Sharon Chance

Christmas is always seen through the eyes of young children as a special joy, just as it is for the writers and illustrators of children's books. This holiday season, there is a wide selection of unique and endearing Christmas books for young readers to choose from, with stories ranging from the timeless retelling of the birth of Christ to how one special little mouse celebrates the holidays.

Young fans of Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and her other equally silly books will be thrilled with the latest adventures of that little mouse in Numeroff's Christmas offering, If You Take a Mouse to the Movies. In this book, the energetic little mouse and his human friend set out to celebrate Christmas in style, decorating trees, building snowmen and having lots of fun. Felicia Bond's delightful illustrations make this a charming book for the ages 3-6 crowd.

The bright and fanciful artwork of Eric Carle graces the pages of his latest book, Dream Snow, which tells the story of a farmer who dreams of snow for Christmas. Each page is preceded by a clear plastic overlay of snow that settles down on the farmer and his animals. When the farmer finally wakes up, he discovers it really has snowed. A surprise awaits the young reader at the end of the book, with a built-in music box cleverly placed in the back cover.

For sheer beauty in a Christmas book, parents need look no further than Eve Bunting's Who Was Born This Special Day?. The animals in the manger ask each other who was born on the special day of Christ's birth. The soft, beautiful paintings by illustrator Leonid Gore are enchanting, and the soothing poetry and gentle simplicity of Bunting's words make this book a treasure.

Another gorgeous book on the birth of Christ comes from beloved Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown. A Child Is Born is Brown's joyful rendition of the miracle of Christmas. This manuscript was found after Brown's death in 1952 and is published for the first time this year. The magnificent illustrations by Floyd Cooper portray a unique, multicultural manger scene, with the baby Jesus and his parents portrayed as African-Americans. The combination of author and illustrator provides a unique and interesting exchange of cultures.

The classic story The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for children and adults alike, and there are many versions of the popular story available. But for those children and adults who like a more hands-on rendition, David and Noelle Carter present a fascinating pop-up version of The Nutcracker that will entertain everyone for hours. Each page features an intricate pop-up scene with figures that move by pulling a small tab on each. A brilliant concept for a delightful story.

Christmas children's books tend to be mainly written for the younger set, but this year popular teen writer Avi presents his readers with a Christmas story of their very own. The Christmas Rat is a thrilling mystery of a vengeful exterminator, a young boy caught up in the hunt and one stubborn little rat. In true Avi-style, readers will find themselves on the edge of their seats.

Finally, qualifying as probably one of the weirdest books of the season is How Murray Saved Christmas. The author, Mike Reiss, is a former writer and producer of The Simpsons. His rollicking, slightly skewed tale of Christmas is one that older kids and adults will find hilarious. When poor Santa is accidentally knocked out cold, deli-owner Murray Kleiner agrees to take his place. With the help of a pushy little elf and an eager young boy, Murray manages to get the job done, but not without a lot of mishaps along the way. The colorful, if slightly bizarre, illustrations of David Catrow make this book an interesting change of pace for holiday reading. (With endorsements from comedians such as Jon Lovitz and Conan O'Brien, you know it has to be a little out there. )

Whichever books you choose, just remember to take a few minutes this holiday season to sit down and read one . . . together.

 

Sharon Galligar Chance is the mother of four book-loving boys.

Christmas is always seen through the eyes of young children as a special joy, just as it is for the writers and illustrators of children's books. This holiday season, there is a wide selection of unique and endearing Christmas books for young readers to choose from, with stories ranging from the timeless retelling of the birth of Christ to how one special little mouse celebrates the holidays.

he World War II era was filled with turmoil and sorrow for everyone involved. In Ann Howard Creel's debut novel, The Magic of Ordinary Days, she convincingly relates how life on the home front could be just as unsettling as the tumult on the battlefields. For Olivia Dunne, times were particularly trying as she worked through her own emotional upheaval, first dealing with the death of her beloved mother and her alienation from her minister father, then discovering that she is pregnant after a careless act of passion. To maintain her family's respectable reputation, Olivia is forced to leave her home in Denver to enter into an arranged marriage with Ray Singleton, a farmer who lives on the prairies of southern Colorado. Her dreams of becoming an archaeologist are dashed as she sets her sights on a future of being a wife and mother.

The Singleton farm is remote, as is its owner. Ray, although a kind man, is used to living on his own and has difficulty dealing with another person in his home. It's up to Olivia to establish her own routines, as Ray returns to the fields to work his crops of sugar beets, onions and beans. The ladies of the community church try to include Olivia in their activities. But they are reserved, and she knows they realize she is carrying another man's child. It isn't until the arrival of the Japanese farm workers from a nearby internment camp that Olivia finds friendship in the form of two teenaged sisters, Lorelei and Rose Umahara. Like Olivia, the sisters must learn to adapt to their confinement while their passion for living seeks other outlets.

