December 11 – Get Ready for Hanukkah

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish “festival of lights” that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. The lighting of the menorah is at the heart of the celebration. On the first night, the first of the eight candles is lit using the shamash, or attendant, candle. Each subsequent night another candle is lit until at the end of the eight days all the candles are lit. The menorah is displayed in the window of homes and synagogues. Special blessings, traditional songs, prayers, oil-based foods, fun games, and gifts are part of this much-anticipated holiday.

Hanukkah Hamster

Written by Michelle Markel | Illustrated by André Ceolin

 

The city was decorated with twinkling lights for the holidays, and busy shoppers bustled in and out of stores, delivered there by Edgar and his cab. After one shift, Edgar was so tired he took a nap in the back seat. He was awakened when “Ohhhf! Something scrambled onto his chest. Ayyee! Something hairy brushed his face.” Edgar opened one eye to see… a hamster! He picked it up and gazed at its tiny eyes and ears and feet.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Edgar wondered which of his many customers may have lost the little hamster as he called in to the cab company’s lost and found department. Edgar took the little hamster home and shredded some paper to make him a bed. Then he went to his menorah, said the Hanukkah blessing, and lit two candles. All the next day as he drove people in his cab, Edgar wondered if someone had claimed the hamster, but no one did.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That night after lighting three candles, Edgar made a chopped salad dinner for himself and a tiny one for the hamster. As he watched the little animal nibble on a chickpea, Edgar asked, “‘Okay if I call you Chickpea?’” No one had claimed Chickpea the next day either, so Edgar went to the pet store and bought hamster food. At home, he lit four candles and gave Chickpea some food. As Chickpea ate, “Edgar took pictures on his phone and shared them with his family in Israel.”

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On the fifth night of Hanukkah, Edgar made Chickpea “a slide out of a cardboard tube. Chickpea whooshed down. Wheeee! His nose twitched.” As the week of Hanukkah went on, Edgar was fearful that someone might call about their missing hamster. He spent the evenings telling Chickpea about Tel Aviv until the little one fell asleep.

The next day, Edgar took a customer to a neighborhood on the edge of town. There he saw a woman who looked familiar. With her was her son. “Edgar felt a punch in his heart.” But he rolled down the window and asked the boy if he’d lost a hamster. The woman answered that she had bought the hamster for her classroom and thought he had escaped at home. “Edgar showed them pictures on his phone” of Chickpea eating salad, sliding through the tube and drifting off to sleep.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the woman saw Edgar’s menorah in one of the pictures, Edgar told them how he and Chickpea were celebrating Hanukkah together since the rest of his family lived in Israel. When Edgar began to tell them that he could return the hamster tomorrow morning, “the boy touched his mother’s arm, and the two of them exchanged glances.” The woman told Edgar that she thought Chickpea belonged with him. Then she wished him a wonderful holiday. That night, “Edgar said the blessing and lit all the candles on the menorah.” Then, while he enjoyed a doughnut, Chickpea ran and ran on his new wheel.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Immersed in the special yearning for family and togetherness the holidays bring, Michelle Markel’s touching story glows with kindness and empathy. The growing friendship between Edgar and Chickpea will tug at readers’ hearts just as it does for Edgar, who so hopes to keep the little hamster but also knows there may be someone in the city missing him. As the days pass, and Edgar, alone for Hanukkah, shares his traditions with the hamster, readers also become participants in the holiday. Children will be riveted to the increasing suspense, and the pitch-perfect solution is joyful and satisfying. Realistic dialogue and honestly portrayed emotions provides depth to this moving story.

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From the tiny white lights lining main street to the first glimpse of the little hamster to Edgar’s cozy apartment with his menorah in the window, André Ceolin’s richly colored illustrations invite readers into Edgar’s life with his new friend, Chickpea. Chickpea is adorable as it nibbles on salad, poses for pictures, and curls up in its shredded paper bed. Images of Edgar lighting the menorah are luminous, and the Edgar and Chickpea’s smiles will spark happiness in readers’ hearts.

The portrayals of friendship, generosity, empathy, and family make Hanukkah Hamster a poignant story for all children to share not only at the holidays but all year around. The book would make a wonderful gift and much loved addition to home and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363995

Discover more about Michelle Markel and her books on her website.

