November 30 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re doing holiday shopping, don’t forget to add picture books to your list for the kids in your life. With so many picture books to choose from on all kinds of topics, there’s sure to be a perfect book for each child. You know what they say—and it’s really true: A book is a gift you can open again and again, and today’s story is one kids will love to hear all through the year.

Thanks to Megan Litwin and Clarion Books for sharing a digital copy of Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Twinkle, Twinkle Winter Night

Written by Megan Litwin | Illustrated by Nneka Myers

 

Readers are invited along for a walk on a crystal-clear, moonlit snowy evening as a father and child discover how “nightfall sets the world aglow.” As darkness deepens overhead, and the stars twinkle over a white-blanketed field, “the sky sparkles like a chandelier.” Passing a pond where families are skating while snowflakes fall, “dusting glitter on earth’s face, / dressing trees in coats of lace,” the pair wave to a friend and then make their way into town.

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Image copyright Nneka Myers, 2022, text copyright Megan Litwin, 2022. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Here they come upon their village shimmering with magic as strings of white, gold, and colored lights outline rooftops, connect building to building, and create a glistening spectacle of snowy patches. Windows glow with candles glittering in wreaths for Christmas, menorahs for Hanukkah, and kinaras for Kwanza. The flame of diya lamps for Diwali joins them. In the central square, a brilliant star shines forth as people gather around, enjoying all the sights, sounds, and tastes of the winter holidays. Father and child join in on this “Beaming, gleaming, lively sight— / twinkle, twinkle, winter night.”

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Image copyright Nneka Myers, 2022, text copyright Megan Litwin, 2022. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

On their way home and to bed, they pass a picture window where they can see a mom and her two kids hanging Christmas decorations, a fire flickers in the fireplace. In the woods, a deer and her fawn doze, curled up under a small tree, its branches covered in sparkling snow. In town, kids are tucked under covers but can’t resist going to the window for one last look, for “twinkle, twinkle, winter night. / Everywhere you look . . . / there’s light.”

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Image copyright Nneka Myers, 2022, text copyright Megan Litwin, 2022. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

You know that special glow you feel during the winter when the moon and stars seem to shine more brightly; the hearth or wood stove glimmers with extra warmth; snow and ice twinkle when caught in a beam of light; and, around the holidays, neighborhood streets wink on with glorious displays? The glow you wish could last all year long? Megan Litwin captures that feeling in her lovely Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night not only for the winter months, but all year around. Litwin’s graceful rhymes and rhythms immerse readers in winter’s quieter atmosphere and slower pace and invites them to really look at nature, at their communities, and in their own homes to find the light and magic there. Throughout the story, Litwin reintroduces her title phrase strung with glittering new adjectives, reminding readers of just how ardently we embrace the exquisite beauty of light. Her flowing storytelling is a joy to read aloud, making this a perfect book for bedtime or quiet story times.

Nneka Myers’ stunning pages seem to actually dance with the twinkling of stars, the glittery shimmer of snowflakes, and the breathtaking radiance of decorated homes, shops, and streetscapes. Images from Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Diwali can be found in Myers’ illustrations of the town and its winter festival. Her rich purples, blues, and fuchsias set off the sparkling lights, patches of snow, and wide smiles of the townspeople as they mingle in the square welcoming and celebrating winter’s diverse and poignant holidays.

A book that shines with an appreciation for the beauty of light, nature, and community all around us, Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night would quickly become a favorite on home bookshelves for snuggly reading throughout the year and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Clarion Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-0358572046

Discover more about Megan Litwin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Nneka Myers, her books, and her art, visit her website. You can also visit her on Instagram and Twitter.

Meet Megan Litwin

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Megan Litwin holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from Simmons University and is a former teacher whose lifelong work is to grow lifelong readers. Megan lives in Massachusetts with her family. 

You can connect with Megan on Her Website | Instagram | Twitter

I’m excited to be talking with Megan Litwin today about her debut picture book, her journey to publication, and how parents can instill a love of reading in their kids.

Hi, Megan! Congratulations on your beautiful book! Your writing in Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night really shimmers with so many gorgeous images of light. Was there one spark of inspiration for your story, or how did it come about?

Thank you so much for those kind words! I certainly agree that illustrator Nneka Myers has created the perfect shimmery, glimmery world for readers here! As for the story, there absolutely was an initial memorable spark. It happened on a cold, dark December drive. One of my sons was newly captivated by all the light he saw—everything from the snow to the moon to the houses decked out for the holidays. It was like the whole world was suddenly made of magic. He kept calling out things he noticed in his tiny toddler voice as we drove and repeating the words “twinkle lights” over and over. I realized I wanted to find a way to showcase this bright and beautiful time of year, with the focus not on any one particular holiday, but on the shared magic of these lights.

Can you tell readers a little about what your journey from that first idea to having Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night published was like?

LONG. That December drive was eleven years ago! I had the initial spark and a first draft poured out of me immediately. But it was not yet the story I wanted to tell. It didn’t have the magic I had seen and felt. It was too long, too wordy, overly descriptive. And so . . . I let it sit. I revisited it off and on over the years, but only around times of great inspiration . . . usually around this time every year! The idea never left me, but it wasn’t until 2016 (when I joined SCBWI) that I began working on this manuscript with the serious attitude it takes to publish. I took it to my first critique groups, I took it to conferences to get agent/editor feedback, I cut and polished and rewrote with a keener eye and ear—and 25 drafts later, it went out on submission. Even then, it was not quick! This manuscript went all the way to acquisitions with another publisher before landing, very happily, with Kate O’Sullivan at Clarion/HarperCollins (then Houghton Mifflin) in 2020.

You previously worked as a classroom teacher and reading interventionist. Can you talk about these positions? What did you love best about being a teacher?

I was a second-grade classroom teacher for nine years, and then spent time in part-time roles after my second son was born. I’ve worked as a literacy interventionist and a school library teacher, and I also helped our local school set up and run a take-home book program. I have always felt entirely at home in a school, and think I’ll always be a “teacher-at-heart.” In fact, one of the things I’m most excited about in this new phase of my book-centered career is being able to go into classrooms to do reading and writing workshops with kiddos.

How did you help kids not only learn how to read but to be excited about reading?

My years as a classroom teacher were especially magical because of the tight-knit community we built each year. In those early years of school, each classroom feels like a family. And a lot of deep connection can happen through books. We connected through our daily read alouds, huddled close together on the rainbow rug, and also through discussions about whatever we were reading, which were full of connections to our own lives and the books we had read before as a “reading family.” It was so important to me that my students saw books as magical. I wanted them to learn to read – but to love to read as well, because engaging comfortably in that process for your whole life opens so many doors. One of the best thank-you gifts I ever received was from a parent who wrote that I had inspired her daughter to be an “under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight-reader!” Nothing could make me happier.

Do you have any suggestions for how parents can instill a love of reading in their kids?

My best advice for instilling a love of reading is simple. Read together. Read often. Surround your kids with books of all kinds. Find books that bring you joy and read them alongside your kids. Modeling a love of reading and celebrating books is the first step.

And, since we’re talking about this, if anyone is interesting in more tips on growing readers, I include a section focused on that in my seasonal author newsletter that comes out just four times a year. It is called “Read, Write, Magic”—and you can sign up on my website!

What was your favorite type of book to read when you were a child? What kinds of books do you gravitate toward as an adult?

As a child, I loved books about animals and also things that had a healthy dose of magic or wonder. Some favorites were The Velveteen Rabbit, Animalia, and The Polar Express. I also loved series as I got older because I got to spend time in a world with characters I came to know and love. I was a big Sweet Valley Twins and Nancy Drew fan, and was (and still am) a Harry Potter lover. As an adult, I still enjoy ALL those same things! I would add that overall, the books I love best are ones that make me FEEL something. Or according to my husband’s observations, books that make me cry…

You’ve also published poetry in two anthologies: Friends & Anemones and An Assortment of Animals, released by the Writer’s Loft. Do the rhythms of poetry come naturally to you? What is your writing process once you have an idea?

Yes, those rhythms do come naturally, actually—even though I wouldn’t consider myself a poet! I’ve never studied poetry, and don’t know how to analyze it using all the proper terminology. For me, it is all about feel and sound. I think that is what initially drew me to picture books, way back when. Picture books have a bit of poetry and music and theater all mixed in. I like to say that I “play with words” for a living now. I pour words out onto a page for a first draft…and then I play. I cut, change, arrange, rearrange…over and over and over. I count beats, I read it aloud. My kids say it looks like I’m talking to myself!

You have such enthusiasm for meeting your readers at book events as well as spending time with kids in the classroom through your three different school workshops designed for various elementary age groups. Do you have an anecdote from any of these events you’d like to share?

I love interacting with young readers and writers at events and in schools. Kids are the best! I love the way they see the world, their honest language, and their willingness to try new things.

