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Best Valentine’s Day Books for Children 2023

 

 

BEST NEW VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS

FOR KIDS 2023

~ A Roundup~

 

Free Valentine's Day clipart

 

 

 

I Love You Cockatoo! cover art pirate bird and MamaI LOVE YOU, COCKATOO!
Written and illustrated by Sarah Aspinall
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 2-5)

Author-illustrator Sarah Aspinall captures the tender moment of a pink feathered Cockatoo sitting on his pink feathered Mama’s lap as she lovingly brushes out her child’s feathers in her recently released picture book I Love You, Cockatoo!

Cockatoo’s big eyes widen when Mama randomly does what mothers often do blurting out the words, I love you, Cockatoo to her precious son. It seems odd to Cockatoo that she could love him all the time so he asks, even when I’m grumpy and tired? Mama kindly responds, even when you’re grumpy and tired. The repetition of the answer mimicking the question continues when Papa expresses his love for Cockatoo, even when I wake you up at night … Even Aunt P loves him when the two are eating breakfast together and Cockatoo makes a mess. So much love to go around!

But, as stories often do, things take a turn when the playful Cockatoo takes advantage of that love when he reenacts a shouting pirate while Mama is trying to have some alone time in the bath. And Papa scolds him when he is awakened from his afternoon nap by Cockatoo’s loud green drum. Our little friend hops onto a nearby branch and thinks that perhaps they don’t love him ALL the time after all.

Aspinall’s adorable vibrant illustrations showcase each character’s personality with Papa’s glasses, Mama’s long eyelashes, and Aunt P’s yellow feathers when they locate a concerned Cockatoo alone in the tree. Readers discover along with Cockatoo after clever adults pose those same questions to Cockatoo that if he still loves them despite occasional grumpiness, it makes sense that they too still love him ALL of the time no matter what! This reassuring read is a fabulous Valentine’s Day addition for home, preschool, and library. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The Catalogueo of Hugs dad holding child like slothTHE CATALOGUE OF HUGS
Written by Joshua David Stein and Augustus Heeren Stein
Illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly
(Rise x Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

This uplifting (pun intended) picture book showing 25 types of hugs not only warmed my heart but had me grinning with every page turn. It was such fun to see what new hug name and accompanying artwork would greet me. The cover, of course, is the Sloth. Then there’s the Classic, the Backpack, the Necklace, and even the Tantrum,  confirming that when it comes to showing varying emotions (love, playfulness, sadness), there are all kinds of hugs as there are all kinds of people. A positive for me was the inclusion of a diverse group of parental figures and individuals with differing abilities whether that’s someone in a wheelchair or with a prosthetic leg. The art is loosely drawn yet expressive with not a large color palette and it works wonderfully. This cool father-son collaboration clearly stems from years of hugging experience! There’s also a final spread that includes imaginative hug names without any illustrations which will no doubt invite children to invent their own style of one-on-one and family hugs. Do you know a hugger? I think we all do! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Very Best Hug cover Bear carrying girl and other animalsTHE VERY BEST HUG
Written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls
Illustrated by Alison Brown
(Bloomsbury; $18.99; Ages 0-5)

From the creators of the #1 bestseller I Love You Night and Day comes the perfect for Valentine’s Day picture book The Very Best Hug by award-winning author Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrator Alison Brown. The rhyming words bounced off my tongue when I read the book aloud, putting a  fast smile on my face. How can you not grin from cheek to cheek when you read

Have you ever wondered who gives the very BEST hug?
The kind that’s warm and cozy and snug?
Extra squeezy, but never too tight,
the kind that fits you COMPLETELY right?

Prasadam-Halls asks How about a kangaroo kiss? Or a Walrus Wiggle? A Penguin Peck? Or a porcupine Prickle? Cheerful art depicts the child ready to put on her red pajama bottoms after being kissed by the kangaroo. Below that illustration readers see the pajama top still on the floor as the girl is hugged tightly by the walrus. Brown’s adorable illustrations also portray the little girl playing with the animals on her staircase, and rolling with a narwhal on the ground. The girl is brave stepping into that furry-purry lair for a lion squish! or a leopard squash! with a beautiful blue-toned spread.

