Tag: holidays

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub, illustratead by Scott Magoon (InfoSoup)

Three knights are guarding the castle when suddenly out on the drawbridge there arose a clatter! Outside there is a red-and-white knight with his eight dragons who is trying to get inside the castle. He asks where the chimney is, but castles don’t have a chimney, so Santa has to go to extreme measures to get gifts to these three knights. Meanwhile the knights try to defend the castle but take the instructions a bit too literally. Santa does not give up, deciding to launch the presents at the castle using a flexible pine tree. The knights successfully defend the castle from this barrage of cookies, candy and gifts. Then they merrily bring it all indoors and set up their holiday celebration. Santa has won too!

This is such a clever play on Twas a Night Before Christmas. At first I wondered if it would work, but the author manages to pay homage to the traditional story but also strike out on her own and make a very enjoyable holiday tale. The rhythm and feel of the original story is still here, but this new version does not feel bound by it. Rather it launches the story forward and gives the author room to play. Children will love these three confused knights and their battle against the holiday.

Magoon’s art is digitally done, offering a feeling of plenty of texture and even collage. The three knights are unique from one another and Santa himself is unmistakable in his red and white costume. Each image is filled with humor. Make sure to take time to read the asides too as they add to the merriment.

A modern twist on a traditional poem, this is a welcome new version for fans of knights and castles. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano, illustrated  by Marjorie Priceman (InfoSoup)

On their first Christmas Eve after moving to the Bronx from Puerto Rico, things are just not going well. Their tree is tiny and now the holiday roast is too big to fit in their tiny oven! So Jose and his father head off to find an oven large enough for their big roast. As they leave their apartment building, they bump into neighbor after neighbor, each having a bad holiday too. The children are too noisy, an older couple won’t be seeing their family this year, and others are having money troubles. They head to the local pizzeria where the Ray lets them put the roast in his huge pizza oven. On the way back home with the meal, the smell of the roast tantalizes everyone they pass, making their day better. And best of all is the sharing of the roast and the sharing of the holiday with everyone.

Manzano played Maria on Sesame Street and has been creating marvelous books for children for the last few years. In this picture book, she captures the diversity of a Bronx neighborhood and the way that you can be neighbors but not know one another well. Then she turns it all around and shows how community can suddenly be created by acts of caring and generosity and how those choices can impact everyone around you.

Caldecott-honor winning, Priceman has brought the urban Bronx neighborhood to vivid life here. The buildings sway, bright colored against the dark night sky that is alive with stars and the milky way. The snow shines on the ground. All is filled with spicy colors that fill the holiday with a unique feeling of a diverse community.

A great pick for holiday reading, this picture book has the rhythm of different languages on the page, the joy of diverse holiday traditions and the beauty of a community coming together. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blesssings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel (InfoSoup)

Oskar survived Kristallnacht in Nazi Europe and has been sent by his family to live with his aunt in New York City. When he arrives, he has to walk over 100 blocks down Broadway to reach her, hopefully before she lights the menorah at sunset. Along the way, Oskar is reminded again and again about looking for blessings in life. He is given bread by a woman feeding the birds, a comic book by the man who runs the newsstand, mittens by a boy in the park. But most of all in his long walk in the cold, he is given hope once again that he is somewhere safe.

The authors have created a picture book that speaks to the horrors of the Holocaust only in passing. Instead it is much more focused upon feeling embraced by a city even as a newly-arrived immigrant. It is about the small things that we do in kindness each day and the way that those small things build to something larger and more important for someone. This book celebrates New York City and the shelter and home that can be found there.

The illustrations are interesting for a book set in the past. They incorporate comic-like panels on the page that really work well. The illustrations have a sense of wonder about them. They capture small pieces of New York, allowing the snow and city to swirl around the reader just as they do around Oskar himself.

A lovely holiday book that is about more than either Christmas or Hanukkah but about home and hope. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Over the River and Through the Wood by Linda Ashman

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Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith (InfoSoup)

This modern take on the classic holiday song has family members from around the nation traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the holidays. One family traveling by car comes with 2 dogs, 2 pies and one enormous teddy bear. When their car runs out of gas, they are rescued by a horse and sleigh. The next family, a gay couple with older daughter and baby, travel from a major city via subway and then train. They discover there aren’t any rental cars, but again they are rescued by the same sleigh. Two more families join the pattern, both with diverse family members, and all needing the rescuing sleigh in the end so they can all make it to Grandma’s house by night.

I love the jaunty rhyme here. While it can seem stilted when read silently, once you try to read it aloud it is magically fun and the rhyme works to create a real rhythm to the story. The repetition for each family no matter how they are traveling to Grandma’s house makes for a book that even small children will enjoy. Each meets with a disaster and then is rescued by that same sleigh. Hurray!