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One of the workshops I offer schools is about poetry, and the idea that to write a poem (or most anything), you need to play with words. And at the end of the session, I always wrap up the same way I began—by asking them to finish the sentence “Poetry is (blank).” It is fun and illuminating to see how their answers differ from the beginning. One of my favorite moments was when a first grader simply said, ‘You were right. Poetry IS fun.” He looked both surprised and excited by that thought. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the day.

What do you like best about being a children’s author?

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Reading aloud to kids! That was always my favorite part of the day when teaching. And now I get to do that all the time as an author—this time with words I wrote myself. It’s WILD!!

What’s up next for you?

I am thrilled to be launching the first of two books in an early reader series with Penguin Young Readers in February 2023. Dirt & Bugsy: Bug Catchers is about two sweet boys who love to catch bugs.

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Each book features backyard adventures and lots of cool bugs—including a bit of backmatter for bug-loving readers. Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn did a fabulous job illustrating, and I can’t wait for newly budding readers to hold these books in their hands and to feel confident (and happy) while reading them. Kirkus recently gave it a great review, saying “Bugs, friendship, and fun—what more could burgeoning readers want?” Hooray!

I also have a second picture book just under contract. Stay tuned…

Thanks, Megan, for this amazing chat! It’s easy to see how much you love kids and books—and connecting kids to books! Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Nights certainly has that magical touch! I’m sure readers can’t wait to discover Dirt & Bugsy: Bug Catchers as well! I know I can’t! I wish you all the best with Twinkle, Twinkle Winter Night!

Picture Book Month Review

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Winter Lights Coloring Pages

 

Celebrate the lights of winter with these printable coloring pages!

Christmas Candle | Diwali Diya Lamp | Hanukkah Menorah | Kwanzaa Kinara

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You can order signed or personalized copies of Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night at

Word on the Street Children’s Books and Gifts

You can find Twinkle, Twinkle Winter Night at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 28 – It’s Gratitude Month

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About the Holiday

There are many things to be thankful for this month and all throughout the year. At the top of the list would be our friends—both old and new. Celebrate your friendships during the holidays and tell the people in your life how thankful you are for them! You can show them too with little acts of kindness—like the friends in today’s book! 

I’d like to thank Two Lions and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of The Best Gift for Bear with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The Best Gift for Bear

By Jennifer A. Bell

 

Hedgehog was baking gingerbread cookies for all of her friends. She carefully considered what shapes and decorations she would make for each recipient, making sure she created a replica of one of their favorite things or showed how special they were. She even made individual rabbit cookies “for each rabbit,” and “Hedgehog knows a LOT of rabbits.” But she still had to bake cookies for. Bear, and she couldn’t decide what to make.

Should she make ice skates? “Bear had taught her to twirl and glide” on the pond. Or maybe something from springtime. Bear loved watching butterflies. Or perhaps sunflowers like the ones Bear had shown her that summer. Thinking about all the fun times they had together, Hedgehog decided a batch of cookies was just not enough. “‘Bear should have a grand gift, a special gift, something wonderful . . . just like Bear,'” she thought. But what?

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Copyright Jennifer A. Bell, 2022. Courtesy of Two Lions.

And then as she approached home after delivering all of her cookies, she “saw her frosted roof” and had an idea. She got to work right away “and happily baked her way into the night.” Then in the morning “Hedgehog began to build her gift.” With gingerbread bricks and sweet icing, she built and decorated a house for Bear. It had butterflies and sunflowers and even Bear, wearing a coat, scarf, and ice skates. Hedgehog put it on her sled and stood back to admire it. 

Hedgehog pulled her sled over the hills and through the snow to Bear’s house. But the calm afternoon turned windy and snowy. The squalls made it hard for Hedgehog to pull or push the sled, and then, when Hedgehog was nearly at Bear’s, one huge gust sent the gingerbread house flying and scattered it into pieces. Hedgehog looked at the broken house sadly and didn’t see Bear, in pajamas and carrying a lantern, approaching. 

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Copyright Jennifer A. Bell, 2022. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Bear knelt down then picked Hedgehog up and blew away the snow from her quills and coat. Hedgehog gave Bear’s cheek a big hug. “Grand, special, WONDERFUL Bear!” Bear brought Hedgehog inside, wrapped her in a soft, cozy blanket and made her a cup of tea. As they sipped their tea, they commiserated together over the gifts they had made each other—Hedgehog’s broken gift for Bear and the misshapen cookies Bear had made for Hedgehog. “‘… but I thought I’d try again tomorrow,'” Bear told her.  Hedgehog then had a wonderful idea to bake the cookies together. With Hedgehog snugged into a teacup with her blanket and Bear toasty under a warm quilt, the two friends couldn’t wait for tomorrow to spend the day together—”the best gift of all!”

Recipes for Hedgehog’s Gingerbread Cookies and Grandma’s Honey Icing are included with the story. Hedgehog’s clever designs for her gift cookies will give kids lots of ideas for decorating their own cookies too!

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Copyright Jennifer A. Bell, 2022. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Jennifer A. Bell’s sweet and charming story wraps readers in the warmth of a heartfelt hug as Hedgehog puts all of her love and thoughtfulness into the gingerbread cookies she carefully bakes for each of her friends and neighbors—and especially for Bear.  Bell’s gentle humor and charming phrasing that takes readers step-by-step through Hedgehog’s memories of Bear’s kindnesses, and her days spent baking and building Bear’s gingerbread house will delight kids. The windstorm and its aftermath provides suspense and an emotional tug as Hedgehog (and readers) experience disappointment but then, a moment later, the tender and supportive friendship between Hedgehog and Bear.

Bell’s enchanting illustrations are full of cheer and delicious-looking cookies. As Hedgehog tries to decide what to make for Bear, her memories of their times spent throughout the year depict the fun they’ve had and also the adorable size difference between them. Shades of red, pink, blue, green, and gingerbread brown create a graceful and well-paced cohesion from page to page while also bestowing a palpable sense of the chilly winter outside and the cozy warmth inside. The red ribbon that flows in a connecting pattern between some pages and frames vignettes in others highlights the heart at the center of this story.

A touching story about true friendship and the most important gifts of all, The Best Gift for Bear is a book children will enjoy all through the year and is sure to inspire cookie baking and decorating. The book would be a much-loved addition to home, school, and public library collections. It would make a terrific gift or read aloud for any cookie-decorating party. 

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2022 | ISBN 978-1542029223

About the Author and Illustrator

Jennifer A. Bell is the illustrator of more than forty children’s books, including the Sophie Mouse series. She studied fine art at the Columbus College of Art & Design, and her work can also be found on greeting cards and in magazines. This is the first picture book she’s written and illustrated. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about her at www.jenniferabell.com. You can connect with Jennifer on Instagram: @jbellstudio | Facebook: Jennifer A. Bell Illustration | Twitter: @JenniferABell_

Gratitude Month Activity

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Gingerbread Kids Decorations 

 

Gingerbread’s not only delicious to eat! Creatively iced gingerbread has long been used as decorations in homes and windows. With this easy craft, kids can make decorations for their rooms, to hang for the holidays, or to give to friends or family members.

Supplies

  • Printable Gingerbread Kids Template
  • 2 Brown foam sheets
  • White paint (or any color you like)
  • Glitter 
  • Paint brush
  • 2 Small heart buttons (optional)
  • Mounting squares (for mounting)
  • Thread  and needle (for optional hanging)

Directions

  1. Cut out gingerbread kids templates
  2. Trace gingerbread kids on brown foam sheets and cut out
  3. Paint around the edge of the gingerbread boy and girl with the white paint
  4. Add trim to the dress
  5. Add trim to make socks
  6. Add dots of paint for buttons
  7. Add faces
  8. Paint or add a bit of glue to the hands of each figure then sprinkle glitter on the paint to make mittens
  9. Glue heart buttons on (optional)
  10. To make a wall or gift box decoration: Attach mountable squares to back
  11. To make an ornament: With a threaded needle make a hole in the top of the figures and tie the thread to create a hanger.

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You can find The Best Gift for Bear at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 24 – Christmas Eve

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About the Holiday

While Christmas Eve traditions vary around the world, children and adults everywhere look forward to this special night of giving with its wonder and magic. Today’s book tells the story of the first Christmas with gentle beauty. I also talk with author Carole Gerber about her inspiration and her own family traditions. 

Thanks go to Familius for sharing a copy of The Gifts of the Animals with me 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.

You can find more books from Familius that joyfully reflect the habits of happy families, including reading, talking, laughing, eating, working, loving, healing, learning, and playing together as well as the Familius blog The Habit Hub here.

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.

Hi Carole! I’m excited to be sharing Christmas Eve with you and your Christmas classic. I’m sure readers would love to know 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.

Christmas Eve 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

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 22 – National Cookie Exchange Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday got its start during the Middle Ages, when spices and dried fruit were becoming popular additions to baked goods. These ingredients were expensive, however, and most families could only afford to bake cookies at the holidays. To celebrate, they held parties to share and appreciate these delicious treats. This tradition lives on in today’s cookie exchanges. To celebrate, organize your own cookie exchange or simply share your favorite cookies with your friends and family members.

Christmas Cookie Day!

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Mama bear and her little bear get ready for one of the most fun days of the year. “Cooke day, / Time to bake. / Aprons on, / Lots to make!” The little one cracks an egg into the bowl while the butter, flour, and sugar wait their turn. Mom pours warm melted butter and lets her little bear stir it into dough.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With the dough rolled smooth, it’s time to use the cookie cutters to make…”Christmas tree, / Reindeer, bell. / Snowman, star, / Cookie smell.” The pair add angels, candy canes, and drummer boys before sliding the tray into the oven and watching them bake. At last the timer rings but they still must wait. Finally “ready, set… / Decorate!”

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

It’s so much fun spreading the frosting and shaking out sprinkles to create green trees, yellow stars, and red-and-white striped candy canes. Even the bakers can’t resist nibbling a few. But not too many, because these are special “cookie gifts. / Made with care. / Pack them up, / Cooke share!” It’s time to invite friends and family for a yearly treat—“Christmastime, / Spirits bright. / Family hugs, / Cookie night.”

A delectable Christmas Cookie Day Recipe follows the story for all little bakers to try.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Tara Knudson’s jaunty rhyming story captures all the giddy anticipation and fun of a day baking Christmas cookies. Short, lively verses follow Mom and her cub step-by-step as they make and decorate special treats for their annual cookie party and invite little ones to join in on repeat readings. Knudson delights in the enjoyment Mom and her little one feel during their day of baking and goes on to celebrate the deeper meaning and joy of Christmas as the two wrap up their cookies and give them to family and friends.

With tender smiles for each other, Pauline Siewert’s Mama bear and her cub spend a snowy day baking cookies in their cozy kitchen accompanied by a helpful mouse. Siewert’s vibrant colors mirror the cheerful companionship mother and child share on this much-loved day, and her engaging details, like a dusting of flour on the cub’s nose, will charm children. A double-spread scattering of the cookies the two make give little ones a chance to show their knowledge of shapes and Christmastime figures. The heartwarming final scene of the cookie party might just inspire a party of your own. Little ones will also be enchanted by the sparkly cover that opens this adorable book.

The absence of personal pronouns and a red apron for the little cub make Christmas Cookie Day! gender neutral.

A sweet story to spark a fun family tradition and share the joy of giving, Christmas Cookie Day! makes an endearing addition to a child’s home library.

Ages 2 – 6

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310762898

Discover more about Tara Knudson, her books, and her other writing for children on her website.

You can connect with Pauline Siewert on Instagram.

Meet Tara Knudson

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I’m excited to be talking today with Tara Knudson about her sweet book, her favorite cookie, and how being a teacher inspires her work.

Christmas Cookie Day has such a joyous feeling. Do you have any special memories of baking with your family when you were a child?  What is your favorite kind of cookie?

I’m so glad that you think CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY has such a joyous feeling! The story evokes happy memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mom and sisters when I was a child. I remember gathering the cookie cutters from the cabinet, excited to get started! We all stood around the kitchen table and decorated our cookies with sprinkles, frosting, and candy pieces. It was so fun!

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While I do enjoy eating Christmas sugar cookies, my favorite kind of cookie is chocolate chip, especially ones with dark chocolate chips and a little salt. Yum!

As a regular contributor to children’s magazines like Highlights Hello, Highlights High Five, Baby Bug, and Ladybug, you write stories and poetry for the youngest readers, what do you like about writing for this age? What are a few of the most important ingredients in stories for little ones?

I love writing for little ones because they are so curious about everything in the world around them—sights, smells, sounds, tastes, new experiences, and people. They take it all in as they learn, develop, and grow. I like to be a part of that.

My poems and stories for this age group often include short and simple sentences with some fun words added that young readers may not be familiar with.

You’ve said that you loved to write even as a child. Can you describe your journey to becoming a published writer?

My journey as a writer has been a long one. I still have my creative writing stories from second grade. Reading them now makes me laugh! Growing up, the stories were always special to me, but I did not know yet that I wanted to be a writer.

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I started writing poetry when I was in high school. As I dealt with the problems and frustrations that adolescence can bring, I often wrote poems to express my feelings. After college, I became a Spanish teacher and I often used children’s picture books in the          classroom. I would spend hours at bookstores searching for favorite ones. It was during that time that I fell in love with picture books and decided that I wanted to write them.

In pursuit of my goal, I won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship that allowed me to take a break from my teaching job and live in Barcelona, Spain for a year and experiment with writing for children. I wrote many poems and rhyming stories for children. I continued to write after my return to the U.S. As years passed, I sold articles and poems to children’s magazines and continued to work on my picture book manuscripts as I worked as a teacher and later took care of my two sons. Finally, I signed with an agent who helped me sell my first book.

Can you talk a little about your work as a teacher? How do your experiences influence your work?

My teaching background is unique because I have taught different subjects to students of many ages. I started my teaching career as a high school Spanish teacher. Then, while in Barcelona, I taught English to middle school students. Upon my return to the U.S., I taught Spanish to grades K-2 and then math to grades 1-4. 

Whichever subject I teach, and to whichever grade level, there is always something for me to gain as a writer when I work with students. Whether it be from something that happens in the classroom or something that a student says that sparks a writing idea, being around children gets my creative juices flowing! I hope to get back in the classroom soon.

What’s up next for you?

My next book, EASTER EGG DAY, will be released in February, 2020. Also, I’m happy to announce that a third book in my holiday board book series will follow. I will share details about that book soon. I have plenty of non-holiday projects as well that I hope will make their way into the world in the near future.

What’s your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Christmas. I love the excitement that leads up to it, the beautiful decorations, the spirit of giving, and the true meaning of the season. It’s such a magical and joyous time for people of all ages filled with traditions and love. I’m so happy that CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY can be a part of it all!

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Thanks so much for chatting with me, Tara! I wish you a wonderful holiday and much success with all of your writing!

You can connect with Tara Knudson on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter  

National Cookie Exchange Day Activity

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Gingerbread Kids Ornaments

 

All cookies don’t have to be edible! With this easy craft children can make gingerbread kid ornaments to decorate your tree or windows or to give to family and friends!

Supplies

  • Printable Gingerbread Girl and Boy Template
  • 2 Brown foam sheets
  • White paint (or any color you like)
  • Glitter in two colors
  • Paint brush
  • 2 Small heart buttons (optional)
  • Mounting squares (for mounting)
  • Thread  and needle (for optional hanging)

Directions

  1. Trace gingerbread kid templates on brown foam sheets and cut out
  2. Paint around the edges with the white paint then add trim to the edge of the dress and the top of the socks 
  3. Add buttons
  4. Add faces
  5. Paint the hands of each figure then sprinkle glitter over the wet paint to make mittens
  6. To use as decoration, attach mountable squares. To use as an ornament, use a threaded needle to make a hole in the top of each figure and tie the thread to create a hanger.

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You can find Christmas Cookie Day at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 16 – It’s National Write a Friend Month

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About the Holiday

For kids who celebrate Christmas, there’s no friend they’d rather write to in December than Santa Claus. Their list of things they’d like for themselves and often for family and friends too can include the practical, the impossible, and the poignant. Today’s featured month-long holiday also encourages people to catch up with family and friends who may be far away by sending a card or letter. Hearing from a friend, a grandchild, a niece, nephew, or other young relative can warm up any winter day. 

The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold

Written by Maureen Fergus | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

One snowy night close to Christmas, Mrs. Claus was doing the mending while Santa was moping. Even though Mrs. Claus asked Santa what was wrong, he couldn’t bring himself to tell her. Finally, he ventured, “‘Well, you know Harold?’” Mrs. Claus smiled and launched into a detailed description of the little boy, but Santa stopped her mid-sentence and choked out, “‘You don’t need to keep pretending on my account because…because…I don’t believe in Harold anymore.’” Mrs. Claus couldn’t believe her ears.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Santa explained that while he still liked “the idea of Harold”—after all he’d always been part of his Christmas—some things just didn’t make sense any more. For instance, Santa thought Harold’s mom wrote his letters, that his dad set out the snack, and that the Harold who’d sat on his lap last year didn’t look like the Harold from past years. For Santa, it all added up to a trick by Harold’s parents. Mrs. Claus thought her husband should accept Harold “as one of the best, most magical parts of Christmas.” But Santa just couldn’t do it.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Soon, the elves had heard that Santa didn’t believe in children. Not all children, Santa countered and then added that his friends didn’t believe in Harold either. The elves weren’t convinced. Santa decided to take his case to the reindeer. After he’d laid out the evidence, the reindeer told Santa he needed proof. “‘And we think we know just how you can get it,’” Donner said.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

