Christmas picture books are available and plentiful right now. There are many wonderful, cleverly written books which also are beautifully illustrated Here are some of the choices:
“The Nutcracker’s Night Before Christmas” by Keith Brockett and illustrated by Joseph Cowman (Sleeping Bear Press) is about a theater producing “The Nutcracker” ballet. But things are not progressing smoothly as one problem after another threatens to derail the performance. Not only do the title and opening lines evoke Clement C. Moore’s classic “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but the beautifully written verse echoes that poem as well. At the end there are two pages filled with nonfiction information about the Nutcracker ballet (the real story of the ballet) and a Glossary of terms that those not familiar with theater might not understand.
A lovely story with a message about sharing is “The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll” by Patricia C. McKissack with almost magical illustrations by the incredibly talented Jerry Pinkney (both author and illustrator are award winners). The story takes place during the Depression and Nella, the first person narrator, explains how all she wants for Christmas is a Baby Betty doll. But her family is poor. So poor that to make the house clean for “Santy” they tear down the old yellowing newspaper and replace it with fresh newspaper. When they actually get a Baby Betty doll on Christmas morning, Nella argues that it should be hers. But is playing with a doll alone while her sisters are having fun together making her happy?
The dialect in quote is excellent and subtle, for example when Nella tells Baby Betty a Brer Rabbit story. The writing is every bit as excellent as one would expect from McKissack. And the message, that everything is more enjoyable when shared with loved ones, is perfect for any holiday season. (Schwartz & Wade Books)
“The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas” by Laura Murray and illustrated by Mike Lowery (Putnam) is a sillier holiday picture book with a wonderful message or two. The gingerbread’s class is making all kinds of gifts to give to community helpers. It’s a very appropriate book since the younger grades study community helpers in school. Some of the students make cards, some bake treats and some practice songs to sing. The gingerbread man makes a special card for a special friend. But after delivering holiday cheer to the police lade, the garbage man, the librarian, the dentist, the grocer and the vet, a cold wind starts to blow and the class heads back to school. But the gingerbread man has not gotten to give his card to his special friend. He sets off on his own and finally finds his friend who in return gives him a very special, much-needed gift of his own! Lovely and touching, this is a picture book both kids and adults will enjoy. It’s got the rhythm of all the gingerbread books, so it’s fun to read, too.
A personal favorite of the pile of holiday books is Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (Doubleday). The “you” in the story/song happens to be a puppy adopted from an animal shelter, and almost every illustration on every page in the book shows how the girl in the story, a Mariah-as-a-child lookalike, is hoping for a puppy. On the first page, she is walking by a storefront with the words “Puppy Love Adoption” on it. While the other children are checking out the gifts under the Christmas tree, she is drawing a picture of a dog. Even the cookies she makes are in the shape of dogs. And on the last page, on Christmas morning, she gets a dog that was in a box (open at the top) from the Puppy Love Adoption shelter. The message is wonderful. Adopt! Give the gift of love to a child with a rescued dog (or cat) from a local shelter. (One caveat: Make sure that the recipient of the gift wants a pet. Too many unwanted dogs and cats are left at shelters after holidays.)
“Cork & Fuzz: Merry Merry Holly Holly” by Dori Chaconas (Viking Books) is a holiday book (because Christmas isn’t really mentioned) that would be great for readers of any religious denomination. Cork the muskrat and his friend Fuzz the possum go in search of a tree to help them think about why the day seems special. One tree after another has problems, but finally they find a lovely lit-up pine tree that is peaceful and quiet. And the two friends, who are different in many ways, both agree that being together is what makes a day special. Lisa McCue’s illustrations are a lovely combination of soft watercolor strokes and sharper details.
Please note: This article is based on the final hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.
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