The Year’s Best New Holiday Books

‘Tis the season for holiday books. Below are my favorites of the year’s new titles.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Lauren Long, $16.99, Penguin/Dial, All Ages

Fine artist, Long, illustrates this classic carol with double-paged lush paintings echoing renaissance masters. A plump partridge is settled amongst golden pears as a maiden hurries down a garden path framed with topiary shaped like turtle doves, swans and a French hen. Hidden in plain site are the previous gifts and a foreshadowings of the next ones. Many of the images are unexpected; the “lords-a-leaping” are knights on horseback. the drummers drumming are toy soldiers woven into a wreath. The final page can be construed as “ a seek and find” as all of the gifts are represented in the painting as the two true lovers are united in a holly festooned boat.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson illustrated by Laura Cornell, Harper, $16.99. All ages.

I generally sneer at picture book adaptations of novels. I mock publishers’ attempts to expand the “brand” in a variety of formats. Then, I…I…I was completely charmed by this retelling of this classic chapter book of the same title. This picture book goes straight to heart of novel. The Herdmans (the original “free range” children) are six kids with no apparent adult supervision ages ten to five. All the other children in the neighborhood know to avoid them, for where ever there is a Herdman; there is trouble. The Herdmans somehow highjack the Christmas pageant despite their complete ignorance of the nativity’s story and elements. Cornell’s cartoonish illustrations capture the mischievous humor of the original.

Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and paper engineering by Robert Sabuda, Candlewick Press, $34.99. Ages 6 and up (delicate paper engineering)

This pop-up extravaganza follows the Diaspora of the Jewish people though the ages via architectural structures. We witness the first day of Chanukah at the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Doves flutter in the archways of the white paper model sharply contrasting with an orange background reminiscent of a sunrise. The second night is portrayed as candles are lit in a desert tent. On the third night we spy the candles lit in a portal of a tall sailing ship. Sabuda creates a sense of time and place by including details like windmills in the distance and towers topped with minarets. Tiny windows display gold flames that count the days in the city (pushcarts) and the country ( tiny sheep on a hill) concluding with a menorah created by a skyline of skyscrapers.

A Very Babymouse Christmas by Jennifer L. Holm & Mathew Holm, Random House. $6.99, ages 7 and up

Fans of the graphic Babymouse series won’t be surprised that this is number fifteen, but will be thrilled as Babymouse counts the minutes to the big day, hoping, wishing and wanting Santa to bring her the latest electronic gadget, The Whizbang™.

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