To learn more about André Ceolin, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Get Ready for Hanukkah Activity

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Festival of Lights Word Search

 

Find 20 words related to Hanukkah celebrations in this printable Festival of Lights Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

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You can find Hanukkah Hamster at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

You’ve heard the saying “Too Many Books, Too Little Time,” right? Well, this truism has spawned not only one, but two Read a New Book Month celebrations! Both December and September have been designated as times to make special plans to search out and read new books. These can be books that are newly published or books that are new to you. And if you find yourself putting a few old favorites in the pile, that’s okay too! It’s also a great time to think about adding books to those gift lists!

Snow Globe Wishes

Written by Erin Dealey | Illustrated by Claire Shorrock

 

A fierce winter blizzard brings snow and ice and knocks out electricity all over town. Without lights or computers, people leave work and school and head home on frozen white ribbons of roadways. At home, in front of a roaring fire and with candlelight, a family eats take-out from one of the few restaurants that was still open.

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Image Claire Shorrock, 2019, text copyright Erin Dealey 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The brother and sister create a fort with blankets and chairs, and everyone (including the cat and dog) skootches in to hear Dad read a story by lantern light. While her mom, dad, and brother sleep under the blanket tent, the little girl gazes into her snow globe that holds a tiny town dotted with evergreens and makes a wish as “snowplows rumble lullabies.”

The family wakes up to a winter wonderland and “a whisper from the snow. / Do you hear its soft Hello?” They bundle up and race outside where other families are sledding, making snow angels, and patting the white fluff into snowballs, snowmen, and even snowcats.

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Image Claire Shorrock, 2019, text copyright Erin Dealey 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the air there is also an invitation for all: “Who’ll be the first to grab a hand / that grabs a hand / and then another— / neighbors, strangers, sisters, brothers?” Then one-by-one the townspeople come together around the decorated evergreen. Young and old form a circle, holding hands and smiling. In that moment there is “peace on earth. / Right now. / Right here. / Peace for all / throughout the year!”

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Image Claire Shorrock, 2019, text copyright Erin Dealey 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Erin Dealey’s lovely ode to wishes for community and peace took me back to the winter of 2012 when a  nor’easter knocked out electricity in parts of my town for a week and families and businesses that did have power offered those who did not the comforts of home and other help. Every year, across the country and the world, communities deal with similar experiences, making Dealey’s story one that will resonate with readers. Her gentle verses capture the excitement kids feel during snow days and other surprise events and invite readers into a family’s cozy home for an evening of fun and togetherness. Children can easily imagine this peace extending to homes throughout the story’s town, to their own city, and to the world beyond. Dealey’s use of a snow globe to represent the world is inspired, and the beautiful metaphor continues as neighbors join hands and create a circle around the town’s decorated tree. Her call for all people to cease their busy lives for a moment and answer the snow’s beckoning is sure to inspire children and adults to take a snow globe day of their own.

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Image Claire Shorrock, 2019, text copyright Erin Dealey 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Working perfectly in tandem with Dealey’s vision, Claire Shorrock depicts the snow-covered town and the family’s home in calming hues of yellows, grays, and blues punctuated with earthy oranges. The family’s heartwarming love for each other glows in the candlelight, fire, and lantern that light the family’s picnic dinner and story time. As the little girl happily gazes into her snow globe while her family sleeps, the globe is surrounded by a magical glow of stars that mirror the starlight in the sky visible in the window. Shorrock depicts the circular motif throughout her illustrations from the paving stones on the town square and the fat, fluffy snowflakes swirling in the air to the cat curled up on the chair and the family’s home décor to the snowballs, snowmen, and even a snow globe the townspeople make on the morning after the storm. The image of the neighbors holding hands around the tree is uplifting and hopeful. On the final page this spontaneous camaraderie appears inside the snow globe, leading readers to wish that such togetherness can be preserved for all.

An enchanting read aloud for winter story times (or any time of the year), Snow Globe Wishes would be a favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves to inspire individual acts of kindness and promote universal peace.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110311

Discover more about Erin Dealey and her books on her website.

