Friday, December 23, 2016

An Eclectic Roundup of Christmas Picture Books for Very Last Minute Gift Giving

Christmastime in New York City by Roxie Munro
Universe Publishing, 2014, 32 pages, age 4+
I love Christmas in New York City - the lights, the decorations, the crowds, the outdoor markets, the delicious smells, the whole kit and kaboodle. Except this year. Between the endless construction on the Second Avenue Subway and the security around 57th Street and Fifth Avenue(Trump Tower), we have not desire to travel into midtown Manhattan. So we have been satisfying our Christmas in NYC needs with some of our favorite picture books and Roxie Munro has hit all the right spots in her beautifully painted tribute to it.  Beginning with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, there is holiday skating in front of the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, a visit to the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall, even a four page spread of the Christmas department store windows at Lord & Taylor's, then on to the NYPL to say hi to the famous library lions, Patience and Fortitude, decked out in their holiday wreaths, among other sights. NYC is truly a wonderland during the holidays and Roxie has done her proud.  
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell!
by Lucille Colandro, illustrated by Jared Lee
Cartwheel Books, 2016, 32 pages. age 3+
This is a board book that was originally published as a hardcover book. But it is by now a familiar format that kids will get right in the swing of. This is a perfect read aloud for younger readers. The easy rhyme, that repeats all the things the old lady swallowed as she eats new items will be quickly picked up by the kids, making is an interactive story for them. And it won't be long before the kids will begin adding their own ideas to the rhyme. The illustrations are silly fun, and kids really like looking at all the different items on each page, not to mention the surprise ending that reveals just why the old lady swallowed a bell. We certainly has lots of laughs reading this book, making it a fun Christmas story for the younger set.   
Presents Through the Window: a Taro Gomi Christmas Book
written and illustrated by Tarao Gomi
Chronicle Books, 2016, 36 pages, age 3+
Poor Santa! Christmas Eve sure is a really busy night for him, there are just so many presents to be delivered before morning. To save time at each house, he just looks in the window to see who lives there and tosses in what he thinks is an appropriate gift. But, uh-oh, Santa, you should have slowed down and looked more closely because you left the wrong gifts for everyone everywhere. Kids will love looking through the cut-out windows with Santa, but when the page is turned, they can see Santa's mistake. No matter, it all works out in the end. This makes a great read aloud, and my kids loved trying to guess who really lived inside each house before turning the page and seeing what gift should have been left for them. The only hard thing for them to grasp was why Santa used a helicopter instead of a sleigh with reindeer. 
Stick Man by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Scholastic, (2009) 2016, 32 pages, age 4+
Stick Man has been a favorite since it was first published in 2009. Stick Man's plight to return home to his family tree after going for a jog is told in a wonderful rhyme that never falters. No sooner does he begin his jog when he runs into a dog who need a stick to fetch, then a girl who is tossing sticks into the river with her friends, later, a swan who uses him to build a nest. There are more setbacks and escapes, each one taking Stick Man further away from his family tree, his Stick Lady Love and their three stick children.  The seasons of the year go by and soon its Christmastime and Stick Man finds himself in a pile of fireplace wood. But it's Santa Clause to the rescue - well, after Stick Man first rescues Santa. A word of warning: this is a book that should be chosen with care as Stick Man's travails can be upsetting to some sensitive young readers. 

