Thursday, December 15, 2016

Winter Holiday Books to Share (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Holidays come and go, but time spent reading wonderful stories together with young ones most dear to us makes memories that remain to comfort us in dark times and to cheer us on happier days. Merry, merry!

Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown, illustrated by Stacey Schuett
Although nothing in the title of this unique and tantalizing tale gives it away, a certain animal’s head is on the cover. A gorgeous painting of this same animal in acrylic and gouache spreads across the copyright and dedication pages, before the words of the story even begin. Noting these details, an attentive reader will likely expect a moose to be involved in this picture book.
The story does not disappoint, showing what it’s like to live in Alaska where winter is high on snow and low on daytime. Also, where a large and lonely moose might decide to eat the trees in someone’s backyard.
An unnamed young girl shares her experiences. She worries about her blue swing, hanging from the same tree, which the moose has begun to use for dinner. Carrots, cookies, or even apples tossed his way by the girl and her mother do not distract the moose. Neither is the narrator distracted by Hanukkah presents in the mail. Nor when she and her friends act like dreidels spinning in the snow.                     
            On the last night of Hanukkah, her father takes them outside to watch a stunningly colorful display. The girl has a clever idea of how to lure the moose out of the yard.
            Both visual and textual climaxes of the story come together in her ending observation, “Hanukkah can be pretty funny in Alaska, and miracles can happen in a lot of different ways.”
            Hanukkah facts and information about the aurora borealis are included in an Author’s Note at the end.

Henry Holt, $16.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 2

Santa’s Book of Names by David McPhail
            Although Edward is good in math, he’s having trouble learning to read. His teacher is concerned, but his mother suggests, Patience. On Christmas Eve, as his dad is reading a story about Santa delivering presents, Edward wonders how Santa remembers names. Perhaps the names are written in a book, guesses his mom.
            That night Santa invites Edward to help him deliver presents. On this fantastic adventure, Santa loses his glasses, when they fall into the sea. Edward must help by reading from Santa’s book, the names and what each child’s gift is.
            Beautiful watercolor and ink paintings feature cozy indoor Christmas scenes in contrast with snowy moonlit winter nightscapes. Shadowy darkness gives way to a “dawning sky.”
Sounding out the words, Edward is able to give Santa the help he needs. In the morning Edward wakes up on the sofa with a book from Santa on the floor nearby. When Dad offers to read it, Edward smiling, says, “Let me read it to you.”

Little, Brown and Company, $6.99 (paperback)
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2

Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift by Dara Goldman
            In this retelling, for youngsters, of O’Henry’s classic tale, “The Gift of the Magi,” Boris and Stella are a perfect match. “They both like hats and scary movies.”
Boris is from a Russian family, which celebrates Hanukkah. Stella’s Italian family celebrates Christmas.
            A baker with only a few coins, Stella decides to sell her potted pine tree, a gift from her family, to buy Boris something special for Hanukkah. She wants him to know that she cares, choosing a dreidel from Israel as a gift.
            Boris, a pianist, is so glad to have Stella in his life; he wants to show her by choosing something special for her tree as a Christmas gift. Also, without many coins, he sells his dreidel collection, yearly Hanukkah gifts from his parents.
This rare and generous blending of Jewish and Christian holiday traditions features two cuddly bears. Warm golds and blues light up the illustrations concluding with a celebratory dinner on the last night of Hanukkah, also Christmas Eve.
When they realize what they have done, Boris knows “exactly what to say to make Stella feel better.” This is the beginning of our magnificent “new dreidel collection,” he says.
When Stella notices a small pinecone with seeds “that had dropped from
her tree,” she also knows how “to make Boris feel better.” She tells him, “We will grow a new Christmas tree!”
Sleeping Bear Press, $15.99 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 3

More Outstanding Holiday Titles:

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale
by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Disney Hyperion Books, $16.99 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

The Christmas Boot
by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Dial Books, $17.99 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2

The Christmas Eve Tree
by Delia Huddy
Illustrated by Emily Sutton
Candlewick Press, $16.99 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

The Christmas Magic
by Lauren Thompson
Illustrated by Jon Muth
Scholastic, $16.99 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins 
by Eric Kimmel
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Holiday House, $17.95 (hardcover) 
$7.99 (paperback) 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Too Many Tamales
by Gary Soto
Illustrated by Ed Martinez
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99 (hardcover) 
$7.99 (paperback)
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2

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