December 8 – Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

I was honored to host the cover reveal of Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer on March 11 and am thrilled to be part of Jim Benton’s book tour as this story about the beloved Comet is launched around the world, just in time for Christmas. This funny and poignant book will light up Christmas-season story times with joy and themes that will be remembered all year round.

Thanks goes to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sharing Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m also thrilled to be teaming up with them in a giveaway of the book. You can find details below.

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer

By Jim Benton

 

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas….” We know how this one goes, right? Or do we? Let’s see…

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” (so far, so good) / “a tense situation.” / “The elves had worked the whole year / without a vacation.” (Oh, rein-deer!)

It seems all this work, work, work, had left the elves in bad moods, especially Stinky and Stanky who got into it over wrapping a present. Seeing that their argument might escalate, Comet hoofed in to break it up, only to be knocked out colder than a North Pole winter. While Comet’s intervention worked as he’d hoped, when he woke up, his arm didn’t. The doctor set Comet’s broken arm in a cast. When Comet jumped up to get back to work, though, the doc gave him the bad news: “‘No dashing, no dancing, / your arm, it needs fixin’. / It will be a long time / before you’re prancing with Vixen.’” Comet was sad to miss out on the big night, but he went down to the launch anyway,  only to see that his replacement was a “rookie named Freddy.” Although the other reindeer were skeptical about Freddie’s flying prowess, they took off into the sky as usual.

Finished for the night, the elves headed to their homes, leaving Comet in the workshop all alone. But what was THIS? There in the corner and reaching up to the ceiling was Santa’s bag of toys! Comet did what any conscientious reindeer would do: “he called Santa’s cell.” Getting no response, Comet knew Christmas was all up to him.

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Copyright Jim Benton, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Try as he might, though, Comet couldn’t lift that bag of toys. He was about to give up when he noticed a letter lying on the floor. He sat down with a mug of hot chocolate and a few plates of cookies and began to read. He was expecting the usual, but this letter was from a little boy asking for something for his sister. It said: “‘She’s too small to write, / but I know what she’d like: / a little green pig / on a little pink bike.’”

But the letter writer didn’t stop there. He added that he knew there were a lot of deserving kids in the world and told Santa it would be all right if he couldn’t bring his sister the pig, ending with “‘She won’t cry a bit. / She won’t even pout. / Just don’t wear yourself / or your poor reindeer out.’” By the time he’d finished reading, Comet had tears in his eyes. No one had ever considered the reindeer before. Comet looked up, up, up at that heavy, heavy bag and saw at the top… “that little green pig.” Comet thought about that bag and his broken arm, and then, with only one reservation, “he hefted that bag / like a brave little fighter. / ‘Would it kill kids to ask / for some toys that are lighter?’”

So Comet took to the sky, carrying that sackful of toys, and touched down in countries from East going West. His travels were fraught with mishaps aplenty. After losing a tooth and getting nearly run over, he flew “on to Egypt and Sweden, / Italy and France, / where he scraped up his butt / (‘cause he didn’t wear pants).” Trips to every city in the world, along with a few more painful encounters, brought Comet no closer to finding the yellow house with a blue roof where the boy and his sister lived.

Comet consulted his map once more and a single tear dropped onto a place he realized he’d missed. He reached the yellow house just as the sun was rising over the horizon and slipped down the chimney. There he was met by the little boy and his sister. Just as he was handing them their gifts, the “phone gave a jingle. / ‘I’ll get it,’ said Comet. / ‘I’ll bet it’s Kris Kringle.’” And it was with many thank-yous and “‘a vacation,’ said Santa. / ‘Can the elves have one too?’ / asked Comet, who knew that’s / the right thing to do.’”

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Copyright Jim Benton, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

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.

Sure to be asked for again and again on its way to becoming a Christmas tradition, Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer would make a perfect pre-holiday gift for your own family or any child. The book will be a favorite addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542043472

Jim Benton Photo

Jim Benton is the award-winning creator of the New York Times bestselling series Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein as well as the popular It’s Happy Bunny brand. His books have sold more than fifteen million copies in twenty-five countries and have garnered numerous honors. Like Comet, Jim knows what it’s like to hobble around in a cast; however, he is still learning to fly. Find out more about him at www.jimbenton.com.

You can connect with Jim Benton on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Giveaway

I’m pleased as Christmas punch to be teaming with Two Lions and Blue Slip Press in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer by Jim Benton

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite reindeer for extra entry. Each reply earns you one extra entry

This giveaway is open from December 8 to December 13 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 14. 

