As many schools prepare for winter breaks, and shoppers looking for bargains fill stores, readers are reminded that there are all sorts of holidays that give us an excuse to celebrate and express goodwill toward others in the month of December. In addition to Christmas celebrated December 25, there are these important days: Rosa Parks Day celebrated on December 1, St. Nicholas Day on December 6, Poinsettia Day on December 12, Hanukah on December 20, and Kwanzaa on December 26. You might want to find out more about the Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican), St. Lucia Day (Swedish), Three Kings Day/Epiphany (Christian), Boxing Day (Australian, Canadian, English, Irish) or even Omisoka (Japanese New Year). However you spend your remaining days in December, there is surely an appealing book for you to consider. The following reviews featuring books with a holiday slant were written by members of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group
Bruel, N. (2011). A Bad Kitty Christmas. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city, not a creature was stirring…except for Bad Kitty” (unpaginated). Using his trademark ABC style and rhyming text, Nick Bruel shows the inimitable Bad Kitty at her worst--ambushing the angel, bumping the books, crushing the Christmas cards and dumping the drums. After ruining Christmas and making a mess, Bad Kitty learns that the presents she destroyed actually were for her. She then goes through a completely new alphabet, listing all of the gifts she would like replaced: “A toad, an urchin, a vole, and a whale. A xerus and yak fried with zebra tail!” (unpaginated). When Bad Kitty’s long-suffering family expresses their disappointment over her selfishness and greed, she decides to run away. But life in the snowy outdoors is challenging for a house cat—especially when even the mice chase her. Luckily, an old woman rescues Bad Kitty and takes her home where she reminds the misbehaving feline that Christmas is not about presents or food, but instead about family. Using the alphabet as a guide, she shares black and white photographs of her own family members. Through this reminiscing, Bad Kitty begins to miss her own family and decides to return home. She makes it back just in time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. This humorous book could spark a discussion about what the true meaning of Christmas is for your family. Children could also create their own ABC books modeled after Bad Kitty
. - Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver
Cole, B. (2011). The money we’ll save. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Set in a tiny apartment flat in New York City during the nineteenth century, this story follows a family hoping to save money for Christmas. After a trip to the market, Pa brings home a young turkey poult to fatten up for Christmas dinner. He assures Ma that raising a turkey is no trouble because the turkey can live in a box by the stove and be fed table scraps, thus saving them money. The family soon learns that taking care of a turkey is no easy task. The tom turkey, named Alfred, is dissatisfied with table scraps and begins to steal the children’s food. He also learns to fly and begins to leave messes around the apartment. Pa makes a wooden pen and Alfred is moved to the fire escape. Pa keeps reminding everyone, “Remember the money we’re saving!” Next, the neighbors complain that they can’t sleep and are tired of the great bird doing his business on the sidewalk. Pa solves the problem by transferring the turkey to a bedroom and moving the beds to the kitchen or parlor. Young readers will howl when they read about the noises and smells Alfred makes. Once Christmas Eve arrives, Pa catches Alfred to take him to the butcher. But the children exclaim, “We can’t eat Alfred! It would be like eating a friend!” (unpaginated). The family comes up with a solution, remembering all of the money they have saved. - Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver
Cushman, D. (2011). Christmas Eve good night. New York: Henry Holt.
In this simple picture book a little girl gazes into a circular snow globe portraying Santa’s workshop. She proceeds to ask each critter and toy at the North Pole how they say good night to their momma and papa on Christmas Eve. The snowman with a long carrot nose and coal eyes says, “Brr! Brr!” (unpaginated). Amid the glaciers and snow, curled up snuggly on the ice, the bear says, “Grrr! Grrr!” (unpaginated). The rhythmic story continues with a mouse, toy soldier, gingerbread man, elf, dove, reindeer and robot, all sharing how they say goodnight in one or two words. The speech bubble responses invite young children to read along. In the final watercolor and ink illustration children will discover that the little girl is really an elf and that the assorted animals and toys are located in her bedroom. This discovery will prompt a rereading of the story to point out the different animals and toys. - Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver
Hoffman, Mary. (2011). Grace at Christmas. Illus. by Cornelius Van Wright & Yin-Hwa Hu. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Grace book, author Mary Hoffman has written a Christmas story about sharing and selflessness. When Grace finds out that her Ma and Nana have invited strangers to their home for the Christmas holiday and Grace will have to give up her bed, she is NOT happy. She now dreads the holiday she used to enjoy so much. When Nana’s friends arrive and one is a young girl Grace’s age, they eventually discover something they have in common and become friends. The story ends with an exciting visit from a dancing character in one of the earlier Grace books. For a quick look at the history and development of the Grace books, visit Mary Hoffman’s website at http://www.maryhoffman.co.uk/grace.htm - Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant
Spinelli, E. (2011). The perfect Christmas. Illus. by J. Adinolfi. New York: Henry Holt.