The animals may enjoy showing their affection for the girl in a big group squeeze, but the look on her face shows she may not be that comfortable face down on her belly. The animals console her with chocolate chip cookies and milk as she realizes the best hug isn’t from any of them.  Their hugs are rough and tumbly, but someone else’s are sweet and comforting! SO … Who gives the best hugs? You’ve got it! You’ve guessed! And I will leave you in suspense about the ending. (Hint: it is a woman with brown hair). The animals happily return to being stuffed and scattered all over her bedroom. I’d recommend this for a cuddly bedtime read! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Little Hearts: Finding Hearts in Nature four animal friends in meadowLITTLE HEARTS: FINDING HEARTS IN NATURE
Written by Charles Ghigna
Illustrated by Jacqueline East
(Red Comet Press; $17.99, Ages 3-5) 

Charles Ghigna, known to the readers from his more than 5,000 poems as Father Goose, has done it again with his latest poetic picture book that explores a world full of hearts on the ground and hearts above. Little Hearts: Finding Hearts In Nature is both a cozy read with its words of love and a peaceful journey into the lives of four softly rendered animals. Jacqueline East’s earth-colored illustrations of the pig, the bear, the rabbit, and the fox play off the beauty that surrounds the animal friends.

The little bear notices two birds seated on a branch with their bodies entwined like a heart, while the pig discovers the spider’s silky gift of love-a little heart of lace. The friends move on to pick a few strawberries from the heart-shaped strawberry field. Then they find an apple tree upon the hill. What a sweet surprise. Two hearts before your eyes!

This tender story read begged me to sit back and ponder East’s heart-shaped drawings of leaves and petals, something that often goes unnoticed. The next time I come across a heart-shaped rock, I  take it home for safekeeping as I think of this book. This February 14, look up in the sky and you may find a cloud that looks like a Valentine. A fluffy heart of white! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Love Escargot cover snail wearing beretLOVE, ESCARGOT
Written by Dashka Slater
Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
(Farrar Straus Giroux; $18.99, Ages 4-6)

Escargot is my favorite snail so I’m thrilled he’s back and as debonair as ever! In this picture book where Escargot speaks directly to us readers, we soon learn the suave snail has been invited to a Snailentine’s Day party where perhaps we too will find our snailentine. I’m in! Are you? So, even if you do not have tentacles, the secret to being a beautiful French snail, Escargot tells us, is joie de vivre.

Heading to the party the snail wants to know what we look for in a snailentine and how they make us feel. If you feel shy, Escargot shares invaluable tips on convenient ways to hide. But more importantly, he will offer tips on how to dance with élan, that’s French for a mix of style and enthusiasm. An unexpected twist in this très formidable tale is that Escargot winds up at a party he hadn’t planned on attending but finds it an enchanting evening nonetheless! Slater’s use of French words makes this an irresistible read-aloud, especially if you add an accent charmant, and maybe even a beret to get in the mood. Kids will have fun looking through Hanson’s gorgeous art, especially the first spread and also the endpapers. Her illustrations’ muted tones are gentle on the eye and pair parfaitement with Slater’s humor and heart. Don’t miss this Valentine’s Day treat! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Lovebird Lou cover lovebird on tree branchLOVEBIRD LOU
Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
(Union Square Kids; $16.99; Ages 3-8)

The adored character in this picture book can do no wrong according to his parents, and I must admit he is rather cute. In Lovebird Lou we learn that Lou comes from a long line of lovebirds who spend their days telling each other how much they are loved. (Not a bad way to spend a day). Lovebirds were all Lou knew until his flock visited the other side of the island.

Tammi Sauer, the author of more than 30 picture books, writes about all the wonderful things other birds are doing. The pelicans twist into a figure eight, the nightingales sing, and the flamingos wade into the water on one leg. And every time Lou tells his parents he wants to be like the other birds, he gets positive reinforcement along with pinches on his cheek. Sauer also uses catchy nicknames for Lou such as sugar cookie and mixes them into the text with creativity and charm. There’s no denying Lou’s family loves him so whatever he desires is fine by them.  In spread, illustrator and character designer Stephanie Laberis draws Lou attempting to fly like a pelican flopping into the green pasture. “You’re the best pelican ever!” said his mother. “We love you, Lou!” said the others.

Lou begins to realize that despite unending family support he is not meant to be a pelican or a flamingo, or a nightingale. “Being a bird is for the birds,” he says. Deciding he would rather not be a bird, Lou leaves the flock and tries sitting still next to a sign that reads #1 Rock. He was an excellent rock. Well, that is until he realizes it was scary being a rock alone out there without the lovebirds. The art turns from light colors to dark with Lou running back home under the moonlight to the open arms of his parents who of course tell him they love him to which he joyfully responds “I love you, too!” Lou knew lovebirds were good at the most important thing of all. Another fabulous book to be read by parents and teachers any time of the year, but especially fitting for Valentine’s Day.
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Grumpy Monkey Valentine Gross-Out cover of gagging Jim PanzeeGRUMPY MONKEY VALENTINE GROSS-OUT
Written by Suzanne Lang
Illustrated by Max Lang
(Random House Kids; $10.99; Ages  4-8)

New York Times Best Selling author Suzanne Lang has teamed up, once again with her husband, Emmy winner Max Lang, illustrator of over 20 books, in the latest addition to the Grumpy Monkey series Grumpy Monkey Valentine Gross-Out.