To learn more about Claire Shorrock, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

Snow Globe Wishes Activity Sheet from Sleeping Bear Press

Snow Globe Wishes Activity Page

Draw your own wishes for yourself, your town, or the world inside this beautiful snow globe provided by Sleeping Bear Press. You can find the sheet to download on the Sleeping Bear Website here:

Snow Glove Wishes Activity Page

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You can find Snow Globe Wishes at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

Picture Book Review

 

December 7 – It’s Root Vegetables and Exotic Fruits Month

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About the Holiday

With all the special baking, cooking, and dining that takes place this month, it’s a good time to celebrate some staples of our diets as well as some unusual ingredients. Root vegetables, such as potatoes, onions, yams or sweet potatoes, celery root, turnips, and parsnips make meals homey and delicious, while exotic fruits, such as persimmon, dragonfruit, sapodilla, durian, and jackfruit, make for special and festive sides and desserts. This month try some new recipes that highlight two nutritious ingredients.

Potato Pants!

By Laurie Keller

 

Potato is so excited that Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants Store is selling potato pants that he’s doing a little dance—the robot, which he calls the “po-bot,” of course! He dances all the way to the store where potatoes are pouring in from all over and even delivered by Spud Bus, Tater Taxi, and Tuber Uber. They’re all rushing to Lance Vance’s because the sale is “Today Only” and “once they’re gone, they’re gone.” Potato knows just want he wants “…a stripey pair just like the ones in the window with stripey suspenders for added stripey-ness.”

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Copyright Laurie Keller, 2018, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

But then, through the window, Potato spies an eggplant—and not just any eggplant. It’s the same eggplant who, in his hurry to Lance Vance’s for the eggplant pants sale yesterday, ran into Potato and knocked him into a trash can. Now, Potato worries, “If he sees me in Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants Store, he’ll push me again—and ruin my brand-new potato pants!” All Potato can do is watch from outside as all the other potatoes find just the pants for them.

He finally thinks to call the grocery store. Since they have potatoes, they just might carry potato pants too, he reasons—and he could avoid that eggplant altogether. But the grocery store doesn’t have potato pants, spud slacks tater trousers, or even yam chaps, so Potato has to think of another way to get his pants while avoiding the eggplant. And time is running out. “There’s only one pair of pants left on the rack.”

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Copyright Laurie Keller, 2018, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The dire situation emboldens Potato. He barrels toward the store and bursts through the door knocking Eggplant aside and ripping his new eggplant pants. Potato is too late anyway; the last pair of potato pants has just been sold. Potato is steamed and he lets loose with a tirade about how “that eggplant ruined everything” and how “he has brand-new perfect eggplant pants” while Potato has nothing and how unfair it all is.

Just then another spud points out that Eggplant’s pants aren’t perfect anymore since Potato tore them. Now Potato is scared as Eggplant gets right in his face and tells him that the only reason he was at Lance Vance’s in the first place was to…turn Potato into mashed potatoes? the spud wonders…apologize for pushing him. Eggplant is hoping that Potato will forgive him.

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Copyright Laurie Keller, 2018, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Potato agonizes over this dilemma and finally decides to…forgive him and offer his own apology for tearing Eggplant’s pants. At that, the store clerk appears to tell Eggplant they can fix his pants and that Potato can have the stripey potato pants in the window. Both Eggplant and Potato are so happy they leave the store doing the po-bot and the egg-bot in their perfect new pants.

An Author’s Note introduces kids to the creator of potato pants—Tubérto—and unveils his latest collection of pants for “both the active and the couch potato.”

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Copyright Laurie Keller, 2018, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

A laugh-out-loud, tongue-tickling read aloud, Laurie Keller’s Potato Pants! is silliness at its best with lots of heart to boot. Keller’s clever mix of narration and dialogue draw kids into the mind of Potato as he bounces from the excitement of possibly getting stripey pants to the fear of facing his nemesis to the disappointment of missing the sale to plucking up the courage to forgive and apologize to Eggplant. Speech bubbles bring these dapper spuds to life as they negotiate the racks at Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants Store (adult readers should be prepared to read that name over and over!).

Keller’s bright, mixed-media (including potato stamps) illustrations are full of action, dynamic perspectives, and a community of potatoes and yams as delightfully bumpy, lumpy, and unique as those seen at any grocery store or farmers market. Kids will love picking out their own favorite potato pants from Tubérto’s fabulous collection, and you can bet they’ll jump up to do the Po-bot dance too.

Fun for all, Potato Pants! will inspire many tuberific story times at home, in the classroom, and at public and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250107237

To learn more about Laurie Keller, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Root Vegetables and Exotic Fruits Month Activity

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Veggie Dot to Dots

 

You can dig up some fun with these three printable root vegetable dot-to-dot coloring pages.

