Friday, December 3, 2021

New Picture Books for Christmas 2021

It's December, which means the Christmas books are out on our shelves, just waiting to be read! We have several new additions to our collection this year, which I will highlight today.  Every title mentioned in this post was sent to me for review from the publisher, except the Tomie dePaola titles and Jan Brett's The Nutcracker, which were purchased by my mom. 

First up is a book I received for review over at Catholic Mom, where it will be the subject of my December article. It's called The Night the Saints Saved Christmas, written by Gracie Jagla and illustrated by Michael Corsini (Our Sunday Visitor). I'll save most of my thoughts for that piece, but I will say that the idea of saints jumping in to help Saint Nicholas deliver gifts on Christmas Eve is a really clever concept, and it's the best approach to the "Santa has a crisis and can't deliver the gifts" trope that I've ever read. 

Another book I received for review is a cute interactive pull-tab book called Deer Santa, which is written by Hannah Eliot and illustrated by Kathryn Selbert (Little Simon). On each page a different sweet little animal asks for a special gift. Each one holds an envelope with a tab that can be pulled out to reveal a message to Santa that matches the qualities of that animal. (The skunk's message, for example, reads, "Jingle smells!") Because of the delicate tabs, I'm not giving this to my toddlers; my four-year-old will enjoy it, and she will be much more careful with it! 

We have several different versions of Twas the Night Before Christmas, but I couldn't resist this one illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick). The soft, dark pictures create the perfect Christmas Eve ambiance, filled with a hushed anticipation as we await the arrival of Santa. Santa himself has an ethereal quality that is very appealing. His expression as he eyes the narrator just before filling the stockings is one of the best single images of Santa Claus I have ever seen. It infuses him with such personality and impishness, turning him into the "right jolly old elf" described in the text. This is a beautiful book worth owning even if you already have several versions.

We also have a lot of versions of the Biblical Christmas story on our shelves, but The First Christmas illustrated by Will Moses (Paula Wiseman Books) is different because the text is the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem. I love a good singable Christmas book and this one just jumped to the top of my list for a Christmas story time. The folk art style illustrations are also unique in our collection, and I love that Moses's paint strokes are visible, and that there is so much to look at on each page. I also like the realistic Middle Eastern setting that is the backdrop to each painting, and the joy the artist depicts on the face of each figure in his illustrations. This is just a lovely book. 

We also have two new Jan Brett books on our shelves.  In The Animals' Santa (Penguin Young Readers), a young snowshoe hare is excited to learn that, on Christmas Eve, the Animals' Santa will leave presents for him and his all his woodland neighbors. But who is the Animals' Santa? All the creatures speculate, imagining which species would be best suited to the job - in the end, they witness a special delivery and learn who truly has the task of  delivering their gifts. I love the way this story parallels the experience of real preschool kids at Christmastime - the anticipation, the questions about how exactly the magic works, and the joy of discovering their gifts on Christmas morning. I also love the idea of animals having their own Santa and their own Christmas traditions. 

The Nutcracker is a retelling of the beloved holiday ballet in which the dancers Marie and the Nutcracker encounter on their sleigh ride are portrayed as animals. Every spread is a feast for the eyes, with many details to pore over, including clothes, festive decorations, the features of various creatures, and a host of musical instruments. There are some problems with the way certain figures hold and play their instruments - something we are sensitive to with a former music teacher in the family - but this is somewhat forgivable given the fact that animals in the illustrations would not even have opposable thumbs in real life. 

The Cat on the Dovrefell by Tomie de Paola has been re-released this year with the 1979 illustrations and brand-new text. This is a Scandinavian folk tale about Halvor, who tricks the trolls into staying away from his house at Christmas by scaring them with his "cat," which is really a polar bear. The most entertaining part of the book is the wordless spread of the trolls wreaking havoc. The original text, which I listened to on YouTube, seems to have been more wordy and complex; the new text isn't necessarily bad, it's just simpler and probably easier to read aloud to younger audiences. Depending on how things work out for my Christmas-themed story time this year, I may add this to the repertoire. 

There are two more recently released Christmas-themed Tomie dePaola titles as well : a new edition of Jingle the Christmas Clown, in which a circus clown provides a holiday performance for a town that is too poor to have Christmas and Christina's Carol, the text of which is the words of "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Christina Rossetti. 

Finally, Nosy Crow has two new board books. Jingle Bells  by Nicola Slater is a vibrantly illustrated version of the popular song featuring woodland animals in winter clothes. The last page of the book has buttons to press, one of which plays music, and the other of which lights a yellow star atop a Christmas tree. Where's the Polar Bear? by Ingela P. Arrhenius is a lift-the-flap book where the flaps are made of durable felt. The imagery in the illustrations is generically wintry, but the color scheme and the presence of pine trees gives it a strong Christmas mood. 

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