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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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A PERFECT TREE FOR CHRISTMAS by Anne Gillespie Lewis

A PERFECT TREE FOR CHRISTMAS
by Anne Gillespie Lewis with illustrations by Carina Stahlberg
(Nodin Press, $7.99, Ages 3-7)

Perfect-Tree-Christmas-cvr.jpg

During the countdown to Christmas, all the trees on the Christmas tree farm are anxious to be selected and go home with a special family. After all, the trees will play an important part in the Christmas celebrations. They stand a little taller, brush the snow off their branches, and wait to become A Perfect Tree for Christmas. But two trees in Anne Gillespie Lewis’ gently suspenseful story aren’t quite perfect. Though green and pointy-needled, one has a crooked top and the other’s tip is split in two.

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Interior artwork from A Perfect Tree for Christmas by Anne Gillespie Lewis with illustrations by Carina Stahlberg, Nodin Press © 2014.

The farmer does his best to bolster the pair, giving them extra water and fertilizer. He even tries to straighten the crooked tree by binding it with a colorful scarf. But nothing works, and day after day passes while the trees are passed over by picky families. Still, the piney pair happily watch the children taking hayrides, making snowmen, and warming themselves at bonfires.

Readers will root for a happy ending to this tale, especially when the two tree buddies become separated. As the last tree’s teardrops become frozen crystals sparkling on its branches, a joyous Christmas seems nearly impossible. But do not despair, by the last page the perfect solution is found.

Illustrator Carina Stahlberg has done a superb job rendering these trees full of personality despite their static positions. Who knew trees could smile, grimace, and groan so effectively? She surrounds them with a plethora of adorable wildlife and quirkily cartoonish characters, filling the pages with amusing scenery. Squirrels on skis and dogs of all breeds are fun for young readers to spot in scene after scene.

Perfect-Tree-Christmas-int-spread.jpg

Interior artwork from A Perfect Tree for Christmas by Anne Gillespie Lewis with illustrations by Carina Stahlberg, Nodin Press © 2014.

A finalist in the 2014 Midwest Independent Publishers Association’s book awards, this sweet holiday picture book was inspired by author Anne Gillespie Lewis’ sympathy for a crooked tree she spotted in Brooklyn Center. She couldn’t shake its image from her mind, especially since she had been diagnosed with scoliosis as a girl. Thus A Perfect Tree for Christmas began to take shape, reminding us that no one has to be perfect to be loved.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Nodin Press books are distributed by Itasca Books. Click here if you’d like to *order a copy.

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of A Perfect Tree for Christmas and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

*Disclosure: GRWR makes no commission from your purchases and only provides this info as a courtesy to readers since Nodin Press is a regional publisher.

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