Carrot Dot-to-Dot | Onion Dot-to-Dot | Radish Dot-to-Dot

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You can find Potato Pants! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 6 – Mitten Tree Day

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About the Holiday

It’s a tradition here at Celebrate Picture Books to commemorate the holiday with the book that started it all. Originally published in 1997, The Mitten Tree has endured and continues to spark programs in schools, libraries, and communities around the country. The feel of a cozy mitten on freezing fingers is one of the luxuries of wintertime. But where did mittens come from? You might be surprised to discover that the word “mitten” comes from the French word mitaine, which was an old nickname for a cat, because early mittens were typically made of animal fur. The earliest mittens, dating to around 1000 AD, were used as sheaths for gloves, adding extra protection for cold hands. So now that it’s time to get out favorite mittens or buy (or knit) a new pair, enjoy the season with today’s book!

The Mitten Tree

Written by Candace Christiansen | Illustrated by Elaine Greenstein

 

In a small house at the end of a lane Sarah lives all alone. Her own children have grown and moved away, but as she watches the kids gather at the blue spruce tree to wait for the school bus she remembers all the years that she walked her son and daughter to this same spot. As she makes her way down the lane to her mailbox, she wishes the children will wave and smile, but they never seem to notice her. Still, it makes Sarah smile to see them.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

One winter morning Sarah notices all the kids throwing snowballs and making snowmen—all except one little boy dressed all in blue who lacks the mittens needed to join his friends. All day Sarah worries about the boy with no mittens. As the sun goes down Sarah digs “through the basket of yarn scraps she had saved for many years.” She finds her needles and four shades of blue wool. Then Sarah begins to knit.

With the rising sun Sarah hurries to the bus stop and hangs the new blue mittens on the spruce tree. Then she hides behind a hedge to watch. The little boy in blue is the first to arrive at the bus stop. When he sees the mittens hanging there, he tries them on and finds that they fit perfectly. With a big smile he makes “a perfect snowball” and throws “it high into the winter sky.” Soon Sarah sees a little girl with mismatched mittens. That night she finds the perfect color of wool and knits a pair to match the girl’s red coat.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, text copyright Candace Christiansen, 2009. Courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

Every morning Sarah watches the children, looking for any who have no mittens. During the day her needles are busy making gifts for these children. The next morning before anyone else is up she rushes to the spruce tree and adorns it with the mittens she has knitted. The children have warmed to the “game,” and each day search “under every branch and bough for another pair of mittens.” Once or twice Sarah thinks the boy with her blue mittens sees her, but his eyes don’t linger.

On the day before the school’s winter break Sarah fills her knitting basket with the latest mittens she’s knit. She heads out the door and down the lane. When she reaches the blue spruce, she hangs “mittens on every branch.” When the children arrive, they stand “very still for a few minutes looking at the mysterious, beautiful mitten tree.” As they board the bus, each child is wearing a new pair of mittens. Sarah sees them appear one by one in the bus windows, but none see Sarah.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, text copyright Candace Christiansen, 2009. Courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

Sarah goes home feeling happy and with her heart as full as it was “when the sounds of her own children had filled her house.” But what awaits Sarah? As she climbs the stairs to her porch, she notices a “basket woven with thick brown vines and decorated with a large white bow.” She’s surprised to see that it is filled to the brim with balls of colorful yarn. Even today Sarah knits new mittens for all the children in town, and “every time her basket is empty, a new full one appears.” Sarah doesn’t know who brings the basket, just as the children don’t know who supplies the mittens. “But someone must….”

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Candace Christiansen’s heartwarming story of kindness given and reciprocated will inspire kids to see that anyone can make a difference in the lives of others by using their talents to fill a need. This gentle, quiet tale offers suspense that will pique readers’ curiosity from page to page, and the mystery surrounding the never-empty basket of wool provides a satisfying and moving ending that also reassures kids that deeds of thoughtfulness and compassion are noticed. The grandmotherly Sarah and familiar school bus stop setting and winter activities will resonate with readers.

Elaine Greenstein’s softly colored, folk-style illustrations give the story a cozy feeling—perfect for cold-weather reading, The variety of intricately knitted mittens, with their hearts, stripes, snowflakes and cables, are charming, and the enchanting image of the blue spruce decorated with mittens makes it easy to see how The Mitten Tree continues to inspire so many acts of kindness and charity.