In The Magic of Ordinary Days, Creel has captured a unique page in history as she weaves a tale inspired by actual events. She includes many little-known details of the Japanese-American internment camps and German POW camps that were scattered throughout the country. Her use of the desolate, dusty prairie setting of southern Colorado echoes the desperation felt by her character, Olivia. As a former resident of Colorado, I well recognized the small farm communities of La Junta, Rocky Ford and Trinidad.

This is a gentle but powerful novel, combining a story of bittersweet love with a poignant account of the journey toward self-realization and acceptance.

Sharon Galligar Chance is a book reviewer in Wichita Falls, Texas.

he World War II era was filled with turmoil and sorrow for everyone involved. In Ann Howard Creel's debut novel, The Magic of Ordinary Days, she convincingly relates how life on the home front could be just as unsettling as the tumult on the battlefields. For Olivia Dunne, times were particularly trying as she worked […]

ith a bolt-from-the-blue opening sentence, “They died instantly,” Jacquelyn Mitchard grabs hold of her readers and pulls them into a story of love, heartache, tragedy and triumph in her latest novel, A Theory of Relativity. As evidenced in her previous bestsellers, The Deep End of the Ocean and The Most Wanted, Mitchard proves beyond a doubt that she ranks as a premier storyteller.

Keefer Kathyrn Nye, only a year old when her parents die in a car crash near Madison, Wisconsin, is the focal point of a bitter, prolonged custody battle. Keefer's bachelor uncle, 24-year-old science teacher Gordon McKenna, seems the most appropriate custodian for his niece, since he helped his parents care for the little girl while his sister battled cancer. However, Keefer's paternal grandparents, the affluent and aggressive Ray and Diane Nye, challenge his claim, asserting that their deceased son would want his child's godparents (the Nye's niece and her husband) to have custody.

The fact that Georgia and Gordon were adopted from different birth parents plays a prominent role in the proceedings, forcing the McKennas to challenge a grievously unfair law that distinguishes between “blood” and adopted relatives. After exhaustive social studies and hearings in which Gordon has to prove that a single man can make a good father, a judge rules that in the best interest of Keefer, she should live with her godparents. As Gordon and his mother Lorraine draw up plans to challenge the adoption, they find that even with an expeditious legislative victory to close the loophole, their hard work fails to bring a satisfying closure to the lawsuit. The decision stands, and the parties must come to a mutual agreement on what's best for Keefer.

Inspired by a real-life case, Mitchard's novel draws on her own experience as an adoptive parent to lend realism and emotion to the story. Once again, she captures her reader's hearts, drains them emotionally and then rewards them with a surprising twist.

Sharon Galligar Chance writes from Wichita Falls, Texas.

ith a bolt-from-the-blue opening sentence, “They died instantly,” Jacquelyn Mitchard grabs hold of her readers and pulls them into a story of love, heartache, tragedy and triumph in her latest novel, A Theory of Relativity. As evidenced in her previous bestsellers, The Deep End of the Ocean and The Most Wanted, Mitchard proves beyond a […]

ileen Goudge first broke into publishing when she was asked to launch the Sweet Valley High series, which turned into a phenomenally successful line of teen romances. Later, she branched out on her own and wound up writing seven best-selling mainstream novels, including One Last Dance and Garden of Lies. Now the popular women's fiction writer returns with Stranger in Paradise, another fast-paced tale that mixes a bit of romance with a contemporary family crisis.

Nestled in a peaceful valley outside Santa Barbara is the little town of Carson Springs. An idyllic community with sun-kissed hills and lush orange groves, it has a magical appeal to residents and tourists alike. It's in this glorious setting that Goudge launches the first in a new trilogy of Carson Springs novels. The story centers on Samantha Kiley and her adult daughters, Alice and Laura. Each woman is facing a turning point in life, and the interaction between the trio is typical mother-daughter antagonism.

Laura, the eldest daughter and a recent divorcŽe, helps her mother run the family's gift shop. Alice, a television producer, has just married her over-50 boss, and finds herself questioning the wisdom of marrying an older man, as well as their mutual decision not to have children. Meanwhile the daughters are grousing over their mother Samantha's not-so secret affair with a younger man. When Sam gets pregnant, the story really gets interesting as her condition sparks the disapproval of the small town.

And what's a good romance without a little suspense to add some spice? This paradise has its very own malevolent murderer on the loose, and the tranquil little village can't quite rest until the culprit is caught.

Goudge's merry mix of secondary characters completes the package. Sam's best friend and former nun Gerry Fitzgerald, good-looking ranch hand Hector and the colorful residents of Carson Springs add plenty of additional flavor. Add the bevy of nuns at the Our Lady of The Wayside convent, and their Blessed Bee honey business, and you have enough craziness to keep the Hail Mary's coming.

