Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
Oh Red & Lulu how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… With its beautiful illustrations, dramatic story, and information about Rockefeller Center, this story is perfect for the holidays.
Red and Lulu are two cardinals who have found the perfect home in a large evergreen outside a family’s house in the suburbs. Their favorite time of year is winter when they can hear carolers singing about their tree. “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, Thy leaves are so unchanging…” This winter, however, Red and Lulu are in for a terrible surprise when their tree is cut down while Red is out scavenging for breakfast. The scene is so powerful, it is presented in a wordless series of three panels featuring the tree coming down and Lulu hiding in a hole in the tree. Red returns to see the tree being driven away on a large truck and does his best to pursue Lulu, but loses her once the truck enters New York City. During Red’s search, several NYC icons are highlighted such as the lions outside the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, and Times Square. Just as he is about to give up hope, Red hears their special song and follows the sound to Rockefeller Center. There, Red sees their tree lit up in beautiful lights, and in a joyous scene, he is reunited with Lulu. After the holidays, the birds remain in the city making a new home in Central Park. Each winter, however, they make a special trip to Rockefeller Center to sing their favorite Christmas carol.
The first time I read this book to my two-year-old and five-year-old, they both fell eerily silent as they watched the birds’ home get cut down and then taken away. I could feel their nerves as Red searched for Lulu and my daughter actually started clapping when they were reunited. I love how Matt Tavares was able to create such drama with succinct text and charming illustrations. We all enjoyed reading the author’s note giving more detail about the tradition of the Rockefeller Tree and love how the tree in the story was taken away to create wood for Habitat for Humanity. This is such a lovely holiday story!
The 12 Days of Christmas by Greg Pizzoli, 2017
(Ages 3 – 8)
This picture book adaptation of the traditional Christmas song is hilarious. Greg Pizzoli’s comical illustrations tell the story of an elephant suitor delivering presents to his true love while the parental elephant looks on in growing dismay at the assortment of gifts. The elephant children are delighted with the new pets while the parent is seen watering the partridge tree, carrying bulk bird seed for all the new birds, and becoming more and more despondent with each new addition. Meanwhile, the pages fill up quickly with French hens wearing adorable little berets, eight mice carrying glasses of milk, and ten frogs leaping off the pages. As the parental elephant finally bursts into tears at the myriad of creatures now inhabiting their home, the whole gang comforts the grownup with a hug and the pear from the original pear tree. In a humorous conclusion, the last illustration shows the partridge in a pear tree surrounded by 76 stocking waiting to be filled by Santa.
Reading this book could not be more fun. It is a great song to sing and my kids loved chiming in during the “5 Golden Rings” refrain. As the number of gifts grew, we would sing it faster and faster making this a high energy read that always ended in a fit of giggles. Definitely not a good bedtime story, but an absolutely amusing holiday read aloud!
The 12 Sleighs of Christmas by Sherri Duskey Rinker; illustrated by Jake Parker, 2017
(Ages 3 – 8)
The author from Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is back with a fun holiday romp. Santa’s elves are preparing for the quickly approaching Christmas when they discover Santa’s sleigh is damaged. The elves see this as an opportunity to make a new and improved sleigh. They split into teams and design a myriad of vehicles each more exciting than the next. Santa is impressed, but “nothing seems exactly right, not quite perfect (just not quite) for this very special night.” Luckily, one elf has secretly been repairing the original sleigh and it is ready just in time for Santa to take flight. After Santa leaves, the elves celebrate by putting their creations to good use in a race. Vehicle loving children will particularly enjoy this book and it could serve as a great STEM (science technology engineering and math) challenge for them to design their own sled!
Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas! by Laurie Friedman; illustrated by Kathryn Durst, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
This is a great holiday story with both humor and a nice message about giving to others. The Christmas family loves Christmas, except for Mary who feels like her family is a bit too excessive. Their lights are too bright, their tree too tall, and they have too many presents. It is all just too much for one family. That’s when Mary gets the idea to throw a Christmas party for the whole town. In a sweet act of giving back to the community, the Christmas family hosts a wonderful celebration in a public park for all of the townspeople. Everyone enjoys it and Mary finally feels like she had a merry Christmas after all.
My children loved the word play with Mary’s name and had fun shouting Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas as we prepared our own home for the holidays. This is a great story to remind us all not to get too caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday and a gentle reminder to spend time with family and friends.