Ages 3 – 7

Fulcrum Publishing, 2009 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1555917333

Mitten Tree Day Activity

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Mitten Match & Coloring Page

 

Mittens often get lost or mismatched in the fun of winter activities. Find the pairs in this printable Mitten Match & Coloring Page and then decorate them!

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You can find The Mitten Tree at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Celebrate Picture Books

December 5 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

It’s that time of year when kids across the country visit with Santa to tell him what they’d like for Christmas. Today’s book takes a look at the age-old question—who is the real Santa?

Santa’s Secret

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

 

Singing carols all the way, a family drove to the city “all festive and bright” to watch the parade. The little girl climbed on her father’s shoulders to get a better view, especially of Santa in his sleigh. After the parade, the family walked through the city, looking at the beautiful decorations. But on the corner, the girl sees another Santa ringing a bell.

As she declared, “‘That’s not the same Santa!’” everyone turned toward her and stared. The girl’s mother told her that Santa needs helpers, but she wanted to know who the REAL Santa was. Grandma whispered, “‘It’s Santa’s secret, just as it should be.’” But the little girl was determined to learn the truth.

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Image copyright Deborah Melmon, 2019, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

At Santa’s station, the girl waited in line to meet the jolly old elf, and when it was her turn, she asked him some pointed questions. She asked him his name, the names of the reindeer, and whether Rudolph had a favorite treat. Then the questions got tougher as she wanted to know “who helps you decide what presents to give,” whether he liked to fly and where he went, whether the elves lived with him, and more.

As Santa answered each question, the little girl wrote down his answers in her notebook. But she had one more question that she thought would catch him off guard. She asked him straight out if he was the real Santa. But his only answer was “a tug of his beard and a wink of his eye.” Then he asked her what presents were on her list.

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Image copyright Deborah Melmon, 2019, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Over a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows, the girl considered her notes and wondered if she had enough information to solve her case. As she puzzled and pondered, she caught a glimpse of a man who had a full white beard munching a cookie and reading a book. His coat pocket held carrots and his black boots were topped with striped socks.

She approached with her notebook, but before she could ask, “He said, ‘Reindeer like barley and berries to eat.’ / ‘But carrots,’ he added, ‘are their favorite treat.’” Then in the moment when she turned to look at her mother, the man disappeared without a trace, except for his mug of hot chocolate. Back home, the girl didn’t know if she’d seen the real Santa that day, but she agreed with her grandma that that is “‘as it should be.’”

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Image copyright Deborah Melmon, 2019, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Between trying to figure out which presents Santa will bring and wondering about the real Santa, most little ones become sleuths around the holidays. Denise Brennan-Nelson’s charming tale gives lyrical voice to that burning question about Santa’s identity while preserving the wonder of this childhood mystery. Brennan-Nelson’s jaunty rhymes and rhythm are a joy to read, as traditional Christmas sights and activities combine with the cozy warmth and community of a coffee shop to convey the homey feelings of Christmas. Her open-ended finale is sweet and just “‘as it should be,’” inviting young readers to wonder if they have seen the real Santa during their holiday jaunts.

Deborah Melmon’s cheery illustrations make sparkling use of “new” Christmas colors, brightening the pages with pinks, lime greens, teals, and purples along with the traditional red, green, and blue. Melmon’s diverse city backdrop provides a glowing setting for the little girl’s encounters with multiple Santas. The girl’s curiosity and inquisitiveness will resonate with kids, and they will cheer her on as she interviews Santa. Her questions provide Melmon with plenty of opportunities to show Santa and his reindeer in novel and kid-pleasing ways.

A delightfully original holiday read aloud that’s sure to generate spirited discussions, Santa’s Secret would make a fun addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110380

Discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Deborah Melmon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Get Ready for Christmas Activity

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Santa’s Sack Maze

 

Santa has one more present to put into his sack. Can you help him take the gift through the maze in this printable puzzle?

Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Puzzle | Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Solution

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You can find Santa’s Secret at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 4 – National Cookie Day

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About the Holiday

Whether you call them cookies or biscuits, these yummy treats have been around for quite a long time. Originating in Persia in the 7th century, cookies conquered Europe by the 14th century and came to America with the earliest settlers. Of course cookies are great any time of the year, but the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without the delicious snap or soft melt-in-your-mouth goodness of favorite cookies. Baking together is one of the joys of the season for adults and kids, and you can bet that with each batch, good memories are being created too.

