An adventurous little girl and her younger brother act out the Nativity story with friendly animals in a snow-covered, mysterious land in this intriguing story originally published in Switzerland.
The girl, Kelly, and her brother, Franklin, set out from home with a sleigh full of wood pieces, pulled by a sheep. As Kelly and Franklin pretend they are Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, they move into a strange, snowy world with more animals gradually joining in as the story unfolds. The sleigh and wood magically transform into a stable, and the part of Baby Jesus is played by a white rabbit. Three adults in furry robes arrive at the stable, and though the trio is greeted as the Three Kings, they might also be Father Christmas and the children’s parents. They all leave together by sled and sleigh, heading for a brightly lit farm in the distance. The family’s home? The North Pole? Much in this story is open to interpretation, which will delight some young readers and confuse others. Watercolor and ink illustrations add to the mysterious atmosphere with tiny figures set against vast backgrounds of snow or skies glowing with special starlight.
With elements of magical realism, this story offers a creative, challenging exploration of a Christmas journey.
(Picture book. 4-6)
Santa can’t find his hat on Christmas Eve, so he tries on lots of other types of headwear until Mrs. Claus and the elves solve his problem.
The setting is a traditional North Pole scene, with jolly elves, a sweet and helpful Mrs. Claus and the addition of two dogs: terriers named Bell and Bow. The dogs interact with Santa as he digs through a chest full of hats trying to find one to fit, until Mrs. Claus gives Santa a red-and-green knitted hat she has just finished. But the elves have some Christmas magic just for Santa, and they present him with a wrapped Christmas present containing either his original hat or an exact replica. Double-page spreads are filled with bright details of Santa’s cozy North Pole abode, and the two cute dogs add to the cozy ambiance of the Claus home. The story isn’t particularly funny or surprising, but it is simple enough for younger children just beginning to listen to stories with a plot. The mildly amusing scenes of Santa trying on all sorts of hats could be incorporated into a Santa-themed storytime, with the addition of some appropriate hats as humorous props.
Not particularly hilarious or inventive, but a simple and satisfying enough story for the season.
(Picture book. 3-6)
A simple eight-page story with heavy, cardboard pages describes friendly forest animals working together to prepare a Christmas Eve feast for a mystery guest, with an Advent-calendar feature on the final pages.
There really isn’t any question of the mystery guest’s identity, as Santa is depicted on the padded front cover arriving with his sleigh pulled by a single reindeer. This cover is augmented with glittery sparkles to indicate moonlight shining on the snow under a tree being decorated by the cooperative animals. The slight, pretty much nonexistent story shows the animals dancing in the snow, gathering food and decorations, and bringing musical instruments and wrapped packages for the impending celebration. The final spread depicts all the animals and Santa gathered around the decorated tree with the feast and presents spread out in the snow. This spread is also an Advent calendar, with 24 flaps to open during the month of December. The pictures under the flaps are traditional items from the season, but they are not coordinated with the relevant portion of the illustration. For example, the flap on Santa’s head opens to reveal a sprig of holly.
Sweet and cheerful, but successful neither as a book nor as an Advent calendar.
(Picture book. 3-6)
Fresh from roaring out at bedtime (2008), at potty training (2010) and in the library (2011) Shea’s prehistoric preschooler takes on Christmas.
Flashing dentifrice that would do a shark proud, the diminutive dino “attacks” a letter to Santa, struts proudly away from a newly decorated (at least in its lower branches) tree, glues up crafty gifts for the parents and heroically takes a pass on a tempting gingerbread cookie (“Dinosaur versus… / being extra good!”). After sneaking downstairs for a Santa sighting (“something no dinosaur should ever do”), he even surmounts the supreme challenge of falling asleep on Christmas Eve. Flashing expressions that range from fierce scowls and high jubilation to a less showy—but more substantial—grimace of triumph (see cookie encounter, above), the energetic urchin gambols across appropriately noisy scatterings of crayons, craft sticks, glitter and various (secular) signs of the season placed by the author against backgrounds of solid color alternating with plaid and other patterns.
“DINOSAUR WINS!” So will young readers and listeners likewise charged up with dino DNA.
(Picture book. 3-5)
In their third collaboration on the numerous nuances of volume, Underwood and Liwska focus on the softer sounds of the Christmas season.
