Tag: Christmas

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: 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: Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood

here comes santa cat

Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda

Cat tries out a new disguise in this follow up to Here Comes the Easter Cat.  Cat is worried that he has not been nice enough to get a present from Santa.  So his solution is to become Santa so that he can give himself a present.  Of course, he has to learn how to climb down chimneys, which doesn’t go well.  He also has to figure out how to fly without Santa’s magic reindeer.  Perhaps a jet pack?  He tries giving gifts to children, but they don’t seem to appreciate the fish.  He even tries to decorate a tree, but it too ends in disaster.  What is one naughty cat to do?

Underwood has created a delightful sequel to her first Cat book.  Once again Cat uses signs to communicate with the reader.  The voice of the narrator is one of an adult, making this an ideal book to be read aloud by a teacher or parent.  The rather disapproving but still encouraging tone of the narrator sets up the humor perfectly and with Underwood’s clear sense of comedic timing, the results are hilarious. 

Rueda’s art adds to the zany humor, often serving as the final funny note to a gag.  She uses gentle colors and delicate lines, supporting the storyline clearly.  Her comedic timing too is wonderfully spot on.

A very funny addition to crowded Christmas picture book shelves, save this one to share aloud on Christmas Eve.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

Four Merry Christmas Books

It’s a great year for Christmas books, and I have four top choices for your holiday reading pleasure:

first christmas

The First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski

With text from the King James version of the Bible, this picture book tells the nativity story with stateliness and words that will be familiar to many.  The great joy of the book is the silhouette illustrations by Pienkowski who has created images that glow on the page.  She combines her black silhouettes with colors that shift and seem to be lit from behind.  Her detailed cut paper art is awe-inspiring and adds just the right touch of wonder to the story of the birth of Jesus.  Recommended for all ages. 

Reviewed from e-galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.


Manger selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Helen Cann

On Christmas Eve at midnight the animals are given the gift of being able to speak.  The poems in this book tell what each of the animals would say during the nativity about what they witnessed and how they contributed.  Hopkins has compiled a collections of poems from a dozen poets.  The collection ranges in styles and lengths but is also cohesive and the differences in the poems creates a variety that adds freshness. 

Cann’s illustrations are lovely with rich colors and fine details.  They show the animals clearly and also the wonder of the nativity on each page whether they are fish, fowl or mammal.  The poems range from very serious approaches to ones that are gently humorous but they are all done with great respect and honor the reason Christmas exists.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans.

santa clauses

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Santa tells his own story of Christmas in these 25 short haiku poems that offer a glimpse into what goes into making Christmas happen.  From the joy of snow to the seasonal chores like fixing Christmas lights, readers will see their own holiday preparations in Santa’s world too.  But there are also things that are just in Santa’s world like the many letters from children, hard-working elves, reading stories to the reindeer and finally flying off to deliver presents. 

These poems are cleverly done, often showing the beauty of the winter season just as much as they are celebrating the Christmas holiday.  The mix of natural beauty with Christmas makes the book rich and a holiday treat to share.  The illustrations too show the wonder of nature on the page alongside the bustle of the holiday season.  It is the quiet snowy scenes and the small special moments that make the strongest impressions both in poem and art.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

12 days of christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The traditional holiday carol is told in a warm new rendition with illustrations that are traditional but also very funny.  The carol is unaltered in this picture book that shows what happens as the various gifts arrive.  Though in the first pages it seems to be a book that will stack and pile the huge number of gifts on each page, this book is more subtle about things and therefore more successful.  Instead it is a delightful mix of diversity, different cultures and the joy of the season.  It turns out this is a modern and fresh take on the carol sure to spread joy.  Appropriate for ages 4-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Doubleday Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

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.