Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Here comes Santa Claus, and some holiday literature that shines as brightly as Christmas tree baubles! Just as it is fun to unwrap favorite ornaments come December, there is a special warm feeling in rediscovering these stories year after year.

ANTONELLA AND HER SANTA CLAUS by Barbara Augustin, illustrated by Gerhard Lahr (Kane Miller) Expressive and wet-washed watercolor/mixed media illustration helps tell the story of Antonella in her little Italian village by the sea, who is teased for believing in Santa Claus. She writes him a letter wishing for the red rollerskates, but when nobody knows where to send it until the clever balloon man suggests they try to deliver the letter via balloon. "The balloon floated through rain and snow, clouds and fog. Up and up and up it went, sailing over mountains and rivers, cities and farms." What happens when the letter lands on a playground in Hungary? This colorful, original book shows that you can still communicate long distance without roaming charges, and is a tribute to the true spirit of generosity and faith. This one is as much of an annual favorite in my home and library as Van Allsburg's POLAR EXPRESS. (All ages)

There's more good will to be found in PETER CLAUS AND THE NAUGHTY LIST by Lawrence David (Doubleday), an absolutely brilliant book in which Santa is depicted as a family man with a young son named Peter. When Peter is helping Santa and Mother Claus add names to the "naughty list," he feels badly. After all, he had been on the list only the year before. "I didn't make the rules," Santa said. "But you know what they are: more nices than naughties and you go on the nice list and get lots of presents. More naughties than nices and you go on the naughty list and get nothing." Peter feels there are extenuating circumstances that his father is not taking into consideration, so he takes hold of the sleigh-reigns to investigate. Can Peter help the children who made bad choices redeem themselves in time for Christmas...or will his antics get him in trouble to boot? A great read-aloud with modern, funny illustrations. That this is out of print is insanity; it is definitely at the top of my holiday "nice" list! (5 and up)

THE ANIMALS' MERRY CHRISTMAS by Richard Scarry (Golden Books/Random House) Oversized and glittering, this reissue is truly a Christmas gift to readers. This particularly affordable collection boasts eighteen stories and poems featuring friends from the woodland, farm and jungle, all celebrating and preparing for the season. Scarry has a flair for stories with a real hook: try "The Cold Little Squirrel," "The Naughty Little Reindeer," (note: Scarry fears no naughtiness), "The Goat Who Played Santa Claus" and the cliffhanging "The Goose Who Stuffed Herself" about a feathered friend who is a guest in a tiger home. Old-fashioned and as cheerful as a choir of carolers, this book is calls for gathering 'round the fireside (or lamp) for many nights of read-aloud. (4 and up)

SHALL I KNIT YOU A HAT? A CHRISTMAS YARN by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise (Henry Holt) After receiving a form-fitting chapeau, Little Rabbit has an idea so delicious that it deserves a second piece of carrot cake: mother should knit hats for Christmas presents! When their friends at the market receive the somewhat outrageous creations, they are dubious, but when the snow starts to fall, there isn't any doubt that these are the best gifts ever. Matte illustrations in a warm palette are charming and folksy, and full of droll detail. This first picture book by a talented team celebrated for novels such as REGARDING THE FOUNTAIN deserves a hats-off. (5 and up)

WHAT'S COOKING, JAMELA? by Niki Daly (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
"When our chicken is nice and fat, then it will be Christmas," explains Mama. Between now and then, Jamela becomes extremely attached to the chicken who she has fittingly named "Christmas," while Jamela's grandmother increasingly looks forward to a fine holiday dinner. When Mrs. Zibi the butcher finally pays a house call, wearing a comical scowl and rubbing hands "that looked ready for business," Jamela abducts her pet, only to lose Christmas in a crowd. The story climaxes with a fabulously wild scene in a ladies' hair salon, and resolves in an alternative treat for grandma. Set in a South African township, this story is energetic, and the artwork is both funny and masterful. Daly's treatment of figures is simply awesome, expressive and alive, and so original. Just look at the double-page spread of an African nativity play, with Joseph wearing a Basuto hat, wise men sporting flaboyant Madiba shirts and "Away in a Manger" being played on marimba! A glossary is included in the back, but the text flows as naturally as water to tell a universal story of mischief and affection. If you enjoy the work of "the doyenne of children's literature," Shirley Hughes, you will love Niki Daly, and vice versa. I'm afraid I can't write any more about it, I must go stare at this book with my family for the sixth time. Also, be sure to check out the prequel, JAMELA'S DRESS. (6 and up)

What are your favorites? Unwrap them here in our comments section...a good recommendation makes a great holiday gift!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails