Thursday, December 10, 2015

Books for Festive Holiday Celebrations (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Making memories can be one treasured part of holiday preparations and celebrations. One important piece of holiday memory making is remembering what is best from previous holidays. Choose some favorite stories from the past and match them with some new stories -- like the books featured on this page -- to share with young ones most dear to you this season. Merry, merry!!

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano 
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
            It’s Christmas Eve and the roast is too big for the oven in Jose’s family apartment. Everything is too small; the Christmas tree, the oven, the apartment, Mama complains. She’s homesick for Puerto Rico. To make her laugh, Jose says, “We need a pizza oven!”
            Jose’s Papí thinks it’s “Not a bad idea!” So they box the roast and carry it downstairs, through the neighborhood and across the bridge to the Pizzeria. On the way, they meet up with neighbors in the building and on the street who are all having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. Kids are fighting, grownups are sad (missing family), scared (of muggers), or worried about money.
            Ray from Regular Ray’s Pizzeria, is lonely because his customer’s only come for take-out. He let’s them use his oven for the roast. Then, when it’s ready, he accepts Papí’s invitation to join the family to share the roast to celebrate Christmas. On the way back, they meet the same people, who decide to accept Papí’s invitation. Everyone follows the “miraculous aroma” to Jose’s small apartment.
            The colorful gouache and ink illustrations are busy with energy and crowded with action. Both names and skin tones, suggest a variety of cultures. The expressive faces and body language in the artwork partner with lyrical text and well-placed dialog to create generous movement in the story.           
“It’s a miracle,” says Mama, greeting the two Jose’s at the door. It smells like Puerto Rico, home. Even more amazing --“this apartment is big enough to hold all our friends.” This is a warm and ultimately happy holiday storybook.
Atheneum Books, $17.99
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 4

The Best Parts of Christmas by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
            Fritz chooses the best tree for his family’s Christmas. He “knows the ornaments want to be close” not spread out, as his mama suggests. This leads him to discover that “almost anything can be an ornament!” So, the tree has a soccer ball, pawprint paintings from the dog, a teddy bear, and of course candy canes and gingerbread cookies all hung on its branches.
Pen and ink and watercolor feature the tree as the center of each double page spread, until the final page. Plenty of white space accents the tree with all its decorations and presents. Fritz knows that what happens around the tree - ornaments, presents, wishes, reading, naps – are the best parts of Christmas.
But, the tree loses its needles and is almost bare. And, although Fritz is NOT ready for Christmas to be over, Mama puts away the decorations and Papa takes the tree out.
The final page, set in Fritz’s bedroom, includes what he realizes. With a stick in a vase on a bedside table, “almost anything can be an ornament.” This delightful, cheery story offers a creative conclusion to a dilemma faced by many families with young children - how to end the holiday season without tears.

Candlewick Press, $14.99
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 1

Baking Day at Grandma’s by Anika Denise 
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
            This rollicking, rhyming picture book is perfect preparation for holiday baking. Three little bears tramp through the snow to grandma’s house. Together, they create a perfect cold weather treat.
The team of Anika and Christopher Denise has created a playful, merry story. Lively language matches the glowing illustrations, created using Adobe Photoshop. Sensory text and dancing pictures remind readers that one of the joys of the season is time to spend with those we love.  

Philomel Books, $16.99
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 1


More wonderful holiday book choices:

Certain Poor Shepherds: A Christmas Tale by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Illustrated by Jonathan Bartlett
Candlewick Press, $15.99
Interest Level: Grades 3-6

The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter Reynolds
Candlewick Press, $10
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 2

Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born
by Anna Egan Smucker
Illustrated by Amanda Hall
Eerdmans Books, $17
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

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