Holiday Books to Treasure

We’re getting to a time of year when seasonal books are flying off the shelves. People are coming in asking for holiday books and new versions of old classics and holiday tales starring familiar characters. But when picking gifts for older readers, sometimes it’s nice to give a book with beautiful illustrations and words that resonate beyond winter. Here are two books suited to older readers or perhaps a family to whom you want to give something special.


What the Heart KnowsWhat the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Pamela Zagarenski; Houghton Mifflin; 16.99; Ages 12 and up

Sidman’s latest book of poetry tackles some of the harder moments in a lifetime: heartache, illness, and loss. In four different sections, Sidman celebrates the idea of words as magical. The section headings (Chants, Charms, Spells, etc.) reinforce this idea, that words can smooth over hurt places and help us heal. Beautiful mixed-media illustrations by Zagarenski, twice a Caldecott Honor winner, capture the essence of each selection. This is a wonderful choice for a loved one, a teen getting ready for new experiences, or anyone facing change in their life.

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks by Katherine Paterson, illus. by Pamela Dalton; Chronicle Books; 18.99; Ages 6-10

Celebrated author Katherine Paterson brings a calm wisdom to this collection of poems, prayers and praise songs, just in time for Thanksgiving. If you are looking for a new reading to share with family at your dinner table or just to read in quiet moments, this is a wonderful choice. Paterson includes prayers and poetry from different cultures, Bible selections alongside Native American blessings, lyrics to spirituals, and “Amazing Grace.” Dalton’s illustrations are  traditional scherenschnitte paper cuttings. Elaborate borders and page edgings are in white and some pieces are painted with watercolors, creating a nice contrast. This beautifully designed book would be a special addition to any family collection.

—Cecilia

Hanukkah Story That’s Great for 3-6 Year Olds

Book Cover for Maccabee! The Story of HanukkahWhile this may look like some kind of crazy, action hero version of the Hanukkah story, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Tilda Balsley does an amazing job of distilling the Hanukkah story for the 3 to 6 set. With rhyming text, we learn the story behind the Festival of Lights. Antiochus, Mattathias and his five sons, and the re-dedication of the temple are all part of the story. Though it does get a little hokey in places, this is the first story that I’ve seen that gives a good background to why Hanukkah is celebrated and the history behind it. Balsley’s approach and Harrington’s illustrations are less lesson or lecture style and much more storytelling.

Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley, illus. by David Harrington; Kar-Ben Publishing; 7.95; Ages 3-6

Miss Megan Talks New(ish) Holiday Classics

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Here at Hooray for Books, our holiday section has exploded into a vibrant display of red and green and silver and gold. It’s a great spot to stop awhile and browse! But if you’re in a rush, one of our friendly booksellers is more than happy to show you their “go-to” books for the season. And I, dear readers, am no different. There are certain books that I just love to hand sell during the holidays. Here are a few of my top picks!

One Starry Night, by Lauren Thompson, illus. by Jonathan Bean, Simon & Schuster, Ages 0-3

In the nighttime near Bethlehem, animal mamas take care of their little babies. A sheep nuzzles her lamb, a cat cares for her kitten, a dog watches over her pup, and in the stable, Mary and Joseph cradle their new baby. This is a simple, sweet little book to share with the smallest children. Jonathan Bean’s sketch-style illustrations, done in shades of brown, indigo, and black, are infused with dramatic light and shadow. The text is simple, sparing, and repetitive. This is a visually stunning book that is a great option for wiggly wee ones who aren’t quite ready for a wordier version of the Christmas story!

The 12 Days of Christmas, by Rachel Isadora, Penguin, Ages 3-6 

Rachel Isadora’s signature style turns to the holiday season, and what a treat it is! Transporting the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to Africa, Isadora’s reinterpretation is full of life and color. Each two-page spread is dedicated to a different tradition as related to the song, while small boxes at the bottom of the page feature miniatures of the previous parts of the song. Isadora’s joyous, collage-style illustrations are beautifully textured and full of bright patterns that will catch young readers’ eyes. I especially enjoyed the author’s brief note at the end, which discusses some of her inspiration found in her travels in Africa. What a great twist on a traditional carol that incorporates practices from other parts of the world!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, illus. by Laura Cornell, HarperCollins, Ages 4-9

On occasion, my family likes to quote Barbara Robinson’s infamous Herdman family from her novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Now, with illustrations by Laura Cornell, Robinson has adapted her classic story for a younger audience. I love the unexpected qualities of this story. Just try not to laugh out loud when little Gladys Herdman interprets the Angel of the Lord as a comic book character who shrieks, “Shazam!” But when Imogene, the rudest, bossiest, nastiest Herdman finally appears in the pageant as Mary, quiet and reverent and tearful, I defy any reader not to get emotional along with the awed church audience. Robinson’s story is edited here, but it keeps the requisite humor parents expect from the original. Cornell, who illustrated Is There Really a Human Race? and It’s Hard to Be Five, is the perfect artist to pair with this story. Her pictures are raucous, chaotic, and full of mischief–just like those terrible, wonderful Herdmans!

Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline, Candlewick Press, Ages 4-9 

Frances can look outside her window and see the organ grinder and his little monkey. At night, she can hear their mournful music playing on when everyone else is warm and safe in bed. Frances wishes there were some way she could help the organ grinder, but it’s the Great Depression, and everyone is struggling, even at Christmas. But when she gets up onstage as the angel in the Christmas pageant, she finds the organ grinder in the audience, and suddenly she realizes that she’s had the words all along that are able to bring peace and joy in hard times. This book is absolutely beautiful. Kate DiCamillo’s first foray into picture books is accompanied by breathtaking art from Bagram Ibatoulline (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane). It’s the glow of Ibatoulline’s illustrations that makes this book unforgettable. It’s warm and inviting and wistful–everything I want to see in a (new) holiday classic.

These are my favorite holiday releases from recent years! You can’t go wrong with any of these–there’s holiday cheer for everyone on your list!

Happy reading (and happy holidays!),

Miss Megan G.

Count with Vampires, Witches and Werewolves in Over in the Hollow

Over in the Hollow book coverOver in the Hollow, by Rebecca Dickinson; illustrated by S. Britt (ages 3-6)

Based on the old Appalachian poem “Over in the Meadow,” Dickinson transforms the rhyme with a Halloween flavor. Vampires replace muskrats as they bite, witches replace crows as they zoom, and werewolves replace lizards as they howl. Because it’s a Halloween book the fun doesn’t stop at ten, but goes up to thirteen with skeletons, cats and ghosts getting into the act.  Readers can easily say or act out the actions of each of the characters (well, maybe not the biting vampires).   Filled with rich, lush illustrations that have the feel of picture books from decades ago, this is the perfect book to haunt your shelf this Halloween.

Over in the Hollow, by Rebecca Dickinson; illustrated by S. Britt; 2009;$15.99; Chronicle Books

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Lucky Tucker

lucky_tuckerLucky Tucker, by Leslie McGuirk
Tucker the dog gets his day started on the wrong paw.  First he has to walk in the rain before he eats his breakfast.  Then, his favorite toy becomes stuck under the couch, and after that a black cat hisses at him. Tucker’s luck definitely needs to change. Will rolling in some clovers help to change it?

A cute alternative to the standard St. Patrick’s Day book, the story focuses on Tucker and how his luck changes after his clover rolling.  The text is simple and the illustrations abound with St. Patrick’s day symbols and colors.

Lucky Tucker by Leslie McGuirk, 2008, 3-6.