If you are in the market for a Christmas book this season, you will not be disappointed. The offerings are varied and rich the tough part will be deciding which ones to buy! Grandfather's Christmas Tree (ages 4-8) has everything a good holiday book should have: gorgeous illustrations (by Thomas Locker, one of my favorite children's artists); a heartfelt story (by Keith Strand, writing about his grandfather's birth); and a bit of a miracle. As we say good-bye to the 1900s, it's fun to read this Little House on the Prairie-like tale of husband and wife settlers in 1886 Colorado, all alone in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, watching the snow pile up around them, and wondering how they will keep their infant boy warm. The only available firewood is a stand of spruce trees outside their cabin door that provide shelter for a family of geese. The couple can't bear to destroy the birds' home. Not surprisingly, the ending will warm readers' hearts in festive fashion.
On a much lighter note, the classic Eloise at Christmastime by Kay Thompson is back in print after nearly 40 years, one of a handful of volumes about this spunky heroine who lives in the tippy top floor of New York City's Plaza Hotel. Hilary Knight's whimsical drawings are pure delight, and the text positively sparkles ( You can hear Nanny say/ÔOh trinkles/my dear/Oh drinkles and skinkles of fun/It's Christmas/ Christmas/Christmas Eve/Oh my/there's a lot to be done' ).
Meet a family living in more spartan quarters than the Plaza Hotel in Not Enough Beds: A Christmas Alphabet Book by Lisa Bullard, illustrated by Joni Oeltjenbruns, (ages 5-8). Here's a dilemma many families face when relatives arrive: where do you put them all? Children will laugh at the imaginative solutions, as Aunt Alison snores in an overstuffed chair, while my young brother Ben stretches out on a stair. Smart Cousin Constantine brought his own cot, and so on. Watch, too, the amusing antics of a mouse family prancing about on each page.
For a unique twist on the holiday theme, try Pigs on the Move: Fun with Math and Travel by Amy Axelrod, illustrated by Sharon McGinley-Nally (ages 4-9), one in a series of books devoted to a pig family and their explorations of various math themes. When Mr. and Mrs. Pig and their two piglets miss their plane from Texas to Boston, they are forced to take a series of flights that take them through several time zones, thus allowing readers to consider how both mileage and time add up. The story alone is enjoyable enough, however, should you choose to leave math discussions until the end. There's also a nifty map of the United States showing time zones and funky nicknames of assorted cities, such as Porkopolis, Ohio.
'Twouldn't be Christmas without some new version of Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas, and this year illustrator Max Grover offers a bright and cheery edition. His childlike acrylic style brings fun and surprises, including Santa landing in the fireplace amidst a cloud of soot and two charts of Santa, with Little Round Belly and Nose Like a Cherry appropriately labeled. Grover's interpretation is a particularly good choice for youngsters hearing the famous poem for the first time.
The young will also be thrilled by another of David A. Carter's pop-up bug extravaganzas, The 12 Bugs of Christmas. His variation of the traditional carol features, of course, Carter's signature crazy critters, including the likes of a fruitcake bug, snowflake bugs, lovely glowing bugs, and tinsel bugs, all wrapped up in flap packages waiting to be flipped.
Travel to San Juan, New Mexico, for Farolitos for Abuelo by Rudolfo Anaya, illustrated by Edward Gonzales (ages 5-9), the story of Luz, whose beloved abuelo (grandfather) dies in a river accident as he saves the life of a careless boy. While learning to deal with her loss, Luz puts farolitos (candlelit lanterns) around his grave at Christmas in this sad but uplifting tale.
More farolitos are featured in Tomie de Paola's wonderful The Night of Las Posadas (ages 4-8), about an annual procession honoring Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When the couple playing Mary and Jesus gets caught in a snowstorm and misses the ceremony, a pair of mysterious replacements show up in what the village elder, Sister Angie, immediately recognizes as a miracle of the manger. This is a simple yet powerful story, accented by dePaola's always luminous art.
The Legend of the Christmas Rose by William H. Hooks, illustrated by Richard A. Williams, is a nativity story featuring nine-year-old Dorothy, who tags along with her older shepherd brothers on their journey to Bethlehem. She has nothing to give the newborn babe until an angel appears and bestows tiny white flowers (Helleborus niger), blossoms known for their beauty as well as curative powers.
Don't forget the youngest on your holiday lists, who will enjoy board books such as:
The First Christmas: A Christmas Bible Playbook (Reader's Digest Children's Books, $4.99, 1575843285).
My First Christmas Board Book (DK Publishing, $6.95, 0789447355), filled with eye-catching photographs of everything from Christmas trees, toys, and snowmen to nativity scenes.
Christmas Lights (Little Simon, $4.99, 0689822693), a glow-in-the-dark board book with collage illustrations of holiday scenes.
Last but not least, for a selection you can really sink your teeth into, try New Baby's Nativity (Standard Publishing/ Reader's Digest Children's Books, $10.99, 1575843293), a cloth book with an attached cloth angel that can be moved from page to page.
Ho, Ho, Ho, and Peace on Earth!