Holiday High Notes 2014

Joy to the world…it’s time for our annual selection 
of new holiday books, with reviews 
written by the Horn Book staff.

bemonster_frankenstein's fright before christmasFrankenstein’s Fright Before Christmas
by Ludworst Bemonster; story by 
Rick Walton; illus. by Nathan Hale
Primary    Feiwel    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-312-55367-8    $16.99

The team behind Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody — a spoof of Madeline starring Frankenstein’s monster — here adds Clement Moore’s classic into the mix. Eleven of the twelve little monsters from the first book are “out of control.” And headless. But Christmas miracles do happen—even for badly behaved monsters and for “poor Miss Devel.” Frankenstein has an in with Santa’s Head Elf (get it? Head Elf?), and Santa delivers just what the monsters need. Hale’s green-tinted illustrations with seasonal red accents (plus four full-color spreads) extend the irreverent rhyming text with glee. KITTY FLYNN

brenner_and then comes christmasAnd Then Comes Christmas
by Tom Brenner; illus. by Jana Christy
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-7636-5342-2    $15.99

In Brenner’s inviting story chilly weather, holiday decorations, delicious baked goods, and all the other trappings of Christmas act as guideposts for a brother and sister as they eagerly await Christmas morning. “When frost glistens on pastures and fence posts and icy grass crunches underfoot…Then fill the windows with paper snowflakes and frame the house with colored lights.” Soft-focus digital illustrations in vibrant hues reflect the season’s coziness and industry. Those looking for an accessible book about secular celebration of Christmas will enjoy this warm-hearted offering. SARA DANVER

brett_animals' santaThe Animals’ Santa
by Jan Brett; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Putnam    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-399-25784-1    $17.99    g

The animals find presents from their own Santa every Christmas, but no one has ever seen him. When Little Snow, a young white rabbit, asks all the forest animals for clues as to Santa’s identity, everyone has a different theory. Decorations on the borders of each spread hint at the answer, (wordlessly) extending the story. Brett’s clean, precise watercolors show animals dressed in cozy Nordic vests walking upright in a snowy woodland setting. This Santa may be elusive, but he is definitely real, making Little Snow’s ultimate discovery truly satisfying. LOLLY ROBINSON

child_over the river and through the woodOver the River and Through the Wood:
A Thanksgiving Poem

by Lydia Maria Child; 
illus. by Christopher Manson
Primary    NorthSouth    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-7358-4191-8    $14.95    g

In this reissue (1994), Manson’s vibrant, textured illustrations capture the verve and enthusiasm of Child’s well-known holiday poem, feeling as old-fashioned as the original 1844 verse and yet timelessly festive. Thick, black-lined woodcuts painted with watercolor in shades of brown and blue, touches of green, and plenty of snowy white create a pleasing wintry rural setting. Each framed spread serves as a snapshot of daily nineteenth-century work and play that complements the six verses included here. A brief note about the poem’s origin is on the copyright page, and sheet music appears on the back endpapers. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

fearing_great thanksgiving escapeThe Great Thanksgiving Escape
by Mark Fearing; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-7636-6306-3    $15.99

“Sometimes you have to make your own fun,” says Gavin’s cousin Rhonda during Thanksgiving at Grandma’s. They ditch their drool-y baby cousins, then make their way outside past cheek-pinching aunts, “the Great Wall of Butts,” and a horde of zombies (really video-game-playing teenagers) to the swing set…where Mother Nature throws them another curve. With their odd angles and unusual perspectives, the digital and pencil caricature illustrations (just this side of grotesque) capture the claustrophobia—and, 
for imaginative kids, the diverting 
possibilities—of a large family gathering. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

fischer_latke the lucky dogLatke, the Lucky Dog
by Ellen Fischer; 
illus. by Tiphanie Beeke
Preschool, Primary    Kar-Ben    24 pp.
9/14    978-0-7613-9038-1    $17.95Paper ed.  978-0-7613-9039-8    $7.95    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-4669-4    $7.95

