Ho-ho-ho-holiday Picture Books

'Tis the season to think about holiday picture books! See the Horn Book's own "Holiday High Notes 2022" column; see Betsy Bird's recent exhaustive roundup — and see also Elisa Gall's and Jonathan Hunt's meaty discussion about the uneasy relationship between the Caldecott Award and holiday books in their 2021 Calling Caldecott post "Why the Hell Don't More Holiday Books Win the Caldecott?" 

One answer to their spicy question, as Elisa says in the post, is that "for many commercial holidays in the United States, holiday books are ephemeral. The stories can be shallow and the art can often be predictable. It’s almost as if nobody expects a mainstream holiday book to be great — or cares if it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean excellent, Caldecott-worthy picture books celebrating lots of different holidays don’t exist."

Regardless of their chances for striking Caldecott gold, let's look briefly at three 2022 holiday/winter picture books that are eligible for the award.


Twelve Dinging Doorbells
by Tameka Fryer Brown; illus. by Ebony Glenn
Primary    Kokila/Penguin    32 pp.    g
10/22    978-1-9848-1517-0    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-1518-7    $10.99

“At the first dinging doorbell this ­holiday I see… / a sweet potato pie just for me!” In this delightful takeoff on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a little Black girl’s house begins to fill with family, friends, music, dancing, and food. The celebration brings, among others, “seven brothers repping,” “six toddlers squealing,” and “LOTS OF MACARONI AND CHEEEEESE.” The growing (mostly happy) chaos is cleverly reflected in a subtly changing text and especially in the illustrations, which employ unusual perspectives and dynamic angles to great effect. A warm, funny, original book — and don’t worry, our little girl gets her pie in the end. ­MARTHA V. PARRAVANO


Mother Winter
by James Christopher Carroll; illus. by the author
Primary    Creative Editions    16 pp.    g
8/22    978-1-56846-377-3    $16.99

“If you are awake, / on the longest cold night, / when the wind curls and frost holds time, / you’ll hear her bells and smell the first snow, / when Mother Winter goes walking.” This lyrical, luminous winter solstice book exhorts readers to go outside and experience the season’s natural wonders. The title character appears in the glowing, moonlit illustrations as a benevolent, larger-than-life figure whose blue cape trails behind while (in the text’s refrain) she “goes walking” through a town. Swirls of light and color abound in spectacular cool-toned art whose effect is ­breathtaking. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ


Snow Horses: A First Night Story
by Patricia MacLachlan; illus. by Micha Archer
Primary    McElderry    40 pp.    g
11/22    978-1-5344-7355-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-7356-0    $10.99

On New Year’s Eve, young Jenny drives Percheron horses Tim and Tom from their farm to the market for a bustling celebration (“There is laughter and talk” is a refrain) and then back home; a dog gets the cozy last word. MacLachlan’s poetic text is hushed (“the sleigh makes a / whisper sound in the / snow — a comforting / swish, swish, swish”) but allows excitement to build (“in every window / of every house / there are little lights. / The town sparkles”). Archer’s illustrations, rendered in collage with homemade papers and inks, create luminous landscapes and invite poring over for details. A joyful, homey way to ring in the new year. SHOSHANA FLAX

What I appreciate most about Twelve Dinging Doorbells is the sheer energy captured, and artist Ebony Glenn's ability to keep the action within four walls and yet convey such varying levels of chaos, motion, and crowd size. Mother Winter's illustrations are so lyrical and ephereal; James Christopher Carroll's work has been compared to that of Marc Chagall. And Micha Archer's glowing illustrations in Snow Horses somehow manage to be both realistic and stylized at the same time, with some of the most gorgeous and atmospheric snowscapes I've ever seen in a picture book. 

Do any of these holiday books have a shot at Caldecott recognition? And have you seen any others that might?

Calling Caldecott will now go on a brief holiday itself! See you in early January, as we head into the final stretch (!!!), and happy holidays to you all.

Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is a contributing editor to The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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