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles

Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler

 

A little girl watches out the window every morning as her mother goes to work, seeing other people hurrying along too. Across the street is Sol’s Market, and every morning Sol puts out a box of bruised fruit and vegetables for anyone to take. One day, an old man “takes out an apple and puts it on his shoulder. The apple rolls down his arm and into his hand. Then he takes a bite.” Sara wonders why he ate an apple with bad spots, and her grandmother tells her that the man is “probably poor and looking for something to eat.”

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Sara thinks about the man all day at school. When snack time comes, she wraps the cookie her teacher gave her in her napkin and puts it in her pocket. The next morning, she asks her mom to leave it in the box at Sol’s Market. Later, she sees the man find the cookie and eat it. The next day at school, Sara tells her friends about the man, and they wrap up more cookies and their teacher gives them a container of juice to add to the bag. At home, Sara helps her mom make the man a sandwich to go with the cookies.

On Friday, Sara and her family go to synagogue and stay for the oneg Shabbat get together afterward. There, she sees the old man enjoying challah and grape juice. “After that, every day, when the man comes by Sol’s there is something for him to eat.” At school the kids are getting ready for Hanukkah. Their teacher talks about the origins and meaning of Hanukkah then the children make menorahs with “tiles, bottle cap, paint, and glue.” Sara brings her menorah home. Her grandmother says that it’s beautiful and puts it in the window. Before Sara’s mother comes home, she and her grandmother make latkes and Hanukkah cookies shaped like menorahs and dreidels with extras to spare.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Later, Sara shows her mother her new menorah and asks her to put the one she made last year in the box at Sol’s. At first her grandmother is afraid she is throwing it out, but Sara tells her she is “‘giving tzedakah. I’m giving it to someone who has less than we have,’” she says. The bag also contains “latkes, cookies with sprinkles, and Hanukkah candles.” The next morning, she sees the old man find her gift and wipe away tears that she hopes are happy ones.

On Friday, Sara helps her mom and grandma fix a Shabbat and Hanukkah dinner, and at synagogue she asks if they can invite the old man to their house to join them. After speaking to the rabbi and learning that the man’s name is Morris Berger and that he helps at the synagogue, Sara and her mom ask if he’d like to join them.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Mr. Berger says yes. During dinner he talked about the days when he worked in a circus. He shows Sara some tricks and juggles small pieces of challah, which he then catches one-by-one in his mouth. After dinner, Sara’s mom brings out a plate of the Hanukkah cookies she made. “Now Mr. Berger knows who has been leaving cookies, sandwiches, and milk for him. He knows who left the menorah and candles.” Quietly, he says thank you.

Mr. Berger shows Sara a magic trick by pulling a cookie from behind her ear and making it disappear in one bite. “‘That’s okay,’” she says. “‘We have lots to share.’” Morris says he has things to share too and offers to teach Sara magic tricks and tell circus stories. Sara wants to learn how to juggle, but juggling, Mr. Berger says, “takes lots of practice.” Sara’s mom agrees that she will need many lessons. “Morris smiles. He knows that lots of lessons mean lots more Shabbat dinners with us.”

An Author’s Note about the meaning and traditions of Hanukkah, the game of dreidel, and thinking about giving tzedakah follows the story.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

David A. Adler’s touching story about a little girl who sees someone in need and generously provides help is a heartening story for Hanukkah and any time of year. Adler’s straightforward storytelling, told from Sara’s first-person point of view, invites young readers to look out the window with her and join her as she saves a cookie for the old man and goes on to provide more food and finally companionship to him. The fact that Mr. Berger is a member of Sara’s synagogue reminds readers that people in need of help of all kinds are part of our community, are part of us. Readers will be charmed by Mr. Berger’s circus past and will learn from him that the gifts we have to share with others do not always need to be monetary to have value.

Jeffery Ebbeler’s enchanting illustrations of the city, complete with an adorably narrow Sol’s Market, take readers into Sara’s world, where she sees examples of people in need and those who have plenty. Sara’s contemplations about Mr. Berger and his plight are shown as she considers the full bowl of fruit on her kitchen table, watches someone ask for two hot dogs at the corner cart, and decides to save her cookie at school while the other kids eat theirs and reach for seconds. These same kids, however, happily give up their snack the next day to fill Sara’s bag for Mr. Berger. Classroom scenes and the image of Sara showering her cookies with sprinkles are familiar for all children celebrating holidays at school and at home. The family’s joyful Hanukkah dinner is doubly fun as Mr. Berger performs tricks that even the cat tries to do.

