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

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About the Holiday

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

Potato Pants!

By Laurie Keller

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

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

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

Root Vegetables and Exotic Fruits Month Activity

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Veggie Dot to Dots

 

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

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

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You can find Potato Pants! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

December 6 – Mitten Tree Day

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About the Holiday

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

The Mitten Tree

Written by Candace Christiansen | Illustrated by Elaine Greenstein

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 3 – 7

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

Mitten Tree Day Activity

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Mitten Match & Coloring Page

 

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

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You can find The Mitten Tree at these booksellers

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

Celebrate Picture Books

December 5 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

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

Santa’s Secret

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110380

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

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

Get Ready for Christmas Activity

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Santa’s Sack Maze

 

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

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

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You can find Santa’s Secret at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 4 – National Cookie Day

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About the Holiday

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

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles

Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

Apples & Honey Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1681155005

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

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

National Cookie Day Activity

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Catch the Cookie! Maze

 

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

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You can find Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

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

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About the Holiday

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

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

The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701594

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website

A Chat with Carole Gerber

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

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

What inspired you to write The Gifts of the Animals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New International Version of the Bible states:

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

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

What is one of your favorite family Christmas traditions?

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

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

National Day of Giving Activity

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Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle

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

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

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

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

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

 

November 29 – National Day of Listening and Santa’s Story Blog Tour

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About the Holiday

Stories are traditions! As we enter a season in which everyone has their favorite holiday stories—as shown in today’s book—we also celebrate family stories. StoryCorps chose the day after Thanksgiving for family and friends to tell and record their unique and collective stories for themselves and future generations. The mission of StoryCorps is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” StoryCorps even provides an online archive of individual and family stories that enrich our culture for anyone to listen to. Whether you share your stories with others or record them for your own family, remember that every story counts and should be heard. To learn more about StoryCorps, hear fascinating stories, or upload your own, visit StoryCorps.

I received a copy of Santa’s Story for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Two Lions in a giveaway of Santa’s Story. See details below.

Santa’s Story

By Will Hillenbrand

 

’Twas a snowy Christmas Eve night. Santa was ready for his yearly ride, but when he went to hitch up his reindeer, he found the stalls empty. Where were the reindeer? Out on the snow-covered hills, they were each doing their own thing. In a race with some rabbits, “Dasher dashed. ‘I better hightail it!’” he exclaimed as he fell behind. Meanwhile, Dancer was dancing—twirling, high-stepping, and leaping.

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Copyright Will Hillenbrand, 2019, courtesy of Two Lions.

Prancer had gathered an audience and was strutting his stuff. And while the snow lay thick on the ground, there still wasn’t enough for Vixen who “vexed, ‘More snow!’” to the snowman who was happy to oblige with his shiny, red snow blower. Watching the snowflakes flutter down, with awe “Comet commented, ‘Soon it’ll be Christmas!’” The other reindeer were also enjoying the winter wonderland in their own way, unaware that Santa was looking for them.

Back home, with the sleigh packed with a bulging bag of toys, Santa wondered where his reindeer could have gone. He tried blowing a horn, jingling sleigh bells, and even calling out a booming “‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’” Still, no deer appeared. Then, as Santa pondered, he happened to spy Comet with a book in front of him “and remembered their Christmas Eve tradition.” He called out “Story Time!” and all the reindeer came prancing and dashing and dancing back home. They settled in around Santa and under lantern light listened to him read “‘’Twas the night before Christmas….’” Happy and satisfied, the reindeer got in line in front of Santa’s sleigh ready to take off on the merriest flight of the year.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-santa's-story-prancer

Copyright Will Hillenbrand, 2019, courtesy of Two Lions.

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

Will Hillenbrand has written and illustrated many beloved picture books, including Snowman’s Story, Down by the Barn, Mother Goose Picture Puzzles, and the Bear and Mole series. He has also illustrated dozens of books, including the Big Bear series by Maureen Wright. Will lives with his wife and son in Terrace Park, Ohio. You can find out more about him at www.willhillenbrand.com.

You can connect with Will on Facebook | Instagram 

Santa’s Story Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Two Lions in a Twitter giveaway of:

One (1) copy of Santa’s Story by Will Hillenbrand

To enter:

  • Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite reindeer for an extra entry. Each reply gives you one more entry.

This giveaway is open from November 30 through December 5 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 6

Prizing provided by Two Lions

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

National Day of Listening 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 Santa’s Story at these booksellers

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