Relax with a holiday book

Books - December 2006


Judy Belanger

The month ahead will be full of busy days for everyone, regardless of what you celebrate in your home. What better way to end a busy day than curling up with a good holiday book?

CHRISTMAS USA, by Mary D. Lankford, illustrated by Karen Dugan, HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 8-12.

Almost all of your neighborhood friends celebrate Christmas in the same way. But did you know that in other parts of the country you will find other traditions and customs? Many customs, such as silver foil icicles from Germany and glass ornaments from Czechoslovakia, were brought here when immigrants arrived. The town of Portsmouth, N.H., re-creates Christmas as it was celebrated in the mid-1800s. Towns along the Mississippi River have floating parades at night to light the way for Papa Noel. In addition to learning about the history of other Christmas traditions, the book includes craft projects, recipes and an interesting timeline of when favorite toys were first available. Also check out the author's other book Christmas Around the World.

MARY ENGELBREIT'S A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS: CELEBRATE FROM A TO Z, written and illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 3-8.

Gregory Mouse was introduced to children in Engelbreit's The Night Before Christmas. He is back as he takes children through the alphabet from the angel on top of the tree to a zillion ways to celebrate the season. Each letter of the alphabet is decorated in either red with white polka dots or candy cane stripes. Pictured are a few more items that start with the same letter featured on each page. Children can have fun studying the pictures to see how the mice are using objects found around the house such as a spool of thread for a tree stand and pencils for stool legs.

HANUKKAH AT VALLEY FORGE, by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin, Dutton, $17.99, ages 5-9.

On a cold December night during the Revolutionary War, General Washington observes a young soldier lighting a candle. The soldier explains he is lighting a candle for the first night of Hanukkah and that if his family in Poland were to light candles they would have to do so in secret. He tells the general his story behind the Jewish holiday, a group of people fighting for their independence, just as Washington and his troops were fighting for the independence of the United States.

A SIMPLY WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS: A LITERARY ADVENT CALENDAR, illustrated by Silke Leffler, North-South Books Inc., $25, all ages.

Children often have advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas. This calendar is an anthology of 24 stories, one for each night of advent, written by European authors with an Austrian illustrator. One selection I can fully relate to is "Mom Goes On Strike." How do you think your family would react if they had to get ready for the holiday without your help? I also enjoyed the story about Dominic, who is counting all his gifts because he has five grandparents. Mom reminds him that Christmas isn't just about getting presents but giving them, too. I hope you will enjoy this book of bedtime stories for the whole family and fill in the interspersed blank pages with your own holiday memories and traditions.

NOSE KNOWS: SANTA'S COMING TO TOWN, by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Brenda Sexton, innovativeKids, $9.99, ages 3-7.

Santa and his elves are very busy at this time of the year. In the workshop, some of the elves are getting toys ready for distribution, while others are packing the sleigh. Included in this book is a reindeer head finger puppet with a magnetic nose. Each page asks the child to find and touch specific objects. When the child points to the object the magnet will stick to the correct answers. What fun for little ones with this sturdy board book and its interactive puppet as they prepare for the holiday visit.

SANTA CLAUS, by Rod Green, illustrated by Carol Wright, Simon Danaher and Jon Lucas, Atheneum, $19.95, all ages.

How do you answer all those questions from your children that come up this time of year? Green not only provides helpful answers, but also background information regarding holiday traditions and things to know about the North Pole. The book includes pockets that contain a card from Santa, a sample letter to him, pull out tabs to reveal an elf hiding in the snow and a double-page spread of the workshop. Everyone is busy getting ready for the holiday, even Mrs. Claus, who shares her Christmas cookie recipe.

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Will Moses, Philomel Books, $16.99, all ages.

Everyone enjoys this classic story during the holiday season. I find it very hard to select a favorite illustrated version, but rather enjoy the variety of what's available. Moses does these illustrations in folk art. As the story begins, it is all quiet on the street and a cross section illustration of the house shows the reader "not a creature is stirring." As the poem progresses, Moses offers small illustrations that play on the words.

Judy Belanger is Chicago Parent's children's book reviewer and 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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