Friday, November 20, 2009

Holiday Magic!

Here comes Santa Claus! How many Santa Claus books will you read this year? I can't imagine, but I hope one of them will be "The Christmas Magic."

“The Christmas Magic”
By Lauren Thompson
Illustrated by Jon J. Muth
For Ages 3 – 10

Beautifully illustrated, this tale of Santa and his reindeer takes a far more solitary approach to Santa Claus than most. No elves. No glitz. Just a warm and thoughtful story about the magic of Christmas. The idyllic wintry setting has a strangely melancholy feel as blues and greys abound. But as Christmas grows near the elfin Santa gets a tingling in his whiskers and trades his bunny slippers and blue coat for a more traditional look. The magic grows stronger, the reindeer get excited, the sleigh is polished, and the illustrations take on a more lively tone with bold reds and touches of gold on the horizon. They never, however, reach the vibrant stage — a good move in this case. It would not have blended well with this philosophic Santa. This story uses hopeful prose and gentle illustrations of watercolor and pastel to create an endearing version of the Santa Claus legend. "The Christmas Magic" is a beautifully written and illustrated book that would make a great addition to any holiday collection. It also makes for a wonderful bedtime story.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Here Comes Auntie Claus

Over the next few weeks I will be reviewing several new holiday books — and maybe a few from years past. Its easy to get carried away with new books, so sometimes we need to remind ourselves of some good ones we may not have looked at in awhile.

"Auntie Claus, Home for the Holidays"
By Elise Primavera
For ages 4 – 10

I am a big fan of Elise Primavera’s work. My family reads both “Auntie Claus” and “Auntie Claus and the Key to Christmas” over and over during the Christmas holidays. Both books are a little long, but the stories move along pretty well and the illustrations are wonderfully detailed. So we never seem to mind the length. When we spotted “Auntie Claus, Home for the Holidays” on our local bookstore’s shelf we sat right down and began reading.

In the newest tale Auntie Claus decides to stay home for the holidays. She wants Christmas in New York — the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, the 57th Street Snowflake, and The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. “Red will be the new black,” is Auntie Claus’ battle cry for the season. The North Pole must be moved to New York City, because how would Santa function without his sister? Chris and Sophie Kringle, the young stars of the two previous Auntie Claus tales, find everything very exciting. Then things begin to get a little too wintry.

The Auntie Claus books always have a morality story built into the tale. This one is no different. Sophie struggles with doing the right thing when the Sugar Plum Fairy needs to borrow a tutu for her performance in The Nutcracker. If Sophie gives up her tutu how will she be able to perform like the Sugar Plum Fairy in her own performance? The struggle is okay, but not as compelling an adventure as we have come to expect from Primavera.

I hate to say this, but it all gets a little too long. The illustrations are wonderful, vibrant and very Christmasy, but at a very full 40 pages, “Auntie Claus, Home for the Holidays” need s more than visual stimulation to keep readers’ interest. Case in point, although I still enjoyed the new adventure, after about 30 pages it was obvious my kids’ interests were waning. We made it though and they said they loved it, so we will still round out our collection. However, I don’t foresee us reading “Auntie Claus, Home for the Holidays” nearly as often, this holiday season, as the first two Auntie Claus tales.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Winter Tales

Halloween is past and Winter is creeping in. New books feature winter in all it's glory. Of course Christmas is very present on the bookstore shelves. So in the coming weeks you will find several reviews of Christmas books. But for now we'll just stick with stories set in the cold.

"The Geezer in the Freezer"
By Randall Wright
Illustrted by Thor Wickstrom
For ages 3 – 8

Thanksgiving is upon us, so its time to stock up the refrigerator and freezer. While you're at it be sure there are no geezers resting on rump roasts in the sub-zero. Randall Wright takes children on a ridiculous adventure in Aunt May's basement. From a little fright to giddy laughter this not-so-tall tale finds a lost love frozen to holiday pies and ice cream stored in the freezer. Only a young boy knows the truth for even his Aunt May doesn't believe what he has seen.

"Geezer" begs to be read aloud and in character. Children will laugh out loud as you work your way through corned beef hash, snow crabs and chili beans on your way to defrosting the freezer and warming up the geezer.

"The Magician's Elephant"
By Kate DiCamillo
For ages 8 – 14

Kate DiCamillo has such a poetic touch with her storytelling. She reaches into her bag and pulls out another fairytale, of sorts. In this tale of magic, hope, loss, and home, a 10-year-old boy named Peter Augustus Duchene is in search of something to cling to — a little hope. When a fortuneteller imparts information that his sister is still alive, Peter knows he must find her. Unfortunately, the fortuneteller also told him to follow the elephant and there are no elephants anywhere near the town of Baltese. At least not until a mostly forgotten magician performs powerful magic and an elephant drops through the ceiling of the opera house.

This haunting tale winds the stories of a magician, an elephant, a police officer, a feverish soldier, an orphan boy and several others into a tapestry of fate that will cast a spell of wonder on you. Not as dark or heavy as "The Tale of Despereaux," young readers will still recognize DiCamillo's deft wordsmithing as they travel through the somber atmosphere in search of a little light. Although some young readers will struggle to maintain interest in the thoughtful story others will not want to put it down.