Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Secrets Revealed

I will finish my holiday book reviews with just one or two more picks. Then next week we are going to check out some talented children's book illustrators before heading into the realms of books with CDs and three-dimensional (pop-up) books. 

"Secrets of a Christmas Box" 
By Steven Hornby 
Illustrated by Justin Gerard 
For ages 8 – 12
Ever wonder why pine needles from your Christmas tree are found in rooms no one has been in? Or why no matter how well you pack your Christmas ornaments at least one is always found broken the next year? These are a couple questions posed on the liner notes for “Secrets of a Christmas Box.” The notes also suggest you read one chapter of “Secrets of a Christmas Box” each night during December. With 24 chapters you would conveniently finish the tale during bedtime stories on Christmas Eve. The notes piqued my interest so I began reading but, the pacing is weak and it takes several chapters to develop any interest in the characters or their situation. So one chapter a night may not work.

The magic and wonder "Christmas Box" are great. Larry the Snowman wakes up from his yearly sleep to find that his brother has not made it back to the tree. Unwilling to except that "some ornaments just don’t make it back," Larry, his girlfriend, Debbie, and a newcomer named Splint buck the rules and head into the house and beyond in search of Larry's lost brother.

The family cat, snow and other hidden dangers await the rescue party as they make their way to the box. Upon arrival they uncover a dastardly plan set in motion by the Tree-Lord, a pinecone shaped light that watches over the tree. The action really takes off as an army of tree lights then try to stop the crew from exposing the awful truth of broken ornaments.

Yes, "Secrets of a Christmas Box" could have been a truly wonderful Christmas tale. I so wanted it to be the next classic. Instead too many choppy paragraphs, poor pacing, and weak subplots, left me only willing to say that it's okay.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Magical Night!

While we are still in the eight days of Hanukkah I wanted to highlight another great tale of magic during the Festival of Lights. Whether you are Jewish or not you can appreciate this fun, imaginative tale and take its moral to heart.

“Zigazat: A Magical Hanukkah Night”
By Eric Kimmel
Illustrated by Jon Goodell
For Ages 4 – 9

Not every Hanukkah tale explains the origins of the holiday. For instance, “Zigazak” tells not of the lamp oil lasting for eight nights, but of a different sort of magic. This tale follows the misadventures of two devils as they descend upon the village of Brisk on the first night of Hanukkah. The devils play pranks — dreidels dance about on their own and latkes fly through the air. The scared villagers run to the wise rabbi in search of help and counsel. The rabbi shows no fear, but delights I the merriment of dancing dreidels and flying latkes. He offers to free the devils from evil and help them become servants of good, but when they refuse he outwits and defeats them.

Even it it’s fantasy, “Zigazak” does not shy away from a moral. The rabbi explains that there are sparks of goodness in all things —“even in devils’ tricks.” This knowledge helps the townspeople see the wonder around them and enjoy the most magical Hanukkah ever.

The dark illustrations portray the devils as grotesque beings and only bring a touch of humor to their eyes and expressions. The fear of the townspeople comes through in shadows and distortions. Even with the dark palette, though, the expressive illustrations keep the tale brisk and fun.

“Zigazak” is easily the most imaginative Hanukkah book I have ever read and it would make for great fun during bedtime stories throughout the holiday.