On the first night of Hanukkah, a family adopts a little golden-brown dog and names it Latke. As the family celebrates the Festival of Lights, Latke joins in, thinking, “I am one lucky dog!” But he has a lot to learn about how to behave. This engaging romp follows Latke as he chews his way through the eight nights of Hanukkah. Told in Latke’s voice, the story highlights the holiday’s traditions as well as the love between the dog and his new family. Cheerful textured illustrations capture all of Latke’s mischief. JILL LEIBOWITZ

grun_legend of saint nicholasThe Legend of Saint Nicholas
by Anselm Grün; illus. by 
Giuliano Ferri; trans. from the 
German by Laura Watkinson
Primary    Eerdmans    32 pp.
8/14    978-0-8028-5434-6    $16.99

This beautifully illustrated picture book, imported from Germany, tells of the kindness and generosity of the fourth-century Christian saint who became the model for the modern Santa Claus. The clear, engaging text highlights some of the better-known legends surrounding Nicholas of Myra—from throwing purses of gold through the window of a household whose daughters would otherwise have been sold into slavery to performing miracles in aid of sailors and starving people. Luminous paintings on full-bleed double-page spreads capture the saint’s humanity as well as the Greek-Turkish Mediterranean setting. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

guthrie_honeyky hanukahHoneyky Hanukah
by Woody Guthrie; 
illus. by Dave Horowitz
Preschool, Primary    Doubleday    24 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-37926-7    $17.99

Guthrie’s lively Hanukkah ditty exudes folksiness and warmth, and this jaunty picture-book treatment captures the homespun energy of the lyrics. Horowitz’s animated construction paper, charcoal, and colored-pencil art features a curly-haired, barefoot, guitar-playing boy who tells listeners about his loving family’s holiday traditions. “Latkes and goody things” in Bubbie’s kitchen, menorah candles, music- and merry-making, hugs and kisses, gifts — they’re all part of the celebration. An illustrator’s note offers insight into the genesis of Guthrie’s Jewish songs. The Klezmatics perform a rousing rendition of the song on the accompanying CD. Read the book, listen to the CD, and get into the Hanukkah mood. KITTY FLYNN

hendrix_shooting at the starsShooting at the Stars:
The Christmas Truce of 1914

by John Hendrix; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    40 pp.
10/14    978-1-4197-1175-6    $18.95

Hendrix distills the now practically mythic story of the 1914 Christmas Truce into the fictional experience of one young English soldier writing to his mother from a trench in France. A brief introduction and an appended author’s note provide context, but the focus here is very much on young Charlie and his unlikely day of fellowship with his German adversaries: “Mother, it was such a beautiful day.” Hendrix’s Charlie is a ruddy-cheeked Everyboy who provides a sympathetic focus for the paintings of a desolate landscape of mud and barbed wire; while not shying away from war’s grim realities, the pictures go a long way toward conveying the hopeful light of Christmas, with trees twinkling in the night while the strains of “Stille Nacht” waft across No Man’s Land toward our homesick hero. ROGER SUTTON

poems selected by Lee Bennett 
Hopkins; illus. by Helen Cann
Primary    Eerdmans    40 pp.
9/14    978-0-8028-5419-3    $16.00

Fourteen brief poems, each told from the perspective of an animal present at the birth of Jesus, are collected in this welcome anthology. From Jude Mandell’s cat (“What gifts have I / to give / this Child? // No gold, / no frankincense, / no myrrh, / only my quiet / soothing purr”) to X. J. Kennedy’s horse (“On Christmas Eve, the night unique, / they say we beasts find tongues to speak. // Yet at this crib I am so stirred / that, staring, I can say no word”), the poems convey both the majesty and intimacy of that night. Decorative mixed-media illustrations highlight each animal on its own double-page spread. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

by Michelle Houts
Intermediate    Candlewick    261 pp.
9/14    978-0-7636-6565-4    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7424-3    $16.99