Prizing provided by Two Lions and Blue Slip Media

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Book Tour Activity

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Reindeer Teams Match-Up Puzzle

 

Match the two-member reindeer teams so they can help Santa in this printable puzzle!

Reindeer Teams Match-Up Puzzle

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You can find Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 20 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing better to get kids in the spirit of Christmas than by sharing holiday stories both old and new. Packed with all the excitement and anticipation of the season, Christmas books offer humor, tradition, inspiration, and new perspectives on this favorite holiday. Stuff your stockings with pre-Christmas reads, and don’t forget that books make the perfect present for all ages!

Thank you to Flyaway Books for sending me a copy of The Worst Christmas Ever for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

The Worst Christmas Ever

Written by Kathleen Long Bostrom | Illustrated by Guy Porfirio

 

One spring day Matthew and Lucy’s dad came home from work and announced that the family would be moving to California. Lucy was excited, but her big brother was less than enthusiastic. Their mom thought it would be an adventure. That night in bed, Matthew’s dog Jasper licked his tears away. Before they knew it, spring had turned to fall and the moving van was being loaded up. “Matthew watched his life being packed away.”

In California everything was different, from school to church to nature—where the leaves stayed green and flowers bloomed even in the winter. He missed the fun he and Jasper used to have playing in the autumn leaves. Soon, even though it didn’t feel like it, it was almost Christmas and time to get the tree. Mom thought that would get them all in the spirit of the holiday.

But “Matthew muttered, ‘No snow. Worst Christmas ever. It’ll take a miracle to make it feel like Christmas.’” Lucy wanted to know what a miracle was. Matthew told her but was sure they wouldn’t find one there. “‘Oh, yes, I will!’ said Lucy. ‘I’ll find the miracle!’” At the Christmas tree lot—which was a far cry from the tree farm Matthew loved—there were plenty of trees to choose from, but they felt “prickly and dry,” and some were colored pink, purple, or blue with fake snow. Lucy wanted a pink one, but Dad stuck with green.

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Image copyright Guy Porfirio, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Long Bostrom, 2019. Courtesy of Flyaway Books.

Back home, Lucy dived under her bed. She was looking for a miracle, she said. Matthew was skeptical, but “he smiled, just a little.” On the Sunday before Christmas, the pastor at church asked for a volunteer family to play the holy family in the outdoor nativity. Dad raised his hand and “Lucy jumped up and down” and offered her doll Gabriela to play baby Jesus. Matthew tried to hide behind the hymn book.

Three days before Christmas Eve, while Matthew and Jasper were at the park, Jasper chased after a squirrel and then seemed to vanish. Matthew rushed home, sobbing. Although the family searched for hours, they couldn’t find Jasper. The next day they handed out flyers and called the shelters, but no one had seen him. On Christmas Eve, Matthew couldn’t get excited about decorating the tree, and Lucy’s constant singing of “Away in a Manger” didn’t help either.

As he participated in the Christmas Eve service, Matthew’s “heart ached for Jasper, lost somewhere in that terribly silent night.” During the last song, Matthew and his family slipped out, put on their costumes and walked to the stable on the church lawn. Lucy put her doll in the manger. As the congregation sang carols in the misty night, Matthew thought he could almost feel the snow he’d left behind.

Suddenly, Lucy shouted, “‘Look!’” The pile of hay was moving! Lucy thought Gabriela had come to life. “‘It’s the Christmas miracle!’” she said. Matthew “lifted the wriggling blanket in the manger and gasped.” It was Jasper, who’d been sleeping deep in the hay. “‘It is a miracle! You found your way…home,’” Matthew exclaimed. And with that he looked around and realized that this was home and this was the “‘best Christmas ever’” because it “had come, right in the middle of Matthew’s feeling lost in the world. Just as it had come that first Christmas, long ago. Ready or not.”

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Image copyright Guy Porfirio, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Long Bostrom, 2019. Courtesy of Flyaway Books.

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

Discover more about Kathleen Long Bostrom and her books on her website.

You can connect with Guy Porfirio on Twitter.

Get Ready for Christmas Activity

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Mini Accordion Book

 

With this craft you can make a little book for your own writing, pictures, or stickers. With a holiday-themed cover, you can use it as an advent calendar or holiday wish list. This little book would also make a fun gift to make for your friends.

