First, a brief disclaimer. This is not a “holiday” book, per se. No tinsel or holly or jolly gentleman. But it is just one of those amazingly charming books with snow in it, so I’m willing to include it in my holiday books round-up. I hope you’ll forgive me. It’s just too adorable to pass up. And penguins are festive! They’re jolly, right? For anyone who loved Antoinette Portis’ “Not a Box” and “Not a Stick” (trust me…you’ll LOVE them), her tale of a penguin named Edna cannot be missed. First of all, kudos to any author who names a penguin Edna. Sheer perfection. In Portis’ tale, Edna wants more from her life than just the white snow and the occasional waddle. What she finds is a research station and an orange glove. Sounds simple? It is….simply wonderful. Portis’ poetic and minimalistic text, dry sense of humor and graphic novel-like illustrations make this book a favorite of mine and one I heartily recommend to you this holiday season and every day after it.
Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman was a staple in my home growing up. Not only did I linger over his stunning illustrations, but my mother would always play the soundtrack of the book for me on our little tape player. What distinguishes Briggs’ tale from other holiday books is the fact that he so compellingly and beautifully weaves the story of the little boy and the snowman without words. Told only in pictures, The Snowman is as clever and engaging a read as any word-ridden book and will delight readers young and old. In the book, a little boy builds a snowman. Then, that night, after a fitful sleep, the boy goes outside to find that his snowman has come to life. But this is no Hallmark card remake of Frosty the Snowman. This is better. It is lovely and heartbreaking and, without one word, entirely literary. If you’ve never read this book, please look for it at your local library or bookstore. It is one of the most wonderful books in the world.
So, you want to give the all-time classic Christmas tale to someone this Christmas. Well, it’s certainly easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of them on the market. Personally, I don’t think anyone can have too many copies of Clement Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. (I, myself, have about six and each one is a favorite.) But, in my opinion, if you are searching for the most beautiful of them all, look no further than Mary Engelbreit’s version. The quintessential colored pencil artist, Engelbreit has created the most gorgeous Christmas Eve tale yet – and her illustrations are the perfect match for Moore’s timeless verse. This books makes for not only a wonderful Christmas Eve read-aloud tradition, but would make a gorgeous gift to anyone you love. It’s a big, beautiful book filled with timeless delights and inimitable illustrations. A true Christmas treasure.
Last year, my utterly wonderful friend sent a little package to me with a children’s book inside that, no kidding, is one of the most adorable holiday books I’ve seen. Maggie Smith’s Christmas with the Mousekins is, for lack of a better term, darling. Darling, darling, darling. In it, the Mousekin family is busy with holiday preparations – writing letters to Santa Mouse, cutting paper snowflakes and baking holiday cookies – all with a special mouse-ish flair. What makes this book so amazing is that Smith has included fun craft activities and baking recipes in the story so that the readers can write, cut and bake right along with the Mousekins! From making paper Mittens-in-a-Row to baking Gingerbread Mice, Smith’s easy-to-follow instructions and whimsical illustrations will have you spreading Christmas cheer all over the house! (And if you want to take a peek at Maggie Smith’s amazing stuffed animal creations, just visit www.maggierama.etsy.com for more! This is one talented lady!) I can’t even begin to tell you what a wonderful addition to the world of holiday books this little treasure is. It would make a delightful tradition to read every Christmas – and makes a lovely present for loved ones. Darling. Just darling.
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree is enormous. Much too enormous for even for his mansion of a house. Not too keen on the idea of a leaning tree, Mr. Willowby calls upon his butler, Baxter, to trim just a little off the top. Baxter, ever the resourceful assistant, decides that this little tip of the tree would be perfect as a Christmas tree for the upstairs maid. But she, too, must trim a bit off the top to fit in her room, so she gives that tip to the gardener. And so on and so forth, until just about everyone in the entire household (including the mice) has been given the gift of the perfect Christmas tree. This delightful book will keep your children laughing as Robert Barry’s rhyming verse tells this fun and whimsical tale.
How can you resist Richard Scarry? He was a staple of my childhood – Lowly Worm, Huckle Cat and the rest of the gang in Busytown…and this collection of Christmas stories will keep your children delighted and (perhaps, more importantly) occupied for hours while you try to finish that last-minute wrapping! It’s wonderful for reading aloud on Christmas Eve or for nestling in on the couch by the fire with your little ones. With so many stories to choose from, you’ll be hard-pressed to pick your favorite. My children adore this book and I love that I have my own memories of it too…
At first, my two sons couldn’t be bothered with reading a Judy Moody book because, as they put it, “There are girls in it.” But once Judy’s little brother, Stink, made an appearance, they couldn’t get enough of Megan McDonald’s fabulous chapter books. Enter The Holly Joliday, McDonald’s Christmas book starring this cool brother and sister duo. Judy has a long list of presents she’d like to see under the Christmas tree this year, but all Stink wants is for it to snow. An unlikely occurrence, until their new mailman comes onto the scene. His name is — wait for it — Jack Frost and he’s awfully magical for a mailman. Beginning readers will love that fact that they can read this chapter book themselves, and you’ll love listening to the story unfold.
We all know Eric Carle for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Grouchy Ladybug and The Very Quiet Cricket. But for those of you who have missed his Christmas tale Dream Snow, it is truly a must-have for any bookshelf. In it, a farmer (with a rather familiar white beard) dreams of snow falling on each of his animals (conveniently named 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Special plastic pages printed with snowflakes hide which animal is covered with snow until the child lifts it and exposes each animal’s slumbering shape. When the farmer wakes up, he realizes he has some last-minute preparations to make and dons his red cap, coat and boots. Children will delight in this simple story, with the added surprise of a special push-button Christmas tune that plays at the end.
There really are a great number of wonderful Hanukkah books available for children, like Naomi Hawland’s Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat or Joan Holub’s Light the Candles: A Hanukkah Lift-the-Flap Book. And I can’t help but sing the highest praises for Stephanie Spinner and Jill McElmurry’s It’s a Miracle! – my new absolutely favorite Hanukkah book for kids. In it, little Owen Block (just six and a half) has been deemed the Official Candle Lighter (or O.C.L.) – a true responsibility that he takes very seriously. Each night after the candles have been lit, Owen’s fabulously spry grandma Karen weaves a tale of Hanukkah for her beloved grandson. Her stories vary from aliens to soldiers to dentists – each one more intriguing and entertaining than the last. Not only is the storytelling fantastic, but this lovely book includes a great summary of the Hanukkah story, a list of traditional blessings and even a glossary of Hebrew terminology. This book is, by far, the most comprehensively delightful Hanukkah book on the market today. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
For a paper nut like me, Robert Sabuda is just about the most wonderful guy in the world. His pop-up books are phenomenal and create entire worlds of whimsy and imagination. My favorite is Cookie Count: A Tasty Pop-up, which features a countdown of the most fantastical baked goods around! Your children will marvel at the details behind each beautiful morsel. My sons particularly love the fact that the chefs are mice in tiny little toques. Sabuda has written and designed many pop-up books, but this one is, by far, the most delicious.