The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Published by Candlewick

Image result for shortest day carson ellis"

Image result for shortest day carson ellis"

Summary:  Susan Cooper’s poem, originally created in 1974 for Christmas Revels, celebrates the winter solstice.  “So the shortest day came,/and the year died,/And everywhere down the centuries/of the snow-white world/Came people singing, dancing,/To drive the dark away.”  People are shown celebrating, bundled up against the cold, with torches and fire to light the long, dark night. As the sun finally rises, they celebrate and give thanks.  Illustrations include a Christmas tree, wreath, holly, and a menorah. An author’s note gives the history of her poem, with the full text printed on the last page. 32 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  A beautiful book to share in December; it’s a celebration without connections to any particular religious holiday (unless you count the solstice).  The poem is lovely, and the gorgeous illustrations perfectly capture the darkness, light, and spirit of celebration.

Cons:  This may be a little over the heads of younger kids, who will undoubtedly still choose The Polar Express as their preferred holiday fare.

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Wintercake by Lynne Rae Perkins

Published by Greenwillow Books

Image result for wintercake perkins amazon

Image result for wintercake perkins

Summary:  Lucy the bird finds her friend Thomas the bear hunting all over for some missing dried fruit that he wants to use to make a wintercake for the Winter’s Eve celebration.  Later, Lucy gets stranded at a cafe during a blizzard and overhears another animal (maybe a weasel?) talking about a basket of dried fruit he found that morning. Lucy is sure he’s up to no good, and follows him when he leaves.  Much to her surprise, he goes to Thomas’s place and returns the fruit. The two friends are so surprised and impressed that, after they make the wintercake, they decide to follow his tracks to find where he lives. It turns out to be an arduous journey, but they finally find his den and celebrate the holiday together.  A friendship is born, as well as a holiday tradition that carries on for many years to come. 48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The talented Lynne Rae Perkins has both written and illustrated an engaging story perfect for a long winter’s evening.  The vocabulary (“bereft”, “forlorn”, “melancholy”) shows a respect for young readers’ intelligence, and the illustrations are adorable.  A perfect non-Christmas holiday tale for December.

Cons:  I was initially a little put off by the length of this book, but once I started, I found the story so engaging that it went very quickly.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Sara Palacios

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Image result for between us and abuela

Image result for between us and abuela

Summary:  A little girl tells the story of her family’s trip to the border to visit her abuela who lives in Mexico.  It’s a special day near Christmas called La Posada Sin Fronteras when the people of San Diego and Tijuana work to gather people from both sides of the wall that separates the two countries.  It’s exciting to visit abuela, whom they haven’t seen in five years.  The girl has brought a scarf she made, but the guards won’t let her pass it through the fence.  Her little brother has drawn a large picture of Mary and Joseph, but the fence’s holes are too small for him to give it to abuela.  When he starts to cry, his sister has an idea.  Using knitting needles and yarn, she turns the picture into a kite that flies over the wall to the cheers of spectators on both sides.  Abuela picks up the picture, and then starts the trip back to her home while the girl and her family head back to theirs.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about La Posada Sin Fronteras. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A heartwarming story that would make a unique Christmas read-aloud and could lead to some interesting conversations.

Cons:  The whole event looks like a fun party, and the sadness that the family can’t be together isn’t really touched upon.

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Dasher by Matt Tavares

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for dasher tavares amazon

Summary:  Long ago, before there were eight flying reindeer, Santa’s sled was pulled by a single horse named Silverbell.  Meanwhile, Dasher is living a miserable existence in  a traveling circus with the rest of her reindeer family.  She loves the children, but hates the crowds and heat, dreaming of the snowy landscape of her mother’s stories. An open gate one night provides her a chance for escape.  Guided by the North Star, she eventually meets up with Santa and the aging Silverbell, and helps him with his deliveries. (She can fly! Who knew?) They wind up at the North Pole, where Dasher makes a wish for her family to be together again.  Who better to grant a wish than Santa, and before long Dasher is joined by Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Vixen. And the rest is Christmas history. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  It’s not too early to start thinking about those holiday storytimes, and this will make an excellent addition to the lineup.  Matt Tavares’s illustrations are magical and kids will be captivated by Dasher and the story of how the reindeer got to the North Pole.  Pair this with Red and Lulu, also by Matt Tavares.

Cons:  The story is a little long for the youngest listeners.

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Rachel’s Roses by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  Rachel is excited about Rosh Hashanah, but not as thrilled to be wearing last year’s skirt.  When her aspiring dressmaker mother offers to add new buttons, Rachel goes to the store to see what she can find.  The cheapest solution is to get one card of buttons for her and her little sister Hannah, but Rachel wants something of her own.  When she finds three beautiful rose buttons, she arranges with the storekeeper to buy them when she’s earned the money–if she can get it before the holiday.  Rachel’s entrepreneurial spirit works well for her until she gets so busy with her errands that she loses Hannah. Finding her sister and discovering a surprise her mother has created help Rachel to understand what’s really important as she gets ready for a new year.  112 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The close Jewish family and tenement living reminded me of the All-of-a-Kind Family series that I loved as a child.  There’s not a lot of historical fiction available for third graders, and this would make an excellent and accessible introduction to the genre.

Cons:  I was hoping for more information about Rosh Hashanah.  There’s a brief author’s note at the end, but not much detail about the history and traditions of the holiday or how it is celebrated.

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I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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This Is Christmas by Tom Booth

Published by Jeter Publishing

Image result for this is christmas book booth amazon

Image result for this is christmas book tom booth

Summary: A young chipmunk asks his mother, “What is Christmas?” Together, they see badgers decorating with holly, beetles carrying wrapped presents, and geese singing carols. His mother tells him all of those things are part of Christmas, but when he goes to bed on Christmas Eve, the little chipmunk still doesn’t feel like he understands what Christmas is. A snowstorm arrives in the night, and the chipmunks awaken to a beautiful snowy world. They gather with the other animals to sing and play, and the young chipmunk realizes that this is Christmas. 40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros: The beautiful illustrations have a somewhat retro look, and the simple story is just right for sharing by the Christmas tree with a mug of hot chocolate in hand.

Cons: I didn’t really understand how playing in the snow constituted Christmas more than presents, carols, and decorations.

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