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.

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

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 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.

Review: Little Santa by Jon Agee

little santa

Little Santa by Jon Agee

Christmas books are tricky.  They are often too sugary and sparkly or simply dull.  Happily, each year there are little holiday gems.  This is one of those.  It is the story of a young Santa and how he grew up and became the Santa everyone loves.  Santa grew up at the North Pole along with his large family.  While he loved it there, everyone else in his family hated it.  They planned to move to Florida instead.  But just when everyone was packed and ready to leave, a huge blizzard hit.  It was up to Santa to figure out how to save his family.  He set off to look for help and along the way found a flying reindeer and a group of elves.  Soon it was Santa to the rescue!  The elves, reindeer and Santa made such a great team that the rest is history.

Agee keeps far away from anything too tinsel-filled or cute.  He uses his trademark simple illustrations to keep a straight-forward tone to the book that is very refreshing in the crowded Christmas market.  He also manages to be a bit sly and silly along the way, adding a bit of zest into this Christmas treat.  The writing is clear and crisp, perfect for sharing aloud.

Grab a cup of cocoa with plenty of marshmallows and get ready to share a stellar new Christmas gift.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.