Great new children's books celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 4:34 PM

Karen Macpherson

Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas this year with some of these great new children’s books ...


Everyone’s favorite monkey leads the way in “Happy Hanukkah, Curious George” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $7.99, ages 2-4). This board book, written in a lively verse by Emily Flaschner Meyer, comes with a series of tabs on the right-hand side. Each tab has an illustration on it and leads to a two-page spread highlighting a Hanukkah activity. The illustrations by Mary O’Keefe Young nicely echo the style of the original “Curious George” books by Margret and H.A. Rey.

Author/illustrator Leslie Patricelli has a genius for making board books that will amuse both little ones and their parents as she demonstrates once again in “Fa La La” (Candlewick Press, $6.99, ages 6 months-3 years). The cheerful Baby who stars in all of Patricelli’s board books takes on Christmas with typical verve and energy. This is an endearing, secular introduction to the season.

For a lovely and simple look at the religious aspects of Christmas, try “Stable in Bethlehem” (Sterling, $6.95, ages 6 months-3 years). Written by Joy Hulme and illustrated by Dan Andreasen, this board book offers a countdown theme, rhyming verse and soft-colored artwork.


A young girl shows why she loves being a “mix of two traditions” in “Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama” (Knopf, $16.99, ages 3-6). Written and illustrated by Selina Alko, the book highlights elements of both holidays — setting up the menorah, cooking latkes, decorating the Christmas tree and hearing the story of the birth of baby Jesus. Alko’s first-person text works well here to draw in young readers, and her vibrant mixed-media illustrations add further charm.

Those mischievous dinosaurs from the best-selling “How Do Dinosaurs?” series are back with two comical holiday-themed books: “How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?” and “How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?” (Blue Sky/Scholastic, $16.99 each, ages 3-7). As always, author Jane Yolen and illustrator Mark Teague have a blast playing up the humor inherent in the contrast between huge dinosaurs and their toddlerlike behavior as they explore aspects of each holiday.

Rambunctious Dinosaur tackles the holiday season in “Dinosaur vs. Santa” (Disney/Hyperion, $15.99, ages 3-5), the latest in this series. With a “Roar!” and another “Roar!,” Dinosaur deals handily with decorating and parental presents, but can he be good enough to ensure a gift from Santa? As always, author/illustrator Bob Shea’s comic story and zany artwork will hold wide appeal for preschoolers, who also will readily identify with Dinosaur’s emotional energy.

Author Birdie Black and illustrator Rosalind Beardshaw team up to offer young readers a delightful new Christmas book in “Just Right for Christmas” (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 3-7). The story begins on Christmas Eve and shows how a bit of last-minute creativity and a lot of love can turn one roll of red cloth into numerous gifts, from a cloak to a scarf. Young readers will love the rhythm of this fablelike story, as well as the cheerful illustrations, particularly the last two-page spread showing everyone with their new gifts — all cut from the same cloth.

Wombat loves carrots and will stop at nothing to get them, as can be seen from the hilarious new volume in the “Wombat” series. In “Christmas Wombat” (Clarion, $16.99, ages 3-7), author Jackie French and illustrator Bruce Whatley show what happens when Wombat follows the carrot trail on Christmas Eve — even hitching a ride on Santa’s sleigh to get a taste of the carrots put out in houses worldwide for the reindeer delivering Christmas gifts. French’s story is comic and succinct, while Whatley’s illustrations emphasize both Wombat’s sass and cuddliness.

In “The Christmas Quiet Book” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $12.99, ages 3-6), author Deborah Underwood spotlights the many kinds of holiday quiet. There’s “reading by the fire quiet,” “blown fuse quiet,” “snow angel quiet” and many other quiet moments that — taken together — create a memorable holiday. Underwood’s lovely text is complemented by the muted but fine illustrations by Renata Liwska.

Award-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean offers an understated, lyrical retelling of a holiday favorite in “The Nutcracker” (Chronicle Books, $19.99, ages 3-7), illustrated by Kristina Swarner. But the real star of this show is the paper engineering by Alan Brown and Julia Froehlich, which allows readers to turn a page and see the “set” — or illustration — change before their eyes.

Pirates and cowboys are two perennial favorites of young readers. In “A Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas” (Sterling, $14.95, ages 4-7), author Philip Yates and artist Sebastia Serra give a pirate twist to a favorite holiday carol, while in “Cowboy Christmas” (Golden Books/Random House, $10.99, ages 3-6), author Rob Sanders and illustrator John Manders show how the holiday can be celebrated in buckaroo style.

Former tugboat captain George Matteson and his wife, Adele Ursone, present a fascinating, unusual look at the holiday in “The Christmas Tugboat” (Clarion, $17.99, ages 4-8). Featuring luminous artwork by James Ransome, this book tells the true tale of how Matteson and his wife and daughter used their tugboat one year to lead a barge containing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree from upstate New York to Manhattan.

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