I have to admit I was not familiar with the Grumpy Monkey series, but the title alone is grabbing. So, when I opened the first page and read the protagonist’s name Jim Panzee (get it – Chimpanzee), I was hooked and eager to read more. The story opens with Jim, the protagonist, lying next to a stream, arms overhead, amongst the frogs and butterflies when Oxpecker flies overhead with a flower carried in its talons. The bird gleefully tells Jim, “My boyfriend gave it to me because we’re in love!”

Needless to say, Jim finds love to be quite gross and knows his friend Norman will feel the same way. But Jim locates the larger chimpanzee sitting on a low branch making love cards. Even Norman liked Valentine’s Day!

Max Lang’s hilarious illustrations are filled with purple snakes, heart-shaped leaves, and drawings of various smitten creatures gazing into each other’s eyes. It’s hard not to smile at all the animal couples getting on Jim’s nerves. Jim has the hardest time with the kissing ones such as two chimps sharing a smooch. Jim finds Valentine’s Day to be the GROSSEST HOLIDAY!

Wise Norman returns to explain to Jim that there are all kinds of love. You have a love for your parents and they have a love for you. Suzanne Lang’s prose explains to the reader that Valentine’s Day is about showing the people you love that you love them. Now convinced it’s not all gross, Jim decides to make valentines for all his friends and family to show them how much he cares. All goes well until the last page when two birds’ beaks join together with closed eyes (I now know how birds kiss) and Jim shouts GROSS

This book deserves to be a Valentine’s Day staple for young readers. It has made me a fan of Jim Panzee, one of the best character names I’ve ever read.  A page of stickers in the back is a bonus included in this LOL picture book. • Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Dino Valentines Day cover dino and childDINO-VALENTINE’S DAY
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Barry Gott
(Carolrhoda Books; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Let’s talk T. rex and team. Fans of the popular Dino series will enjoy this latest picture book that is packed with love-action as dinos get ready for the big day! As February breezes in,/Dinos giggle, swoon, and grin. Gott’s whimsical illustrations show your favorite dinos at school making cards, going shopping, having crushes, all culminating in a Valentine’s Day dino dance party. 

I counted more than a dozen different types of dinosaurs appearing on the pages doing all the necessary preparations to show they care with gifts of chocolate, handmade prezzies, baked goods, and more. During craft time, this line made me LOL: Apatosaurus just can’t win./Scissors are so hard for him. And Gott’s art is spot on particularly in the scene when Minmi spies Leso coming into the room and, as her heart takes a leap, so does her marker. The heart she was drawing continues off the page onto the table!! Best of all, Wheeler’s story is written in a fast-paced rhyme scheme. Though at times she takes liberties with the end rhymes, I don’t think kids will care. The story concludes with a teaser for the next book out this fall which is for Hanukkah! Can’t wait to see dinos play dreidel!
• Reviewed by  Ronna Mandel

 

Cozy in Love cover two Alaskan musk oxCOZY IN LOVE
Written and illustrated by Jan Brett
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I adore the heartwarming cover illustration from Jan Brett’s heartwarming tale told both in prose and through her beloved border art. Note: The Alaskan seaweed in the borders are from Seaweeds of the World and the heart-shaped stones are from Fox Island. You’ll also see puffins and beluga whales who live near Teardrop Inlet in this story.

Inspired by a cast of creatures she encountered on her Alaskan adventures, Brett brings back her character Cozy who in this new picture book worries that he’ll never catch the eye of his favorite musk ox, Lofti after losing a battle of strength to a fellow musk ox.

Cozy is soon pulled away from his sulk and called to action when Puffin, Cozy’s pal, alerts him to young Bella’s plight. While Bella, a spirited beluga whale plays in Teardrop Inlet, Puffin knows that “Air is getting cold. Ice will trap her!” Despite being warned by her mother that when the sea freezes, the entrance to the inlet gets closed off, Bella doesn’t leave. Then, when she tries to exit, she cannot make it over a wall of ice. If she doesn’t get out soon, she’ll be trapped “with no way to reach the air.”

Though his musk ox herd is heading to sleep, Cozy is compelled to rescue Bella. At the same time, Lofti decides to see what he is getting up. Cozy gets an idea that if he can displace water in the inlet by filling it with heavy rocks, it will allow the water to rise and carry Bella out to sea. This time his show of strength might save a friend’s life. Exhausted by his successful efforts, Cozy settles down only to be joined by an admirer, Lofti! This happy ending not only sees Bella reunited with her family but a bighearted musk ox named Cozy who just happens to be in love. A feel-good picture book for animal lovers of all ages!
• Reviewed by  Ronna Mandel

 

Love Stinks! cover skunkLOVE STINKS!
Written by Diana Murray
Illustrated by Gal Weizman
(Random House BYR; $5.99; Ages 4-6)

Where is my love? Skunk asks in this first level in the Step Into Reading series Love Stinks! This 32 page comic reader introduces new readers to rhyme, rhythm, and picture clues with bigger type and easy words.

Parents and caregivers will appreciate the Dear Parent intro page explaining speech balloons and captions, and panels along with questions to ask the child such as What is a character feeling? We turn the page to find Dog love and Cat love written in large letters with Weizman’s adorable characters gazing into each other’s eyes. Well, all except stinky Skunk who spurts out an odor that keeps him separated from the others.

Easy-flowing rhyme helps prompt little readers. Frog love./Fly love./Where is my love? The engaging artwork depicts frogs, ants, and flies in love but standing on the busy city street poor Skunk doesn’t see anyone for him. Place pronouns such as Here and There allow a beginning reader to hear and see those words in relation to characters on the page. And, if an adult reads along, they can easily point to what the skunk is doing and where. Simple sentences are brought in when Skunk is eating his ice cream cone alone Where is true love? he asks. Ending with a true heartfelt valentine’s tone, Skunk finds Stinky love! inside a trash can.

This humorous leveled reader with its Valentine theme is playful and fun while introducing kids to new words with accessible short sentences. The reader can choose to move on to the next step in the series or continue practicing Step 1 with Robot, Go Bot; Dragon Egg; or another good Valentine’s read, Mama Loves.
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

How We Say I Love You cover multigenerational family huggingHOW WE SAY I LOVE YOU
Written by Nicole Chen
Illustrated by Lenny Wen
(Alfred A. Knopf; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

Nicole Chen introduces readers to a girl named Hana and the multigenerational family members who love her with actions not just words. How We Say I Love You tells the story of a Taiwanese American family that includes Hana’s parents, her Ah Gong (grandfather), and Ah Ma (grandmother).

We first meet them in their busy living room decorated with a large family portrait on the wall, and a bonsai plant resting on a wooden hutch. Ah Gong, who wears big brown glasses and has grey hair, is sweeping while Hana’s dad is carrying a basket of laundry. In the kitchen, her pregnant mom is dressed in a blue apron stirring her love into a pot of steaming xi fan. Hana smiles sniffing the aroma. Ah Gong dances with each step walking Hana to school, and her father cheers her on the soccer field, “Jia you, Hana! Go, go, go!”

We know the baby will be loved when Hana lays on her mother’s stomach telling the unborn sibling about things like ice cream and swings. Author-Illustrator Lenny Wen created her superb illustrations with Photoshop and a graphic tablet, visually showcasing the love this family has for each other.

The Asian culture is conveyed through illustrations of their cuisine, and gold and purple flowers with bamboo stalks in the background of many of the pages. Wen hides a heart on each page, adding a fun search-and-find activity after finishing the book. And the back glossary teaches us Mandarin Chinese with words like Wan an (good night) and Jia you (a cheer of encouragement). Hana says, “In my family our love lives in all the things we do for one another. That is how we say “I love you.”
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Additional Recommended Reads 

BAD KITTY DOES NOT LIKE VALENTINE’S DAY
Written and illustrated by Nick Bruel
(Roaring Brook Press; $9.99, Ages 2-5)

LITTLE OWL’S LOVE
Written and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

 

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Best New Children’s Christmas Books for 2021

 

A ROUNDUP OF
THE BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2021

 

 

All of us at GoodReadsWithRonna.com wish you a warm and wonderful Christmas!