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by David Ercolini
Orchard Books, 2015, 32 pages, age 3+
Who doesn't love this Christmas classic, originally called A Visit from St. Nicholas. It is an oldie, but a goodie that was published anonymously in 1823. Later, in 1837, Clement C. Moore claimed credit as its author. It has been a family favorite from the start, with countless retellings over the years. The original poem never changes, but the illustrations do. David Ercolini's very stylized illustrations in this edition are bight, bold and colorful, with oversized decorations in the house, the yard, and even on the roof, where Santa finds a very oversized version of himself. The characters all have a robot-y feel to them, though my kids thought they looked more Lego- or Playmobile -ish. All the decorations and edible treats left out for Santa delighted my young readers, who spent time on every page talking about each one, and getting excited when they found decorations similar to what they have at home. Their favorite illustration - Santa's reindeer taking pictures of him with his blow-up self. A nice addition to the The Night Before Christmas oeuvre.
The Nutcracker adapted by Kate Davies, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat
Candelwick Press, 2016, 12 pages, age 4+
In 1892, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his famous score The Nutcracker for a two act ballet that was choreographed by Marius Petipa and performed in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892. This beautifully illustrated version of The Nutcracker is based on the sets of that first ballet. The illustrations are done in a palette of oranges, yellows and blues, with touches of red and green for the Christmas trees. Many of the figures are done in silhouette with only touches of color, adding much to that dreamy atmosphere that permeates this tale. At the end of the book, there is an stunningly ethereal pop-up of the ball in the Land of Sweets. The book may seem a little text heavy at first, but the story is told so clearly and simply here that I think it shouldn't be a problem for most young readers. The tale of The Nutcracker all begins when Clara's Christmas Eve gift from her godfather Dr. Drosselmeyer is broken by her jealous younger brother, and her godfather promises that it will be good as new in the morning. That night, Clara dreams about helping the Nutcracker Prince defeat the Mouse King in a fight. Afterwards, the Prince takes her to the Land of Sweets. where he lives and Clara meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, who takes them to a ball where they dance until morning. In the morning, when she wakes up, Clara has a magical surprise waiting for her. A beautiful edition and a must read for anyone who may be going to see the ballet this Christmas.
The Coloring Book of Cards and Envelopes: Christmas by Rebecca Jones
Nosy Crow, 2016, 74 pages, age 5+
This book is brilliant - the designs are intricate enough to keep kids coloring for a while without frustrating them, and then, when the coloring is finished, there is the putting cards and envelopes together and finally, deciding who gets which one. With a little creativity, young artists can really personalize their preprinted cards and envelopes, and there is even a space for them to sign their work, so the recipient knows exactly who colored it.  There are 24 cards and envelopes and a page of 24 jolly Christmas stickers that were used to seal the envelopes. We used colored pencils for these designs, since they are fine and delicate designs and crayons and markers don't work as well for that. This book is recommended for kids age 5+, but I found it worked better with kids age 7+ who have more developed fine motor skills, but that is just my personal opinion.

The Nightmare Before Christmas: 20th Anniversary Edition
written and illustrated by Tim Burton
Disney Press, 1993, 2013, 56 pages, age 5+
Set to the same rhyme as The Night Before Christmas (and how could it not be), the poem The Nightmare Before Christmas was originally written in 1982 by Tim Burton. It was made into a stop-action animated film in 1993, the same year that Disney released it in book form. The film has always overshadowed the book, but in my house, we like the book more. Jack Skellington is pretty tired and bored with things in Halloweenland. Down and dejected, he comes across three doors in the forest one day, and chooses to go through the Christmas tree door. He enters Christmas Town, where everything is bright, cheery and happy. Jack decides he would like to be Santa that year, and has the real Santa kidnapped.  You can imagine the havoc the ensures, as Jack flies through the air on a coffin driven by skeleton reindeer, and delivers a creepy assortment of presents to dumbstruck kids. Jack's good intentions for Christmas are a disaster, leaving him feeling more dejected than ever. But this is a Christmas story and you know all will end well. Burton's spare illustrations add much to the mood of this book, and are creepy without being too scary.  Again, use care when selecting this book for young readers as it may not be appropriate for kids easily frightened. 

Well, that's it. I have no more gift book suggestions for Christmas 2016. I hope you may have found some books that work for your young readers, and remember


  1. Great selection of books for kids. Just spent yesterday at Rockefeller Center. Nothing like NYC at Christmas!

  2. Thanks so much, Alex! The city is so special this time of year (as you mention, certain traffic issues aside ;-))) Great group of books you've chosen - I am proud to be mentioned! Happy New Year to you, your family, and all your readers!


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