Saturday, December 19, 2009


STICK MAN by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Scholastic)
"I'm Stick Man, I'm Stick Man,
I'm STICK MAN, that's me,
And I want to go home to the family tree!"
Good luck, Stick Man, because dude, you've got miles to go before you sleep (or do whatever it is Stick Men do). First abducted by a dog, then chosen as best for a bird's nest, and then at last a sandcastle mast, Stick Man complains: "I'm not a mast for a silly old flag,/ Or a sword for a knight.../Or a hook for a bag./ I'm not a pen! /I'm not a bow!/ I'm not a bat.../or a boomerang--no, I'm..." "Stick man, oh Stick Man, beware of the snow!" Of all the mishaps, being thrown in the woodpile is probably the most harrowing, and it will take a Christmas miracle to save Stick Man's bark. Luckily, such miracles are right up Santa's alley. This story performs the nearly impossible feat of a graceful rhymed narrative, sans corn or clunkiness, and boasting a refrain that children will join with fervor. The oddness of the stick's anthropomorphism is along the lines of Ali Bahrampour's out-of-print OTTO: THE STORY OF A MIRROR, Thomas Disch's BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER or W. Gage's MISS OSBORNE-THE-MOP, all strangely intense and engaging, and sadly with an imaginative appeal that spoke to the intended audience more than the adult consumer who supplies that audience. The device works most effectively here, though, with the storyline reaching a crescendo in a season of magic in which we almost expect toys and other objects to come to life. The narrative arc is an exciting blend of the best of Hans Christian Andersen, combining the harrowing journey of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" and the potential fate of "The Fir Tree," with thankfully a far more cheerful ending than either. At the root of this adventure is a touching love of family and the desire to return to them against all odds. A lively holiday story with a lot of heart and a pleasure to read aloud, Stick Man is one to fetch. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
What Santa is borrowing from the "new book" shelf at the library:
HERE COMES JACK FROST by Kazuno Kohara (Roaring Brook) A boy is glum when the world falls into hibernation, and is grateful when an unusual figure presents himself, his only condition for friendship being that nothing warm be mentioned. Easier said than done, but the melancholy ending has a high note of promise, sure as the cycle of the seasons. This perfectly gorgeous picture book makes best use of icy shades of white and blue (plus silver accents on the cover, and the angular prints accentuate the sharp, cold feeling of winter. Now children can imagine who has been painting patterns on the windows while we sleep! (4 and up)

WHO WOULD LIKE A CHRISTMAS TREE?: A TREE FOR ALL SEASONS by Ellen Obed, illustrated by Anne Hunter (Houghton Mifflin) Who says nonfiction can't be jolly? Going through each month of the calendar, readers can experience the useful life of a balsam fir, whether serving as a snack for graceful white-tailed deer in March, a wildflowers' soil bed supplier in July, or the perfect haven for a yellow spider spinning a web in September., culminating in a decorated delight in December. The interconnectedness of living things and the importance of life in the natural world even outside of the human experience are gracefully underscored here in a most readable way and accented with graceful illustration as evocative as a walk in the country. A calendar-based commentary from a fir-tree farmer serves as an afterword. A tree-solid true story that will have you looking at your tannenbaum in a whole new way. (5 and up)

THE LITTLE RED ELF by Barbara Barbieri McGrath, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet (Charlesbridge) Children with requisite knowledge of the folklore standard "The Little Red Hen" will appreciate the efforts of one of Santa's helpers as she tries to prepare for the season while a reindeer, rabbit and penguin stand by. But for all their lack of contribution, Santa doesn't forget them, and delivers just desserts in a surprise ending. (5 and up)

SNOW BUGS by David A. Carter (Little Simon) I must confess, it's hard for me to imagine creating a children's book gift basket without at least one David A. Carter's zany interactive titles, whether it's the textured FEELY BUGS for babies or pop-up SCHOOL BUGS for kindergarteners, and now he has an offering for everyone in between. This latest interactive bug collection includes the likes of a spinning Ice Skating Bug, a dropping Thermometer Bug, fuzzy Boot Bugs and a cheery Busy Bug making angels in the snow. Without Christmas references, this is a seasonal pick appropriate for any denomination, and with all the silliness and surprise that we have come to be so buggy about. (3 and up)

"I'm sorry," said Sam. "I just wanted to see what your workshop looked like. I didn't mean to cause trouble."
Santa chuckled at that, so Sam dared to say something else. "I sure want to thank you, Santa, for all the great presents every year."
"You know," said Santa. "I've never actually heard a child say that before. I get thousands of letters with requests, but never any thanks."
When Sam stows away in Santa's sleigh just as he's about to chill out, he gets to join him on his vacation. When I saw this book's cover, featuring a relaxed Santa in a poinsettia Hawaiian shirt, I was concerned somehow that it would be some sort of Jimmy Buffet children's book nightmare in Margaritaville. Some allusions are a little adult, such as reindeer receiving ocean-side spa treatments and rocking out to a gingerbread concert ("Bread Zeppelin"), but a trip to the elf-sized amusement park, a mid-air dodge ball game and the chance to see Santa in his candy-cane striped bathing suit suggests this book has something for everyone. The real gift hidden in this title, though, is the theme of gratitude and reciprocation; it may even inspire a new tradition of Santa thank-you lists as well as wish lists. Keep the post office in business! Pair with Linas Alsenas' truly charming MRS. CLAUS TAKES A VACATION (Scholastic) and Raymond Briggs' British graphic novella FATHER CHRISTMAS GOES ON HOLIDAY, if you can get your mittened hands on it. (6 and up)

