ENGINEER ARI AND THE SUKKAH EXPRESS

Engineer Ari, the first conductor of the new train from Jaffa to Jerusalem, builds a Sukkah with friends Nathaniel and Jesse using wood left over from laying the new tracks. With help from new friends Hadas, Aravah and Tamar, who live along the Jerusalem route, Ari completes the Sukkah by gathering branches and grapevines for decoration as well as the necessary lulav and etrog to symbolize God’s presence. After a first Sukkot evening meal, Ari laments not sharing his Sukkah with all his new friends, and the next morning he is surprised by Nathaniel and Jesse’s solution—to turn one of the train cars into the Sukkah Express. Simple, clean-lined art in gouache and marker establish a late-19th-century Israeli farming community, whose men sport mustached faces and fez-covered heads in the shadow of a bright, shiny-red locomotive. The easy, flowing text with patterned repetitive phrases—“chug-a-lugged” and “todah rabah” (thank you)—creates a smooth, predictable narrative for this Jewish autumn holiday story and its historical setting. An author's note provides background on the original Jerusalem-to-Jaffa line. (glossary) (Picture book/religion. 3-6)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7613-5126-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kar-Ben

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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A forgettable effort that fails to capture any of the magical charm of Santa’s story. (Picture book. 3-6)

HOW TO CATCH AN ELF

From the How to Catch… series

Wallace and Elkerton continue their series about catching elusive mythical creatures (How to Catch a Leprechaun, 2016, etc.) with this Christmas story about an elf who must avoid traps constructed by children before Santa’s annual visit.

The unnamed elf narrator is the sole helper traveling with Santa on his delivery rounds on Christmas Eve, with each house featuring a different type of trap for elves. The spunky elf avoids a mechanical “elf snatcher,” hidden in a plate of cookies, as well as simple traps made of tinsel, double-sided tape, and a cardboard box concealing a mean-looking cat. Another trap looks like a bomb hidden in a box of candy, and a complicated trap in a maze has an evil cowboy clown with a branding iron, leading to the elf’s cry, “Hey, you zapped my tushy!” The bomb trap and the branding iron seem to push the envelope of child-made inventions. The final trap is located in a family grocery store that’s booby-trapped with a “Dinner Cannon” shooting out food, including a final pizza that the elf and Santa share. The singsong, rhyming text has a forced cheeriness, full of golly-jolly-holly Christmas spirit and too many exclamation marks, as well as rhyming word pairs that miss the mark. (No, little elf-boy, “smarter” and “harder” do not rhyme.) Bold, busy illustrations in a cartoon style have a cheeky appeal with a focus on the freckle-faced white elf with auburn curls and a costume with a retro vibe. (Santa is also white.)

A forgettable effort that fails to capture any of the magical charm of Santa’s story. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4926-4631-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2016

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Sadly, the storytelling runs aground.

LITTLE RED SLEIGH

A little red sleigh has big Christmas dreams.

Although the detailed, full-color art doesn’t anthropomorphize the protagonist (which readers will likely identify as a sled and not a sleigh), a close third-person text affords the object thoughts and feelings while assigning feminine pronouns. “She longed to become Santa’s big red sleigh,” reads an early line establishing the sleigh’s motivation to leave her Christmas-shop home for the North Pole. Other toys discourage her, but she perseveres despite creeping self-doubt. A train and truck help the sleigh along, and when she wishes she were big, fast, and powerful like them, they offer encouragement and counsel patience. When a storm descends after the sleigh strikes out on her own, an unnamed girl playing in the snow brings her to a group of children who all take turns riding the sleigh down a hill. When the girl brings her home, the sleigh is crestfallen she didn’t reach the North Pole. A convoluted happily-ever-after ending shows a note from Santa that thanks the sleigh for giving children joy and invites her to the North Pole next year. “At last she understood what she was meant to do. She would build her life up spreading joy, one child at a time.” Will she leave the girl’s house to be gifted to other children? Will she stay and somehow also reach ever more children? Readers will be left wondering. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 31.8% of actual size.)

Sadly, the storytelling runs aground. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-72822-355-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sourcebooks Wonderland

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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