Clement Moore's poem The Night Before Christmas has been a holiday staple since its debut in 1823, and there are countless picture books depicting this timeless classic. So what makes this latest version (26 pages, Peter Yarrow Books, 2010) so special and different from all the other versions out there? It's a combination of things really. First, the enchanting paintings of illustrator Eric Puybaret capture the magic of the tale and offer a colorful, fresh take on the poem. More importantly, though, this version of The Night Before Christmas includes a CD that features performances by the iconic folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
Featured on the disc are three tracks: a version of the poem set to music by Noel Paul Stookey (the "Paul" of Peter, Paul and Mary), a charming reading of The Night Before Christmas by Mary Travers with musical accompaniment by Peter and Paul, and bonus rendition of A 'Soalin, a classic Peter, Paul and Mary holiday favorite.
What makes the performances especially poignant is that they are the last from Mary Travers, who passed away from leukemia in 2009.
Maria wants to act grown up and help her mother knead the masa for the traditional tamales for her Mexican-American family's Christmas feast. Poet and author Gary Soto's Too Many Tamales! (32 pages, Putnam Juvenile, 1996) tells the story of a Christmas Maria won't soon forget with charm and warmth, helped by the vivid illustrations of Ed Martinez.
Maria will feel really grown up if she wears her mother's sparkling diamond ring. Needless to say, mom's ring is at the center of why the book is titled Too Many Tamales!. We won't give anything away, but everything ends just fine as Aunt Rosa declares to a relieved Maria that the second batch of tamales always tastes better than the first!
Too Many Tamales is a fitting addition to your holiday read-aloud repertoire. It's got suspense, a happy ending, and joyful celebration of family and a delicious Mexican holiday tradition. Our kids love the story, and they're bugging us to make tamales this Christmas. I just hope my daughter doesn't try to wear my ring while she's mixing the masa…
Sound familiar? It's common dialogue in our house around this time of year, and it's a big part of the hilarious It's Christmas, David!(32 pages, The Blue Sky Press, 2010).
It's Christmas, David! is part of author and illustrator David Shannon's series of David books, which feature poor little David and the litany of mischievous things he's told not to do (based on the author's real-life childhood experience, no less). With all the admonitions directed toward David in It's Christmas, David!, it might seem like he's an awful kid; but he's not—he's just doing what most children do and feeling the way most children feel around the holidays. OK… maybe David's behavior is a little worse than most kids'—but then that's what makes the book so funny!
While listening to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Olive the dog hears the mondegreen "Olive, the other reindeer" (instead of "All of the other reindeer"), and decides that she, in fact is the reindeer in question. So begins the contemporary Christmas classic Olive, the Other Reindeer(40 pages, Chronicle Books, 1997) by local author and illustrator team Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold.
Olive undertakes an arduous journey—involving no fewer than two buses—to the North Pole and assists Santa Claus using the talents that come naturally to a Jack Russell Terrier. Olive, the Other Reindeer pairs Walsh's charming, funny, and inspiring story with Seibold's cool retro style illustrations, in a book that both children and adults will love. For what it's worth, the book is far different, much simpler, and in our opinion better than the animated Christmas special that's based on it.
Every parent knows that while the holidays are a magical time for children, they can be a difficult time to be patient, too (heck, many adults we know feel that way). Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama Holiday Drama(40 pages, Viking Juvenile, 2010) addresses the joys and frustrations felt by children during the holiday season in a heartfelt and humorous way.
Llama Llama, the eponymous protagonist of Anna Dewdney's popular series of books, finds it hard to wait until Christmas is finally here, especially with all the shopping, activities, cookie baking, decorating, and more. Finally, it's up to Mama Llama to set things right and help her child understand not only the need for patience but what's really important during the holiday season.
Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker and its music are now a holiday staples, as is the story of young Marie* and her adventures with the Nutcracker Prince. There are plenty of children's books out there that retell the magical story of the Nutcracker, but our favorite so far has to be writer/illustrator Susan Jeffers' version (40 pages, HarperCollins, 2007).
The book's text efficiently condenses the tale into a story suitable for younger children. Jeffers keeps the action moving but manages to leave in most of the relevant episodes from the ballet. Her watercolor illustrations are perhaps the loveliest thing about this book: colorful, vibrant, and full of action, they really help give the feeling of the ballet's movement and choreography.
The Magical Christmas Horse(40 pages, Paula Wiseman Books, 2011) by author Mary Higgins Clark and illustrator Wendell Minor tells the heartwarming Christmastime tale of a young boy, Johnny, who travels to his family's ancestral farm on the East Coast to spend the holidays with his grandparents. While Clark is mostly known for suspense novels, here she tells a simple and charming holiday story for young children
Johnny's favorite memory of his grandparents' farm is of a beautiful, hand-carved wooden horse, and Johnny promises his younger brother Liam that this year will be his year to ride the horse. Unfortunately the wooden horse is nowhere to be found, and much Christmas wishing ensues.
Of course a little miracle of sorts happens on Christmas Day, and all ends well. While the story is a bit simplistic, it's charmingly written and includes a refreshing message that's all about giving rather than receiving. After all, that's what the holidays are supposed to be about, right? And of course Wendell Minor's (The Last Train, Night Flight, and Christmas Tree!) beautiful luminscent paintings evocatively bring the story to life.
Marin Mommies presents a guest article by Marin children's librarian Lisa Katz, who highlights some fantastic Hanukkah books for kids.
While we are resting our bellies from a grateful evening of our delicious Thanksgiving meals, we now have to quickly switch gears and prepare for Hanukkah. With only a short time until the first candle is lit on the menorah (Saturday, December 8th), we must get ready for our holiday treats. It is time to get out those dreidels, chocolate gelt, menorahs and candles. Here are some fabulous Hanukah books to share with your family and friends. They make for some great presents too!
I have put asterisks next some wonderful stories for children who celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in their homes. I have also included a short poetry list as well as the PJ library list.
There are ton of terrific books out there dealing with all aspects of the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether it's about being thankful, turkeys, Pilgrims, Native Americans, or just gathering as a family, there's a book out there to help you and your children celebrate and learn more about this uniquely American holiday.
Here are some of our picks for great kids' books about Thanksgiving. The book links below take you to Amazon.com; search for them in the online children's catalog of the Marin County Free Library here.
Five Silly Turkeys (Salina Yoon) This funny Thanksgiving-themed counting book features turkeys doing various silly things. Durable board book features shiny crinkly turkey "tail feathers" for added tactility.