This Is Christmas by Tom Booth

Published by Jeter Publishing

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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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The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tony Neal

Published by Tiger Tales

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Image result for christmas extravaganza hotel amazon

Summary:  Bear’s simple Christmas Eve is interrupted by a frog bearing a brochure for the Christmas Extravaganza Hotel.  He’s sure he’s at the right place, but Bear informs him that his map’s upside down, and the hotel is on the other side of the world.  Bear takes pity on Frog, and tries to create a Christmas like the one pictured in the brochure. They bake cookies, visit a tree decorated with snow and birds, and have a snowball fight and picnic in the woods.  When it starts to get dark, Frog is ready for some flashing lights, but all Bear has is some candles. Frog is disappointed, but then Bear gets an idea. He leads Frog outside for the most spectacular light show imaginable: the aurora borealis.  Heading back inside, they hear jingle bells heading for the rooftop, and dive into bed. The next morning there’s a new sled under the tree, and the two friends head outside for more adventures. 24 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A cute and cozy Christmas story that emphasizes the joys of simplicity for the holidays.

Cons:  Frog seems scantily clad for an amphibian traveling in the far

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Hanukkah Hamster by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Andre Ceolin

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

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Summary:  At the end of a busy day driving his taxi, Edgar finds a hamster in the back seat.  One of his customers must have lost it, and Edgar reports it to the cab company’s lost and found.  In the meantime, he takes the hamster home and feeds him. They share some supper, and Edgar decides to name his new friend Chickpea after one of the salad ingredients.  Together they light two Hanukkah candles. By the time Edgar is lighting four candles, he’s making toys for Chickpea and sending photos of him back to his family in Israel.  When a woman and her son show up outside his apartment building after work one evening, Edgar’s heart sinks. Sure enough, it turns out the boy had gotten a new hamster for his classroom, and it escaped when they were all riding in Edgar’s cab.  Edgar shows them his pictures, and they can see how happy Chickpea is. “I think this hamster belongs with you,” says the woman.  “He looks right at home.”  The final page shows the two friends sharing jelly doughnuts, with all the candles lit on the menorah behind them.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I know Hanukkah is over for this year, but I just saw this book this week.  It’s a charming story, and the illustrations of Chickpea are adorable. Edgar’s story is compelling, and he seems to have a positive, can-do spirit.  Put this on your holiday list for next year.

Cons:  I was hoping for a little romance for Edgar when the woman and her son showed up.

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All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Published by Schwartz and Wade

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Image result for all of a kind family hanukkah zelinsky

Summary:  Gertie, the youngest of the five daughters in the all-of-a-kind family, is eager to help get ready for Hanukkah.  Her mother and older sisters grate potatoes, chop onions, and fry the latkes, but Mama says Gertie is too young to handle sharp kitchen utensils and hot oil.  Gertie eventually has a meltdown and is sent to the bedroom, where she hides under the bed she shares with her sister Charlotte. When Papa comes home, he invites her to help him light the first Hanukkah candle.  Suddenly, everything feels right again, and after Gertie and Papa light the candle together, the whole family sits down for a Hanukkah feast. Includes a glossary, a note from the author with more information about the original All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, and a note from the illustrator.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I was delighted to see a new book telling about one of my favorite fictional families from my childhood: the all-of-a-kind girls growing up in a tenement in turn-of-the-century New York City.  Everything I needed to know about Jewish holidays I learned in a Sydney Taylor book, and this beautifully illustrated picture book continues that with a sweet introduction to Hanukkah.

Cons:  I have mixed feelings about the revival of this beloved series in the hands of a new author and in picture book format.  

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I Got the Christmas Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Bloomsbury

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Summary:  From the author-illustrator team that created I Got the Spirit comes this exuberant ode to Christmas.  A little girl goes travels around the city with her mother, excited about Christmas as she embraces its true spirit of giving.  She enjoys singing with carolers, eating crunchy chestnuts, and ice skating in what looks to be Rockefeller Center. She also donates to the Salvation Army and finds a way to help a mother and daughter who are standing on the street with a sign reading “Help, please”.  At the end, she and her mom meet up with her father; as he scoops her up in an embrace; the final page reads, “Peace for all, good tidings, and cheer–let’s live the spirit every day of the year.” 32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  The text is simple, interspersed with rhythmic words (“Dingle Dingle”, “Zoom Zing”).  Readers will want to pay close attention to the colorful oil paintings to see exactly how the girl expresses her Christmas spirit.  This would be a perfect opening to a discussion about the Christmas spirit and how to spread it.

Cons:  This seemed like it should be a rhyming text.

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The Cat Who Ate Christmas by Lil Chase, illustrated by Thomas Docherty

Published by Running Press Kids

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Summary:  When Lily, Rose, Alex, and their parents go downstairs on Christmas morning, they discover that their cat, Jingles, has torn all the wrappings off their presents and is hiding on top of the tree.  Dad tries to get her, but Jingles leaps off, bringing the whole tree down with her.  The family rallies, enjoys their gifts, and goes off to pick up Grandma, leaving the holiday turkey sitting on the counter.  Jingles can’t resist, and when the family returns, their dinner is in ruins.  Jingles goes into hiding, and is still missing on December 26th.  Wanting to lure her back home, the family goes shopping, where they run into Grandma.  The reader will have to look carefully at the illustrations to see where Jingles has been hiding, but he finally reappears, and there’s a happy ending for everyone.  96 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A fun holiday tale that would make a good quick read-aloud or independent reading book for a chapter book beginner.

Cons:  Not sure I would have been quite as forgiving of Jingles as this family is.

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Thank you, Omu! By Oge Mora

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for thank you omu amazon

Summary:  Omu is cooking up a big batch of delicious-smelling red stew, which she thinks will be “the best dinner I have ever had”.  When a hungry little boy knocks on her door, she decides she’s made enough to share.  Next to arrive is a police officer, then the hot dog vendor.  Omu gives them bowls of stew, too.  As the day goes on, more and more people come, and Omu shares with them all.  When she goes to get her own dinner, she discovers the pot is empty.  But she doesn’t have long to feel bad.  There’s a loud knocking on her door, and Omu opens it to discover that everyone she fed has returned with a big potluck meal to share.  The last page shows the little boy’s thank-you card, and reads “That dinner was the best she ever had.”  Includes an author’s note about her grandmother Omu, the Nigerian word meaning both grandmother and queen.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A heartwarming story of sharing and community that reads a little like a folktale.  The collage illustrations show a diverse cast of characters.  This would make a good holiday read, maybe pairing it with Miracle on 133rd Street.

Cons:  Mr. Hot Dog Vendor seems like he should be able to feed himself rather than knocking on Omu’s door for a free handout.

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