 

REVIEWS:

Jingle Bells Navidad coverJINGLE BELLS / NAVIDAD:
Bilingual Nursery Rhymes
(English & Spanish)
Written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo
(Canticos; $10.99, Ages 0-6)

This 16 page bilingual, lift-the-flaps board book is not only beautiful to look at (its cover features foil accents), it stars the sweet little chickies from the Emmy-nominated series. What a delightful way to celebrate the holidays than by sharing the “Jingle Bells” song with children in both English and Spanish. There are cute characters in vibrant colors to enjoy including Mama Hen, a purple spider, an adorable elephant, a frog, and a bunny. Kids can have fun lifting the assorted flaps to find additional words such as warmth/calor, joy/alegria and others all while improving their bilingual language skills. A larger formatted board book ($14.99) with an accordion design offers the opportunity to read “Jingle Bells” on one side entirely in English and the other in Spanish. Visit canticosworld.com for free resources, activities, and more. For a limited time, the Encantos app is available for free.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Merry Christmas Gus coverMERRY CHRISTMAS, GUS
Written and illustrated by Chris Chatterton
(Penguin Workshop; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Merry Christmas, Gus, is Chris Chatterton’s second book featuring the adorable grumpy hound dog, Gus. It seems there’s not much of anything that Gus likes about the holiday season until a puppy enters the picture, then, . . . maybe.

As in the first book, the art is LOL funny because of Gus’s gloomy expressions. My favorite part is the ending—sorry, you’ll have to read it yourself! The perfect gift for the not-really-into-it person on your holiday shopping list.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Toys' ChristmasTHE TOYS’ CHRISTMAS
Written by Claire Clément
Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Let the cozy feeling of this sweet bedtime Christmas tale envelope your little ones as they drift contentedly off to sleep. I was enchanted by the premise of The Toys’ Christmas in which little Noah cannot fall asleep because his favorite stuffed animal FanFan is nowhere to be found. Enchanted by his going missing you might ask? No. I was enchanted by his devotion to Noah. FanFan, it seems, is on a secret mission along with all the other soft toys he meets up with on his long and special journey. Once a year the beloved toys travel to the North Pole. There they can “tell Santa what their child wants for Christmas. After all, they know their child best of all.” Well,  this just warmed my heart and I hope it does the same for your child. Rest assured FanFan returns to delight Noah who also is thrilled to have his Christmas wish come true. Coupled with Godbout’s gorgeous pastel and colored pencil illustrations in faded tones not unlike many of the much-loved toys after years of cuddling and washes, Clément’s gentle prose are sure to charm.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Christmas Here I Come coverCHRISTMAS, HERE I COME!
Written by D. J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield
(Grosset & Dunlap; $5.99, Ages 4-6)

If you’re looking for a gift to bring to family, friends or neighbors before Christmas or on the day itself, look no further than Christmas, Here I Come!, one of the multiple books in the best-selling series. This paperback is packed with humorous and sentimental poems revolving around the holiday from choosing trees to jokes about fruitcake, from the joyful mess of wrapping paper to Santas around the world. There are even stickers at the end for further entertainment. One of my favorites is called “Peace on Earth” about two neighbors competing for the most lights on their homes until circuits blew. Another is “My Christmas Sweater” about the hilarity and comfiness of the traditional ugly sweater. There’s also a recurring Dear Santa Claus letter from a character called Bobby which many youngsters will find relatable. Stansfield’s art evokes the holiday spirit, capturing the abundant experiences detailed in Steinberg’s poetry.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Joy to the World coverJOY TO THE WORLD!:
Christmas Around the Globe
Written by Kate DePalma
Illustrated by Sophie Fatus
(Barefoot Books; $17.99, Ages 4-10)

Joy to the World!, with its gold embossed lettering and accents on the cover, makes a great Christmas gift for families, friends, and anyone curious about the holiday traditions in 13 countries spanning from Argentina to Serbia. Peopled with diverse children and their families celebrating in special ways, this colorful picture book not only entertains but educates too.

Kids will see how in the Philippines Simbang Gabi lasts for nine days including daily worship. “We come every day, and they say if you do/Whatever you wish on day nine will come true.” Stars shimmer across this particular two-page spread, and beautifully bordered art (throughout the book and unique to that country) in a cheerful jewel-toned palette emanates joy and community. In Ethiopia, where people celebrate Genna on January 7, families gather around the mesob (a basket-like table) and feed one another “a large bit of food by hand.” I love that so many celebrations revolve around food in addition to family and faith rituals. Older readers will find even more helpful information in the back matter which expands on the brief rhyming info for each country that was depicted in earlier pages. This welcoming, upbeat picture book full of happy families brings world celebrations to your fingertips in a most delightful way.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Star Tree coverTHE STAR TREE
Written and  illustrated by Gisela Cölle

Translated by Rosemary Lanning (first published in Switzerland)
(NorthSouth Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For a quiet story this busy holiday season, consider Gisela Cölle’s, The Star Tree. A mustachioed old man missed days of yore, far from sprawling urban life. No one even glances at the sky above anymore as they hurry through their busy days.

