Friday, December 10, 2010

30. Christmas Across the World: Two Tales

Nonna Tell Me a Story: Lidia's Christmas Kitchen, by Lidia Bastianich, illustrated by Laura Logan,  Running Press, $15.95, ages 4-8, 56 pages. In this joyful book, beloved TV chef Bastianich draws grandchildren to her lap to hear the story of her childhood Christmases and along the way, becomes the Italian grandma we all wish we had. Simple, unaffected narrative brings out Bastianich's true voice, as she recounts the magic of holidaying with her grandparents in the Italian countryside. Among her memories: the aroma of drying orange peels mingling with the scent of a juniper bush they'd cut for their Christmas tree and afternoons stringing dried figs and bay leaves into wreaths, then hanging them with leafy-stemmed tangerines and cookies looped with ribbon. Everything about this book glows, from the cheeks of the characters to the tender way Bastianich's grandchildren embrace her traditions.

At the back, Bastianich shares 15 traditional dessert recipes and describes how to decorate an old-fashioned Italian tree. The most popular chef on public television, Bastianich hosts the award-winning show, Lidia's Italy, and is a world-famous restaurateur and cookbook author. Born in Croatia, she emigrated to Italy when she was 10 to escape the socialist dictatorship of Josip Tito.

La Noche Buena: A Christmas Story, by Antonio Sacre, illustrated by Angela Dominguez, Abrams, $16.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Being swapped from one home to another at Christmas isn't easy for a child, but if she's as lucky as Nina, she finds love waiting for her wherever she's sent. When Nina is told she's going to her dad's home in Miami for Christmas, she only imagines what she'll miss. Though she loves seeing her paternal grandmother abuela Mimi, Nina yearns for the holiday she knows, with her mother in snowy New England. But it's Dad's turn to have her and though he won't be back to abuela's until the following day, he's promised that La Noche Buena, the Cuban Christmas Eve, with Mimi in Little Havana is the best night of the year. At first, Nina wonders how Santa can land a sleigh in a place so hot, but by the next day, there's so much to do and see, she doesn't give it another thought. Nina is enveloped in a flurry of preparations for the La Noche Buena feast. She helps the women make pots of marinade to pour into a bathtub in Uncle Tito's backyard, while the men prepare a spit for roasting a pig. Everyone smells of campfire and garlic, and laugh so hard over the three-day celebration that Nina asks Mimi is she can come next year and bring along her cousins from the north. 

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