Book Article

Words for the Season

Holiday children's book -- A list of some of the best books inspired by Christmas and Hanukkah

Holiday children's book

Clear a space amid the half-gnawed candy canes and the wrapping paper, gather the children around, and read aloud. These books have a way of bringing the holiday spirit memorably alive:

The Wild Christmas Reindeer
Jan Brett
Teeka, a girl who lives in the Arctic, helps to ready Santa's wild reindeer for their Christmas flight. In her anxiety to succeed, she overdoes the bossiness and finally learns that gentleness works best. Brett's illustrations glow with crisp, festive colors. The full-page pictures are accompanied by delightfully detailed side panels, in which we see Santa's elves making toys and counting down the days to Christmas Eve. A

Diane Goode's American Christmas
Edited and illustrated by Diane Goode
Goode's paintings are distinguished by sprightly good humor and delicate colors in this ample, well-chosen anthology of Christmas songs, stories, and poems. The book is ideal for reading aloud and individual browsing. New York Sun editor Francis P. Church's famous ''Yes, Virginia...'' letter is here, plus an excerpt from Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek, and, of course, Clement Clarke Moore's ''A Visit From St. Nicholas.'' A

Latkes and Applesauce
Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Robin Spowart
An early snowfall has prevented the Menashe family from harvesting the apples and potatoes they need for their Hanukkah feast. But after the children, Ezra and Rebecca, rescue a stray cat and a skinny dog from the blizzard, the family's kindness is rewarded with a miraculous feast. Soft, impressionistic pictures lend warmth to the story. Added attractions include a recipe for latkes, instructions for dreidel games, and a short history of the holiday. B+

The Christmas Coat
Clyde Robert Bulla, illustrated by Sylvie Wickstrom
Hans and Otto are brothers whose squabbling drives their widowed mother frantic. When they fight over a red coat (each brother thinks it is a Christmas present meant for him) and tear it in half, the remorseful siblings must unite to get it repaired in time for Christmas Eve. This convincing morality tale ends with a Christmas poor in presents but rich in family happiness. A

The Power of Light
Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Irene Lieblich
Eight splendid stories, one for each night of Hanukkah, are told in Singer's spare, evocative style. Whether they are set in Brooklyn or the villages of prewar Eastern Europe, all these tales tingle with the possibilities of light triumphing over darkness. Lieblich's richly colored paintings bring to life the warmth of family holidays and the folk customs of the stories. A+

The Glorious Impossible Madeleine
L'Engle, illustrated with frescoes by Giotto
This thoughtful and contemporary retelling of the birth, life, and teachings of Jesus is perfect for devout Christian families at Christmastime. L'Engle's fluid narrative includes her own commentaries on and interpretations of the biblical account. And Giotto's dramatic Scrovegni Chapel frescoes are beautifully reproduced. A+

The Mousehole Cat
Antonia Barber, illustrated by Nicola Bayley
Mowzer the cat lives in an English seaside village with Tom the fisherman. When the Great Storm-Cat whips up the sea, the villagers go hungry. With Tom's help, stouthearted Mowzer tames the Great Storm-Cat with her musical serenade, just in time for Christmas. Barber's exciting narrative is playful, lyrical, and literate, and Bayley's paintings are as dazzlingly imaginative as ever. A+

Morris's Disappearing Bag
Rosemary Wells
This award-winning story is irresistible in its big (13-by-18-inch), new format. Morris, a pudgy little rabbit, feels left out when his older brother and sisters play with their fancy Christmas presents. But when Morris discovers an invisible bag that makes things disappear, he's suddenly the center of attention. The sympathetic humor and visual fun of Wells' pictures are priceless. A+

Originally posted Dec 14, 1990 Published in issue #44 Dec 14, 1990 Order article reprints
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