Using the same format as the beloved Quiet Book (2010), each page presents just one quiet moment from the run-up to the holiday. Groups of animal characters engage in familiar activities such as trimming the tree, making gingerbread houses and participating in a Christmas pageant. The simple text describes each type of quiet in only a few words: “Snow angel quiet”; “Reading by the fire quiet”; “Listening for sleigh bells quiet.” Atmospheric pencil illustrations with softly shaded colored highlights use backgrounds of white or gray that evoke a wintry feeling, with pleasing variation between indoor and outdoor scenes. One memorable illustration shows several bears and rabbits making their way home through a snowy, candlelit woods: “Luminaria quiet.” The final page is a bit of a let-down, with an illustration of two bunny children turning toward their stack of presents, with the text “Christmas morning quiet.” The unemotional conclusion feels flat and doesn’t provide a real ending (nor does it seem that this would be a particularly quiet moment).
Nevertheless, a congenial, understated choice for reading aloud to excited children to help them settle down for a long winter’s night.
(Picture book. 3-6)
A boy’s insistence on exercising freedom of religion helps an 18th-century Portuguese-Jewish immigrant community openly practice and observe its faith.
Emanuel works with his merchant father offering supplies to the whalers of New Bedford, Mass., and, with dreams of joining a ship when he is older, loves to listen to Captain Henshaw’s adventurous seafaring stories. But his cautious father, scarred by the Spanish Inquisition, tells him that whaling is a dangerous occupation and that Emanuel’s place will be at the store. Emanuel grows weary of his father’s fears. He particularly cannot understand why they do not openly celebrate Shabbat or the eight nights of Hanukkah with their menorah’s candles beaming in the window. On the eighth day of Hanukkah, the determined 9-year-old stows away on Captain Henshaw’s ship, leaving a note expressing his search for freedom. Disaster strikes immediately in the form of a fierce storm that causes the ship to turn back. As suspense builds, the darkness is lit with the numerous flickering menorah candles in the windows of the Jewish homes, guiding the struggling ship and its crew back to shore. Opaque dark-blue– and brown-hued paintings provide a shadowy atmosphere; the chiseled faces of hard-working men are illuminated by candlelight. Emanuel’s New World innocence, untouched by persecution, is reflected in his boyish, smooth face.
Although didactic and idealized, this broad interpretation of freedom from a Jewish perspective is one not often seen.
(Picture book. 5-8)
This compendium of old-fashioned craft projects, recipes and stories was written by a Waldorf kindergarten teacher in Germany and translated for English-speaking countries, though the focus remains European and is not well-suited to the U.S. market.
The text is written for adults to use with children and includes explanations of German holiday traditions, such as setting boots outside the door for St. Nicholas to fill on December 6. Recipes for holiday cookies and candies are included, with measurements given in both grams and ounces. Craft projects include traditional advent wreaths, beeswax candles and Nativity figures made from unspun sheep’s wool. Other selections include holiday legends and the Nativity story from the Books of Luke and Matthew. Poems and lyrics to holiday carols are woven throughout, including selections from Shakespeare, Browning and Longfellow. High-quality photographic illustrations of children and craft projects add to the volume’s appeal. There are no safety warnings about cooking or using knives with adult supervision, and there are two photographs of little girls lighting candles with no adult present, which don’t illustrate proper safety protocol.
Though there aren’t many family holiday books of this sort available, this version is suitable only for large library collections with heavy demand for Christmas activity books. (Nonfiction. 5-9, adults)
This lightweight, mildly humorous story about Santa, his favorite elf and a Christmas knight advises kids to draw their own comic strips, though no practical help is offered in drawing instruction.
Santa and his Magical Cartooning Elf decide to create a Christmas comic book for distribution to children on Christmas Eve. They are assisted by a knight who has assorted adventures with a yeti, some giant children and a dragon who is pressed into service to deliver the completed comic books. On Christmas morning, children around the world are inspired to start making their own comics. Young readers are encouraged to send their original comics showing favorite things, places or foods to the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, presumably for the next installment in the series. The rhyming text is a bit singsong, with some corny puns and some funny asides, but it also uses a hip, self-deprecating tone and current computer terms that let kids know the authors are up on the latest. The cartoon illustrations use varying panel layouts with hand-lettered speech balloons and backgrounds in cool green to set off the holiday reds.
Wrapped up with some drawing paper and pens, this clever Christmas cartoon construction might spark some creative projects.
(Graphic picture book. 5-10)