Anne Holman, co-owner and manager of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, has been buying Christmas picture books for her two daughters before they were even born. “I bought Tasha Tudor’s ‘Take Joy’ from the old Carden Children’s Bookshop when I had NO MONEY and way before kids or marriage,” she said. “It sits on our piano every Christmas and brings me enormous happiness.”
Later, when she was pregnant with her older daughter, she bought Eloise Wilkin’s classic “Baby’s Christmas.”
Holman has continued to buy Christmas books every year since — one for each daughter. Some of her favorites include “The Night Tree” by Eve Bunting (“Ted Rand’s illustrations are delicious,” she says) and “Who Is Coming to Our House” by Joseph Slate (“Our favorite line is I will butt aside the rig!”). Holman especially appreciates seasonal stories with good messages, “the simpler the better.” She loves “The Trees of the Dancing Goats” by Patricia Polacco, which doubles as a Hanukkah and Christmas story, and “Stick Man” by Julia Donaldson, a sweetly funny tale about the importance of perseverance.
Holman’s daughters, Whitney and Jane, are in their 20s now. Does she still buy them Christmas picture books? “I will buy them books forever, I think,” she says. “They’re the first thing we unpack along with the advent calendar.”
The following is a list of some of this season’s new picture books, each waiting for the opportunity to be similarly well-loved.
“The Nutcracker: a Dancing Primer,” by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver
Local author Jennifer Adams continues to delight very young children (and their parents, too!) with her clever BabyLit series. Swaying. Marching. Swirling. Leaping. Skipping. Characters from the beloved ballet “The Nutcracker” demonstrate the many ways a body can move after the music is cued.
“Red & Lulu,” by Matt Tavares
Red and Lulu are two cardinals who live happily together in a huge evergreen tree. One day while Red is out foraging for food, the tree is cut down, loaded on a truck and taken away with Lulu still tucked inside its branches. Frantic, Red flies long distances, searching for her. Just when he’s about to give up hope, he hears a song that both of them love. If you’re looking for a good story with gorgeous illustrations this Christmas season, “Red & Lulu” is the book for you.
“Jingle Bells,” illustrated by Susan Jeffers
Caldecott honoree Susan Jeffers brings her traditional style to this traditional carol with excellent results. Led by a beautiful, silvery horse, a pair of children take a memorable sleigh ride through a snowy forest where they encounter a series of woodland creatures … as well as a certain someone wearing a big red suit. (Hint: It’s not the Easter Bunny.)
“The 12 Days of Christmas,” illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Speaking of traditional carols, the most tedious carol in the history of the universe is made considerably less tedious by Pizzoli’s exuberant interpretation. Thumb through the pages of this book and you’ll meet a young elephant (because nothing says Christmas like elephants!) who overwhelms his patient parents with gifts of leaping lords and swimming swans and, oh yeah, a partridge in a pear tree. (Pizzoli, incidentally, illustrates Jennifer Adams’ newest board books, which spotlight the world’s great cities.)
“The Twelve Days of Christmas,” illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith
In case Pizzoli’s book isn’t precisely your cup of tea, then check out Baker-Smith’s illustrated version. This tiny popup book — the size of Beatrix Potter’s classic “Peter Rabbit” — is a lovely little gem, an excellent stocking stuffer for those who stuff stockings. Baker-Smith, a recipient of the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, is in fine form here.
“The Nutcracker in Harlem,” by T. E. McMorrow, illustrated by James Ransome
This African-American take on The Nutcracker story joyfully celebrates that flowering of the arts in 1920s upper Manhattan, an era now known as the Harlem Renaissance. Legendary performers Adelaide Hall and Cab Calloway (Calloway is the Dr. Drosselmeyer figure) make cameo appearances. Meanwhile, Ransome’s use of saturated color makes this a particularly attractive book.
“A Christmas for Bear,” by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
When it comes to Christmas, Bear thinks reading a poem and eating some pickles is all the celebration that’s required. His friend, Mouse, has other ideas. According to Mouse, a present should be involved — specifically a present for HIM. Mouse scurries through Bear’s house, looking for gifts to no avail. Can this Christmas be saved? A likable story about a very unlikely friendship.
“Finding Christmas,” by Leslie Evans, illustrated by Yee Von Chan
Squirrel, Hare and Mouse are almost ready for Christmas. The only problem is that Mouse doesn’t have a present for his friends — and it looks like he won’t have time to find one either when he encounters a sick swallow who needs his help. Quiet and sweet, “Finding Christmas” reminds readers that sometimes the best gifts are the ones we didn’t plan to give.