Bettina, mourning the loss of her beloved grandfather, is left in charge of the farm and her baby sister Pia when her parents are unexpectedly called away on Christmas Eve. When a mischievous nisse steals Pia (in retribution for the omission of his traditional bowl of rice pudding), Bettina must use all her courage, wit, and heart to get her sister back. In the process, her sadness over Farfar’s death is replaced by joy in their shared belief in the small folk. Although the novel’s outcome is never in doubt, readers will enjoy this benevolent Christmastime adventure inspired by Danish folklore. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

kimmel_simon and the bearSimon and the Bear:
A Hanukkah Tale

by Eric A. Kimmel; 
illus. by Matthew Trueman
Primary    Disney-Hyperion    40 pp.
9/14    978-1-4231-4355-0    $16.99

Young immigrant Simon travels to America on a ship whose fate mirrors that of the Titanic, but this ship sinks on Hanukkah, a holiday that encourages faith in miracles. Simon gives another passenger his spot on a lifeboat and camps out on an iceberg. Sharing his latkes with a polar bear pays off in body heat and fish, and soon his Hanukkah candles bring about his rescue by catching the attention of a passing ship. Illustrations with frequent images of light in darkness combine with the recurring theme of miracles to evoke the Hanukkah spirit. SHOSHANA FLAX

koopmans_three wise menThe Three Wise Men
by Loek Koopmans; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Floris    32 pp.
10/14    978-1-78255-0135-0    $16.95

This picture-book retelling of the Three Wise Men’s journey imagines the three as enthusiastic astronomers (with telescopes, no less) who, seeing a new star, remember an “ancient story”: “a bright star would appear in the sky as a sign that a new king had been born.” Untroubled by any sign (or mention) of Herod, their journey takes them to a stable, where they give their gifts to the baby and hear “the distant sound of angels singing.” It’s all barely biblical, but the trajectory and tone are just right for the youngest audience, and the humble pictures, more sunny than starlit, depict the Magi as sweet old souls. ROGER SUTTON

krensky_last christmas treeThe Last Christmas Tree
by Stephen Krensky, 
illus. by Pascal Campion
Preschool, Primary    Dial    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-8037-3757-0    $16.99    g

What had been an empty lot is now bursting with Christmas trees waiting to be bought by loving families. One tree — short, bowed over, scant on branches — doesn’t have the physical allure of its neighbors, and its unbridled enthusiasm isn’t enough to catch the attention of shoppers. Come Christmas Eve, the little guy is alone on the lot, its only ornament a sign reading “free.” Then comes a faint jingling sound…and before long the little tree finds a welcome home way up north. Campion’s bright digital illustrations imbue the skimpy tree with personality, while stark scenes of its isolation elicit empathy. Part underdog story, part affirmation of the true meaning of Christmas, this is a satisfying, hopeful holiday offering. KATRINA HEDEEN

mcghee_star brightStar Bright:
A Christmas Story

by Alison McGhee; 
illus. by Peter H. Reynolds
Preschool, Primary    Atheneum    40 pp.
9/14    978-1-4169-5858-1    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-7714-8    $10.99

The “newest angel” ponders what to give a soon-to-be-born baby. She finally strikes upon “the best gift of all” — she can provide a comforting “light in the darkness” by becoming a star (the Star of Bethlehem, in fact). McGhee conflates the Christmas and Epiphany stories, with the Magi already in attendance at Jesus’ birth. But those willing to overlook that detail will still take enjoyment from the sweet text and Reynolds’s endearing pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations, rendered in a soothing blue and violet palette with plentiful white space. KATIE BIRCHER

moore_night before christmasThe Night Before Christmas
by Clement C. Moore; 
illus. by Roger Duvoisin
Preschool, Primary    Knopf    40 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-75459-0    $16.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-75460-6    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-0-385-75461-3    $10.99

