Thursday, November 29, 2012

Need a Little Christmas? Right This Very Minute?

From Leslie Patricelli's Fa La La.
Here's a sample of the fun holiday books hitting bookstores now!

Click the links below or scroll down the page!

Like a Dream -- The Nutcracker: A Magic Theater Book

Santa vs. the Digital Age -- Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special

Silent Joy -- The Christmas Quiet Book

Latkes for Santa -- Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama

Santa's Stowaway -- Christmas Wombat

When Toys Wish for Toys -- Christmas at the Toy Museum

A Tug to Remember -- The Christmas Tugboat

All About Merry -- Fa La La

Like a Dream

The Nutcracker: A Magic Theater Book, by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Kristina Swarner, Chronicle, $19.99, 24 pages, ages 6 an up, 2012.  In this gorgeous remake of the classic ballet story, a girl curls up under a Christmas tree with her broken nutcracker and dreams of freeing a prince from a witch's curse. As readers turn pages, die-cut characters bow to each other in dances or parry in duels within wreath-like openings. A tab inserted over the page fold causes the characters to tilt inward, as if they were dancing on a curtained stage. It also eliminates the need for readers to pull tabs themselves, making this an easy book for little hands. Swarner's paintings look as wondrous as a fairyland -- they glow in rich hues, and sparkle with oversized snowflakes and floating treats, and McCaughrean's writing is as enchanting as ever. Marie (the story's Clara) is taken by her prince on "a boat of starlight and swansdown" to the Land of Sweets (reminiscent of Candyland from the game board). Then later she sails home through "soft, sheep-flocks of clouds" and "gates of sunrise" -- an image that is enticingly dreamy. This is a dazzling, imaginative journey that sweeps readers off the stage to a glistening wonderland -- a world they'll want to lay awake at night trying to imagine into their dreams. (McCaughrean is the award-winning author of Peter Pan in Scarlet and Sunshine Queen.) Best part: When Marie and her prince sail off in the night under a long, feathery wing.

Santa vs. Bits and Bytes

Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special, by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost, First Second, $9.99, 6 and up, 64 pages, 2012. When Santa's elves stop making gifts to write game codes for girls and boys, the jolly man in red concocts a plan to entice kids back to the printed page. In this funny cartoon for the digital age, three comic makers imagine how Santa would react if kids only wanted digital gifts, and his elves no longer packed his sleigh with books and toys. Being a traditional fellow, Santa isn't happy that children only wish for electronic games, so he calls on his Magical Cartooning Elf to save Christmas from being all about bits and bytes. He asks the Elf to summon a knight who's had great adventures and work with him to write a comic book that no child could resist. On first try, the knight writes about being captured by a yeti in a blizzard, then waking to find the yeti greeting him in a peculiar way, eating his arm like spaghetti. A curious tale -- but Santa and the elf want, "Something inspiring! Something redeeming!" So, the knight writes instead about riding a rocket to space to get a real star for a child's extra-tall tree. Sounds perfect, says Santa. But after the book has gone to print and they go to load the sleigh, they learn that Santa's reindeer have been set free. Since the elves switched to uploading gifts, they no longer needed them. How will they ever carry all those books to good girls and boys? They need a hero, a knight, to save the day! But what could a knight supply that would fly and light the way? This is a silly, delightful tale of how a comic book saves Christmas from the being overly digitalized. Best part: Santa, the elf and knight blazing across the sky on a green, fire-breathing "sleigh."

Silent Joy

The Christmas Quiet Book, by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska, Houghton Mifflin, $12.99, ages 4 and up, 32 pages, 2012. Animals with fur like felted wool soak up the quiet moments of the holiday, in this adorable companion to the national bestsellers The Quiet Book and The Loud Book!. On the snowy days leading up to Christmas, bunnies, bears, a mole, a hedgehog, an owl and an iguana share intimate moments when nothing is said out loud but everything is understood. They experience the quiet wonder of hanging a star on the top of a Christmas tree and making angels in the snow, and the cozy silence of being so bundled up in winter gear that they look as if they'll have to wobble around. They feel the chilly quiet of knocking on a friend's burrow with mittens, and the warm silence of sipping hot cocoa as they snuggle their paws. They share the quiet concentration of decorating a gingerbread house and the awkward silence when two friends meet under mistletoe. And together they own an embarrassing moment; when one friend forgets a line during a Christmas pageant, another saves him with a friendly whisper. Underwood's simple, spare words sparkle with humor and caring, while Liwska's animals are so soft and cuddly looking, it's hard not to reach out and try to pet them. Best part: An illustration labeled "Reading by the fire quiet." A bunny falls asleep on her tummy while reading, and as she dreams, tiny animal drawings parade off the pages into the shadows. (If you like this book, be sure to read Liwska's Little Panda.)

