Thursday, December 8, 2016

All I Want for Christmas

Warm Up Your Holidays with Picture Books
We're in December now and the holiday spirit surrounds us. From 24-hour Christmas radio to Griswold family light shows to menorahs, advent wreaths and Christmas trees decorating town centers – the holidays are here. During this season my family pulls out all of our old Christmas picture books and read at least one a night. I wonder if any new books will make the yearly list? Here are three that we will consider.

Harriet MuncasterThe Biggest Smallest Christmas Present
By Harriet Muncaster
Best For: Ages 3 – 5 
Move over Thumbelina there’s a new tiny girl in town. Her name is Clementine. She and her family are quite ordinary in all aspects except for Clementine’s diminutive size. She baths in a tea cup and sleeps in a matchbox. She loves everything about being tiny except that her toys are always too big. Even Santa doesn’t seem to realize how small Clementine’s actually is. Clementine tries to leave Santa notes, photos and other hints to help him leave the right gift for Clementine. Does Santa get it right in the end? Maybe this time the biggest gift is also the best gift for the smallest little girl. Muncater's illustrations drag you in and hold your attention as you long to see what such a tiny little girl will do next. The Biggest Smallest Christmas Present is fun for the holidays.
What’s good: Engaging illustrations that add zest to story time.
What’s bad: Short text that depends on the illustrations to tell the tale.

John Duvall and Rebecca GibbonThe Great Spruce
By John Duvall
Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon 
Best For: Ages 5 – 8     
It seems that every year there is a new story about the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. The Great Spruce tells this tale with a slightly different approach. This is Alec’s story of a grand tree that his grandfather planted many years ago. It also happens to be his favorite climbing tree. One day men from the big city come and get permission to take the tree to the city for Christmas. Alec takes it upon himself to stop the big city men from cutting the tree down. In doing so, he offers a compromise. They can dig it up and borrow the tree for the holidays, so long as they return it. The big city men use shovels, a crane, a barge and a horse drawn sleigh and "the Great Spruce" eventually ends up in the big city’s main plaza. 

The illustrations are brightly colored and offer numerous perspectives to highlight the grandeur of the tree. The end notes also offer a glimpse into the Rockefeller Center tree tradition mentioning a time when live trees were actually used. This is a lovely, thoughtful book that will make a nice addition to your holiday collection.
What’s good: Environmental focus without over-the-top, pushy messaging.
What’s bad: It seems unlikely you could dig up a tree quite as big as the one in the book, but I'm no arborist. 

Julia Donaldson and Axel SchefflerStick Man
By Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler
Best For: Ages 4 - 8
Stick Man is exactly what his name implies. He is a stick that is a man. He lives in his family  tree with his stick family. One day when Stick Man goes for an early morning jog he is chased and eventually caught by a dog. This unfortunate event leads to numerous misadventures that take Stick Man far from home until he ends up in a kindling pile beside a fireplace. Luck for Stick Man Santa comes down the chimney. Stick Man is being pitched as a Christmas book. However, except for the winter setting and the eventual arrival of Santa, this book has very little to do with Christmas. 

On a positive note, the illustrations are fun and engaging with saturated colors. The star of this tale is the lyrical and perfectly metered rhymes that bounce the reader along. This one is perfect for a read aloud story time during the cold winter months.
What’s good: Wonderful rhyming text for reading out loud.
What’s bad: A little surreal for a Christmas tale.