Cölle’s illustrations echo the rustic simplicity of the text. This timeless classic demonstrates that sometimes less can be more, and by taking that first step, a community can be brought together. You’ll feel inspired to cut out some stars too!

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Carla and the Christmas Cornbread coverCARLA AND THE CHRISTMAS CORNBREAD
Written by Carla Hall with Kristen Hartke
Illustrated by Cherise Harris
(Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I find food-themed picture books hard to resist. Do you? Carla and the Christmas Cornbread happily took me back to the ’70s for a story based on author, chef, and TV food personality Carla Hall’s early childhood memories.

Heading to her grandparents, with Mom driving, her older sister Kim sitting in the passenger seat, and Carla in the back seat beside a slew of gifts, she enjoyed the ride “watching the lights twinkle on the houses as we whiz by.” Carla was excited to see her grandparents and eat the scrumptious cornbread her grandma made. Spending time over Christmas at their home was clearly a highlight for her. From cooking cornbread together with Granny, hearing her grandpa “Doc” share stories about his time in France when he once ate snails, to searching the Christmas tree for the Black Santa ornament that looks just like her, these tender moments convey the warmth of family that meant so much to this young girl. Harris’s joyful art, full of attention to detail and a feeling for the era, complements this lovely story.

But when just before bedtime she bit into the cookie that was meant for Santa, Carla worried that she’d get in trouble. Certain that Santa would put her on his naughty list, Carla was relieved when Grandma, who heard Carla confess, suggested they make Santa “a special Christmas cornbread.” Despite caring reassurance from Doc that Santa probably got tired of all the cookies, Carla still felt sad. But all ends well when Christmas morning brings more than cheer for her and readers invested in seeing a happy outcome for Carla. Make sure to read to the very last page where a surprise illustration shows Santa nibbling on a tasty treat! Bonus: A cornbread recipe is included.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Just Be Claus coverJUST BE CLAUS: A Christmas Story
Written by Barbara Joosse
Illustrated by Kim Barnes
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

This adorably illustrated picture book answers the question, what was Santa Claus like as a little boy? With a “round little belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly,” Clausie is different and “unusual” from the very start. His hearty “ho ho ho” laugh, creative flair for making “thingamajigs” with Grannie in his super secret workshop, and tendency to help the rival hockey team score make him stand out and “feel out of place.” He expresses his desire to be like the other kids, but Grannie assures him:  “You’re creative, thoughtful, and generous … Don’t try to be like anyone else. Just be YOU.” A snowstorm shuts the whole town down, blocking the train from delivering its large load of gifts. Clausie’s clever act of kindness not only saves Christmas Day but also helps him embrace his own unique, tender-heartedness. Wrapping this sweet holiday book are themes of empathy, love, and self-acceptance that can be explored any time of the year. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

The Christmas Owl coverTHE CHRISTMAS OWL: Based on the True Story
of a Little Owl Named Rockefeller 

Written by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer
Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki
(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Animal lovers will enjoy this heartwarming picture book, The Christmas Owl, by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer. Based on a true story of a tiny owl trapped in a tree cut down and brought to the city, the story is seen through the eyes of Little Owl who wonders what happened and where she’s been taken. Throughout, she asks herself, Is this Christmas? By the end, she’s able to explain to her forest friends what the holiday’s all about.

While the illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki bring the story to life, be sure to look in the back matter too. Actual photos of the owl are beyond cute and its release is so joyful. Peek under the dust jacket for a different cover image!

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Merry Witchmas CoverMERRY WITCHMAS
Written by Petrell Marie Özbay and Tess La Bella
Illustrated by Sonya Abby
(Boyds Mill Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Don’t let the word witch in the title fool you. Merry Witchmas isn’t about Halloween although you could start sharing it in October. It’s actually about a sweet witch named Ginger who adores all things Christmas. Whether that’s “a flying sleigh, a red-nosed reindeer” or the toys. But most importantly Ginger wishes for a visit from Santa. You see she lives in the “Invisible Forest” that wasn’t on Santa’s radar. Regardless, she always behaved thoughtfully to make it onto Santa’s “Nice List.” This year she’s decided to take things one step further and write to Santa so perhaps he’d believe she existed. She’d even include a map!