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora (Putnam) Folks who celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa will especially appreciate this excellent revisiting of Clement Moore's classic verse against an African backdrop. The opening double-page spread of snow falling across a mountain village with a huge round setting sun in the background is stunning; other pictures feature backdrops of generous smatterings of dazzling stars instead of snowflakes. Using an Eric Carle cut-paper collage style in a whole new flavor, Santa is sporting some handsome dreadlocks (and some pretty fabulous giraffe-skin pattern pants), the ornaments have kente patterns and the toys under the tree are from the African tradition. Santa goes all around the world, so naturally he knows what children all over the world will enjoy! Children all over the world will enjoy this, too. Nicely paired with 'TWAS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Brenda Seabrooke, a picture book biography of Clement Moore which offers background knowledge about how the poem came to be. (5 and up)

FANCY NANCY: SPLENDIFEROUS CHRISTMAS by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins)
In the latest installment of the runaway bestselling Fancy Nancy series, Miss Thang is getting her Christmas on in the series' usual high style, with even the snow-woman on the front lawn donning a red feather boa, a baby buggy dressed in garland and ornaments dangling from the canopy bed. Fancy Nancy's style is nothing short of inspiring, whether stapling lace on to her dolly's blanket or showing readers that too many sprinkles on a cookie is never enough ("Mmm, delectable! That's fancy for yummy!"). When the spinning, flashing, color-changing tree topper is destroyed by accident, disaster is averted by that same spirit of creativity and can-do and improvisation ("that's a fancy word for using whatever's around to make something"), which readers can emulate to create their own holiday fabulousness (I know I might have to recreate Nancy's best friend Bree's holiday outfit: green frou-frou skirt, cotton candy pink tights and red shoes, oh yes). The illustrations are nothing short of dazzling; how the illustrator balances such an elaborate palette is a marvel, and never outshining the strong expressiveness and characterization of the story's players. There is a missed opportunity of any Hanukkah reference in the midst of all the holiday extravaganza. Really, could we throw a menorah in a store window, can one of her friends spin a dreidel? Jewish girls like to get their fancy on, too, you know (hello, ever been to Miami?). I'd hazard to suggest most children nowadays experience a mixture of holidays and cultures in December, whether their friends' or their own, and even a book with Christmas in the title can reflect that. Granted, it is the prerogative of a creative team to choose their focus (after all, not every Hanukkah story has a Christmas tree in it, either), but Nancy is such a junior Auntie Mame with such a broad fanship, I expected that would inform the series and was surprised it wasn't there. Pluralism is very fancy, Nancy (that's a fancy word for including everybody). Clearly, though, I was not so offended that I didn't buy the Fancy Nancy limited edition holiday doll for display in the Bookroom (yes, she's adorable), or add her recent tea party how-to book to the collection. Here's hoping Fancy Nancy's 'hood continues to integrate...but meanwhile, this is one Christmas party in a book you won't want to miss.; this girl knows how to entertain, as does her author and artist. (5 and up) Also of interest for graduates of Fancy Nancy is the Klutz Paper Fashion series, especially PAPER FASHIONS: FANCY and PAPER FASHIONS: FANTASY. Along the lines of paper doll dresses without the constraints of other people's fashion sensibilities, these book/kits start young designers off with stencils, patterned paper, glitz and glitter extras and tiny hangers to display the finished fashions. This is a gift that will engage crafty hands and creative imaginations for hours. (8 and up)

Many, many more fabulous holiday children's books to add to your nice list are right here. Two of my of my all-time favorite December read-alouds, ANTONELLA AND HER SANTA CLAUS by Barbara Augustin and PETER CLAUS AND THE NAUGHTY LIST by Lawrence David are out of print (but available used), but three other favorites, THE LITTLE REINDEER by Michael Foreman, HERSHEL AND THE HANUKKAH GOBLINS by Eric Kimmel and THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER by Barbara Robinson are still hanging in there! I never take that for granted, and I'm sure lots of other teachers and librarians don't, either. If I could have one Christmahanukwanzaakah wish, it would be that children's books wouldn't go out of print quite so quickly, and publishers would back artists instead of titles. As 2010 approaches with all of its technological advances, there is a promise that there will be fresh forums and formats to experience great children's books, old and new. Cheers, and please share your holiday favorites past and present (and presents!) in the comments section.

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Angela said...

oh, thanks for the great list & links!

Anonymous said...

Please keep updating your reissues...they are my favorite!!!!

irmahoerner said...

hello~nice to meet u..............................

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Great picks, Esme. Thanks for sharing your enthusiastic reads. I wish I'd thought of "Stick Man". Fabulous.

Chrissy said...

Thanks for the review. I wanted to use "Stick Man" in my Bookclub curriculum, but didn't find it in time for this year's list. (My students are in PreK.) We used "The Christmas Magic" instead; beautiful book!

Monica said...

Merry Christmas very nice discussion it is very useful for me. thanks a lot


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