Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year—especially for book lovers! We’ve selected a stack of seasonal goodies that the little angels and elves on your gift list will love.
GETTING INTO THE SPIRIT
Capturing the only-in-December sense of excitement that accompanies the holidays, Tom Brenner’s And Then Comes Christmas follows a jolly little family as they prepare for the big day. Out in the country, surrounded by snow-covered fields, everybody gets in on Christmas activities: Sis hangs paper snowflakes; Dad’s on light duty; little brother offers encouragement; and Mom accepts mysterious packages from the mailman. This prelude to Christmas is an especially festive affair thanks to Jana Christy’s textured digital illustrations. In her hands, the rituals of December—baking cookies, trimming the tree, sitting on Santa’s lap—have a special candlelit magic. Brenner’s poetic prose distills the essence of the season, including the special solemnity of Christmas Eve, when “the whole world seems to be waiting.”
POEMS FROM SANTA
Who knew Santa was an aspiring writer? In Bob Raczka’s twinkling new book, Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole, the King of Christmas crafts bite-sized poems just right for little readers. Starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas, the merry old elf himself pens a haiku a day, offering insights into his cozy home life with Mrs. Claus and the holiday preparations at the Pole. On Christmas Eve, Santa writes, “Which is packed tighter, / the sack full of toys or the / red suit full of me?” Through illustrations that are a wonder to study—from Santa’s palatial cabin, with its ornate onion domes, to the blue, lunar landscape of the frozen North—artist Chuck Groenink provides a visionary take on the kingdom of Claus. Raczka’s poems, with their arresting imagery and appealing simplicity, make this an ornament for any Christmas book collection.
A GUIDING LIGHT
Finding the perfect Christmas gift is an issue of unusual import for the adorable angel-heroine of Alison McGhee’s Star Bright. Considering the recipient—a very special baby who’s due in December—it’s no surprise she’s nervous. The angel considers a few gift options—music, wind, rain—but none seems right. When she spies travelers on Earth who are lost in the dark of night as they journey to view the newborn, she sets off to guide them with her own special light—a bright Christmas gift, indeed. Peter H. Rey-nolds’ angels are a spunky bunch who inhabit a celestial realm filled with ladders and catwalks. His swirling watercolor, pen-and-ink drawings keep the proceedings lighthearted. Adding a new angle to the Nativity story, this thoughtful tale serves as a poignant reminder of what Christmas is about: the spirit of giving.
A delightful departure from the Christmas story norm, Ulf Stark’s The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits is a rollicking holiday adventure that features Sweden’s answer to Santa Claus. Grump is a Yule tomte, or holiday gnome—a miniature St. Nick who delivers Yuletide gifts. Unfortunately, the loss of his favorite red hat and much-needed mittens has turned him into a Christmas crank. Deciding to boycott the big holiday, he holes up in his cottage, but he’s not getting off so easily. Neighboring rabbits Binny and Barty are determined to celebrate the season the traditional way—with tomte in tow. Eva Eriksson’s delicate renderings of Grump and the bunnies are a delight. Told in 25 chapters—one for each day of the Advent calendar—this festive tale is certain to become a Christmas classic.
NIGHT OF WONDERS
For a magical introduction to the miracle of Christmas, it’s hard to top Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Manger. In this luminous new poetry collection, animals of every stripe possess the power of speech on Christmas Eve, and each pays tribute to the baby Jesus in verse. Hopkins, an award-winning poet, selected the 15 accessible pieces in this special volume, which includes work by X.J. Kennedy and Jane Yolen. Helen Cann’s delightful watercolor, collage and mixed-media illustrations are teeming with detail and color, the perfect match for poems that have a plainspoken narrative quality. This is an enchanting look at the holiest of nights.
SEASON OF PEACE
A century has passed since World War I. In Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, John Hendrix offers a moving account of the holiday ceasefire achieved by soldiers fighting at the French-Belgian border. Relating events from the front line in a letter to his mother, a young British soldier tells of the remarkable moment on Christmas Day when French, English and German men laid down their weapons and clasped hands, sharing biscuits and good wishes. Hendrix’s expert drawings in graphite, acrylic and gouache bring the battlefield to life. Among the mud and concertina wire, hope takes the shape of tiny Christmas trees in the trenches. Peace, as this solemnly beautiful story proves, is the greatest gift of all.
This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.