Tag: holidays

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


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.

Review: Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty

rabbi benjamins buttons

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

In the fall, the congregation gave Rabbi Benjamin a vest in honor of the new year.  It was yellow with four bright silver buttons down the front and it was a perfect fit.  Rabbi Benjamin wore his vest to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which also involved a lot of food.  Each family offered their own special food for the holiday, and Rabbi Benjamin’s vest was a lot tighter by the end.  During Sukkot, Rabbi visited each of the families and again had lots of food and his vest grew even tighter.  Until on the last day of Sukkot, one of the silver buttons popped right off his vest.  Chanukah came and Rabbi Benjamin ate lots of latke, and he lost a second silver button.  Spring came along with Passover, and the rabbi lost the last two buttons that had tried to stretch across his growing belly.  He was very upset about how he had ruined his special vest.  So he changed a few things.  He got out and moved more along with his congregation.  And when he tried on the vest for Rosh Hashanah, it was far too big to wear.  But don’t worry, Rabbi Benjamin had a loving congregation ready to help him again.

This book has a wonderful radiance about it.  The heart of the book is really the love felt between the congregation and Rabbi Benjamin.  He is unfailingly kind and giving as are they, perhaps a bit too giving when it comes to the food!  At the same time, the story is a smart and very enjoyable way for readers to learn about the various Jewish holidays throughout the year and the traditions associated with them.  The book has an index of the holidays at the end, including recipes for each holiday.  There is also a glossary of Jewish words.

Reinhardt’s illustrations also capture the loving community on the page.  Rabbi Benjamin almost glows on each page, not only due to his shining yellow vest but also with his popping and vibrant personality.  The diverse ethnicities of the congregation is also appreciated.

A cheery look at Jewish holidays and the bounty of friendship and community, this book will be appreciated by people of all faiths.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund

message of the birds

The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund, illustrated by Feridun Oral

The old owl tells the story of Christmas to a gather of birds.  He tells the story of Jesus in the manger and the birds above in the rafters.  The birds heard a song in the baby’s voice, a special song that they would carry through the world.  The robin asked why the birds don’t sing that song anymore, and the partridge explained that people don’t listen.  The little robin suggested that even if they don’t know the language anymore, their hearts could understand it.  The birds talk about whether the message would be heard and understood, and then the robin realizes that children are the most likely to hear the message.  So all of the birds sing the song, spread the message, particularly to children.  And something amazing happens.

I’m never sure with any Christmas book what level of Christianity I’m going to find in them and then what type of message it is going to be communicating.  When this book’s second set of pages had the manger scene, I thought I was in a very traditional Christmas book.  What followed though, was a delightful surprise as the book immediately turned from the traditional Christmas tale to one that is universal, a story of peace.  Westerlund tells the story with a pacing right out of folktales.  Her wise older owl, the inventive young robin are characters that are traditional in the best sense of the word.

Oral’s illustrations have a soft beauty to them.  Throughout his images of the birds, there is thick snow in the air.  The colors are consistently subtle and wintry, tawny browns, creamy whites and deep browns are punctuated only with the colors of the birds and the green of the trees. 

A lovely addition to Christmas stories, this book is beautifully written with rich illustrations.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

night before christmas

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Christine Brallier

Following the classic Christmas tale, this version of the story is made special by the illustrations.  Brallier has created fifteen stained glass illustrations for the book.  They range from holiday mantles to close ups of the reindeer and of course Santa Claus.  Santa does not wear a red hat here but instead has the robes of an English Santa Claus.  It makes the feel all the more timeless and special. 

Throughout, Brallier has small touches that are worth finding.  I was entranced by her use of smaller mosaic pictures on the walls as art.  She also includes decorations on blankets and tassels as well as snowflakes in the snow and stars in the sky.  Though the art is done in such a hard medium, there is no feeling of the limitations put on the art by that.  In fact, the depth of color and the texture of the mosaic glass add much to the book. 

My only quibble would be that I’d love to have had an illustrator’s note at the end of the book about her process in creating the illustrations.  I’d love to have a sense of their scale.  Happily, details like this are available on the author’s blog.

A gorgeous new version of a Christmas classic, this one is worth sharing as a holiday treat.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from the illustrator.