A moving story for Hanukkah and for sharing the spirit of giving all through the year, Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles is a fantastic addition to all home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Apples & Honey Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1681155005

Discover more about David A. Adler and his books on his website.

To learn more about Jeffrey Ebbeler, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Cookie Day Activity

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Catch the Cookie! Maze

 

Sometimes you just need a cookie! Help the little girl find her way to her favorite cookies with this printable Catch the Cookie! Maze and Solution.

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You can find Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 3 – National Day of Giving and a Chat with Author Carole Gerber

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About the Holiday

Since 2012 the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been designated as a day to celebrate generosity and giving to others. 92nd Street Y in New York City created the holiday for people to think about charitable giving to those less fortunate not only for one day or one month, but all year round. How you give can take many forms—from time, voice, dollars, or goods to kindness or talent. Participants can be found across the United States and in more than 100 countries. The spirit of today’s holiday will fill you with cheer every day! To learn more about how individuals or organizations can get involved in the US or globally, visit the Giving Tuesday website.

I received a copy of The Gifts of the Animals from Familius for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

After the animals in a Bethlehem stable watch Joseph help Mary dismount from their donkey’s back, they go to work to prepare a place for the soon-to-be-born baby Jesus to sleep. “The ox that stands in the drafty shed / drops straw into a manger bed.” The sheep and lambs add bits of wool to make the bed “feel soft and full.”

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Using downy feathers from the sparrows, chickens, and little chicks, the mice make a plump pillow for Jesus’ head. The cow finds a blanket, and with the help of the ox they lay it over the manger. “Then in this place, humble and warm, Christ, the Prince of Peace, is born.” Mary wraps Him in swaddling clothes then Joseph lays Him in the manger to sleep.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

On a distant hillside, shepherds are startled by the brightening stars but listen to the angel who tells them of Jesus’ birth. Then the sky fills with a choir of angels singing “‘Peace on earth. Good will toward men. / Go now, shepherds, worship him.’” The shepherds hurry to Bethlehem to join in the joy of Mary, Joseph, and the gentle animals and to sing “‘Glory to our newborn king!’”

A condensed version of the Christmas story from the King James version of the book of Luke, chapter 2 follows the story.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

The wonder of that first Christmas night glows in Carole Gerber’s beautiful story that follows the animals in the stable as they make a warm and soft bed for Jesus to sleep in. Young readers will be mesmerized by the gentle generosity of the ox, cow, sheep, birds, and mice as they all work together to provide for the baby to come. As the shepherds are visited by the angels and go to worship Jesus, Gerber uses the lyrical language and flowing cadence of the King James version of the biblical story to create a tender and glorious read aloud for the whole family. 

Yumi Shimokawara’s gorgeous, soft-hued illustrations are breathtaking in their detail and inspiration. Pride, fellowship, and diligence shine on the animals’ faces as they create a manger bed worthy of the baby Jesus. Realistic and traditional images of the stone stable, the shepherds and their flock blend poignantly with the depiction of the singing angels that could come from any diverse modern choir. The final illustration in which the animals and the shepherds gather around Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in adoration reveals the promise and hope of the true meaning of Christmas.

Sure to become a favorite Christmas story to share year after year, The Gifts of the Animals would be a beloved addition to home bookshelves and a beautiful inclusion for library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701594

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website

A Chat with Carole Gerber

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Poet and author Carole Gerber has written sixteen picture books, three chapter books, and more than one hundred elementary science and reading texts for major publishers. Her picture book, A Band of Babies, was named a 2017 Best Book for Children by Amazon editors. She holds a BS in English education and an MA in journalism from Ohio State, and has taught middle school and high school English as well as college news writing and factual writing at OSU.

I’m thrilled to be talking with Carole Gerber again about her newest book for Christmas.

What inspired you to write The Gifts of the Animals?

In my random travels around the Internet, I came across a site called “The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.” One post contained the words to a song called “The Friendly Beasts.” The notes said “This song originally hails from a 12th century Latin song,” which was later known in England as “The Animal Carol.” It began: “Jesus our brother kind and good/was humbly born in a stable rude/and the friendly beasts around him stood/Jesus our brother, kind and good.” Here’s one more verse: “I,” said the cow all white and red / “I gave Him my manger for His bed;/I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”/ “I,” said the cow all white and red.