Ginger’s magic delivers the letter directly to Santa who checked his lists, then double-checked them. No witch named Ginger appeared. Since he didn’t believe in witches, he’d actually never sought them out. Yet if children could believe in Santa, why couldn’t witches exist too he wonders. That’s when the magic happens. Using Ginger’s map, Santa heads to the young witch’s magical land and at last, the two finally meet bringing Christmas joy to both. Kids will want to look at the fun details Abby’s included in her pleasing artwork that exudes warmth and humor. My favorite touch is Jingles the kitty cat reaching for Christmas cookies along with the holiday decorations in her home. With all the Christmas feels, this picture book is a fresh new take on the holiday and not giving up on your dreams.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Santa in the City coverSANTA IN THE CITY
Written by Tiffany D. Jackson
Illustrated by Reggie Brown
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews –Booklist, School Library Journal

Deja is super excited for Christmas but her classmates’ distrust about Santa ever visiting them in the city sends her on a downward spiral of doubt. “‘How does Santa get inside our house if we don’t have a chimney? …where [will Santa] park his sleigh?’” Deja asks question after question to her mom who, along with extended family and neighborhood friends, patiently answers each one. Answers provide a little relief, as evidenced through her refrain “‘Oh’ … Makes sense,” but Deja needs more proof. Cheerful illustrations of a diverse, vibrant urban setting full of the Christmas spirit emphasize the point: the very thing Deja is looking for is already around her beautiful neighborhood. A surprise on Christmas morning secures her heart that “magic really does find a way,” just like Mom has said all along. 

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Grumpy Monkey OhNo Christmas coverGRUMPY MONKEY OH, NO! CHRISTMAS
Written by Suzanne Lang
Illustrated by Max Lang
(Random House Studio; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Beloved character Jim Panzee is back again, this time for the holidays, grumpier than ever. The weather has been “grizzly, drizzly” all week, his morning banana green, plus he accidentally stumbles into a puddle of mud. On top of everything else, his jungle friends insist he absolutely must be excited about the upcoming Christmas season. One by one, they take turns telling him how he “should” do one thing or another in order to properly celebrate:  write a card for Mom, wrap presents, “reflect quietly.” But to grumpy, miserable Jim “EVERYTHING STINKS!”–that is, until his gentle gorilla friend, Norman, helps Jim see things in a different perspective. Conversations about kindness and gratitude ease his burden and give strong reason to celebrate. Readers young and old will fall in love once more with Jim Panzee’s crankiness, expressed so perfectly by Lang’s fun and hilarious illustrations. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

A Simple Christmas on the Farm coverA SIMPLE CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM 
Written by Phyllis Alsdurf
Illustrated by Lisa Hunt
(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 3-8)

For those looking for a traditional, Christian-themed Christmas story, A Simple Christmas on the Farm is a great choice. Eager to start the festivities, a little girl living on the farm is reminded by her parents that they’re going to celebrate by “keeping things simple this year” with a focus on modest decorations, homemade gifts, and giving more than receiving. This spirit of simplicity is heightened all the more when the girl is inspired to host Christmas in their little red barn. Traveling into town with a tray of homemade cookies, she and her mother spread the word about their party, inviting everyone in the community. In the meantime, they prepare gifts and crafts for their guests. Step-by-step directions for these crafts are included in the backmatter. When everyone joins in on the special day, laughter, cheer, and a wonderful feast surround their large table, making this simple but big-hearted Christmas the best one ever.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

The Christmas Mitzvah coverTHE CHRISTMAS MITZVAH
Written by Jeff Gottesfeld
Illustrated by Michelle Laurentia Agatha
(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 4-9)

If you’re looking for a feel-good story that hits all the right notes, The Christmas Mitzvah is it. Inspired by a true story, this touching picture book opens with “Al Rosen was a Jewish man who loved Christmas. It wasn’t his holiday. He had Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. But what could be bad about peace on earth and goodwill to humanity?” I immediately cared about this man with the great attitude and big personality. Then I read on to learn that Al Rosen decided to use the Christmas holiday as a chance to deliver mitzvahs (good deeds) for people in his community. From that evening in 1969 Rosen offered to help out so workers could leave their jobs to be home with their families. No matter what the task, he took it on, doing so for over three decades. What a big heart he had! At first, it was Rosen, sometimes with his son, Jonathan. Then when Jonathan finished medical school, married, and had children of his own, everyone pitched in when possible, performing mitzvahs every Christmas.