Latkes for Santa

Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99, ages 5 and up, 32 pages, 2012. Barely pausing for a breath, a girl shares all the ways her family blends their Jewish and Christian beliefs during the holidays. Every tradition Sadie lists is a charming mix of the two faiths, and makes celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas together look whimsical, fun and easy. As the family crowns their tree with a star, they leave latkes with milk on the mantel for Santa and hang candy canes from menorah branches. Sadie then cuts out blue angels, a Star of David and Santa's reindeer from paper, and hangs them from the ceiling, and her father stuffs a turkey with cranberry kugel dressing. As their extended families arrive to celebrate, Sadie feels lucky to have so many traditions; then everyone shares the tales that link them together. When the holiday is over, Sadie looks ahead and thinks of all the Jewish and Christian holidays still to come. Behind her family, a whimsical timeline extends from their tree across a two-page spread as if a mural of holidays were painted on their wall-- and the best part, the holidays are not all Jewish and Christian. Kwanzaa is there too, even Earth Day has a dateline. Alko (Every-day Dress-Up) shows how rewarding it is to incorporate different beliefs, and she gets readers excited to explore many traditions too. To get them started, she shares recipes for cranberry kugel and turkey dressing. Best part: As an uncle and aunt tell stories of how their holidays came to be, images from each story swirl around family gathered in the living room.

Santa's Stowaway

Christmas Wombat, by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley, Clarion, $16.99, ages 3 and up, 32 pages, 2012. A wombat waddles into Christmas while on a mission to find carrots and makes a wondrous discovery that there are many carrots in the world, in this adorable companion to Diary of a Wombat. The wombat, a roly-poly fellow with stout legs, lives for napping, scratching and eating, and one day, sets off on a single-minded quest to do plenty of all three. Little does he know it's Christmas Eve -- and he's about to be part of festivities. As he shuffles along, his nose bumps into "dangly things" on a tree. Not knowing they're ornaments or even what an ornament is, he knocks them out of his way and walks on, crushing them underfoot. In no time at all, the wombat gets a whiff of earthy sweetness. Carrots! So he takes off on a gallop, scissoring his stubby legs, and in moments, skids to a stop in front of a plate where strange creatures are munching carrots. His carrots. After all, aren't all carrots his? So, he press his snout against one of the creature's muzzles and challenges him to a stare down -- and wins! (Perhaps in part because the poor reindeer are all hitched up two-by-two to Santa's sleigh.) Of course, all of that eating makes the wombat sleepy. Luckily, straight ahead is a spot to nap, the runners at the front of Santa's sleigh. As the wombat dozes inside the curled wood, he is whisked into the sky, then back down again. Soon, he's tagging along with Santa across lawns and into chimneys, having assumed they're on the trail of carrots. Just look at all those plates of carrots! But will the wombat share any of the tasty roots with Santa's reindeer? Or that rather large polar bear up north? Readers will giggle all the way through and may just wish for a wombat under their tree. Best part: When the pudgy marsupial sits on a snowbank with his back to the reader, ruminating on all the carrots that await him in the world.

When Toys Wish for Toys

Christmas at the Toy Museum, by David Lucas, Candlewick, $15.99, ages 3 and up, 32 pages, 2012. When the last visitor leaves the Museum of Childhood on Christmas Eve, the toy exhibits come to life and gather around the museum tree, only to find there's nothing under the tree for them. So, at the suggestion of Bunting, a thoughtful old toy cat, they wrap each other up in paper and bows, and give each other as gifts. The problem is, there's an uneven number of toys and come morning, Bunting is the odd present out  and has no gift to open. But kindness always comes back to those who give, and soon an angel glides down from the tree with a tiny golden box. The air sparkles and out pops a wishing star. Bunting has one wish to make -- so, what does he want more than anything? Lucas's sweet, simple followup to Lost in the Toy Museum shows that generosity repays itself and it gently teaches readers to be giving too. Flipping through the book is like stepping into a childhood dream. Like his other picture books, the premises are quirky and spirit-lifting, his perspectives grand and wondrous, and his artwork, lively and fantastical. Lucas works richly colored, whimsical shapes, such as harlequin diamonds and checkerboards, into playful drawings, in which characters appear so energetic they look as if Lucas drew them on the spot.  Once I read Lucas' books Whale and The Robot and the Bluebird, I craved to read everything he made. To see excerpts of his work, visit Lucas' website here. Best part: A comical two-page spread of stuffed toys, puppets and dolls taking turns wrapping each other.

A Tug to Remember

The Christmas Tugboat: How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City, by George Matteson and Adele Ursone, paintings by James E. Ransome, Clarion, $17.99, 2012. A young girl recalls the magical day her family hauled a tree the height of a mid-rise into New York Harbor, in this cozy picture book. The story begins at dawn as the girl's father, a boat captain, steers the tug up the Hudson River, past a sleeping New York City, while she and her mother ride along. The three are awed by the immensity of the city: Manhattans' skyscrapers glisten on their right and the Statue of Liberty towers to their left, her flaming torch making her look wide awake. The story unfolds slowly, beautifully echoing the pace of the tug. The family breakfasts on steaming bowls of oatmeal as Dad tells of tug adventures, and later the daughter paints what she sees from the tug, takes a turn steering the boat and learns how to navigate by chart. As day slips into night, the tug arrives at Stony Point, where the giant tree is waiting on a barge. The tree is on its side, bundled up on a tractor trailer, and red ornaments the height of the trailer's cab are piled around it. As the father connects the towline, the tug sluggishly pulls the barge away from shore. The tug chugs along for a few hours, then the father ties up for the night, before making the final leg to the Manhattan Bridge at dawn. Matteson and Ursone's writing is perfectly paced and makes the tug's arrival feel climactic. Readers imagine they're passengers, and share the magic of the journey, as well as the tingling sensation of being greeted by an enormous crowd. Best part: As the tug leaves at dawn on it's final leg, frost glistens on the tree like tiny diamonds, and readers feel their anticipation grow.

All About Merry

Fa La La, by Leslie Patricelli, Candlewick, $6.99, ages 1-3, 26 pages, 2012. He's been happy, sad, big, fast, loud, and now the adorable baby in diapers from Patricelli's board book series is jumping for joy over Christmas -- and making readers giddy too. In this cheerful companion book, Baby races around helping his parent prepare for the holiday and puts himself in the center of everything.  "I love Christmas!" he squeals with a half-moon grin and hands in the air. Baby's perfect tree is just his height and has a twirly crown that matches his curl of hair. When it's time to decorate the tree, Baby swirls up in Christmas lights and a popcorn-cranberry garland, and attaches a star to the tip of his curl. "Look at Me! I'm a Christmas tree!"  Everything Baby does explodes into happy chaos. While decorating a gingerbread house, he glues candy to his head and smears a frosting smile around his mouth. Soon, he's being swung between his parents on his way to see Santa. The line is long and snaky, and Baby has to be patient. But finally it's his turn. In Santa's lap, Baby is eye-to-eye with Santa's beard. Look at how fluffy it is! Wouldn't it be fun to pull? Yank. Uh oh, Santa said, "Ouch!" which makes Baby sad. But it's okay, and with a "Ho, Ho, Ho!" Santa makes baby forget all of his tears. Best part: Seeing baby run loop-de-loops toward the tree on Christmas morning -- he can't help but twirl as he runs, even though it takes him longer to get there. (Baby's tree is so tiny that nothing will fit under it, so Santa has piled his presents over it into a bridge.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Congratulations, Judy!

Judy of Minnesota is the winner of the Make Magic Giveaway!

Candlewick Press will be sending Judy a copy of Dallas Clayton's Make Magic! Do Good!, which hit book stores this week.

And thank you everyone for entering!

To read more about Clayton's book, read my review here!

Happy holidays!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Make Magic Giveaway

Win a copy of Make Magic! Do Good! from Candlewick Press. Enter here today!

Leave a comment at the end of this post (or the next!) to be included in a random drawing Friday, Nov. 16.

Make Magic! Do Good! hits bookstores this week and is the latest book by self-publishing sensation Dallas Clayton.

Clayton's first book, An Awesome Book!, was about dreaming big -- this one celebrates being happy and helping others be happy too.

One commenter on my blog is guaranteed to be a winner. Enter by midnight Nov. 15 and be sure to include an email address so that I can contact you.

To win, you must live within the United States or have a mailing address here. Thanks so much for entering. Good luck!

A review of Make Magic! Do Good! follows this post.

Make Magic! Do Good!

Poems & pictures by Dallas Clayton
Candlewick, 2012
$17.99, ages 7 and up, 112 pages

Make spirits fly with this joyful collection of poems by a guy who's as excited about life as anyone could hope to be.

Dallas Clayton, the creator of An Awesome Book!, delivers another heart-swelling book about giving life your all and helping others do so too.

"Make magic / do good. / Be who you are. / Be what you should," Clayton writes in a poem that share's the book's title. "See what you can / Live like you could."

Meet Dallas Clayton:

Friday, November 2, 2012

365 Days of Picture Books

Discover what it's like to pull ideas out of the air and make them dance on the page, in this yearlong exploration of picture books.

In celebration of its 20th year, Candlewick Press is posting short videos every day that celebrate the art of the picture book.

These include interviews with authors and illustrators, and read-alouds and animated shorts about the magic of picture books.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hearts out to Enchanted Lion

Sending well wishes to Enchanted Lion Books as it recovers from Hurricane Sandy!

The Brooklyn-based publisher experienced flood damage in the storm and lost electricity. But it will be back in full operation next week.

Stop by the Enchanted Lion website to see all the fantastic books it offers and read the publisher's bio here!

Enchanted Lion, a small jewel in children's publishing, was started by two sisters in 2003.

Otter and Odder: A Love Story

By James Howe
Pictures by Chris Raschka
Candlewick, 2012
$14, ages 6 and up, 40 pages.

Just as Otter snatches a fish from the river, he realizes the fish is quite a catch -- and he'd rather love her than eat her.

But can an otter date his food source? And if he does, can he still eat her family?

In this perfect little picture book, an otter known simply as Otter and fish called Myrtle try to figure out how to love each other in a world where straying from the food chain just isn't done.