The song also mentions a dove cooing Jesus to sleep, the sheep giving him a blanket. It ends: “Thus every beast by some good spell/in the stable dark was glad to tell/of the gift he gave Emmanuel/The gift he gave Emmanuel.” What I wrote sounds nothing like the original, but it gave me the idea that sparked my story. I then developed my story into a 32-page picture book by including Mary and Joseph, other animals with useful gifts, the angels announcing the birth, and the arrival of the shepherds.

“The Animal Carol” sounds lovely. Do you know if it’s still performed?

After the book went to press, I found that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had performed the exact words of the original song. There’s a YouTube video that lasts about six minutes. I had no idea that it was famous! A man named Brian Stokes Mitchell was the main singer. He and the choir actually tweet and baa, making some of the animal sounds.  

Such a feeling of peace and love flows through your book. How do you go about choosing words and phrasing and even the poetic form to create that mood?

I wrote and revised it many times, of course. But I never felt frustrated and truly did feel peaceful and loving as I wrote. The art director, David Miles, was great to work with. We brainstormed about other animals that would live in a stable and might contribute to preparing the manger. I came up with mice to carry the feathers from the birds perched on the rafters. Nothing appropriate rhymes with “manger” so I came up with “ox” to rhyme with “manger box.” A sweet result of involving more animals (besides getting enough pages to fill the book) was that they all worked cooperatively.

The Gifts of the Animals is absolutely gorgeous, from the glowing gold-embossed cover to the images of the gentle animals that are happily helping to the jubilant angels that mirror a modern choir. Can you tell me about Yumi Shimokawara and how she was chosen to illustrate your book?

David Miles met her at the Bologna Book Fair in 2017, and was absolutely blown away by her talent. She lives in Japan and had won many awards, including the grand prize at her art school. Yumi had written and illustrated several books published in Japan. My favorite title is Potsu, posu, potsu daijobu, which translates in English to Plip-plop, Plip-plop, Plip-plop, Are You All Right? The title makes me smile. Yumi is not fluent in English so she worked with a Japanese friend who helped her translate David’s emails containing art directions. She did the cover first and it is beautiful. But she had given the baby blond hair and pale skin. My comment was, “We can’t have Jesus looking Swedish!” David replied, “No worries. I will fix this with Photoshop.” He darkened the baby’s hair and skin a bit and directed Yumi as she worked on the interior pages, to make all the people more authentically Middle Eastern.

Each spread is so beautiful on its own, but do you have a favorite? What makes that illustration special to you?

I love how happy and expressive the animals are, especially in the last spread when the people and animals are gathered around the Holy Family. Jesus is not the only baby in that picture. Yumi put baby chicks in that spread, too, which makes it even more touching. I also smile at the inside cover page, which has at the bottom an adorable illustration of a small choir of mice and birds. One little mouse is clasping his paws as he sings his heart out.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

At the end of your story you include a condensed version of Chapter 2 from the Biblical book of Luke in the King James Version. How did you choose which version of the story to include?

I earned a King James Bible when I was about eight years old as a reward for attending Sunday School for 10 Sundays straight. Ever since, I have loved the grandeur of the language in the King James Bible. Compare the words between the King James and The New International Version.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The New International Version of the Bible states:

“and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

No guest room available? It sounds like what a desk clerk in a motel would say. Bah!

What is one of your favorite family Christmas traditions?

Every time I get a new book published, my husband makes a Christmas tree ornament of the cover. This started years ago when my daughter Jess was in middle school. She secretly used my husband’s power tools – EEEK! – to cut to size a small piece of plywood on which she glued a small photocopied cover of one of my first published books. She put a doll house size clothes hanger on the back to attach it to the tree. After that, every Christmas, the last things we put on our tree are the miniature covers of my books.

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What a sweet and supportive tradition! It’s such a nice idea to adapt with photos or drawings for any family wanting to celebrate achievements from the past year. Thanks so much for this chat, Carole! I wish you all the best with The Gifts of the Animals and a very Merry Christmas with your family.

National Day of Giving Activity

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Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle

Find the sixteen words about the first Christmas in this printable puzzle.

Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle | Tell the Good News! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review