Supplies

  • 12-inch by 12-inch sheet of scrapbooking paper – single or double sided
  • Decorative scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, or a page of the child’s own writing or drawing
  • Cardboard
  • Stickers, pictures
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Ruler
  • Pencil

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Directions

  1. Draw a 3-inch border around the edge of the 12-inch by 12-inch sheet of scrapbooking paper. This will make a 6-inch square in the center of the paper
  2. Draw a line from the top of the paper to meet the left edge of the 6-inch square. The line will be 3 inches from the left side of the paper.
  3. Draw a 3-inch line from the top center of the 6-inch square to the center of the square

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To Cut the Paper

  1. Beginning with the line at the top of the piece of paper, cut down the left edge of the 6-inch square.
  2. Cut across the bottom of the square.
  3. Cut up the right side of the square
  4. Cut across the top of the square to the line in the center.
  5. Cut down the 3-inch center line to the middle of the square

To Fold the Pages

  1. Draw light or dotted lines every 3 inches along the strip of paper
  2. Starting at the top of the strip, fold the paper on the lines accordion style.
  3. Make the first fold by folding the first 3-inch section down towards you.
  4. Fold the second 3-inch section back away from you
  5. Continue folding the 3-inch sections down and back until the strip is entirely folded

To Make the Cover

  1. Cut two 3 ½ -inch squares from the cardboard
  2. Cut two 4 ½-inch squares of from the decorative paper, wrapping paper, or child’s writing or drawing
  3. Cover the cardboard with the paper, folding the excess paper over the edges and securing with glue

To Assemble the Book

  1. With the strip of paper completely folded, glue one cover to the top 3-inch square
  2. Glue the second cover to the end 3-inch square

Fill the book with writing, drawings, stickers, whatever!

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You can find The Worst Christmas Ever at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 11 – COVER REVEAL!

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From a New York Times bestselling author with over fifteen million books in print, the hilarious story of an injury-prone reindeer who saves Christmas:

Comet, the Unstoppable Reindeer

By Jim Benton

 

It’s the night before Christmas, and Comet is ready…until he’s injured in an unexpected elf incident and replaced by a rookie named Freddy.

Comet can’t believe his bad luck. Then he realizes something even worse—in all the confusion, Santa has left the toys behind and isn’t answering his phone. Injury and all, Comet sets out to deliver the presents, crisscrossing the globe from Japan and Egypt to France and Cleveland. After a run-in with a goose, a near miss with a minivan, and too many chimney crash landings to count, can Comet hobble his way into pulling off a Christmas miracle?

Ages 3 – 7 

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542043472

Comet, the Unstoppable Reindeer will be released on September 15. The book is now available to preorder.

About the Author

Jim Benton Photo

Photo by Laurie Tennent

Jim Benton is the award-winning creator of the New York Times bestselling series Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein as well as the popular It’s Happy Bunny brand. His books have sold more than fifteen million copies in twenty-five countries and have garnered numerous honors. Like Comet, Jim knows what it’s like to hobble around in a cast; however, he is still learning to fly. Find out more about him at www.jimbenton.com.

You can connect with Jim Benton on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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You can preorder Comet, the Unstoppable Reindeer on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 25 – Christmas Day

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About the Holiday

Christmas is anticipated all year round for the joy of giving, the fun of receiving, and the message of hope the holiday gives. There are as many ways to celebrate as there are families, but today’s book shows that the inspiration of the season can live in every person all year round.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books sent me a copy of I Got the Christmas Spirit to check out. All opinions are my own.

I Got the Christmas Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

A little girl wakes up with a smile on her face and “the spirit of the season” in her heart. As she and her mother head out into the snowy city, she hears “the spirit in the air” as carolers sing and a corner Santa rings a bell. She’s been saving her money to add to the familiar red pot and happily drops it in the slot. The choir is now singing “Deck the Halls,” and the little girl sings along with all her heart.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Then it’s time for a yummy roasted treat to warm her up in the shivery air. On the ice-skating rink, the girl and her mom “swirled and twirled around the spirit” with other kids and adults enjoying some frozen fun. Afterward, a tour of the store windows decorated with lights and glitter makes her feel sparkly inside. But when they come upon a mother and her two children huddled against the wind with a “Help Please” sign, the girl says, “I felt the spirit deep down in my soul.”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

In a crowded store nearby, the little girl looks wide-eyed at all the toys then whispers to a tired Santa her wish “for the spirit everywhere.” As she, her mom, Santa, and a host of other people leave the store carrying wrapped packages, they feel the spirit spread by the girl’s smile. Outside, the little girl and the other shoppers give the presents to the needy family. The little boy grins from ear to ear as his mom stands by happily and the baby rests in Santa’s arms.

The Christmas spirit is not just a thing or a place or a person, the girl understands, “The spirit is you!” Then the girl gets her own surprise when she spies her dad coming home. She runs to him and he lifts her into a hug. Here is what she wants for Christmas—“Peace for all, good tidings, and cheer—let’s live the spirit every day of the year.”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

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

To learn more about Frank Morrison and view a gallery of his art, visit his website.