While all this was going on in the North Pole, down south Harold was “telling his parents and his friends and his turtle that he didn’t think Santa was real.” What Harold needed was proof, and he knew just how to get it. That night—Christmas Eve—Harold did all the usual things. But when his parents went to bed, he hid behind the armchair and, with a good view of the fireplace, settled in to wait. Soon, Santa landed on his very last roof—Harold’s house. Santa had a plan. He hid behind the sofa ready to see if Harold really did run downstairs in the morning.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Before Santa knew it, it was Christmas morning and Harold’s parents were standing by the tree. “‘Too bad we don’t know any little boys who’d like to open some presents from Santa,’” Harold’s mom said to tempt her son out from his spot behind the chair. Santa thought he had his proof. Then, just as Santa realized he’d never put out the presents, Harold stood up and said he didn’t care about the presents; he only wanted to know if Santa was real.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Hearing Harold’s voice, Santa jumped up and shouted “‘You’re real!’” Seeing Santa, Harold shouted “‘You’re real!’” They ran toward each other and hugged. Then they played with the toys Santa had brought until the reindeer reminded Santa it was time to go home. Santa and Harold said their happy goodbyes until next year, and in a moment, Santa was up the chimney and out of sight.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Maureen Fergus’s clever flip on believing in Santa proves that the magic of Christmas doesn’t lie in the presents we get but in that feeling of wonder that lives in hearts young and old. When Santa makes his confession to Mrs. Claus and justifies it to the elves and reindeer, there will be giggles all around as adults and older children appreciate the wry twist and younger “still believers” react to such ridiculous notions. Making inspired and humorous use of the waiting-up-to-see-Santa trope, Fergus creates suspense while setting up the climactic scene and the ingeniously worded line that one moment gives Santa his “proof” and the next dispels both Santa’s and Harold’s doubts. A relatable Santa, an elf with a twinkle of good-natured attitude,” skeptical reindeer, and a lovable child make this holiday reading at its best.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Cale Atkinson’s Santa, as rotund as a Christmas Tree ornament is sympathetic and funny as he gnaws anxiously on a finger before blurting out his worries to Mrs. Claus, argues his points with waving arms, and sulks like a petulant child. These early views make Santa’s glee at the end all the more emotional. While Santa stews, a dubious Harold is shown reading “Santa Enquirer,” and his wall sports the results of his investigation. Retro touches, humorous details, and plenty of red and green add to the holiday fun, while the jolly ending fulfills all dreams.

A fresh Christmas classic kids will ask for over and over, The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold is a must for adding to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1770498242 (Hardcover); ISBN 978-0735268708 (Paperback)

Discover more about Maureen Fergus and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cale Atkinson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Write a Friend Month Activity

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Friendly Letter Stationery

 

Kids will love coloring and using this printable stationery to jot a note to Santa or to write a letter to a friend or loved one! 

Friendly Letter Stationery

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You can find The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

 Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 15 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

Sharing books and doing crafts and activities together is a fun way to get ready for Christmas, the whole holiday season, and beyond. From stories about the first Christmas to holiday traditions to Santa to baking together, these picture books will put you in the Christmas spirit! Click on the titles to be taken to the full review. And have fun with the printable activity sheets and holiday crafts below!

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A Christmas Advent Story

Written by Ivy Snow | Illustrated by Hannah Tolson

Ivy Snow invites children to enjoy a month of anticipation and preparations for Christmas day with her engaging story that hits all the highlights and wonder of the season. Along the way, prompts intrigue children to lift the twenty-five flaps, have fun counting the trees in at the Christmas tree farm, find beautiful ornaments on the tree, point out all the different cookies, and open presents under the tree.

Hannah Tolson’s smart, brightly colored illustrations brim with all the joy and warmth of Christmas and the Advent season. Young readers will eagerly follow the two children as they happily go about their holiday preparations with their dog in tow and look forward to opening each of the twenty-five flaps to reveal surprises that will make them smile. The children’s home, shop windows, the tree farm, and the winter wonderland outside are loaded with little details that will keep kids lingering over each page during multiple readings, They also offer opportunities to talk about traditions new and old. Images of the downtown, busy with shoppers and carolers, evoke the community bonding that the holidays bring, and the cozy illustrations of home will inspire kids to join in all the fun.

With a sparkly cover and sturdy pages, this lovely advent calendar in a book would make a much-loved gift as the Advent season starts on December 2 and a bright star in home libraries.

Ages 1 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681198514

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A Christmas Carol

Adapted by Brooke Jorden | Illustrated by David Miles

One of the world’s most recognizable novels, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has thrilled readers ever since it was published on December 19, 1843. The novel’s combination of spooky ghosts, a loving family, and a lost soul in need of redemption keeps readers and listeners enthralled no matter how many times they’ve read it. But why should adults and older kids have all the fun? Now, with this Lit for Little Hands board book, even the youngest readers can enjoy all the intrigue of A Christmas Carol.

Brooke Jorden’s nimble adaptation loses none of the snap of the original. Turn to the first page and there is Bob Cratchit toiling away under the gaze of a stern Ebenezer Scrooge who “was the meanest miser the world had ever known.” Quotations from Dickens’ original novel are sprinkled throughout the text, giving it the Old-World atmosphere that contributes so much to the effect of the story. With each visit of a ghost, Jorden includes a lesson that Scrooge learns or a memory he has of a recent time when he could have been generous or happy and chose not to, allowing young readers to understand how the ghosts affect Scrooge and how he changes in that night.

Using fresh tones of red and green, David Miles brings 1800’s England to life for kids. Bob Cratchit scratches away in his ledger with a quill pen and only a candle for light as thick snow falls outside the window. At home, Scrooge sits in a darkened room where the eerie, translucent ghost of Jacob Marley, wrapped in a chain, is sure to impress. Miles’ image of the feast surrounding the Ghost of Christmas Present contrasts sharply with the small turkey and plum pudding on the Cratchit’s table, a detail that will resonate with today’s children just as it did when the novel was first published. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is appropriately spooky, but not too frightening for young children. When Scrooge wakes up a changed man, the dark shades of Miles’ pages give way to bright pinks and cheery aqua, and the icy blizzard has ended.

Ages 3 – 6

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701518

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A Christmas Too Big

By Colleen Madden

Whether you like to celebrate Christmas in big or small ways, Colleen Madden’s heartwarming story reflects the true spirit of the holiday as a day for family, friends, togetherness, and kindness. While Kerry’s parents and siblings believe in a bigger-is-better philosophy, when Kerry finds another way of celebrating with Mrs. Flores, she realizes that “big” doesn’t need to come with a huge tree, lots of lights, hundreds of cookies, or even a month of preparations, but can simply mean warm feelings inside their heart. Madden’s organic integration of Mrs. Flores’ conversation in Spanish is very welcome.

Madden’s straightforward, non-judgmental, inviting, and humorous storytelling welcomes kids all along the spectrum, from HUGE to tiny, to enjoy Christmas and its lead-in in the way that is most meaningful to them. The story can also spur talks within a family about the ways each member likes to celebrate and to incorporate those ideas into their yearly traditions.

Madden’s winning illustrations will keep kids riveted to the pages as Kerry’s family joyously retrieves the Christmas decorations and gets to work. Madden depicts their over-the-top love of the holiday in illustrations that are jam-packed, frenetic, and definite showstoppers that kids will love poring over—especially the title screens for seventeen comical Christmas specials, Mom’s “so close” renditions of holiday classic songs, and the cutaway of Kerry’s house, where they can search for the elves hidden in each room. 

In contrast, Mrs. Flores one-story house has no outdoor decorations and the inside is sparsely furnished, allowing the focus to be on her small tree. As you turn from pages where you don’t know where to look next to these simple spreads, you can almost hear yourself sigh as the frenzy fades and a calm, quiet simplicity takes over. Back home, there’s no denying the beauty of the family’s fully decorated tree, and readers (maybe the adults even more than the kids) will appreciate the matching candy cane-striped onesie pajamas they’re wearing. The final image of Kerry’s family sharing dinner with Mrs. Flores is cheerful and festive. Spanish labels name all of the food, decorations, and other items on and around the dinner table.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542028004

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The Christmas Cat

Written by Maryann Macdonald | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

Maryann Macdonald’s gentle story of the baby Jesus soothed by a kitten on the night he was born and saved by this same pet on his flight to Egypt will captivate young children. The focus on the child-animal bond will delight little ones with pets of their own and makes the Christmas story immediately accessible. Macdonald’s lyrical language beautifully portrays the emotion and setting of the story, and she establishes the danger faced by the family with age-appropriate suspense.

Amy June Bates enhances the story with gorgeous traditional paintings of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, the stable and its animals, and the nighttime journey to Egypt. Her watercolor, gauche, and pencil illustrations glow with warm ambers, greens, and midnight blues. The barn animals are sweetly gentle and earnest in their attempts to soothe the crying baby, and the realistic portraits of the family demonstrate their love for each other. Children will especially like the images of Jesus and his pet cat cuddling and playing together. The final illustration of Mary, Jesus, and their cat echoes the drawing by Leonardo da Vinci that accompanies the Author’s Note.

For pet owners and animal lovers, The Christmas Cat would make a meaningful addition to their holiday collection.

