Happy Black Friday! While you’re deep into your holiday shopping, here are a few picture book suggestions for stocking stuffers or Christmastime snuggling. I’ll have Hanukkah and Kwanzaa book rundowns shortly; I just need to read a few and get a better idea of the good stuff out there.
And away we go!
Captain Bling and his crew are planning a big plundering trip, but their ship gets blown off course, landing them by the North Pole! Well, when they get a look at Santa’s elves loading all those toys and goodies up, they decide to steal everything for themselves – until Santa shows those buccaneers a little Christmas spirit! Rhyming text, cartoony art, and a sweet message about giving, plus a heck of a trip on Santa’s sleigh, make this a cute Christmas tale for pirate fans and Santa fans alike.
Bear doesn’t have much interest in Christmas – pickles are far better. But Mouse does, and when he shows up at Bear’s house for a Christmas party, he discovers that his surly friend Bear may have a little Christmas spirit after all. I love Bonny Becker’s Bear series; he and Mouse are wonderful foils for one another, and Bear always comes around to embrace the fun side of life (and pickles. Always pickles). Bear deliciously keeps Mouse in suspense, feigning total disinterest in the very idea of the holiday; when he thinks Mouse has had enough, he starts “a long and difficult poem” – The Night Before Christmas – and drops hints for Mouse that the ruse is up and it’s time for presents. The watercolor, ink, and gouache art creates a soft, cuddly feel for a winter’s evening storytime. It’s a great add to holiday picture book collections. A Christmas for Bear received a starred review from Kirkus.
Clara is a lively little fairy with dreams of being a “proper Christmas fairy on a sparkly Christmas tree”, but her teacher seems to think she isn’t Christmas fairylike at all: she’s always singing, dancing, or laughing! Luckily, Santa sees things differently when the Christmas Show is in trouble; he tells Clara that he needs a “special fairy who is full of life and fun”; who cheers people up, and is contagiously happy. Clara steps in to save the day, and her teacher – and the reader – learn that not every fairy has to be perfect to be wonderful. The Christmas fairy is all about embracing who you are and not accepting someone else’s idea of perfect. The mixed media illustrations are absolutely adorable; there are towering flowers, little bugs, and a diverse little group of fairy friends. The rhyming text provides a nice rhythm to a sweet Christmas story. Add this one to collections where you have fairy fans (I’ve got a bunch here), and maybe toss in a showing of the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated show, with a a similar “Santa asks for help” moment.
Jingle Jingle! A young girl hears a noise in her house on a snowy Christmas Eve, and creeps down to investigate. The cumulative, rhyming story leaves readers in suspense as she discovers who else is in her home with each turn of the page. Each reveal leads to another noise, another search, another reveal; the lyrical storytelling and the use of suspense ratchets up the excitement for readers, and the digital artwork is cute, with big-eyed characters and goofy expressions that will make younger readers giggle. A fun addition to Christmas storytimes, for sure.
The perfect way to kick off the Christmas holiday season: pick a tree! Pick a Pine Tree chronicles a tree’s journey from lot to dazzling. The rhyming tale shows a family choosing a tree, bringing it home, and decorating it to get it ready for Christmas. The pencil, chalk, paint, digitally colored illustrations have a vintage feel to them and have fun visual references that we associate with the holiday: a cat in the tree, boxes of decorations coming out of storage, a tree-trimming party, with kids wearing garland boas. It’s all about the ritual of the season, and the greatest moment: when the tree isn’t a pine tree anymore, but a Christmas Tree, dazzling and bright, with awestruck observers peeking out from the page margins. Pick a Pine Tree may very well be a new Christmas classic. The book has a starred review from Kirkus.
Red and Lulu are a mated pair of cardinals living in a beautiful evergreen tree; one day, Red returns to the tree to discover it’s being taken away – with Lulu still inside! Red follows the truck carrying the tree as far as he can, but the truck is New York bound, and the city is too big for Red. Overwhelmed, he sweeps through the city, tired and hungry, desperate to find Lulu. One day, he hears the song he and Lulu shared so many times: “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging…” and follows the singing to Times Square, where, as he soars over the Rockefeller Center tree and toward their favorite branch. This book is absolutely going to tug at your heartstrings. The watercolor and gouache art is just beautiful, and Red’s bright red feathers stand out on every spread. Matt Tavares beautifully captures New York City at Christmastime: the wreaths around the New York Public Library lions; the bright lights and nonstop action of Times Square, the resplendence of the Rockefeller Center Tree. The spread where Red circles the Empire State Building spire is just breathtaking. The story of unconditional love will resonate with older readers, and younger readers will enjoy the story of a bird who refuses to give up on a lost friend. Another Christmas classic for shelves. Red & Lulu has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. You can visit the Red & Lulu page on Matt Tavares’ website and view the book trailer and more art.
That’s it for now – more holiday books and shopping lists on the way!