Christmas Day Activity

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Santa’s Sack Maze

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

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

CPB - I Got the Christmas Spirit Cover

You can find I Got the Christmas Spirit at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 5 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

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

Santa’s Secret

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-santa's-secret-reindeer

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

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110380

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

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

Get Ready for Christmas Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-santa's-sack-maze-puzzle

Santa’s Sack Maze

 

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-santa's-secret-cover

You can find Santa’s Secret at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

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

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About the Holiday

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

I received a copy of The Gifts of the Animals from Familius for review consideration. All opinions are my own. This post contains an affiliate link.

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-gifts-of-the-animals-sheep

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.

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

What inspired you to write The Gifts of the Animals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New International Version of the Bible states:

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

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

What is one of your favorite family Christmas traditions?

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

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

National Day of Giving Activity

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Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle

 

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

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

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You can purchase The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale at Familius

Picture Book Revie

December 2 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

For those who celebrate Christmas, Santa Claus’s visit is eagerly anticipated. Kids and adults alike all know about Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, his stable of magic reindeer, and his nighttime ride, but how did Santa become…well…Santa? You’ll find out in today’s book!

Tundra Books sent me a copy of When Santa was a Baby for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

When Santa Was a Baby

Written by Linda Bailey | Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout

 

When Santa was a baby his parents loved his merry dimples and his “‘little nose…like a cherry,’” and when they tickled his tiny toes, expecting a gurgle or coo, they heard a booming “‘HO, HO, HO!’” As he grew older and learned his colors, Santa developed a distinct preference for red, so the “‘dandy blue pajamas from Aunt Mable’” went back in the drawer. “‘Maybe he’ll be a firefighter,’” said his mom.

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Image copyright Geneviève Godbout, 2015, text copyright Linda Bailey, 2015. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

On his birthday, Santa had fun opening a passel of presents, including a toy firetruck from mom and dad, toys from Grandma and Uncle Ned, and “yellow pajamas from Aunt Mable.” But after he’d opened them, he wrapped them up again and gave them away to other children. On his next birthday, Santa asked for a pet that looked like a horse “that had horns and could pull a flying sled.” His parents weren’t sure about all this, so they got Santa a hamster, who soon had eight babies that loved pulling the matchbox full of little toys that Santa hitched them to. Santa’s dad though it was “‘extraordinary,’” and his mom said, “‘He’s so creative!’”

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Image copyright Geneviève Godbout, 2015, text copyright Linda Bailey, 2015. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Santa was extraordinary in lots of other ways too. His curiosity for the cold blast from the refrigerator and the sooty chimney led his proud parents to think he might grow up to be a scientist. Santa had a best friend named Eldred, and together they loved to make toys and other things. As a teenager, he “knew his own mind” and even though “he didn’t always fit in with the crowd,” the other kids liked him, and, of course, “his parents thought he was wonderful.”

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Image copyright Geneviève Godbout, 2015, text copyright Linda Bailey, 2015. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Now Santa is all grown up and has “followed his childhood dreams.” He has a crew of elves, led by Eldred, to make toys and he finally has the reindeer he always wanted. On Christmas Eve as he flies around the world, his parents “listen for his sleigh bells. They wave and blow kisses as Santa dips low over their house.” It’s just what they “always thought he’d do.”

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Image copyright Geneviève Godbout, 2015, text copyright Linda Bailey, 2015. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

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.

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Image copyright Geneviève Godbout, 2015, text copyright Linda Bailey, 2015. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

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)

Discover more about Linda Bailey and her books on her website.

To learn more about Geneviève Godbout, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Get Ready for Christmas Activity

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Polish-Dipped Ornaments

 

These plastic ornaments swirled with colorful nail polish make eye-catching decorations for your tree. Make some to give to friends too!

Supplies

  • Plastic ornaments, available at craft stores
  • Nail polish in various colors
  • Plastic bowl or container, deep enough to dip the ornament into the water
  • Drying stand – I used a clear, plastic egg carton, or string for hanging ornaments to dry

Directions

Fill the plastic container with warm to hot water

  1. Using two or three colors, gently “paint” the water with the nail polish, using the brush or a toothpick in dots and swirls
  2. Slowly dip the plastic ornament into the water and turn it to pick up the nail polish floating on the top of the water
  3. To dry, place the ornament on a stand or hang with a paper plate, wax paper, or other paper to catch drips

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You can find When Santa Was a Baby at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review