Ages 3 – 6

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013 | ISBN 978-0803734982

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Christmas Cookie Day!

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

Tara Knudson’s jaunty rhyming story captures all the giddy anticipation and fun of a day baking Christmas cookies. Short, lively verses follow Mom and her cub step-by-step as they make and decorate special treats for their annual cookie party and invite little ones to join in on repeat readings. Knudson delights in the enjoyment Mom and her little one feel during their day of baking and goes on to celebrate the deeper meaning and joy of Christmas as the two wrap up their cookies and give them to family and friends.

With tender smiles for each other, Pauline Siewert’s Mama bear and her cub spend a snowy day baking cookies in their cozy kitchen accompanied by a helpful mouse. Siewert’s vibrant colors mirror the cheerful companionship mother and child share on this much-loved day, and her engaging details, like a dusting of flour on the cub’s nose, will charm children. A double-spread scattering of the cookies the two make give little ones a chance to show their knowledge of shapes and Christmastime figures. The heartwarming final scene of the cookie party might just inspire a party of your own. Little ones will also be enchanted by the sparkly cover that opens this adorable book.

The absence of personal pronouns and a red apron for the little cub make Christmas Cookie Day! gender neutral.

A sweet story to spark a fun family tradition and share the joy of giving, Christmas Cookie Day! makes an endearing addition to a child’s home library.

Ages 2 – 6

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310762898

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The Christmas Crumb

Written by Lou Treleaven | Illustrated by Alex Willmore

Like the Christmas season itself, Lou Treleaven’s story of a treat that keeps on giving is full of charm, surprise, and cheer. Her set up of a royal giant family enjoying their holiday feast lends a magical plausibility to the idea of a crumb large enough to pass down and down and down again to feed multiple families—an idea that brings new delight each time a crumb escapes and finds a new home. Treleaven’s whimsical storyline soars on her jaunty rhyme scheme and her superb word choices that are humorous and heart-tugging at the same time.

Her deft messaging will appeal to children’s natural empathy as well as their awareness today of need in their communities as in each household the child apologizes for losing even a crumb. The adults’ repeated response, while providing a fun phrase for readers to join in on, can also lead to deeper discussions about the importance and rewards of giving.

Accompanying Lou Treleaven’s story are Alex Willmore’s hilarious and heartening illustrations that set the Christmas scene with fresh color tones and captivating details that show the impact the “crumb” has on each family. Spying a child hiding in the giants’ big bowl of potatoes will elicit giggles, and the characters’ facial expressions—from the princess’s delighted gasp at seeing the Yule log to the mother’s look of impending doom as the crumb barrels through her home—are priceless.

Willmore’s work with perspective is worthy of special note. Underlying Treleaven’s message that something’s worth is all in ones perspective, Willmore’s scenes employ close-up and distant views; commonly recognized items are juxtaposed to the giants, Pip and his mom, the mice, the ants, and finally the flea to show scale; and the runaway crumb becomes smaller and smaller but is always just the right size. Math-oriented kids will enjoy pointing these out, and some may like replicating scenes by physically arranging similar items. In a final spread, the princes, Pip, the mice, the ants, and even the barely perceptible flea line up with their crumbs in a meaningful demonstration of how something small to one person is big to another.

Ages 4 – 9

Maverick Arts, 2021 | ISBN 978-1848867765

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Christmas in the Barn

Written by Margaret Wise Brown | Illustrated by Anna Dewdney

From the first line of Christmas in the Barn, readers will delight in this Margaret Wise Brown picture book for little ones. Her distinctive rhythm and rhyme scheme brings the story of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus close to the heart of listeners. Wise Brown describes the events of that first Christmas Eve night and dawning Christmas day with simple, lilting sentences that emphasize the tenderness and togetherness in that “ancient barn.” Children will respond to Wise Brown’s gentle animals and the recognition of lines from familiar carols. The openness of the text allows for personal discussion of the story, making this a wonderful choice that will become a favorite with young—and even older—children.

Originally published in 1952, Christmas in the Barn is given a new and stunning look by Anna Dewdney. Her mixed-media illustrations glow with the mystery and splendor of the story. As the couple travels to the little inn, they are portrayed in silhouette, tiny against the vast peach-colored desert. The animals eat their dinner, unaware of what will soon happen in their home. Their sweet faces welcome the two people to share their space, and when the baby is born, the midnight blue sky lightens with the onset of the guiding star. Dewdney’s depictions of the barn’s interior focuses on the newborn baby, while the reverence shown him are moving and beautifully portrayed.

Christmas in the Barn is sure to become an often-read Christmas tradition, and would make an excellent selection for holiday collections.

Ages 3 – 8

HarperCollins, 2016 | ISBN 978-0062379863

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Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer 

By Jim Benton

Laugh-out-loud funny and with a message about going above and beyond for family and friends, Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer will become a kid-favorite in any house for Christmas and throughout the year. Comet’s misadventures on his travels around the globe are slapstick gems kids will want to hear over and over. Adults will also find themselves “Ho-ho-hoing” at Jim Benton’s bouncy rhymes and funny wordplay as well as Comet’s hilarious thoughts that echo ones we’ve all had at one time or another. Amidst all the fun, too, is a heartfelt story about thinking of others, kindness, and the true meaning of giving that will impress and cheer kids.

Benton’s expressive, madcap cartoon illustrations will have kids giggling at the overworked elves wrapping presents with fatigued, bored expressions, the goofy reindeer (especially Freddy), and Comet’s valiant efforts to lift the enormous bag. Images of Comet’s accidents and near misses will be met with guffaws. Benton’s illustrations also show many examples of empathetic kindness, deep appreciation, and unstoppable perseverance that will resonate with kids beyond the holiday season.

Ages 3 – 8

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542043472

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The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold

Written by Maureen Fergus | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Maureen Fergus’s clever flip on believing in Santa proves that the magic of Christmas doesn’t lie in the presents we get but in that feeling of wonder that lives in hearts young and old. When Santa makes his confession to Mrs. Claus and justifies it to the elves and reindeer, there will be giggles all around as adults and older children appreciate the wry twist and younger “still believers” react to such ridiculous notions. Making inspired and humorous use of the waiting-up-to-see-Santa trope, Fergus creates suspense while setting up the climactic scene and the ingeniously worded line that one moment gives Santa his “proof” and the next dispels both Santa’s and Harold’s doubts. A relatable Santa, an elf with a twinkle of good-natured attitude,” skeptical reindeer, and a lovable child make this holiday reading at its best.

Cale Atkinson’s Santa, as rotund as a Christmas Tree ornament is sympathetic and funny as he gnaws anxiously on a finger before blurting out his worries to Mrs. Claus, argues his points with waving arms, and sulks like a petulant child. These early views make Santa’s glee at the end all the more emotional. While Santa stews, a dubious Harold is shown reading “Santa Enquirer,” and his wall sports the results of his investigation. Retro touches, humorous details, and plenty of red and green add to the holiday fun, while the jolly ending fulfills all dreams.

A fresh Christmas classic kids will ask for over and over, The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold is a must for adding to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1770498242

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Fa-la-la Llama

Written by Joan Holub | Illustrated by Allison Black

Get ready to giggle and “La-la-llaaamaaa” with your little ones in Joan Holub’s effervescent take on a favorite holiday song that also includes touch-and-feel elements that begin right on the front cover, where a shiny ribbed foil evergreen is about to be turned into a Christmas tree. Opening the cover, little ones find that a white Christmas is assured as textured glittery snowflakes fall on a cheerful, pink llama. Other enticing treats include a pink tulle tutu ice-skating skirt, a silver rippled foil-wrapped present, and a sparkly bowtie of netting, foil, and glitter. Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without Ssanta, and he’s here too with a soft and wooly beard to tickle tykes’ fingertips—and fancy!

If you’re looking for a fun, infectious holiday story to share with your little one, you’ve found it! Joan Holub’s catchy rendition of “Deck the Halls” for the youngest readers is sure to have the whole family “Fa la la la la la la Llama-ing” as you decorate the tree, wrap gifts, bake cookies, and, of course, sing carols. Holub’s word choices make the verses easy for kids to remember, inviting them to read or sing (it’s impossible to resist singing!) along.

Allison Black’s adorable llamas decked out in winter’s most cozy hats, scarves, mittens, and sweaters can’t help but make you smile. Their enthusiasm for the season mirrors children’s own excitement, and their holiday activities will be familiar to kids as well. Black’s vibrant backgrounds, colorful fa-la-las, organically integrated touch-and-feel surprises, and sprinkling of humor make this a book little readers will want to put on repeat.

