The Twelve Books of Christmas

Unknown   Despite the song, the real twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and continue through the eve of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). But the countdown to Christmas may start as early as December 1st if you have an Advent Calendar and sometimes right after Halloween in shopping malls.

With twelve days left, here is a short list of Christmas themed books you might have missed.

  • Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan

What would you do if you found a notebook in the stacks of a New York City bookstore with a mysterious note, challenging you to solve a mystery?  In this young adult book, the authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist create a quirky and delightful story combining a love of books with teenage first love.

Lily, an avid reader and dog walker, has written a set of clues and challenges in a red notebook and left it on her favorite bookstore shelf hoping for the right guy to find it.  Dash (short for Dashiell), a lover of books and yogurt, finds the notebook and they begin passing it between them with clues, sometimes literary, leading each to new places and experiences around the city during Christmas.

  • Agatha Christie Christmas Mysteries

A Christmas family get-together abruptly ends in a murder with Hercule Poirot called in to investigate in Hercules Poirot’s Christmas, and in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a wonderful BBC audiobook), Poirot finds a scrawled note on his pillow: “DON’T EAT NONE OF THE PLUM PUDDING. ONE WHO WISHES YOU WELL”.  A fun alternative to listening to The Night Before Christmas.

9781509848195  Pablo Picasso’s Noel by Carol Ann Duffy follows the famous painter as he moves through a small town in the south of France on Christmas Eve, drawing the residents and the festive scenes he encounters, accompanied by his small dog.

  • The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus by Dr. Hannah Fry provides mathematical proof of Santa with puzzles and games.
  • Christmas: A Biography by Judith Sanders gives a social historian’s examination of the origins, myths, legends and history of the season.
  • Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive, a funny children’s story based on real events and people, is seen through the eyes of a prim eight-year old girl in a large Edwardian country house.
  •  Christmas Remembered (audiobook) by children’s author Tommy dePaola shares his love for Christmas in fifteen vivid memories, spanning six decades – as a teenager in Connecticut, an art student in Brooklyn, a novice monk in Vermont, and an artist in New Hampshire.

To get to twelve, try some Charles Dickens:  The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, A Christmas Tree, and The Holly Tree – all available on line at Dickens on Line.

 

 

 

 

 

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Eight Books for Hanukkah

queen-of-the-hanukkah-dosas   In Maria Russo’s review of holiday books for children in the New York Times, she included Pamela Ehrenburg’s Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas.  Downloading the book to my iPhone for this first night of Hanukkah, I found its bright and colorful pictures. Instead of the traditional latkes, this family makes Indian dosas, and the big brother sings a dreidel song to calm his little sister – with a revised verse changing the recipe for latkes from potatoes to dal.

To continue through the Festival of Lights, I looked for seven more books:

way-too-many-latkes   Way Too Many Latkes 

Aleksandar Zolotic’s version of the classic “Strega Nona” stories by Tomie dePaola, changing magical pots of pasta for latkes.

The-Chanukkah-Guest  The Chanukkah Guest

Eric Kimmel’s story starts on the first night of Chanukkah when Bubba Brayna, who is nearly blind and deaf, mistakes a bear for the rabbi she is expecting for dinner. She innocently tries to tug off the “rabbi’s” coat and then feeds the “rabbi” latkes – it gets funnier and funnier – a great read aloud book.

513FaNOVG8L  The Golem’s Latkes

Eric Kimmel writes a Hanukkah story connected with the legend of the golem, a lump of clay magically come to life.  When Rabbi Judah hires a new housemaid to clean house and make latkes for the coming holiday, he gives her permission to use the golem as her helper – but things get out of hand.

61xY828PRiL._AA300_  Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel

A 1990 Caldecott Honor Book – Hershel of Ostropol approaches a village on the first night of Hanukkah but a group of goblins has taken over the synagogue, and the villagers cannot celebrate. Hershel outwits the goblins in a story mixing a Ukranian folktale with Charles Dickens.

220px-Latkewhowouldntstopscreaming The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket

Instead of the gingerbread man escaping from the cookie pan, a latke runs away from the skillet. As he runs into assorted Christmas characters – a candy cane, pine tree, Christmas lights – he tries to explain the Jewish holiday but his attempts are always in vain and he runs away from each encounter in a fit of frustration until he is finally rescued and returned. In Lemony Snicker form, the latke gets eaten.

