SEASON'S READINGS
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Like snowflakes, every child is different and unique, but all children are the same in that they deserve the very best children's books! Santa's helpers can check this list twice to help fill the sleigh with seasonal read-alouds that are as wonderful as a snow day (or almost as wonderful). Click on the links in blue for further reviews and information.

The Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore,
illustrated by Robert Sabuda


Guess whatI'm getting everyone on my list? Pop-up engineer Sabuda had a tough act to follow after last year's astounding 3-D tribute The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but he managed to pull off another Christmas miracle. The creature that is stirring is a mouse, and he observes all the magic of St. Nick making a delivery in the form of the classic poem. Using bold solids with silver detailing, the book's style is tasteful and comtemporary. There is only one tab to pull in the whole book, most all the movement comes from simply opening the pages, and when I say movement, we're talking Bolshoi Ballet, San Francisco Earthquake, Central Park carousel ride! Open to the oncoming reindeer that bolt off the page, and tell me you don't gasp! Open a page to send Santa down the chimney, or watch a mousie gently pull the covers over himself to get a little cozier. Open to the last spread and see a whole town rise up, while Santa rides away across two layers of shifting stars. There is something very loving about Sabuda's treatment, and whoever has this book shared with them will feel very loved indeed. As one teacher sighed after reading it, "Well. That just changes what a book can be." (All ages)

Another festive addition to your holiday pop-up collection is Chanukah Bugs by David A. Carter. Open a lift-the-flap package for each night of the eight days to to say shalom to the likes of a glowing Shammash candle bug, a Dizzy Dreidel Bug that really spins, sizzling Potato Latke Bugs, foil Golden Gelt bugs, and Menorah Bugs that outshine them all! Great for introducing the symbols of Chanukah in a primary classroom, or for holiday gift-giving (makes an amusing hostess gift as well as a treat for your favorite little shaneh yingle). You don't have to be Jewish to go bug-eyed over this book! More Chanukah titles may be found by clicking here!

Merry Christmas, Princess Dinosaur!
by Jill Kastner


One of the most charming Christmas books starts in the the toyroom where the toys have come to life, and from there your children can follow belly-buttoned Princess Dinosaur on her exuberant household rounds. The excitement of Santa's visit reaches fever pitch as her majesty checks the chimney, eats Santa's cookies (being excited makes her hungry, after all) and hides in the tree. What special gift will Santa deliver to such a devoted fan? The expressive illustrations of this little doll's adventures are big and bold and utterly joyful, perfectly capturing all the childlike carbonation of the night before Christmas. (5 and up)


All You Need for a Snowman
by Alice Schertle,
illustrated by Barbara Lavallee


It all starts with one small snowflake…perfectly appropriate, because this book is as fresh as a snowflake on your tongue! Crisp, stylized illustrations (by the same artist who did the arctic tale Mama, Do You Love Me?) depict step-by-step the process of building a snowman with a bevvy of friends. This spirit of community climaxes in a delightful surprise conclusion. Huge creations at one point require the reader to tilt the book vertically to fully appreciate the grandeur, and the snowmen's garb is sure to make you smile. A snowy-day read aloud for every primary classroom, and great for emergent readers as well. (4 and up)

Pieces of Christmas
by Teri Sloat


Children can take a trip around the world just like Santa, thanks to this ingenious book! Santa is sorting through his mail, and as the letters swirl around bits and pieces of Christmas float across double-page spreads. Each picture focuses on a postage stamp of an animal in some part of the world, and of course the possibilities for classroom extensions are endless. Letter-writing is a natural. What a beautiful bulletin board it would make if each child designed their own holiday postage stamp! (Fiskars scissors are available at office supply stores with blades that look like perforation.) Or, how about mapping all the animals, from the javelinas in the southwest to the wildebeests on the African savannahs? Or classify the animals for science: are the Nashville newts amphibians or reptiles? Is the Belizean sloth in the tree a bird or beast? There is so much to discuss and connect in this book, not the least of which is admiration of the illustrations, which have very original and beguiling bits, such as raven adding the star to a tree of feathers, or chameleon changing into all the colors of the Christmas lights. (7 and up)

Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?
by Jan Brett


Every year, Kyri's Christmas feast is spoiled by an invasion of raucus, greedy trolls. The tables are turned, though, when a boy from Finnmark and his pet polar bear lodge there en route to Oslo. While Kyri's father is on the mountain to keep watch for the trolls, they make their intrusion, and all goes their naughty way until they mistake the slumbering briun for a big kitty. Based on a Norwegian folk tale, illustrator Jan Brett nearly plucks the stars from the sky in an effort to enchant her readers, literally, creating constellations of trolls looking down upon the considerable action below. Scandinavian motifs abound, with distinctive details like wooden clocks and tiled stoves and hand-knit socks, drawn with such care that you can almost feel each line with your eyes, each part of the picture like some carefully executed craft. It's hard to resist reaching out to feel all the texture of the woods and fabrics or bending over to smell the goodies on the table. Cameos of simultaneous stories are captured in wooden frames, giving this book a sophisticated filmic quality. My only complaint, as is the case with many of Jan Brett's books, is that they are so rich in detail that they can be hard to share with a large group. Save this title for one-on-one, when you can really point and ohhh and ahh at all the minute marvels within. Complaint number two is that reading this will make you greedy as a troll and calling for more…a craving readily catered to in Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury containing the text and pictures of seven---count 'em, seven!--- of her best winter wares: The Mitten, The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Trouble with Trolls, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Hat, Christmas Trolls, and The Night Before Christmas. This lavish heirloom belongs in every household where a tree twinkles. (6 and up) Also, check out the author's fabulous standard-setting website, brimming with contests, activity pages and surprises worthy of a holiday.

Zooflakes ABC
by Will C. Howell


Cutting out paper snowflakes is a family and classroom tradition , but this book takes the snip-snip -snip of this familiar winter craft to a whole new level. Look twice and you'll see pelicans, jaguars, unicorns, in fact, an A to Z alphabestiary peeking out of the snowflake forms. Simple and exciting, your child doesn't have to stand on the outside looking in; directions for folding a 6-sided "zooflake" are included. For a storytime, it's nice in combination with Jacqueline Briggs Martin's Caldecott winning title Snowflake Bentley. Fill the windows! (7 and up)

Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear!
by Don and Audrey Wood


The pipsqueak hero from The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bearis back for Christmas, and guess what, he's still concerned about that Big Hungry Bear! Can mousie dear see past his fears to deliver the true spirit of Christmas? He does, and he's not the only one who delivers…turning each page of this book is like opening a new present. The colors in this big shiny bonanza are so cheerful and bright, you would swear they were painted with melted hard candies. The whole story is told in a one-sided dialogue, the reader speaking directly to the mouse on the page and the mouse's actions and expressions responding, making this story very sweet and very, very funny. A great book about giving that makes a great book to give! Be sure to visit the author and illustrator's website as well. (5 and up)

Christmas Tapestry
by Patricia Polacco

Jonathan Jefferson Weeks is a PK, or a "pastor's kid," and follows his father from Memphis to Detroit so he can establish a new congregation. Although Jonathan is frustrated by the move, he thrusts himself into the work of the church and finds himself looking forward to the first service on Christmas Eve. When a blizzard blows in and creates water damage to the sacristy wall, it seems all is lost, until Jonathan finds a tapestry in an antique shop to cover the blight. Jonathan wonders as they wait interminably for the bus to come and take them home why things have been so difficult and why so many roadblocks seem to appear, when a Jewish woman sitting at the bus stop proves to have an uncanny connection to the tapestry and ultimately shows Jonathan that there might be a larger force at work in the best laid plans. While the story is a bit pat for my taste, as in Polacco's Welcome Comfort and The Trees of the Dancing Goats, she manages to show connections between disparate lives and her stirring vision of community is a worthwhile message any time of year. A good pick for Sunday school read-alouds (church or synogogue!) and the season's top tear-jerker. (9 and up)