Stranger in Paradise is a page-turning drama that delivers a little something for everyone romance, intrigue, humor, all brought together in a thoroughly engaging story. Just right for that perfect summer day's read.

ileen Goudge first broke into publishing when she was asked to launch the Sweet Valley High series, which turned into a phenomenally successful line of teen romances. Later, she branched out on her own and wound up writing seven best-selling mainstream novels, including One Last Dance and Garden of Lies. Now the popular women's fiction […]

very once in a great while, a book comes along that you absolutely adore. You devour every word and are terribly misty-eyed when it ends. Then, miracle of miracles, the author decides to pen a sequel to that brilliant book and you're again enraptured. Big Cherry Holler is the follow-up to Big Stone Gap, Adriana Trigiani's best-selling debut novel. In the sequel, Trigiani takes her readers back to the small town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, where we catch up on the lives of those quirky and fascinating townfolk who so intrigued us before.

In the eight years since town pharmacist Ave Maria Mulligan married her true love, coal miner Jack MacChesney, the couple has had a daughter, Etta, and a son, Joe, who died at the tender age of four. They have settled into the comfortable routine of family life. But even with her joy at being a mother and wife, Ave Maria begins to feel something is missing in her life. She and Jack Mac are just not as happy as she thinks they should be, and bit by bit she feels him slipping away. As things begin to fall apart, Ave Maria takes her daughter to Italy to spend the summer with relatives. While there, she meets a handsome stranger who offers her an eye-opening look at life beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stunned at her reawakened feelings of passion, Ave Maria is forced to define what is truly important to her her marriage, her family and her home.

This time around, Trigiani tells the heart-wrenching story of a marriage with all its deep dark secrets, struggles for equality and whispers of unfulfilled expectations that often exist between husband and wife. She also tells the story of a community that must reinvent itself as it comes to grips with the closing of the coal mine that has always provided employment for the town. Big Cherry Holler is an intricate tale of two people who have temporarily forgotten the reasons they came to love each other in the first place, and their journey to find that spark again. Readers will find a little bit of everything in this heart-warming novel humor, romance, wisdom and drama are all represented in the beautiful mountain settings of Virginia and Italy. Trigiani has created another keeper.

Sharon Galligar Chance is a book reviewer in Wichita Falls, Texas.

very once in a great while, a book comes along that you absolutely adore. You devour every word and are terribly misty-eyed when it ends. Then, miracle of miracles, the author decides to pen a sequel to that brilliant book and you're again enraptured. Big Cherry Holler is the follow-up to Big Stone Gap, Adriana […]

edding bells are ringing in Mitford It's been more than a decade since Jan Karon made the leap from an award-winning career as an advertising executive to try her hand at writing. What a wise decision! Since then, her heartwarming, best-selling series about the delightful North Carolina town of Mitford has enchanted the hearts of millions of readers.

The first book, At Home in Mitford, introduced Episcopal rector Tim Kavanaugh and the village where he lived. Subsequent books followed Father Tim in his daily task of balancing parish and community obligations. His continuing romance with his lovely neighbor Cynthia was also well documented. Karon's fans know every detail in the lives of Mitford's colorful cast of characters. There are Web sites devoted to Jan Karon and Mitford, a regular newsletter for fans, and there's even talk of a television movie. Just one tiny detail has been left out of the stories until now.

We know how Father Tim and Cynthia met and fell in love, and we've seen them living the blissful life of a happily married couple. But what happened at their wedding? Karon addresses this consuming curiosity in a new installment of the Mitford story, A Common Life: The Wedding Story (audio, $24.95, ISBN 014180274X), due in stores this month.

Taking her readers back in time, Karon describes of one of the most anticipated weddings in literary history.

The whole town turns out to help Father Tim and Cynthia tie the knot. Esther is making her famous orange marmalade cake, Uncle Billy is practicing his best jokes and young Dooley is to sing the wedding solo. Of course, there are the inevitable wedding-day glitches along the way that will leave readers in stitches by the time the ceremony takes place.

While A Common Life is the shortest book in the Mitford series (at just under 200 pages), it is, as always, a celebration of love, laughter and joy. Devoted fans will be ecstatic to know that a special five-volume boxed set compiling the previous Mitford novels, titled The Mitford Years (Penguin, $64.75, ISBN 0147715962), will also be released this month as a part of the celebration of this series' phenomenal success.

So get out your hankies, and get ready to laugh and cry as this much-loved duo walks down the aisle.

Sharon Galligar Chance is a book reviewer in Wichita Falls, Texas, who loves a good wedding.

edding bells are ringing in Mitford It's been more than a decade since Jan Karon made the leap from an award-winning career as an advertising executive to try her hand at writing. What a wise decision! Since then, her heartwarming, best-selling series about the delightful North Carolina town of Mitford has enchanted the hearts of […]

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