When our kids were little, one of the traditions of the Christmas season was unpacking the ornaments and books. Yes, books. These books were only for December and were as important to the season as the plastic icicles and handmade tree skirt from Aunt Dee Dee. We added new books every year and, if I still had little children living in my house, I would add several new ones from this year’s crop.
Those looking for books that reflect the biblical Christmas story will not be disappointed. Three veterans are back with their take on the Nativity.
Tomie dePaola’s tender, simple tale will delight young children with a bird’s-eye view of the big day in The Birds of Bethlehem. Talking among themselves, the birds tell of the unusual, strange, spectacular, awesome and miraculous event they see. These adjectives are unveiled as the story develops, building a sense of quiet drama. DePaola’s respectful but accessible illustrations add to the story, making this a book that will be enjoyed over and over again.
When he was bouncing along the roads in Africa, Ashley Bryan thought of Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem and wrote a simple poem that examines the question of Who Built the Stable? Lushly illustrated in gouache and tempera paints, this special volume will encourage readers to imagine some of the lesser players in the story.
Poet Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrator Stephen Alcorn collaborate for the gentle Mary’s Song. On one hand, this is a love song to new motherhood and, on the other, it’s the familiar story of baby Jesus and his family. Alcorn’s oversized illustrations in cross-hatched mixed media set the perfect tone as the young mother Mary looks for quiet time with her baby boy. Ahh.
A HOLLY, JOLLY CHRISTMAS
Christmas is also about presents and Santa and reindeer—and there are many new books that celebrate this part of the holiday, too!
One of the sweetest is Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw. After finding a sumptuous bolt of red fabric, the king has a lovely cloak sewn for his daughter. The sewing maids leave the scraps outside on the steps where they are found by the kitchen maid, who uses the material to make a jacket for her mother. The scraps are passed on and on until the last little bit is used as a scarf for a mouse. This celebration of generosity and making things by hand feels “just right” for the holidays.
Jane Yolen and Mark Teague have a small cottage industry going with books about dinosaurs. Their two newest are sure to become family favorites: How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? and How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? It’s fun to see how Yolen and Teague make connections between these two books (mom is knitting in both, the dinosaurs all kiss their grandparents, etc.) but still give each holiday’s traditions its own spotlight. As always, these dinosaur books are more humor than lesson and are the perfect way for little people to laugh at naughtiness.
Another fabulous dinosaur series is Bob Shea’s Dinosaur vs., which pits a red dinosaur against such adversaries as “bedtime” and “the potty.” This time it’s Dinosaur vs. Santa. The dinosaur is like an energetic preschooler, just learning to control himself. It’s impossible to read this book without laughing. I mean, the dinosaur is wearing all varieties of Christmas sweaters and pajamas! But, of course, that’s not all. Dinosaur growls and roars his way through the joys and jobs of the season: writing to Santa, decorating the tree, being extra good and even going to bed on Christmas Eve. When Dinosaur sneaks downstairs to investigate the sounds of jingle bells, readers will worry right along with him: “Did Santa see you? Will he put you on the Naughty list?” The final reassuring turn of the page answers these important questions.
Santa from Cincinnati, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, has the feel of a classic tale that could become a family favorite. Barrett (of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs fame) cleverly imagines the childhood of Santa Claus, told as a remembrance from Santa himself. In a scene from the hospital nursery, there is smiling baby Claus, wrapped in a bright red blanket, his nose round and red. Every page holds a treat for children who know the story of the grownup Santa. Here we see baby Santa playing with a reindeer and snowman mobile, and later we see family pictures celebrating his first words (“ho, ho, ho”), first steps (in dad’s big black boots) and favorite snack (cookies). It’s hard to imagine a Christmas-crazy kid not falling hard for this one . . . and imagining the childhoods of other holiday icons.