The holidays are a time of tradition, celebrating old ones and creating new ones.
Books can bridge generations and lead to sharing stories about holiday traditions in the family. Two children’s books available this season celebrate milestone anniversaries since they were first released. They lead our list of 2015 books to give and share during the holidays.
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▪ “The Parakeet Named Dreidel,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson. (Farrar Straus Giroux; ages 5-8; $17.99)
Originally one of eight Hanukkah stories in a collection by Nobel Prize-winning author Singer, it has been released this year as a picture book with watercolor illustrations by Berkson. The story of a Yiddish-speaking parakeet that appears on a family’s snowy windowsill on the last night of Hanukkah is told by the father, who relates the magical events that happen when the parakeet is reunited with his original owners 10 years after he was lost.
▪ “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey,” by Susan Wojciechowski. Illustrations by P.J. Lynch. (Candlewick Press; ages 6-9; $17.99)
Twenty years after it was first published, the story still resonates as a beautiful tale about love, loss and redemption. The illustrations are exquisite, realistically drawn with detail that befits a story about a woodcarver. Mr. Toomey is called Mr. Gloomy by the people of his town, until a young widow and her son patiently draw him out of his despair by visiting with him as he carves a special Nativity scene for them. A true classic that begs to be read around the fireplace with young and old.
▪ “Cork and Fuzz: Merry Merry Holly Holly” by Dori Chaconas. Illustrations by Lisa McCue. (Viking Books for Young Readers; ages 3-5; $16.99)
A buddy tale with a muskrat and a possum who know the day is special, but can’t quite figure out why. So they do what they always do: spend it together by wandering through the woods looking for a peaceful place to rest, away from the noisy tweeters (birds) and squirtles (squirrels). A picture book with a simple tale of friendship that embodies the feeling of Christmas without ever saying the word.
▪ “Miracle on 133rd Street” by Sonia Manzano. Illustrations by Marjorie Priceman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers; ages 4-8; $17.99)
Manzano, Maria on “Sesame Street,” pens a bright, colorful picture book about a family who misses their home in Puerto Rico on Christmas Eve. Mami wants to cook a giant roast but the oven in their tiny apartment is too small, so Jose and Papa set out to the pizza restaurant to see if the owner will let them bake it there. Neighbors scoff at the idea, but when Jose and Papa return, the smell of the roast wafting through the neighborhood brings everyone together to enjoy a celebration of food and friendship.
▪ “The Little Snowplow,” by Lora Koehler. Illustrations by Jake Parker. (Candlewick Press; ages 3-6; $15.99).
You almost expect the line, “I think I can, I think I can,” to appear in “The Little Snowplow.” The expressive faces of the little snowplow and his construction equipment peers will draw in youngsters who love vehicles and those who commiserate with the little guy coming to the rescue of the big trucks. Those big trucks, who pooh-pooh the idea that the little snowplow will be able to clear away the snow, honk and beep and blink in appreciation when the little snowplow rescues the big dump truck. Not a Christmas story, but a heartwarming wintry tale with an avalanche and redemption for the little guy.
▪ “Merry Christmas Squirrels” with photographs by Nancy Rose (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; ages 3-8; $17)
I’m a sucker for a funny photo book and this fits the bill. No literary merit here, just a fun book of unmanipulated photos featuring squirrels in tiny handmade settings. Rose hides peanuts around the sets so the squirrels will investigate and then she photographs them in action. The photos might inspire some intrepid readers to spend a little time creating sets and squirrel watching, maybe even photographing them.
▪ “Merry Christmas, Mr. Mouse,” by Caralyn and Mark Buehner (Dial Books for Young Readers; ages 3-5; $17.99)
The husband-and-wife author-illustrator team have a new holiday picture book to pair with their snowmen books. The beat of the rhymes never quite hits, but the pictures are lush and bright with a cat, a rabbit and a Tyrannosaurus Rex hidden in each illustration. Not many books incorporate both Santa and the baby Jesus, so this is one that will appeal to a variety of readers.
▪ “Too Many Toys” by Heidi Deedman (Candlewick Press; ages 3-6; $15.99)
A fun solution for a common problem this time of year in spare text with whimsical drawings. Lulu has a favorite toy, a teddy bear named Jupiter, who survives a scary moment when it looks like all the toys Lulu has accumulated have been given away. Her list of toys to share with her friends spreads over two pages: robots, cats, trains, dolls, a sort of “gonk”? But by the end of the story, there’s room for more toys, a sentiment that will reassure young readers who may be anticipating their own piles of toys.
▪ “Bear and Bunny,” by Daniel Pinkwater. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand (Candlewick; ages 2-5; $15.99)
A gift that has nothing to do with the holiday season, but features a sweet pairing of two friends who spend a lot of time wandering, singing and napping. The childlike wonder and conversations of Bear and Bunny, plus the expressive illustrations that perfectly capture their body language, make this a fun read-aloud. The endearing twist on their relationship is that “the bear is sure that the bunny is a very small bear. The bunny is sure the bear is a very large bunny.” When Bear and Bunny decide they need a pet, they try to find the perfect one: a pinecone? a caterpillar? a kitty? Ah yes, an unusual kitty, sure to bring smiles each time the kitty responds to them with a “croak!”