnett gets it right by saving the wise old owl until just before the very end. After hearing the sheer nonsense Peter’s mom’s original message has become, the owl’s able to cool, calm and collectedly straighten things out.

So in a word, or a few, tell your children to read this book or better yet, read it to them. Pass it on!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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President Taft is Stuck in The Bath by Mac Barnett

PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

– A Junior Library Guild Selection

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President Taft is Stuck in The Bath written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, Candlewick Press, 2014.

President Taft is Stuck in The Bath (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4+), a new picture book written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, is as good as its cover, if not better, and the cover is just terrific (or should I say terry-ific?)! PLUS: if you enjoy this review, enter our giveaway to win a copy of the book. *Details below!!

I couldn’t wait to read my review copy of President Taft is Stuck in The Bath. I’d always heard the rumor/anecdote that the hefty (and I don’t mean muscular hefty, but big, heavy hefty) William Howard Taft, our 27th U.S. President, had gotten stuck in the White House tub, but I never pursued this line of inquiry let alone thought it was material for a children’s picture book. I was wrong! Thankfully Mac Barnett thought otherwise and chose to dig deep into the archives for this hilarious picture book that will make both parents and kids crack up (no pun intended). As I’ve said, I was ready from the cover and certainly from page 1, with its page-size portrait of a handlebar mustachioed, scowling Taft, to follow this riotous romp wherever it took me. I think you will feel the same way.

By including a plethora of the President’s cabinet called upon to remedy the situation, Barnett has created a cast of characters that do not fail to entertain. We first meet the demure Mrs. Taft. Her attempts to offer her husband suggestions as to how he could be extricated from the White House bathtub are disregarded by the angry and frustrated President. “It’s a disaster!” said Taft. He asked her to call for the Vice President who, upon seeing Taft’s dilemma, could not disguise his eagerness to be sworn in as President. When it was evident the V.P.’s one track mind was of no help, the President summoned the Secretaries of State, Agriculture, War, Navy, Treasury and Interior one after the other. But alas, all their over-the-top ideas proved futile.

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Interior spread from President Taft is Stuck in The Bath written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, © 2014 Candlewick Press.

And though it comes as no surprise that it’s the First Lady who saves the day, it doesn’t matter. It’s the artwork that’s the star here as we see a birthday-suited Taft finally freed from the tub. In all his naked glory, Taft the President is still human.  The book’s uproarious take on this often-told tale may even tempt young readers to delve more deeply into the past of this and other American leaders.

Between Barnett’s delightful usage of early 1900s sounding language, “Blast that!” bellowed Taft. “A preposterous plan.” and Van Dusen’s humorous illustrations (who thought a picture book featuring an overweight man in a bathtub could be so engaging), the pair have managed marvelously to pull off presenting a president getting stuck in the tub in a way I could never have imagined. It doesn’t hurt that, while the anecdote has never been corroborated, Barnett includes an interesting author’s note along with “Some Facts Pertaining to President Taft and Bathtubs” that should not be missed. My takeaway – who cares if this tale is fact or fiction? It’s a lot more fun speculating with Barnett and Van Dusen!

Here’s a link to an interview with illustrator Chris Van Dusen.

* Enter here by sending an email with your name and address included. Be sure to write Taft is Stuck in the subject line. This giveaway valued at $16.99 ends at midnight PST on Monday, April 14, 2014. One winner will be chosen randomly on Tuesday, April 15th. You must first like us on Facebook or Twitter for eligibility. Good luck! U.S. and Canadian Residents only.

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