Children's picture books to take home for the holidays.
As the enduring popularity of "The Polar Express" attests, a good Christmas picture book can appeal to people of all ages. Some new titles worth reading this holiday season include the following:
"An Otis Christmas," written and illustrated by Loren Long
Otis the tractor returns! In this story, Otis saves the day by plowing through a mountain of fresh snow and bringing the vet back to the barn where a mare struggles for her life. The book's final scenes, reminiscent of the first Christmas, are surprisingly and sweetly effective. (Philomel, $17.99)
"My Pen Pal, Santa," written by Melissa Stanton and illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell
This engaging little picture book features letters written throughout the calendar year by a girl named Ava to her favorite pen pal Santa Claus. When asked, for example, if there are fireworks during the month of July in the North Pole, Santa says no, but fortunately he can see fireworks set off in Alaska, no doubt from his house. (Random House, $9.99)
"Gifts of the Heart," written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
It's no surprise that Polacco has such a devoted following. Even when she takes on difficult subjects, Polacco's gentle humanity always shines through. "Gifts of the Heart," Polacco's newest Christmas book, is the story of an eccentric housekeeper who helps a brother and sister make their last Christmas together on the family farm an especially memorable event. (Putnam, $17.99)
"The Christmas Wish," story by Lori Evert and photographs by Per Breiehagen
One of the most popular new titles of the season, "The Christmas Wish" tells the story of Anja, a young girl who travels to the North Pole in hopes of becoming one of Santa's helpers. What sets this picture book apart is its look. Photographs rather than artwork illustrate the story, and they are indeed lovely to behold. (Random House, $17.99)
"Tallulah's Nutcracker," written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Little girls who love to dance may also enjoy this new addition to the Tallulah series. Tallulah is cast as a mouse in "The Nutcracker" ballet. It's a dream come true for our budding ballerina, until the evening of her first performance when everything goes terribly awry. How will Tallulah respond? (Clarion Books, $16.99)
"A Very Fuddles Christmas," written and illustrated by Frans Vischer
This picture book tracks what happens to Fuddles (a pampered housecat who's never met a treat he doesn't want to eat) when he's accidentally locked outside. Cat owners in particular will recognize the unintentional havoc a curious feline can cause during the holiday season. Vischer, who works as a Disney animator, displays a nice light touch in this second Fuddles book. (Aladdin, $15.99)
"Zoomer's Out-of-This-World Christmas," written and illustrated by Ned Young
Henry Ward Beecher famously observed that "the dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic" a description that suits Zoomer perfectly. In his latest adventure, Zoomer and his puppy brothers meet a family of robots from outer space. When their spacecraft can't blast off, Zoomer gives them his favorite tricycle to use for parts. As always, Young's high-voltage illustrations carry the story. (Harper, $17.99)
"Santa Claus and the Three Bears," by Maria Modugno and illustrated by Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer
What if the three bears were actually polar bears? And what if Goldilocks was actually Santa Claus? Then you would have this new picture book a likable holiday reimagining of a classic fairy tale. (Harper, $17.99)
"The Night Before Christmas," written by Clement C. Moore and illustrated by Holly Hobbie
" 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house. â¦" Every year, it seems, a new interpretation of Moore's iconic poem appears on publishers' lists. A nice addition to the canon is this version, illustrated by Holly Hobbie, who is best known for her charming Toot and Puddle series. The art has an appealing homespun quality. (Little, Brown, $18)
"Frosty the Snowman," performed by Kenny Loggins and illustrated by Wade Zahares, music and lyrics by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins
Ever wonder what the song "Frosty the Snowman" would sound like if Kenny "Footloose" Loggins sang it? Me neither. However, this book (complete with CD, featuring two additional songs) gives new life to an old favorite. The illustrations, saturated in blue light, are terrific. (Imagine! Peter Yarrow, $17.95)
"The Twelve Days of Christmas," illustrated by Susan Jeffers
Susan Jeffers' talent for lovely illustration is on full display in this new version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The frame story of a little girl going to bed on Christmas Eve and waking up the next morning is a particularly nice touch. (Harper, $17.99)
Pop-ups and pictures
Fans of pop-up books will want to check out these three titles: "Woodland Christmas" by Neiko Ng and Bruce Foster, "The Curious Cats' Christmas" by Yevgeniya Yeretskaya, and best of all, "Snowflakes," written by Jennifer Preston Chushcoff and illustrated by Yevgeniya Yeretskaya. The latter, with its glittering intricate snowflakes, is truly stunning. All three are published by Jumping Jack Press and range in cost from $19.95 to $24.95.
And for people who want a Christmas picture book that stands the test of time, "The Jolley Christmas Postman" by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (first published in 1991) and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss (first published in 1957) are still in print and as delightful as they ever were. Of particular interest is the 50th-anniversary retrospective edition of the Grinch, which features an appendix full of information about the history of this world-famous story, including the fact that the Grinch was modeled in some ways after Theodor Geisel himself.
Happy holiday reading!