Snowmen at Night
by Caralyn Buehner,
illustrated by Mark Buehner


Every wonder why, when you build a snowman, he never looks quite the same the next day? Why is that snowman all slumped down, with drooping arms and hat askew? The answer that this story suggests is that you'd look weary, too, if you partied as hearty as the frosty folk do! This wintertime rhyme is an invitation to a fete twice as fun as a ride in a one-horse open sleigh. There are so many charming details: snowmen sip ice-cold cocoa served by their mothers, make rotund snow angels, and skate in tandem. The silvery blue palette is so luminous, it is like viewing a magical nightime world through an icicle. (Your family may have already enjoyed Buehner's illustrations in the classic The Adventures of Taxi Dog). To make this book extra cool, there are hidden shapes painted in the landscapes, making this one read-aloud that will be enjoyed long after the snow has melted. (6 and up)

Snow Bears
by Martin Waddell,
illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies


Frolic in the snow is the order of the day for these three darling bears, and the hoorays are heightened when Mommy Bear pretends to have lost her children. Who are these "snow bears" who seem to have taken their place? Making the best of it, each bear takes a turn choosing a game to play, and when Mommy Bear finally takes the snow bears in for hot toast, the warm fireside melts the snow from their fur and reveals her real babies. Readers could bask in the glow of a mother's love in Waddell's Owl Babies, and the theme is just as successfully carried out here, this time with more hair than feathers. The white snow powdered and clumped on the brown bears' fur will definitely give young 'uns the chilly-willies. Full of tumbles and cuddles, this is the coziest read of the season. (3 and up)

Sleigh Bells and Snowflakes: A Celebration of Christmas
compiled and illustrated by Linda Bronson

A very handsome collection of verse for the holiday is graced with textured illustrations, with plenty of glitter, beads, ribbon and fluffy, puffy stuff. The depictions of people are also truly multicultural, with skintones painted a wide variety of shades and hues, naturally celebrating together. What really gets this book on the "nice" list, though, is how merry it is to read aloud, since many traditional song lyrics are interspersed with the poems, making it both a tuneful and tasteful choice for bedtime or storytime. (7 and up)

The Twelve Days of Christmas
by Rachel Griffin


Needlework and embroidery make up the fabric of this fantastic picture book that miraculously turns a cumulative dirge into a delight. Sequins, buttons and elegant appliqué against lush, almost electric material make this like a quilt in a binding, and also like a quilt, this book is sure to be a family treasure. Gotta love those five ring-bearing elephants! British vocalist Caroline Butler carols on the accompanying CD. As far as gift-giving, this book is a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll, and definitely beats eleven pipers piping (probably considerably more economical, too). (7 and up)

Other excellent holiday books:

Auntie Claus and the Key to Christmasby Elise Primavera (7 and up)
Angelina's Christmasby Katherine Holabird, illustrated by Helen Craig (5 and up)
It's Snowing!by Olivier Dunrea (4 and up)
Was That Christmas?by Hilary McKay (4 and up)
A Small Miracleby Peter Collington (7 and up)
Runaway Dreidel!by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (5 and up)
The Night Before Christmasby by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Mary Engelbreit (5 and up)
Here Comes Santa Clausby Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (4 and up)
Christmas City: A Look-Again Bookby Michael Gardland (5 and up)
Santa Claustrophobiaby Mike Reiss, illustrated by David Catrow (7 and up)
Merry Christmas Everywhere!by Arlene and Herb Erlbach, illustrated by Sharon Lane Holm (7 and up)
Iguanas in the Snow/Iguanas en la Nieve and Other Winter Poemsby Francisco X. Alarcon, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez (6 and up)
Four Friends at Christmasby Tomie DePaola (4 and up)

For more wintery stories and holiday books (including Chanukah and Kwanzaa), click here!
For the best new children's book releases that aren't necessarily holiday books, click here!
PlanetEsme.com wishes you and yours peace, health and a joyful tradition of read-aloud in the new year!

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