Ages 2 – 5

Cartwheel Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1338681475

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The Gifts of the Animals

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

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

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Gingerbread Christmas

By Jan Brett

Jan Brett’s mischievously loveable Gingerbread Baby is back, wanting to participate in the Village Festival. With her signature storytelling that includes danger, mystery, and clever shenanigans surrounding Matti and his special gingerbread creations, Brett creates a holiday adventure that kids will love. Her well-known intricate illustrations, in a rich palette, offer vivid action as the Gingerbread Baby and instruments play onstage while the villagers dance below. Brett’s beautiful details and cozy settings make Gingerbread Christmas a feast for the eyes, and readers will also like to linger over the musical instruments in the margins of each page that reveal more snapshots of the story line. A dazzling fold-out Christmas tree, decorated from top to bottom will occupy and delight kids as they search for where the Gingerbread Baby is hiding.

For winter fun and especially those days when the house fills with the delicious aroma of baking cookies, Gingerbread Christmas is great book to have on hand.

Ages 4 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0399170713

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The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas

Written by Laura Murray | Illustrated by Mike Lowery

Fans of Laura Murray’s sweet Gingerbread Man series will be delighted with this holiday treat. With jaunty, pitch-perfect rhymes and a message about the joys of giving thanks for and to all the members of a community, Murray’s story resonates long past the holiday season. Murray’s adorable cookie creation will make kids smile with his plucky attitude as he “hobbles” on mushy legs through the slushy streets to deliver his gift and giddy enthusiasm on succeeding in surprising the teacher. The story offers a wonderful opportunity to talk with kids about truly valuable gifts and ways they can show their love for others.

As cute as ever, Mike Lowery’s Gingerbread Man is a pint-sized dynamo spreading happiness and thoughtfulness wherever he dashes. Kids will love following the class as they fan out into town delivering baked treats, songs, and cards to the adults who make their lives better. Smiles and hugs abound, making this one of the merriest Merry Christmas books around. Little ones will love pointing out the tiny Gingerbread Man on the pages, talking about familiar shops and businesses in the town, and giggling over humorous details like the bat hanging from the vet’s examining table.

A thoroughly charming way to celebrate Christmas and sure to spark random acts of giving in young readers, The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas will be a favorite on home bookshelves for years to come.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015 | ISBN 978-0399168666

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I Got the Christmas Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

As the sights and sounds of Christmas begin to light up towns, stores, and homes, Connie Schofield-Morrison’s story fills young readers with the joy and deeper meaning of the holiday. Little ones wanting to share their bubbly excitement for Christmas as well as their innate empathy will fall in love with the little girl who eagerly joins in on all of the city’s festivities while also embracing those in need. Her big heart and buoyant spirit will inspire kids to find the spirit of the holiday in everything they do too. Kids are invited to join in reading with exuberant alliterative words like “Ding Dong Ding, that call out to the little girl

Readers can almost hear the bells and singers, feel the soft snow, and smell the roasting nuts as he takes readers on a tour of the city decked out for the holidays. In his gorgeous, realistic paintings, the emotions and actions of the little girl cheer young readers as they see her belting out a Christmas carol, gliding on ice rink, and walking side-by-side with Santa to deliver her surprise gifts to the needy family. Images of the girl dropping money that she has saved into the Salvation Army pot and frowning sadly as she comes upon the destitute woman and her family mirror the compassion many children feel for those less fortunate.

Like its predecessor I Got the Rhythm, I Got the Christmas Spirit is an uplifting and beautiful book to add to any child’s collection—not only at Christmas, but any time of the year. A top choice for public libraries too.

Ages 3 – 7

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681195285

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Latkes for Santa Claus

Written by Janie Emaus | Illustrated by Bryan Langdo

Janie Emaus’s original story focused on a favorite part of Christmas Eve traditions—Santa’s snack—presents a clever and inclusive way for blended families to celebrate the joys of Hanukkah and Christmas together. Through Anna’s humorous imaginings of Santa trying to eat matza ball soup, kugel, and tzimmes, Emaus offers readers funny rhyming verses with repeated phrasing that kids will love to chime in on, especially “Slurp. Burp. Slop. Spill.” Michael and Anna’s sibling rivalry over the snack is good-natured and shows how this new brother and sister pair are quickly becoming a team. The list of traditional Jewish dishes will excite kids who already love them and entice those who aren’t to try them. Anna’s impressions of the world outside her window on this special night invite readers to embrace both of these meaningful holidays and those who observe them.

In Bryan Langdo’s vibrant and engaging illustrations, Hanukkah and Christmas reside side-by-side, just as Anna and Michael do. A menorah is prominently displayed on the fireplace mantle and Michael spins a dreidel while Christmas lights line the walls and a Christmas tree stands lit and decorated nearby. When the kids take to the cozy kitchen, Anna’s grandmother stands at the stove stirring a large pot of matza ball soup. The banter between Michael and Anna over Santa’s treat ushers in vivid and giggle-inducing images of Santa trying to spoon up splashing soup, dodging flying bowls of kugel, and finally wearing the bowl of stew on his head all while attempting to steer his sleigh. Sketched with a light touch, Langdo’s characters are charming and warm, and Anna and Michael are delightful siblings to carry this story about acceptance and family love.

A fun and inclusive story for Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations and to celebrate the joys of family, Latkes for Santa Claus would make an excellent gift for pre-holiday story times and baking and a charming addition to home, school, and public libraries for any time of the year.

Ages 3 – 6

Sky Pony, Simon & Schuster, 2020 | ISBN 978-1510759886

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Little Mole’s Christmas Gift

Written by Glenys Nellist | Illustrated by Sally Garland

With an endearing protagonist, Glenys Nellist’s story about the true meaning of giving from the heart will appeal to little ones’ natural sense of generosity while strengthening the joy they feel in helping out at home or helping those in need. The three friends Little Mole encounters give children an opportunity to talk about what they would do in each situation and for adults to discuss ideas of kindness as well as gratitude as this one gift becomes many. Mama’s reaction to Little Mole’s gift will show kids that it’s not the size of a present that counts but the love and thought that goes into it. They’ll also see that a person’s actions, compassion, and consideration for others are gifts that cannot be matched.

Sally Garland’s textured illustrations focus on adorable Little Mole and his dreams of the perfect Christmas, allowing the youngest readers to fully appreciate Little Mole’s decisions to give up parts of the present for Mama that means so much to him. As Little Mole encounters Little Squirrel, Little Mouse, and Little Chipmunk, readers can clearly see the sadness and need of each of these friends as well as the positive difference Little Mole’s kindness makes in their day. Garland’s lovely aqua sky swirled with white snow and gauzy wind makes for a shivery winter scene, while Little Mole’s home is cozy and warm with a glittering Christmas tree and homemade treats and decorations.

A charming companion to Little Mole Finds Hope, Little Mole’s Christmas Gift makes for cozy story times that will inspire love, compassion, and kindness at Christmas and throughout the year. The book would be a favorite addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506448756

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The Little Reindeer

By Nicola Killen

Nicola Killen’s tale of imagination and the magic that children can find in Christmas will charm young readers. Adorable Ollie dreams of reindeer not only at night but all the time, as children can see in Ollie’s room that is filled with reminders of her favorite animal, including a book about reindeer, a reindeer bookend, reindeer sheets, reindeer wallpaper, a reindeer plush, and plenty of reindeer drawings.

Killen’s story has a dreamy feeling, prompting readers to wonder: is this nighttime jaunt real or not? A clue may lie in the fact that the reindeer wears a blanket of the same pattern as Ollie’s bedspread. Killen’s gray-scale illustrations are beautifully accented with touches of red and sprinkled with silver that glints from the sleigh bells, snow-topped trees, and in the magical swoop of the reindeer’s flight. Several die-cuts invite readers to follow Ollie into the night and through the woods and offers a peek out Ollie’s window to see her reindeer pass by as she sleeps.

A sweet story for little dreamers, The Little Reindeer is a classic tale that will enchant children around the holidays and beyond and would be a favorite addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1481486866

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Pick a Pine Tree

Written by Patricia Toht | Illustrated by Jarvis

Patricia Toht’s lively rhymes engage kids in one of the holiday season’s most fun activities—picking out and decorating the Christmas tree. Her step-by-step verses brim with the growing excitement of the day and encourage sharing the celebration with family and friends. As they read, kids will be caught up in the fun and memories of this favorite tradition.

Vivid, action-packed mixed-media illustrations in a rich color palette by Jarvis take readers to the Christmas tree lot with its rows and rows of different trees to choose from and back to the family’s cozy home—where a dog and cat are happy to help out. As friends and neighbors drop by for the decorating party, kids will love recounting their own experiences hanging the lights and pointing out ornaments that may look like their own. The fully decorated tree glows in a two-page vertical spread that will wow little readers.

A sweet family story full of smiles, eager anticipation, and a love of Christmas, Pick a Pine Tree is a magical read to add to holiday story times.

Ages 3 – 7

Candlewick Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763695712

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Pig the Elf

By Aaron Blabey

Aaron Blabey knows that Pig the Pug just can’t resist the allure of presents and has written a funny, over-the-top story of what can happen when someone’s list is all get and no give. Blabey’s rollicking rhymes and free-wheeling dialog will make kids giggle at Pig’s insatiable appetite and unbridled impatience. Fairly popping out of his red hooded sleeper, Pig is a boisterous foil to the real Santa. As Pig hangs on to Santa for dear life, kids of a certain age will laugh out loud. When Pig falls directly atop the town Christmas tree, readers may be cheered to find that he can indeed be a little angel.

