December is a month for sharing time-honored family traditions, making new memories and—of course—snuggling up with a special story. These celebratory picture books are filled with warmth and holiday cheer.
In The Broken Ornament, author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi tells a delightful story about the meaning of the holidays. Jack, a wide-eyed lad, can’t get enough of Christmas. “I want more decorations,” he tells his father. “That way Santa will see our house first.” On Christmas Eve, Jack is excited to find a final tree decoration that needs hanging. When he upsets his mother by accidentally breaking the ornament, which turns out to be a heirloom, his hopes for a bright Yuletide are equally shattered. Luckily, enchantment arrives in the form of a winged pixie named Tinsel—who brings along a few other special guests. With their help, Jack is able to put his Christmas dream back together. Young readers will be entranced by Tinsel, who’s the centerpiece of DiTerlizzi’s glowing illustrations. This beguiling tale is just right for a Christmas Eve read-along.
Jacqueline Jules provides a winning introduction to the rituals of Hanukkah in Light the Menorah!: A Hanukkah Handbook. Through eloquent poems and accessible prose, Jules explains the significance of the menorah, looks at the ancient story of Hanukkah and shares advice for celebrating the Jewish holiday. While the menorah candles burn each evening, Jules suggests that families gather for games or an interlude of quiet reflection: “This moment / is a feather-shaped flame / shining in the sacred space / between yesterday /and tomorrow,” she writes in the lovely poem “Fifth Night.” Throughout the book, she stresses the importance of cultivating an open heart and mind. Kristina Swarner’s softly rendered illustrations feature family members young and old, historical scenes and plenty of flickering candles. Recipes, songs and craft projects make this a book that the kiddos will want to return to year after year.
DECEMBER IN THE WOODS
Tom Booth’s This Is Christmas captures the spirit of the season through a story of charming woodland creatures. On Christmas Eve, a wee chipmunk and his mother gather acorns in the forest, where holiday preparations are underway. “What is Christmas, Mama?” the chipmunk asks. “Christmas is many things, little one,” she says. They see beetles with gifts wrapped in blades of grass and hear geese singing carols overhead. “Will I ever know Christmas?” the chipmunk wonders at bedtime. When he awakens to a snow-covered world and joins his animal friends for a frolic in the drifts, he finally discovers the essence of the holiday. Booth’s illustrations bring the forest festivities to vivid life, and his mother and son chipmunks have loads of appeal. This tender little story is a charmer from start to finish.
A TIMELESS HOLIDAY TALE
Set in 1912 New York City, Emily Jenkins’ All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah brims with old-fashioned warmth. Four-year-old Gertie is all set to assist her mother and sisters with Hanukkah preparations, but she’s forbidden to help in the kitchen. Upset, Gertie hides under a bed until Papa coaxes her out with a gingersnap and eases her anger. Together, the two of them light the menorah, and when the family gathers for dinner, all is well. Based on Sydney Taylor’s classic tales of Jewish life on the Lower East Side, this heartfelt family story features artwork by Caldecott-winning illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky, whose intriguing artwork captures the spirit of the city’s tenements at the time. With a glossary, a note on sources and a yummy latke recipe, this tale is sure to endure.
Illustration from Last Stop on the Reindeer Express © 2018 by Karl James Mountford. Reproduced by permission of Doubleday.
A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY
Maudie Powell-Tuck’s Last Stop on the Reindeer Express is a thrilling holiday adventure. Mia made a special card for Grandpa, but he’s too far away to receive it in time for Christmas. When she discovers an unusual mailbox with a door, she steps inside and finds herself in the Reindeer Express, an enchanted, snow-filled realm where a reindeer awaits her. Carrying Mia on his back, the beast flies over sea and land until they reach their destination: Grandpa’s house! Artist Karl James Mountford’s dazzling illustrations include ornate ornaments, cheery Yuletide trees and elaborate cityscapes, which Mia passes over on her ride through the sky. The interactive elements that appear throughout—including doorway flaps that open and a holiday card—will pique young readers’ interests. With sparkle aplenty and a plucky heroine, this Christmas tale is a triumph.