What’s most impressive is the variety of work Al Rosen did, though he didn’t necessarily excel at it. He started by stepping in at Shorty’s local newsstand. After that word spread of Rosen’s good deeds. Requests came in and soon he was pumping gas and parking cars, tending bar, and taking tolls. Al Rosen’s mitzvahs saw no bounds. He and Jonathan even inspired Christian and Muslim friends who “did their jobs on the Jewish High Holidays.” In fact Rosen’s kind spirit led to people of various faiths helping others out on their holidays, paying it forward in the best possible way. When Al grew too old and finally had to call it quits, his mitzvahs left lasting memories and goodwill in his city. Agatha’s bold artwork adds vibrancy and humorous touches to the story. Rosen’s diverse community is celebrated in scene after scene conveying the camaraderie created by his mitzvahs. Gottesfeld’s included back matter so readers can learn more about the man behind the good deeds as well as the Hanukkah holiday. I hope young readers’ biggest takeaway from The Christmas Mitzvah is that you don’t have to be Jewish to do good deeds and spread kindness.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Christmas is Coming Cover CHRISTMAS IS COMING: Traditions from Around the World
Written by Monika Utnik-Strugala 
Illustrated by Ewa Poklewska-Koziello
Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
(NorthSouth Books; $25, Ages 4 and up)

An international collection of legends and traditions can be found in Monika Utnik-Strugala’s nonfiction book, Christmas Is Coming!: Traditions from Around the World. This book satisfies many of your holiday questions. Of course, you’ll find info about Santa, but there’s much more. Such as how Swedish towns have candlelit processions on December 13, or how the Japanese have adopted Christmas but celebrate it with reindeer and pandas! In Mexico, Spain, and Columbia, the Day of the Holy Innocents (on December 28) is like our April Fool’s Day. Favorite sections of mine include food, decorations, plants, and finding good luck for the new year.

Full-color art by the talented Ewa Poklewska-Koziello adorns each page, enlivening people and their celebrations. While suitable for elementary-age kids who want to learn about more than just the US December 25 Santa Claus, older kids will have plenty to read. Overall, this lovely book promotes inclusivity and is one you’ll refer to repeatedly as a remembrance or to learn something new.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Good Dogs in Bad Sweaters coverGOOD DOGS IN BAD SWEATERS
Written by Rachel Wenitsky and David Sidorov
Illustrated by Tor Freeman
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $13.99, Ages 7-10)

I am so glad I stuck with this energy-filled illustrated middle-grade book despite the introduction of multiple dog names making it hard at first to keep track. However, after the initial few pages, there was no denying the humor and personality of all the doggy characters, and I was pulled right in. The primary ones in this, the third book in the series revolving around Good Dogs daycare, are Hugo and his younger sister Waffles, King and his older sister Cleo, Lulu, and her new teacup pig pal, Buttercup. Another dog, Napoleon, seems to have matured in this book according to comments from the other dogs, but while appearing in various chapters and bringing a funny therapist’s perspective to various situations, he doesn’t have a chapter devoted to his p.o.v. Secondary characters who may have had heftier roles in the previous two books are Nuts the squirrel and Pickle the cat. Kids may note that each dog has a different font which is a nice touch. Not having read the previous books, I never once felt like that mattered since the storyline was pretty straightforward and engaging.

In addition to the dog pals knowing each other, we also get to know their human owners which adds more opportunity for amusing dialogue and antics. There are tons of butt sniffing, ball throwing, and peeing jokes that feel appropriate for this age group. The main plot point is that sweet puppy Waffles, about to celebrate her first Christmas, is hoping that Santadoodle will bring her something special except Hugo knows that won’t happen. What’s a loving big bro supposed to do? Make baby sister’s wish come true, of course! And if that means getting all the Good Dogs involved in his quest, so be it.

The shenanigans the crew get up to as they try to get their paws on Waffles’ gift had me smiling throughout. That’s on top of the bits about the ugly (but comfy) Christmas sweaters, Lulu being an Instagram influencer, and how the dogs deal with their families—the dynamics of which should resonate with readers. Several sub-plots concerning agility competitions to career choices are at once comical and heartwarming, reflecting the zany sensibilities of the book’s authors Wenitsky and Sidorov. A bonus for me is that the book includes many references to Hanukkah since several of the dogs come from Jewish or mixed-faith families. Mix that up with Tor Freeman’s fabulous, whimsical, and extremely satisfying illustrations and you’ll see why this marriage of talents works so well. Add this middle-grade book (some may call it an older chapter book) to your TBR lists for some charming canine comedy this holiday season.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

See last year’s roundup here.

Additional recommended Christmas reads this year include:

The Little Owl & The Big Tree: A Christmas Story by Jonah Winter & Jeanette Winter
Jan Brett’s The Nutcracker 
Santa Jaws by Bridget Heos
What the Dinosaurs Did the Night Before Christmas by Refe & Susan Tuma

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