For fans of Pig the Pug, kids who like slapstick humor, and adult readers who enjoyed the antics of Alvin the Chipmunk, Pig the Elf is a fun holiday read.

Ages 3 – 5

Scholastic Press, 2017 |ISBN 978-1338221220

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Santa Bruce

By Ryan T. Higgins

In this new holiday favorite, Ryan T. Higgins’ woebegone Bruce is just trying to make his kids (and those mice) happy when another case of mistaken identity turns his winter topsy-turvey. Bruce’s tetchy responses as he loses control of his fate and becomes Santa Bruce as well as the silly asides and persuasive pleas from the mice will have kids in stitches. Sly references to holiday songs, Christmas clichés, and even a spring holiday add to the zany hubbub, and the little ones’ Christmas wishes will make adult readers chuckle.

Higgins’ unibrowed bear wears his signature scowl with aplomb—not even cracking the wee-est smile as a houseful of tiny, adorable hopefuls cheer and shout for “SANTA!” As usual, the mice are jubilantly unconcerned with Bruce’s feelings, giving him, in turn, thumbs up and innocent eyes as they cajole Bruce into creating their vision of the perfect holiday. The guileless geese are just happy to be along for the ride, and the forest children are sweetly excited to get their special present.

Santa Bruce has laughter, generosity, and togetherness all wrapped into one—and isn’t that what the holidays are all about? A must buy for home holiday and anytime reading.

Ages 2 – 7

Disney-Hyperion, 2018 | ISBN 978-1484782903

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Santa’s Secret

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

Between trying to figure out which presents Santa will bring and wondering about the real Santa, most kids 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

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Santa’s Story

By Will Hillenbrand

Will Hillenbrand’s sweet tribute to a favorite tradition of Christmas—the reading of Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from Saint Nicholas—reveals the individual personalities of the world’s most famous reindeer while they wait for Santa to get Christmas started properly. Little ones will enjoy joining in on each reindeer’s Christmas Eve activity while learning some new words, such as hightail, vexed, and crooned, and discovering how these words relate to the action and/or the reindeer.

Hillenbrand’s lovely, softly hued illustrations add a sense of magic to this North Pole setting, where lights glow from windows, ornaments add sparkles of color to the snowy landscape, and a bunny peeks out from the snowman’s top hat (readers familiar with Hillenbrand’s Snowman’s Story will be cheered to see this pair’s cameo). Hillenbrand’s inclusion of a lighthouse—it’s beam shining brightly out into the world—is an enchanting touch to Santa’s home. Readers will have fun pointing out the searching Santa on the pages and may figure out the mystery before Santa does by carefully watching his adorable pet.

A charming lead-in to readings of A Visit from Saint Nicholas or as a new tradition on its own, Santa’s Story would be a delightful addition to Christmas story time wish lists.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2019 | ISBN 978-1542043380

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Snow Globe Wishes

Written by Erin Dealey | Illustrated by Claire Shorrock

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.

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

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The Star in the Christmas Play

Written by Lynne Marie | Illustrated by Lorna Hussey

Lynne Marie’s sweet story of a little giraffe trying to find his place is endearing through and through. Children will empathize with his wish to be included in the Christmas play and his worries about his size. Raffi’s loving mother offers encouragement and snuggles, and their trusting relationship in which Raffi feels comfortable revealing his doubts is a highlight of the story. By allowing Raffi to create an important part for himself, Marie also empowers readers to find their own perseverance, creativity, and voice. Raffi’s beaming smile as he sits straight and tall while playing the Christmas star, shows children that they should always be proud of who they are and their important role in the world. Marie includes many opportunities for kids and adults to discuss various emotions and aspects of friendship—from celebrating others’ accomplishments to feeling left out of the fun—making the book an excellent choice at any time of the year.

Lorna Hussey’s savannah animal children are adorable as they demonstrate why they’d be perfect for their preferred roles in the play. Kids will enjoy studying the clues and guessing which part each animal wants to play. Contrasting their exuberance with Raffi’s bent neck, droopy ears, and sad expression, readers can clearly see how Raffi’s worries weigh on him. The tender love between sunny-spotted Raffi and his mother will touch readers. The final spread of the Nativity play is lovely and uplifting, and children will love lingering over this page to point out all the details.

A heartening and layered story for Christmas and throughout the year, The Star in the Christmas Play is highly recommended for making every child feel like the star they are. The book would be charming addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1506438139

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A Tuba Christmas

Written by Helen L. Weber | Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles

Helen L. Weber’s original holiday story will delight any child who sees life a little differently from their friends and family. Ava’s perseverance in playing the tuba despite the teasing and from her brothers and friends and a bit of skepticism on the part of her parents, will embolden readers who are met with similar reactions to their desired pursuits. Ava’s teacher, Rodney, gives sage and reassuring advice that provides positive perspective and will encourage kids to continue working on their skills despite setbacks or nervousness. Through her characters’ honest, realistic dialogue and emotions, Wilbur reveals the ups and downs of beginning any new activity, hobby, or vocation and offers children support and inspiration on their journey.

Mary Reaves Uhles captures all of the heart of this one-of-a-kind story in her vivid and action-filled illustrations that reveal Ava’s enthusiasm for her shiny, coiled instrument. Images of Ava practicing while the cat covers its ears and the neighbor’s dog howls as the notes go awry add humor, but also reinforce Ava’s determination to learn the tuba. Ava’s interactions with Rodney are uplifting and will boost young readers’ confidence in their own abilities. The cheerful double-page spread of the tuba orchestra decked out for the holiday concert will have kids wanting to attend a Tuba Christmas concert—or take up the tuba themselves!

A heartening story for any child who marches to a different…tuba, A Tuba Christmas is a book that cheer and reassure kids at any time of the year.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363841

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When Santa Was a Baby

Written by Linda Bailey | Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout

Linda Bailey’s gentle, humorous tale of Santa Claus’ origins in a little boy who always knew who he was and followed his heart will delight children of all ages. With a sprinkling of descriptions about Santa that echo Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas, Bailey’s storytelling fits nicely into the traditional image of Santa while revealing while answering kids’ questions about his generosity, the elves, his reindeer, and his North Pole home. Adults will appreciate the support Santa’s bemused parents show as their child grows up and their pride in the man their son is. Underlying Bailey’s story about Santa is an uplifting reminder for all kids to embrace who they are and to follow their dreams.

Geneviève Godbout’s slightly gauzy illustrations rendered in muted browns, greens, and golds punctuated with red bridge the past and the present with rustic details and universal hair and clothing styles, adorable hamster pets, and Christmas traditions. Children will giggle at the booming “Ho, Ho, Ho!” that erupts from baby Santa and the image of him standing naked (except for one red sock) in front of the open refrigerator with a fan blowing and a popsicle waiting on the table. Little readers will be happy to see that young Santa had an elf friend, who was equally comfortable being himself while wearing green and long, pointy-toed socks. Godbout’s images of the grown Santa at the North Pole and flying in his sleigh on Christmas Eve close out the story in a cheery and satisfying way.

Charming from beginning to end, When Santa Was a Baby would be an often-asked-for addition to Christmas story times from year to year and is highly recommended for home and library collections.

Ages Preschool and Up

Tundra Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1770495562 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1101919163 (Board Book)

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The Worst Christmas Ever

Written by Kathleen Long Bostrom | Illustrated by Guy Porfirio

Kathleen Long Bostrom’s emotional Christmas story captures feelings of loss and sadness children feel when life changes or unexpected misfortunes occur. Framed by Christmas, a time of magic, good memories, and miracles, Bostrom’s story offers hope for new perspectives and rediscovered happiness. Through Matthew and his younger sister, Lucy, Bostrom creates realistic portraits of children that will resonate with readers. Her detailed storytelling, rich with dialogue and sprinkled with humor, will charm kids. Matthew’s friendship with Jasper is a highlight, and Jasper’s running off sets up suspense and the joyful ending. The story has particular resonance this year when beloved traditions may change, families may not gather as usual, and the holidays may take on a different feel. Reading the book with children can help them discuss their feelings and find new ways to share the Christmas spirit.

Guy Porfirio’s vivid illustrations shine with realistic action and are especially effective in depicting Matthew’s and Lucy’s emotions and different reactions to moving, a warm-weather Christmas, and looking for the Christmas miracle. Matthew’s close relationship with his dog is sweetly portrayed, and his sadness is evident even as he goes about the traditional Christmas Eve activities. Alert readers may notice the hint of Jasper’s black-and-white tail mixed in with the hay as the family walks across the church lawn to take their places in the stable, letting them experience the giddy excitement of Christmas Eve discovery and also rejoice with Matthew when Jasper is found.