The diversity on the page here is especially welcome. Nothing is mentioned in the text, it is the illustrations that bring this large family filled with different types of families together. There is the gay couple, the multiracial family, and one family that may or may not have adopted children. Staying open to interpretation also means that many families will see themselves reflected here.

A great addition to holiday book shelves, this take on a classic song adds a modern sensibility to heading to Grandma’s house. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Sterling Children’s Books.

 

Review: Sharing the Bread by Pat Zietlow Miller

Sharing the Bread by Pat Zietlow Miller

Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Released September 22, 2015.

Told in rhyme, this picture book is a celebration of a family preparing Thanksgiving dinner together. The nineteenth century American traditions echo our modern ones closely. Readers will see the turkey go into the wood-burning oven. Dough for the bread is kneaded and allowed to rise. There is cranberry sauce made on the stove and a pumpkin pie with hand-whipped topping. Mashed potatoes are added to the feast as well as a jug of cider. Soon everyone is gathered around the table and prayers are said together. It’s an American Thanksgiving done in true traditional style.

The rhyming stanzas evoke a feeling of a jaunty folksong as they tell the story of a family making their Thanksgiving dinner. The rhymes create a great rhythm to the book, that will have toes tapping if they are read with enough snap and vigor. The rhyme and rhythm combine to create a strong framework for the book, one where there is a building anticipation for the meal and for the family to all arrive. There are extended family present, including adult siblings, aunt, uncle and grandparents. Throughout, there is lots of work to be done but it is all done in good cheer and everyone lends a hand.

McElmurry’s illustrations have a folkart quality to them that works well. Done in paint, the illustrations are simple and warm, inviting you back in time to share a meal that is familiar to everyone. There are lots of period details in the images such as water pumps, dried herbs in bunches on the wall, a wash tub, and large cast iron pots and pans.

Warm and flavored with tradition and love, this book is as gratifying as a fresh loaf of bread. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

Review: My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins

my true love gave to me

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins

Twelve bestselling young adult authors come together to create an amazing collection of holiday stories for teens.  Each story in this collection is a delectable treat, contrasting with the others yet each is just as romantic, snowy and filled with holiday spirit as the one before.  The twelve authors are Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White.  Each brings their own unique voice to the collection, each celebrates the holidays with their own twist.  Some are pure holiday bliss, Christmas centered and lovely, while others are gorgeously twisted and wild yet also speak to the real spirit of the season.  You never quite know where the next story will take you, and that is a large part of this collection’s appeal.

Perkins has done an amazing job of creating a holiday collection with plenty of diversity.  There are Jewish characters, characters of different races, pagan characters, those who believe in holidays, those who are jaded as can be.  There is magic in some of the stories, tangible magic that you can feel and touch, while other stories have that indefinable magic of love and connection. 

You are guaranteed to have your favorites among the stories.  For me, one of them hit my heart so hard that I wept, but it may not be the one you’d expect it to be.  Each one connects deeply with the characters, making them real people even such a short span of pages.   Each one offers up the author’s voice with a clarity that is incredible.  One could pick many of the authors out even with the stories mixed up and unnamed. 

An outstanding collection of holiday stories, these stories focus on the new adult rather than teens in high school, which makes it even more rare and lovely.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Winter Candle by Jeron Frame

winter candle

Winter Candle by Jeron Frame, illustrated by Stacey Schuett

The residents of the apartment building at Juniper Court celebrate a variety of holidays in the winter months.  It begins with Nana Clover at Thanksgiving who somehow forgot to get candles for her Thanksgiving table.  The building super finds her a lumpy candle and she uses it for her centerpiece.  Two weeks later, the Danziger family needs a havdalah candle for Sabbath.  Nana Clover gives them the lumpy candle she used.  A few days later, Kirsten needs one more candle for her Saint Lucia crown.  In winter, Donte’s little brother has chewed up one of the Kwanza candles.  Later in the winter, a new family has moved into the apartment building.  While they are waiting for their father to come back, the power goes out.  Guess which little candle helps light their night along with that of all the residents!

Filled with a strong sense of community and diversity, this picture book is about more than a litany of different traditions.  Using the small lumpy candle as a symbol, the book speaks to the power of shared moments as a family, the importance of a larger and supportive community, and the beauty of differences.  In each case, the candle is not what the family is looking for.  It’s the wrong color, the wrong shape, and the wrong size.  But it also works in all of its lack of perfection.  The writing in the book is weaves the various stories together, moving the candle from family to family and creating strong bonds.

The illustrations have a traditional feel.  They capture the power and beauty of the candle light as it shines in each family’s apartment.  In the final story, that light leads the father back home and thanks to the illustrations we believe that its power is more than one candle, more than the darkness, and as strong as the community around it.

Ideal for celebrating winter holidays in a way that is not Christmas centered, this picture book is a welcome addition to library shelves.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.