First published in 1954, this is a wholly pleasing version of the classic Christmas poem, with all of Caldecott Medalist Duvoisin’s gifts for color and composition in evidence. The book’s tall, narrow shape makes it ideal for vertical-chimney, steep-rooftop, and reindeer-flight scenes. Full-color spreads alternate with one-color (red plus black and white) spreads, giving the book additional pacing and rhythm (and the red—for the chimney, the curtains, Santa’s suit and cheeks — adds an appropriate and welcome warmth). Everything here is exactly as it should be: jolly, homey, unpretentious, and full of good cheer. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

perkins_my true love gave to meMy True Love Gave to Me:
Twelve Holiday Stories

edited by Stephanie Perkins
High School    St. Martin’s Griffin    323 pp.
10/14    978-1-250-05930-7    $18.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4668-6389-7    $9.99

Holiday romance is the connecting link for the twelve tales included in this highly enjoyable anthology by a dozen well-known young adult authors, including Rainbow Rowell, Matt de la Peña, David Levithan, Gayle Forman, Laini Taylor, and Stephanie Perkins. 
The short stories feature teen protagonists of different races, sexual identities, and ethnicities confronting various obstacles and insecurities in their pursuit of new love amidst celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, New Year’s, and even Krampuslauf. And in keeping with the spirit of the season, the eclectic collection of stories — some fantastical, some realistic — all end with hopeful, if not always happy, endings. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

pham_twelve days of christmasThe Twelve Days of Christmas
illus. by LeUyen Pham
Preschool, Primary    Doubleday    40 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-37413-2    $17.99

What starts as a classic Victorian setting for this cumulative song ends by showing lots of diversity — the eight ladies dancing, for example, wear traditional dress from eight different cultures, including Japanese and Dutch, and the eleven pipers piping appear to be Scottish, Peruvian, and colonial American, among others. Pham’s watercolor and ink illustrations capture the burgeoning cast with grace and a bit of humor — watch those hens and turtledoves. The palette is Christmassy with lots of red, green, and gold. Music and an author’s note appear at the end of the book. LOLLY ROBINSON

pinkwater_beautiful yetta's hanukkah kittenBeautiful Yetta’s Hanukkah Kitten
by Daniel Pinkwater; 
illus. by Jill Pinkwater
Preschool, Primary    Feiwel    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-312-62134-6    $17.99

In this sequel to Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken (rev. 7/10), the Brooklyn-based Jewish-mama hen and her Spanish-speaking parrot pals find a cold, lost kitten during Hanukkah. The parrots are trepidatious (“Can it fly up to our nest?”), but Yetta knows just what to do: “We will take her to the old grandmother!” Kitten and Bubbie find companionship — and the birds all benefit from some homemade potato latkes. The breezy speech-bubble text is in English and, depending on who’s talking, Spanish or Yiddish (including, for both foreign languages, phonetic pronunciation). Energetic marker, brush pen, and pen-and-ink illustrations in a limited palette — parrot green, hen white-and-red, kitten orange, and Hanukkah blue — fly off the pages. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

raczka_santa clausesSanta Clauses:
Short Poems from the North Pole

by Bob Raczka, 
illus. by Chuck Groenink
Primary    Carolrhoda    40 pp.
9/14    978-1-4677-1805-9    $16.95
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-4621-2    $17.32

Readers are offered a day-by-day “glimpse of life at the North Pole” in twenty-five festive haiku “penned” by Santa himself. The poems are rich with tender emotions (“Mrs. Claus making / an angel, becoming a / little girl again”) and crisp imagery (“Sprinkling sand on my / snow-covered steps, thinking of / nutmeg on eggnog”), all reflected affectionately and vividly in Groenink’s art: a smiling, rosy-cheeked, bundled-up missus makes snow angels while textured grains of sand are strewn over the icy cottage stairs beside her. A warm seasonal collection notable for its clever, gently comical visual details (note St. Nick’s adult beverage as he relaxes in an armchair on December 26th). KATRINA HEDEEN

stark_yule tomte and the little rabbitsThe Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits
by Ulf Stark; illus. by Eva Eriksson; trans. from the Swedish by 
Susan Beard
Primary, Intermediate    Floris    101 pp.
10/14    978-1-78250-136-7    $24.95