In this silly picture book two families follow two different Christmas celebration styles. One family has an artificial tree, “completely out of shape with several branches missing and one held on with tape” (unpaginated). In comparison, Abigail Archer’s family “is perfect as can be. They drive into the countryside to chop down their Christmas tree” (unpaginated). Throughout the book, these two families compare their decorating styles, Christmas treats, Christmas Eve traditions and gift giving. The funniest page is when the families assess their Christmas activities. Compare family one--“Abigail plays the cello to entertain their guests—some classic Christmas pieces. She even takes requests” (unpaginated) with family two--“My father juggles grapefruit while I play the kazoo. Then Aunt Clarissa sings off-key. That’s entertainment too!” (unpaginated). When, all of a sudden, it begins to snow, the two families meet outside, and what they have in common is clear: “Our families are all together, laughing and dancing through the snow” (unpaginated). Even though these families have different Christmas traditions, it’s the spirit of the holiday and being together that counts. After reading aloud this picture book children could discuss or write about their own unique family holiday traditions. - Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver
Harris, John. (2011). Jingle Bells: How the holiday classic came to be. Illus. by Adam Gustavson. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers.
The music director at the Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia, in the 1850’s, John Lord Pierpont was not used to the South’s humidity and high temperatures. Originally from wintery Boston, MA, John is expected to write a new holiday song for the Thanksgiving concert while the area is experiencing a heat wave. During this pre-Civil War era, the Unitarian church is known for its support of the abolitionist movement, and when a brick is thrown threw a church window, glass has been sprinkled everywhere. When Mrs. FitzHugh arrives with the former slave girl she has taken in, the idea for a song is born Looking for a lively and positive way to bring the congregation together with feelings of unity, the children’s choir performs the new song, “One Horse Open Sleigh,” complete with jingling bells and feathers thrown to look like snow. The author notes at the end describe his visit to Savannah where he learned the historical facts on which he based his story. - Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant
Wood, Douglas. (2011). Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that changed the world. Illus. by Barry Moser. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
The Christmas of 1941 is an important one, not only for Great Britain and the United States but also for the world. The United States has just entered WWII after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Great Britain has been under constant air attack by the Nazi regime. Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, D.C. in order to cement the relationship between the two countries. This picture book biography describes a crucial meeting of the two world leaders, Churchill and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, during that particular December. The author provides nuggets about the childhoods of both men as well as describing their personalities and life challenges. Young readers will enjoy reading about the playful nature, shared bonds, and determination of the two men. So comfortable did the two become that Roosevelt even barged in on Churchill while he was taking a bath. The author focuses on the human side to these very different individuals rather than describing their policy meetings. An afterword describes some of the policies that resulted from those formal and informal meetings and dinners at the White House with FDR’s wife Eleanor in attendance. An author’s note relates the impact Churchill and Roosevelt had on his own family, many of whom fought in WWII. This title is especially appealing since it describes vividly the personalities of two politicians who found common ground among their differences. The sumptuous watercolor illustrations complement the sparkling text beautifully. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman
Rosen, Michael J. (2011). Chanukah lights. Pop-up illus. by Robert Sabuda. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
A talented author and illustrator join their unique skills to take readers of all ages on a visual journey to celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Best read with adult and child together, this elegantly beautiful pop-up book travels through each night of Hanukkah from continent to continent. As the history literally unfolds on each page, various architectural structures around the world are depicted as the history of this holiday is explained. Young readers will enjoy searching for the candles in each picture, ending with a contemporary setting of a city skyline with gold triangles representing the final days of Hanukkah. This is a holiday treat that will encourage families to examine it time and time again with each visit bringing something new to the viewer’s eye. Interested readers may want to visit Michael Rosen’s website at http://www.fidosopher.com/
for a video to watch each page of pop-ups come alive. Robert Sabuda’s website at http://robertsabuda.com
offers templates and directions for students and teachers to create pop-ups of their own. - Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant
Warren, Andrea. (2011). Charles Dickens and the street children of London. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
There are many who might argue that author Charles Dickens singlehandedly revived Christmas celebrations, which had gone out of fashion by the time he wrote A Christmas Carol (1843), his classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a man whose heart has hardened so much that he has nary a kind word or thought for anyone. Why waste time or money celebrating Christmas? Over the course of a busy night, Scrooge is visited by spirits who show him his past and his possible future. Today, even this particular character’s name is associated with someone who is miserly, while his change of heart is testimony that each one of us has the ability to change, if we choose to do so. The largesse often associated with holidays should remind us that not everyone is fortunate enough to have abundance, and this biography provides ready evidence on that fact. In sixteen chapters filled with lively text and more than 50 photographs and illustrations readers will explore the life and times of this popular author who used his books to bring about social reforms and change attitudes toward the poor in Victorian England. In addition to A Christmas Carol, the author describes Dickens’s other books as well as his affinity for the poor children who worked in the factories and in London’s streets, vivid reminders of his own days as a factory worker as the result of his father’s careless spending. Readers may enjoy learning even more about the author whose books are so often still read in schools today by checking out these websites: Charles Dickens Gad’s Hill Place at http://www.perryweb.com/Dickens/ and David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page at http://charlesdickenspage.com/christmas.html.
- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman
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