Ninja Claus! (series) by Arree Chung, 2017
(Ages 4 – 8)
Maxwell is an aspiring ninja who is determined to catch Santa with his clever traps. When he is awakened on Christmas Eve by a bang, clank, and crash, he is sure he has caught the jolly man himself. Unfortunately, he realizes he has trapped his large dog and his dad instead. His mom sweeps everyone up to bed and the reader will see a sneaky Santa hiding behind the tree. As the rest of the family falls asleep, the point of view changes to Santa carefully avoiding and then reengineering Maxwell’s traps to more easily deliver presents. As he escapes up the chimney, the children fill the room and Maxwell discovers a note from Santa leaving him with the realization that Santa is an awesome ninja too!
My five-year-old son loved this book. He thought it was hilarious and then proceeded to sneak around our house, hiding in corners proclaiming that he is a ninja now. I found the letters written between Maxwell and Santa to be particularly funny making it enjoyable for adults to read as well. Observant children will notice that Maxwell’s hamster, Ted, who was Santa’s gift last year, follows him through each scene making for a comical sidekick. The format consists of a combination of large spreads and smaller graphic-novel-like panels, which draws the reader into the excitement of the story. This book is action packed and funny making it a perfect holiday purchase.
A Christmas for Bear (series) by Bonny Becker; illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, 2017
(Ages 5 – 9)
Pickles and poems! That is what Christmas is all about. At least this is what Bear thinks. He is preparing his first-ever Christmas celebration and has his priorities a bit mixed up. When his guest, Mouse, arrives, he is a bit disappointed that the focus is on pickles and not presents. As Bear prepares the meal, Mouse sneaks away to look for gifts only to be disappointed by Bear’s insistence that there are none. “‘Presents? Bear shakes his head. ‘Most unseemly.’” Mouse sulkily eats his pickle and Bear begins reciting “The Night Before Christmas.” He puts extra emphasis on the stockings mentioned in the poem in an attempt to give Mouse the hint that he actually did get a present and it is hidden there. Mouse scrambles to the stocking to uncover a shiny silver telescope. The friends venture outside to admire the stars and Bear discovers his gift is a new sled that the friends can enjoy together.
Since children are usually focused on presents this time of year, most will relate to Mouse’s obsession with receiving his gift. They will also delight in the comical friendship between Bear and Mouse. Bear’s grumpy attitude paired with Mouse’s exuberance makes for a sweet and funny story. As in the other books in the series, the tale is told mostly through dialogue. I always enjoy reading Bear’s droll lines in an incensed voice that makes my children giggle. The charming illustrations perfectly capture the essence of the characters and we especially love Bear’s indignant expressions. This is a fun holiday read aloud about two unlikely friends that will leave kids smiling at the end.
Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly Mackay, 2017
(Ages 5 – 10)
This is a beautiful wordless picture book that wonderfully illustrates the magic of music and dance. Through the use of panels and larger spreads, the reader follows a young girl as she visits the ballet to see The Nutcracker. It is a dreary afternoon and judging from her expression, she is not thrilled to be dressing up and going to the ballet. The first few pages are featured in muted-sepia hues, but once the music starts, color is emitted from the instruments and the girl’s expression changes from one of annoyance to one of wonder. The scenes from The Nutcracker are all brought alive by color and the girl who is seated next to a young African American boy are highlighted by a break-out circle, so that the reader can follow their reactions to the performance. They “oooh” when Clara is given the nutcracker, grimace during the fight scene, and look on in wonder when the sugar plum fairies arrive. As Clara exits the theater, the rain turns to snow and she dances with her mother in a beautiful snow filled night creating her own magic.
This is a stunning book that left my own children begging to see The Nutcracker themselves. My five-year-old enjoyed interpreting the girl’s expressions and watching the blossoming friendship between the two children as the show went on. There are a lot of books about The Nutcracker out there, but this is definitely a standout.
Nativity by Cynthia Rylant, 2017
(Ages 3 – 8)
This is a lovely retelling of the birth of Christ using excerpts from the King James Bible. With large brush strokes and subdued colors, the illustrations have a simple beauty about them that will most likely draw in young children. The story follows the shepherds as they are greeted by angels informing them of the birth of Jesus. The shepherds discover him in the manger and then spread word of Christ. The story then gently shifts to Jesus as a man and shares many of his sayings including, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth, and blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Those looking for a more religious book to share this holiday will most likely enjoy this sweet offering celebrating both the birth of Jesus Christ and the joy that he brought the world.