It's holiday time, and that usually means a festive, non-threatening avalanche of holiday-themed picture books. Here's a handful of 2015 highlights, and stay tuned for a sleighful of Santa books in next week's Shelf holiday roundup.
Tom's Christmas Fish by Rita Törnqvist-Verschuur, illus. by Marit Törnqvist (Floris Books, $17.95, hardcover, 9781782502210, 32p., ages 5-8, September 17, 2015)
Grandpa and his grandson Tom go to the market in Prague to buy a Christmas tree and a carp, the fish many people eat for their traditional holiday dinner. Grandpa goes to get the tree, and Tom, in his bright red hat, races off to the fish stalls to choose a carp: "I'll call you Peppo, and you can swim in my bathtub with my sailboat and pretend to be a whale," he says. And, later, into the bathtub plops Peppo! Tom and Grandpa make Christmas bread and carp-shaped cookies, but Tom gets worried about Peppo's fate as dinnertime approaches. All ends well--even for Peppo--in this heartwarming Swedish import with lovely, expressive watercolor paintings of Grandpa, Tom and Peppo in one of the world's most beautiful cities.
The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illus. by Suzanne Raphael Berkson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17.99, hardcover, 9780374300944, 32p., ages 5-8, September 8, 2015)
It is the eighth day of Hanukkah in a family's Brooklyn home, and a silver Hanukkah lamp is flickering on the windowsill. A boy named David, the narrator's son, shouts "Papa, look!" and points to a parakeet peering into the window. David and his father shoo the poor freezing parakeet inside. It perches on David's head, eats, drinks, speaks Yiddish and even pushes a dreidel with its beak. They know they must find the bird's owner, and they try, but David says, "Meanwhile, let's call it Dreidel." More than nine years later, David finds the parakeet's true owner just by chance... and marries her. Suzanne Raphael Berkson makes her picture-book debut in this warm adaptation of a story that first appeared in Newbery Honor author Isaac Bashevis Singer's Hanukkah collection The Power of Light.
The Reindeer Wish by Lori Evert, illus. by Per Breiehagen (Random House, $17.99, hardcover, 9780385379212, 48p., ages 3-6, October 6, 2015)
Anja, who lives "far to the north and high in the snowy mountains," wants a puppy more than anything. One Christmas Eve, a talking cardinal leads her not to a puppy, but to an abandoned baby reindeer. She becomes his "reindeer mama" and names him Odin. As the seasons unfold, Odin starts to miss his own kind. It is with a heavy heart that Anja takes her antlered friend to the North Pole to join Santa's reindeer, but Santa's gift of a squirming puppy cheers her up considerably. Tailor-made for animal lovers, this visually dazzling companion to The Christmas Wish and The Tiny Wish is illustrated with creatively composed photographs of Anja (the author-photographer team's daughter) and Odin frolicking through gorgeous Nordic landscapes.
Home Alone: The Classic Illustrated Storybook based on the story written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, illus. by Kim Smith (Quirk, $18.95, hardcover, 9781594748585, 40p., ages 5-8, October 6, 2015)
The hugely popular film Home Alone is now a happy-ending Christmas picture book about the eight-year-old Kevin McCallister who, banished to bed, angrily wishes his family would disappear--and they do! The Home Alone storybook, with artful, energetic illustrations by Kim Smith, is a kinder, gentler version of the movie. (Spoiler alert: Kevin misses his family and is elated when they reappear, and not just because he was scared by burglars while home alone.)
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illus. by David Ercolini (Orchard/Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 9780545391122, 32p., ages 4-8, September 29, 2015)
Yes, there are dozens and dozens of picture books based on Clement C. Moore's classic 1823 poem, but illustrator David Ercolini gives it a fresh, satirical spin. Here, "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse" because the mouse has stuffed himself into a stupor eating bits of gingerbread house. Every square inch of this Christmas-obsessed family's house--from a giant inflatable rooftop Santa to a Rudolph nightlight--is festooned with some sort of bauble, usually with eyes. All those little eyes widen when Saint Nicholas crashes through the chimney... and his eyes get big, too, when he sees not a few cookies on a plate, but an entire banquet table of "For Santa" desserts. Ercolini's laugh-out-loud visual sendup of holiday excess--combined with the mannered 19th-century language ("As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly...")--makes for a rather brilliant juxtaposition. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness