I love to check out the new holiday picture books during this time of year. Let’s take a look today at two new titles about Christmas. Bonny Becker’s A Christmas for Bear, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, brings us the return of two beloved characters. And M. E. Furman’s A World of Cookies for Santa, illustrated by Susan Gal, involves cookie recipes. Bear! Cookies! How can you go wrong with either?
A Christmas for Bear reunites us with the tidy, persnickety, long-suffering Bear and his tiny friend, Mouse. Over the course of five books thus far (beginning with 2008’s A Visitor for Bear), Mouse and Bear have developed a genuine friendship, which has left Bear more gruntled than disgruntled. It’s oh-so satisfying to see them return in this holiday tale.
“Bear had never had a real Christmas,” we read on page one. He had read about Christmas, mind you, and what he takes away from that made me laugh out loud. “Clearly,” we read, “the most important thing was pickles,” as well as the recitation of a “long and difficult poem.” Oh, Bear.
He makes his home festive for his first Christmas party, and here comes Mouse, tap, tap, tapping on his door. Mouse has one thing on his mind: Presents. Did Bear get him one? Mouse repeatedly vanishes, leaving Bear to look for him. Mouse is searching Bear’s home, after all, for something wrapped with his name on it. When Bear finally convinces Mouse to settle down for “PICKLES AND POEMS!”—it is always a hoot to see Bear throw a fit, which typically involves him adopting his most grandiose posture and language—the pair seems miserable. But we quickly learn that Bear is putting on an act for Mouse. He does actually have a present for his friend, not to mention Mouse has a wrapped sled for Bear, waiting outside. Before the two friends jump on the sled and swoop down a hill on the final page, they have such a sweet acknowledgement of their friendship (“You are an excellent companion,” Bear tells Mouse with a lump in his throat) that it made me misty-eyed.
This story has the same elements I’ve learned to love in the previous Bear and Mouse books – spot-on pacing, dramatic dialogue, a rhythmic flow to the text that makes it a great read-aloud, Denton’s endearing mixed-media illustrations, and (of course) the memorable characters. This new story makes a superb addition to your stack of holiday picture books.
A World of Cookies for Santa is M. E. Furman’s debut children’s book, illustrated by the talented Susan Gal. The map on the endpapers show the stops we make across the globe, as we read about Christmas traditions around the world. Primarily, though, we focus on the delicious treats that children leave for Santa to find—or the Santa variations, that is, around the world. Starting on Christmas Island and ending in Hawaii, we make stops on the way in New Zealand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Egypt, Ukraine, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Costa Rica, and much more.
A paragraph for each destination briefly describes the Christmas tradition celebrated there, including the name for Santa (Egyptian children, as but one example, wait for Baba Noel), and describes the sweet treat left as a gift. It’s mouth-wateringly enticing, but if you’re hungry, fear not: The book closes with a handful of cookie recipes from around the world. (The final endpapers feature the same map, along with the cookies. Yum.)
Gal’s illustrations, rendered via charcoal and digital collage, are textured and cozy-warm, many of them colored by the soft and hazy hues of the holiday lights that frequent the artwork. These are busy spreads, but Gal makes it work, packing in loads of details for each city, state, or country we visit.
You must excuse the pun here, but elementary classroom teachers are going to eat this one right up.
Pickles and cookies, anyone? Happy holidays, and happy snackin’.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.