“In Swedish tradition it is a tomte…who brings Christmas presents to children,” according to the brief note that begins this entertaining Advent book. Our tomte is named Grump, and the tidy, precise illustrations (some spot art, some full pages neatly contained within red frames) show a little gnomelike man with a white beard, a red hat, and a perma-scowl. First, Grump grudgingly saves a bumblebee from a spider web. Next, his hat blows away. Two little bunnies, Binny and Barty, find the hat, and with the help of their extended family and the woodland creatures, they try to entice the tomte to their burrow for Christmas. Brief chapters relate the rabbits’ efforts and the tomte’s gradual change of heart. It’s an old-fashioned type of illustrated story (with a picture-book trim size) that doesn’t feel the least bit dated or sentimental. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

thong_'twas nochebuena’Twas Nochebuena
by Roseanne Greenfield Thong; 
illus. by Sara Palacios
Preschool, Primary    Viking    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-670-01634-1    $16.99    g

Peppered with Spanish words, this reimagining of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” relates the Christmas Eve celebrations of a young girl’s Latino family: making tamales, decorating 
their home with tree and crèche, caroling, swinging at a piñata, attending midnight Mass, and more. Thong’s humorous verse follows Clement Moore’s strong rhythm without 
faltering — despite the metrical challenges of working in two languages at once. Palacios’s warm, earth-toned illustrations of a happy multigenerational family invite readers into the festivities, whether these tradiciones are familiar or new to them. A glossary and author’s note are appended. KATIE BIRCHER

underwood_here comes santa catHere Comes Santa Cat
by Deborah Underwood; 
illus. by Claudia Rueda
Preschool    Dial    88 pp.
10/14    978-0-8037-4100-3    $16.99    g

Cat was jealous of the Easter Bunny’s job in Here Comes the Easter Cat (rev. 3/14). Now the naughty feline figures that if he dresses up as Santa Claus, he can give himself a present. But he quickly abandons the idea when he realizes Santa’s job entails not only getting sooty but also delivering gifts to others. After a few failed last-ditch attempts at good deeds to get on the nice list, Cat discovers the true Christmas spirit just in time to receive a special present from Santa. Once again the humorous banter between an offstage narrator, who addresses Cat directly, and the silent-yet-expressive Cat, who lets his illustrated signs do the talking, will keep kids giggling. Underwood and Rueda’s spot-on use of comedic timing, page turns, white space, and layout creates another holiday winner. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

yacowitz_i know an old lady who swallowed a dreidelI Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel
by Caryn Yacowitz; 
illus. by David Slonim
Primary    Levine/Scholastic    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-439-91530-4    $17.99

The American Gothic parody on the 
first wordless spread — showing Ma 
and Pa, a boy, a cat…and a menorah — previews this freewheeling volume, part warm family holiday story, part art appreciation book, and part cumulative rhyme. Yacowitz’s clever Hanukkah-themed text lists the items swallowed by the bubbie: latkes, gelt, candles, dreidel (“Perhaps it’s fatal” is the refrain). Slonim’s humorous cartoony illustrations — a well-designed mix of spreads and panels—tell their own story, courtesy of the old masters. Bubbie stands in for the Mona Lisa, the figure in The Scream, and Rodin’s Thinker; homages to Warhol, Rockwell, van Gogh, Wyeth, Hopper (“Mel’s All-Night Latkes” diner), and others make cameo appearances. An artist’s note is appended. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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