A poignant story that inspires children to look for the promise of Christmas in surprising places and all year long, The Worst Christmas Ever would be a favorite seasonal read aloud that would be asked for throughout the year as well.

Ages 3 – 7

Flyaway Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1947888098

Christmas Activities

Activity Sheets

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Help the Gingerbread Man find his way home the fastest way in this printable puzzle!

Dashing Home! Maze | Dashing Home! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Find-the-Perfect-Pine-Tree-maze

Can you help the kids sled their way to find the evergreen tree in this printable maze?

Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze | Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze Solution

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If you’re wishing for a white Christmas, you’ll enjoy finding the pairs of identical snowflakes in this printable puzzle.

It’s Snowing! Matching Puzzle

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Match up the two-reindeer teams so they can start having holiday fun!

Reindeer Team Match-Up

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It’s time to write a letter to Santa! Have fun coloring this printable template then use it for your letter or your Christmas wish list!

Santa Letter Template

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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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Find the sixteen words about the first Christmas in this printable Tell the Good News word search puzzle.

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

Crafts

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Cupcake Wrapper Holiday Tree

With festive wrappers from a favorite snack, you can make all kinds of holiday trees. Try mixing colors and or patterns too!

CPB - Hot Chocolate trio (2)

Friendship Hot Chocolate Jar

There’s nothing better than sipping hot chocolate with a friend or family member during the cold months ahead! Here’s an easy way to make a special gift for someone you love!

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Gingerbread Kids Foam Craft

With these foam gingerbread kids, you can make decorations or ornaments that look good enough to eat!

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Mini Accordion Book

Write your own Christmas story, create a holiday scrapbook, or make a gift for a family member or friend with this mini accordion book.

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Nail Polish-Dipped Ornaments

These plastic ornaments swirled with colorful nail polish make pretty decorations for you tree. Make some to give to friends too!

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Shaving Cream Wrapping Paper

Kids will have a blast giving a present wrapped in paper they’ve made themselves! It’s easy and fun and with a combination of food coloring they can make their paper traditional red and green or any festive colors!

December 13 – National Cocoa Day

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About the Holiday

There’s no better drink to dispel the frostiness of winter than hot cocoa. Whether you make it from dark, rich cocoa powder or from an easy-open pack, drink it straight or add extra flavors like peppermint or cinnamon, enjoy it unadorned or topped with whipped cream or marshmallows, there’s no doubt that hot cocoa is a favorite for cozy snuggling. The history of cocoa being used as a drink goes back to the Aztec culture in 500 BCE (although archaeologists believe it predates that time). It took until 1828, however, for powdered chocolate to be developed (allowing for both chocolate bars and instant hot chocolate to be produced); and it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that Charles Sanna created Swiss Miss – the first hot cocoa able to be mixed in a cup. To celebrate this rich indulgence, mix up frothy mugs of hot cocoa and cuddle up with your kids and a great book –like today’s!

Tiny Reindeer

By Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

 

As the book opens, a little girl has made her way down the hill from her rural home to the mailbox, where she slips a special letter into the slot. In the distance, a town is nestled between the rolling hills. In another part of the world, a “very, very tiny” reindeer was wondering what he could do to help “Santa get ready for the most important night of the year.” Every year it was the same, Tiny tried to help but ended up getting “tangled in the reins and harnesses,” falling into the other reindeer’s water bowls, or completely covered in tape “when he tried to wrap the presents. 

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Copyright Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

This year on the day before Christmas Eve, Santa suggested that Tiny visit the Mail Room to help sort the last of the children’s letters. Santa had told him there was just a little pile of letters, but when Tiny got to the Mail Room, he found himself buried in an avalanche of paper. As he wriggled his way out, one letter caught his eye. There was a picture of a reindeer drawn in the corner, and the child was asking for just one gift for Christmas: a tiny reindeer to go with the tiny wooden sleigh her granddad had made for her.

He had planned on making a little reindeer to lead it, but had not been able to. She wrote, “I know reindeers are REALLY BIIIG but I only need a very very tiny one so that we can all fly together like you Santa and your Big Big reindeers.” Then she thanked Santa and sent lots of love before signing her name. After Tiny read the letter, “he came up with a plan.”

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Copyright Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

On Christmas Eve morning, when Santa and the other reindeer were distracted , Tiny leapt into the fully loaded sleigh. He felt like “a secret voyager on a special mission.” While Santa made his rounds, flying high in the sky, Tiny waited for a precise moment. When it came, he “leapt from the sleigh into the freezing air as Santa and his galloping herd disappeared into the darkness.” He floated toward a particular house, carried by the parachute he’d made from the little girl’s letter. Down the chimney and into the fireplace he fell. He made his way to the staircase leading upstairs only to find that he was too small to climb it. Discouraged and unsure if he’d even found the right house, Tiny began to cry.

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Copyright Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Just then he heard a crash in the room he’d just left and, then, footsteps. Tiny tried to hide in the shadow of the steps, but in a moment a huge figure stood over him. It was Santa! Santa carried Tiny upstairs and placed him on a pillow next to where a little girl lay sleeping. On her nightstand was “a beautiful, tiny wooden sleigh.” Santa whispered goodbye and promised to visit next year. Tiny wondered what tomorrow would bring as he yawned and went to sleep.

When the little girl woke on Christmas morning, her eyes lit up. “‘A tiny reindeer! My tiny reindeer!’ she cried out.” Then “Tiny…knew he had finally found where he belonged – and with the most beautiful sleigh he’d ever seen, handmade to fit him perfectly.” The little girl hitched him to the sleigh, and they raced outside to fly over the snowy hills in the frosty morning sky.

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Copyright Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’s sweet, warm, and breezy story is a Christmas and wintertime delight that will charm kids. Young readers eager to help with holiday preparations and to find their place among older siblings and/or adults will empathize with Tiny’s predicament. As this littlest of reindeer devises and carries out a clever and courageous plan to make a girl’s dream come true, readers will see that they too make a big difference just by being themselves. When it seems that all will be lost at the foot of the insurmountable stairs before a watchful and caring Santa appears with a helping hand, kids will feel that comforting assurance their own parents, caregivers, or teachers provide to help them achieve their goals and potential. 

Naylor-Ballesteros’s rustic illustrations glow with the magic of the season, and readers will fall in love with Tiny, who’s no bigger than one of the carrots in the other reindeer’s dinner bowl. Humorous snapshots of Tiny tangled in the reins, tape, and ribbon will make kids giggle. Kids may take note of Santa’s backward glance as Tiny leaps from the sleigh, but his appearance still comes as a happy surprise when Tiny is feeling low. For all children with big imaginations and that harbored desire to have a tiny pet or friend of their own, Naylor-Ballesteros’s uplifting ending will cheer their heart.

An enchanting Christmas tale that will become a family favorite, Tiny Reindeer would make a much-loved gift and a heartwarming addition to home bookshelves and school and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0735271180

Discover more about Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, his books, and his art on his website.

National Cocoa Day Activity

CPB - Hot Chocolate trio (2)

Friendship Hot Cocoa Jar 

 

There’s nothing better than sipping hot chocolate with a friend or family member during the cold months ahead! Here’s an easy way to make a special gift for someone you love!

Supplies

  • Mason jar, canning jar, or any recycled jar from home
  • Canister of your favorite hot chocolate mix
  • Bag of mini marshmallows
  • Bag of chocolate chips
  • Measuring cup
  • Spoon
  • Piece of cloth
  • Shoelace, string, elastic, or ribbon
  • Paper or card stock to make a Friendship Tag
  • Hole punch
  • Scissor

CPB - Hot Chocolate from above with whisk

Directions for Filling the Jar

  1. Wash and completely dry the jar
  2. Drop a handful of mini marshmallows into the bottom of the jar. With the spoon push some of the marshmallows tight against the glass so they will show up when you add the hot chocolate mix.
  3. Measure 1/3 cup of hot chocolate mix and sprinkle it on top of the marshmallows. With the spoon gently spread the mix over the marshmallows.
  4. If you wish, add a layer of chocolate chips.
  5. Continue layering marshmallows and hot chocolate mix until you get to the top of the jar.
  6. At the top add another layer of chocolate chips and marshmallows.
  7. Put the lid on the jar and secure it tightly.

Directions for Decorating the Lid and Adding the Tag

  1. Cut a 6-inch circle from the cloth. To make the edges decorative, use a pinking sheers or other specialty scissor.
  2. Cover the lid of the jar with the cloth and secure with an elastic or rubber band.
  3. Tie the string, shoelace, or other tie around the rim of the lid.
  4. If using a Mason jar, place the cloth between the disk and the screw top
  5. Create a Friendship Tag and add your name and the name of your friend.
  6. Use a hole punch to make a hole in the Friendship Tag, slide it onto the tie, and knot it.

Directions for Making the Hot Chocolate

  1. With a spoon measure 1/2 cup of the hot chocolate, marshmallow, chocolate chip mix into a mug
  2. Fill the mug with boiling water, hot milk, or a combination of both
  3. Enjoy!

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You can find Tiny Reindeer at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review