Stories of celebration

Books - December 2004


Judy Belanger


The end of the calendar year means we are about to celebrate a variety of holidays. Each year, many new books are published marking these holidays, especially Christmas. To help your celebration, here are my reviews of several new books. Please accept my best wishes for the season as well as a very happy New Year.

BISCUIT GIVES A GIFT, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, pictures by Pat Schories, HarperCollins, $4.99; ages 2-6. This board book will help even the youngest child understand the concept of giving when the little girl and her puppy, Biscuit, deliver their presents. Even the wild birds get a treat when seed is placed in an outside feeder. Biscuit sneaks a homemade gingerbread cookie when they are delivered to Grandma and Grandpa. The little girl gets the best gift of all, a kiss from Biscuit.

SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN, written by J. Fred Coots, illustrated by Steven Kellogg, HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 4-8. Children have been singing “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” since 1934. What fun to see the song come to life with Steven Kellogg’s illustrations. The story is told by a little bear who just got back from his trip to visit Santa. One picture shows all the boxes in which Santa stores his forms, complete with a check mark for naughty or nice. The book includes a double-page spread depicting his sleigh being prepared for the journey on Christmas Eve. You can’t help singing along as you turn one fun-filled page after another.

THE ATTIC CHRISTMAS, by B.G. Hennessy, illustrated by Dan Andreasen, G.P. Putnam; ages 4-8. Each year, Lily carefully stores her ornaments in the attic. Each ornament symbolizes a significant memory for her, including Mr. Macaroni, the star her son, Jack, made many years ago. The ornaments have their own special Christmas memories, especially listening to Lily read The Night Before Christmas each year. The ornaments know that after pumpkin and turkey, the smells of gingerbread and evergreen soon follow, signaling the moment when the box would come out of the attic and the ornaments would be placed on the tree. One year, there are no turkey or pumpkin smells. The ornaments decide to have their own celebration in the old doll house in the attic. Finally, one morning they smell gingerbread and soon are rescued by Jack and his family and put on the tree. The story is based on the ornaments the author remembers. Do you have ornaments that tell a story? What fun to share these stories with your family.

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO SANTA’S FOR DINNER?, by Tomie dePaola, G.P. Putnam, $16.99; ages 4 and up. Terrific children’s author and illustrator Tomie dePaola offers this new look at the fun but hectic holidays. His book tells the story of a family Christmas dinner hosted by Santa and Mrs. C. It is quite the event. Santa’s sister Olga, the opera singer, organizes a holiday pageant with herself as the star. Everyone has to watch out for cousin Ulla because she is known to fill her bag with items that don’t belong to her. A couple of the men get into a snowball fight and the kids all join in the fun. After dinner, the lights are turned out to see the flaming plum pudding Uncle James, the chef, has fixed for dessert. When they all leave the next morning, Santa and Mrs. C agree it was good to have everyone over to celebrate the holiday—and the last page shows a “do not disturb” sign on their door.

SANTA’S SECRETS REVEALED: All Your Questions Answered About Santa’s Super Sleigh, His Flying Reindeer, and Other Wonders, by James Solheim, illustrated by Barry Gott, Carolrhoda, $15.95; ages 5-8.

When Steven is asked by a TV reporter, he declares he doesn’t believe in Santa anymore. After all, the chimney is too skinny for Santa to get down, and besides, how could anyone deliver gifts to all those kids in one night? That night, Stevie hears a voice and suspects it is his dad in a Santa suit. To Stevie’s surprise it is the real Santa, with a very long list of his infractions. Off they go to the North Pole where Stevie gets all the answers to the magic of Christmas, including how chubby Santa fits down the chimney. This would be a fun story to read with older kids who no longer are sure what they want to believe.

AN ORANGE FOR FRANKIE, by Patricia Polacco, Philomel, $16.99; ages 4-8. The Stowell farmhouse sits near the railroad tracks. As the train rumbles past the house, it stops and the engineer and hobos get off for a warm cup of coffee on a cold and snowy December day, just two days before Christmas. Even though times are hard, mama always has coffee and hot cakes ready when the train arrives. Pa is off on his annual trip to Lansing to get the nine oranges—one for each child—for the pine-decorated mantel. The family is worried that Pa might not get home in time for Christmas because the snow is so heavy. When the train arrives on Christmas Eve morning, it brings an early present—Pa. The engineer has given him a ride because he knew it would be too difficult to travel by wagon in the snow.

The family places the oranges on the mantel and everyone is told to leave them alone until after the pageant that night. Frankie is all excited; he is going to be the archangel this year. Before he heads off to church, Frankie can’t resist sneaking a smell of the orange. When Pa enters the room, the orange gets hidden under Frankie’s shirt. Of course, the orange gets lost during the evening, but mom comes up with a great way for Frankie to get his share of orange. This is another book based on Patricia Polacco’s family—Frankie is her grandmother’s youngest brother. 

Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.


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