Ian Falconer's irrepressible piglet is getting ready for the holidays, and her fans know that means trouble. Her latest misadventures are recorded in Olivia Helps with Christmas, and I guarantee it will bring smiles during this hustle-and-bustle season. Olivia stuffs her baby brother full of blueberry pie, gets tangled in the lights and sets the table for dinner. She even finds the perfect centerpiece (by chopping off the top of the Christmas tree). Yes, Olivia's antics continue to be hilarious. Ian Falconer's charcoal illustrations are brightened by plenty of green and red splashes, and this inventive illustrator adds fun touches of photographs and computer-aided inserts (a ballet star joining Olivia onstage, a scene of snow-covered trees outside Olivia's window). Several fold-out pages add more excitement, such as the panoramic flurry of present-unwrapping on Christmas morning. This book is bound to become an instant Christmas classic.

Check out Toot & Puddle: Let It Snow, the latest in the series by Holly Hobbie. These two charming friends remind me a bit of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad, and in this book they each try to surprise each other with an exciting homemade gift. Toot knows that the best present was usually something you made yourself, a one-of-a-kind thingamajig, not just a whatsit anyone could buy in a store. Hobbie's watercolors are full of personality, and her homey scenes are cozy enough to make readers want to pull up a chair and visit. Toot and Puddle ski through the snow, and Puddle announces, I wish I could take this morning and put it in my pocket and keep it forever. This is a sweet but never syrupy book about friendship and giving, and readers will enjoy seeing what perfect gifts Toot and Puddle end up making for one another.

SPECIAL GIFTS
Next, it's time for bunnies frolicking in the snow in Little Rabbit's Christmas by the late Harry Horse. The Little Rabbit series is charming; I instantly fell in love with Horse's pen, ink and watercolor scenes. As with Toot and Puddle, the world of Little Rabbit is warm and cozy, particularly the little homes and shops carved out of the hollows of trees. Little Rabbit spots a beautiful red sled in a toy shop, and when the Christmas Rabbit grants his wish and brings him the sled, he can't bear to share it. He has a wonderful time whooshing down hill after hill, but eventually lands in trouble. Luckily, other little rabbits come to the rescue, and Little Rabbit learns a valuable lesson.

Check out to The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll from the award-winning team of Patricia C. McKissack and illustrator Jerry Pinkney. In an author's note about the story, McKissack explains that she was inspired while interviewing a woman who grew up during the Depression in an all-black Alabama town that was tagged as the poorest place in America. Mary Lee Bendolph's memories of a very special store-bought doll gave McKissack the idea for her character, Nella, and her wish for a Baby Betty doll from Santy Claus. Baby Betty is all Nella wants. The only hitch is that on Christmas morning, she and her two sisters get one Baby Betty to share. Nella manages to convince her sisters that since she is the one who asked for the doll, it belongs to her. She then tells her new gift, You are all I want. I don't need anything else! Nella's mother wisely says, We'll see, and of course, Nella soon learns that her doll is not so interesting without her sisters. This is a well-told family story in its own right, and the period details (mentions of Br'er Rabbit, the newspaper lining the walls to keep in warmth, the washbasin near the bed, the curtain separating the children's bed from the adult's) add historical insight. Pinkney's pencil and watercolor drawings are perfect, with a wistful, sketchy feel, and details and color in just the right spots.

SAVING CHRISTMAS
For a vastly more modern, pixel-type mood, Rob Scotton has created a third book about Russell the sheep, and his artwork practically jumps to life in Russell's Christmas Magic. On Christmas Eve, everyone in Frogsbottom Field snoozes except Russell, who sees a shooting star. That star turns out to be Santa, whose sleigh has crashed. In the tradition of Rudolph, Russell saves the day. This is a fast-moving story with lots of humor. For instance, when Russell holds a buzz saw to help repair the sleigh, a tiny sign on the machine reads, Ask parents before using this tool. Scotton's art is so vivid that readers can practically step right in and see the animation come to life.

Very young children will enjoy Where, Oh Where, Is Santa Claus? by Lisa Wheeler. This is a perfect bedtime tale, with soothing, repetitive rhythms. The scene is the North Pole, where animals join the search: rabbits, seals, foxes and polar bears. Santa has gotten himself into a bit of trouble, and this polar menagerie follows footprints to aid in the rescue. Ivan Bates' wax crayon and watercolor illustrations are bathed in pink, another soothing touch.

HOLIDAY MEMORIES
Bear's First Christmas by Robert Kinerk is a rhyming tale that's also set in the woods, far removed from holiday commercialism. A young bear awakens in winter and follows a sound, encountering animals along the way a crow, moose, pheasant and chicks. The group trudges through the snow to a house, where they peer through the window at a family enjoying Christmas. They watch for a while, then return to the woods and hibernate together in the bear's den. Jim LaMarche's acrylic and colored-pencil drawings are just realistic enough to make readers yearn to reach out and pat the young bear's thick coat of fur. The bear awakens in spring and treks to new places, but he carries the memories of his friends forever. Bear's First Christmas ends with a perfect holiday message: For each friend, though he roams from the others apart,/Carries with him, inside him, that glow in his heart.

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