DreidelsontheBrain_Comp4.indd Dreidels on the Brain by Joel Ben Izzy

A finalist for 2016 National Jewish Book Award, this middle school book follows Joel, a twelve year old, through eight nights of Hanukkah. “Joel, who only wishes to live unseen, is on display at the winter holiday assembly with his parents and older brothers…With each succeeding chapter, the reader loves Joel more, cheering for him to star in his magic show, get the best of the dreidel spins, and find his miracles in dreidels, candles, or other signs (Ellen Cole for the Jewish Book Council).”

And finally, listen to Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Bownon for free on Storyline – here …

225x225bb    Molly Ephrain reads this children’s book:  “…A little girl finds a moose camped out in her backyard, right near her favorite blue swing. She tries everything to lure it away: apples, carrots, even cookies. But it just keeps eating… It’s not until the last night of Hanukkah that a familiar holiday tradition provides the perfect–and surprising–solution…(Publishers Weekly)”

happy-hanukkah

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Books

This year, for the first time in their 65 years of identifying the best illustrated children’s books for the year,  the New York Times partnered with the New York Public Library.  The books range from informative historical notes to mesmerizing introspection.  I found one in my local library, and ordered two for my shelf – a Christmas present to myself.
51Q0bHbJwzL._AC_US218_My favorite is Feather written and illustrated by Remi Courgeon, about a feisty girl who learns how to box to defend herself from bullies.  After she wins a match, she returns to her first love – playing Mozart on the piano.

518znkdSPNL._AC_US218_      In Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin’s King of the Sky, a racing homing pigeon and an old man help a lost immigant boy from Italy finally feel at home in the United States.

51JvlVhTAPL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_  In Beatrice Alemagna’s On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, a little girl is sent outside to play on a rainy day.  After she accidentally loses her handheld video game, she discovers the wonders of the world around her.

The Ten Best Illustrated Books of 2017

        from the New York Times and the New York Public Library

  1. Muddy: The story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters 
  2. Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Case of R.B.G vs Inequality
  3. Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
  4. On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
  5. The Way Home in the Night
  6. King of the Sky
  7. Town Is By the Sea
  8. A River
  9. Plume
  10. Feather

 

Mark Twain Unfinished – The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

61q+5s8-QzL._AC_US218_In the spirit of great unfinished work – Schubert’s unfinished symphony, Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia – an unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain, now titled The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, was discovered among Twain’s papers in 2011.  Like other unfinished art, contemporary masters often take up the task to finish; in this case, the Newbery Medal winners Philip and Erin Stead provided the art and supplemental text to Twain’s scribbled notes and skeletal outline of a bedtime story he had created for his young daughters over several days.

The story has a little boy on a quest with a chicken and a skunk named Sally. A magic flower when eaten has him able to communicate with animals. The King with a short man complex has banned anyone taller than he is, the willowy Queen sits knitting below his high throne, and someone had kidnapped the Prince. Conversations between Philip Stead and Mark Twain interrupt the action periodically, and Twain’s story ends with the Prince in a cave guarded by dragons.  

Erin Stead draws a beautiful assortment of animals in muted watercolors with the chicken and skunk taking on special roles.  Her moving portraits of the queen and the boy will remind you of someone you care about.

Recently watching the Mark Twain Prize presented to David Letterman, I thought about Twain’s role in American humor.  Twain was well known for mixing his humor with truth; reading Twain can be fun for children and philosophical for adults.  Although the action seems a little slow, the Steads completion of this unfinished story adds another piece to Twain’s impressive canon.

The satisfying ending the Steads provide is timely and poignant.

“…the words that could save mankind from all its silly, ceaseless violence, if only mankind could say them once in a while and make them truly meant…

I am glad to know you.”

If only…

Mo Willems – When a Pig Meets an Elephant

Catching up with the New Yorker recently, I not only laughed out loud at Rivka Glachen’s profile of children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems – Funny Failures – but also connected to this children’s author’s wry outlook.  I needed to find his books.

A quick search showed ninety-eight of his titles in my local library system, so I returned to the article to note those highlighted in the five page article.  Two have won Caldecott Honors – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (2004) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005).  Another I added, just to meet the elephant and the pig in We Are in a Book.

Knuffle Bunny may remind you of the last time you lost something in the laundry; the pigeon is hilarious – what’s the first thing any child wants to do when told not to?  As for the elephant and the pig, I dare you not to say “BANANA” when you read their book.

Although Willems’ books are identified as Easy Readers, in the same vein as Eric Carle  or P.D. Eastman, his animals are funny in their anxiety and resilient in their failures – a lesson for adults as well as children.  Give yourself a laugh; find Mo Willems.

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