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Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914

John Hendrix. Abrams, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1175-6

Inspired by the uplifting true story of German, French and English soldiers who fashioned an unofficial truce on Christmas Day, Hendrix crafts an intimate fictional account of the event, framed as a young British soldier’s letter to his mother. In hand-lettered text and a simply drawn map, Charlie describes the brutal conditions of fighting and living in the trenches during a cold, wet winter on the French-Belgian border. But gloom gives way to joy, astonishment, and hope as he witnesses enemies put aside their differences and celebrate their commonality. A scene of miniature candlelit Christmas trees aglow above the German trench, as the lyrics to “Silent Night” float across the page, is just one of several powerful images. An author’s note, glossary, and bibliography may serve as jumping off points for budding history buffs. Ages 8–12. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Memoirs of an Elf

Devin Scillian, illus. by Tim Bowers. Sleeping Bear, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58536-910-2

Scillian and Bowers return to the format they introduced in Memoirs of a Goldfish, delivering a tech-savvy elf’s by-the-minute chronicle of Santa’s Christmas Eve journey around the world, which involves texting with Santa (“Time to fly, big guy!”) and snapping multiple “elfies” to commemorate the occasion. Bowers’s high-energy illustrations show the sleigh soaring above snow-covered neighborhood, as well as scenes of a rather dotty, dilly-dallying Santa: “Starting to worry about falling behind,” reports the elf. “Santa always wants to stop and pet every dog.” A canine stowaway presents an amusing quandary and a light message about the meaning of the holiday. It’s a lighthearted diversion with a few modern twists for readers who wonder if Santa uses GPS. Ages 6–9. Illustrator’s agent: Rubin Pfeffer, Rubin Pfeffer Content. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Cookie for Santa

Stephanie Shaw, illus. by Bruno Robert. Sleeping Bear, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58536-883-9

In a loose riff on Moore’s “Night Before Christmas,” a gingerbread boy with a mop of frosting hair lies on a plate for Santa, “Awaiting his fate”: “Later that evening/ When he’d be devoured/ Would he be brave?/ Or a crumbling coward?” When two rowdy puppies make a mess of the family’s holiday decorations, Cookie puts on a one-man show to distract them: “He twirled and he spun/ Until he was dizzy/ Keeping exuberant/ Puppies quite busy.” In the meantime, Santa arrives with a higher purpose in mind for Cookie—one that doesn’t involve digestion. Robert’s kooky cartooning brings this plucky hero to life in this behind-the-scenes look at Christmas Eve shenanigans. The fortuitous conclusion, which sees Cookie appointed a watchman for Santa’s toy shop (and the two dogs headed for obedience school), ought to leave readers with a smile. Ages 6–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon

Susan Blackaby, illus. by Carolyn Conahan. Sterling, $12.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4549-0891-3

In this addition to the Twelve Days of Christmas in America series, a boy named Damon visits his Oregonian cousin Liz, who gives him a crash course in all that the state has to offer. Opposite an Oregon-themed version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (from “12 crabbers crabbing” to “a meadowlark in a fir tree”), Damon’s letters home to his parents reveal how much he’s learning about Oregon. Blackaby packs an impressive amount of information into these missives, including a few holiday-appropriate tidbits (the cousins camp near the Donner und Blitzen River, “which comes from the German words for ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning,’ ” Damon recounts). Conahan’s spirited watercolors are full of humorous asides and details to examine, culminating in a cozy holiday campfire on the beach. Series entries highlighting Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania will be simultaneously available. Ages 5–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Dreidel that Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah

Martha Seif Simpson, illus. by Durga Yael Bernhard. Wisdom Tales, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-937786-28-1

Contrary to what the title says, the dreidel it mentions will spin—it just won’t spin for the spoiled, greedy kids who are its first and second owners. Once it’s in the hands of a child “of simple means,” who understands that “the miracle of Hanukkah truly could not be bought,” the dreidel spins “for several minutes, longer than any dreidel they had ever seen.” The colorful drawings by Bernhard (Never Say a Mean Word Again) evoke Judaism’s Eastern European past, but overwriting by Simpson, a children’s librarian as well as author (What NOT to Give Your Mom on Mother’s Day), tends to swamp the otherwise nifty premise. Ages 5–up. Illustrator’s agent: Ronnie Ann Herman, Herman Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole

Bob Raczka, illus. by Chuck Groenink. Lerner/Carolrhoda, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4677-1805-9

Writing in the voice of Santa himself, Raczka (Lemonade) offers a haiku for each day in December leading up to Christmas. This is not a frantic Santa laboring day and night in his workshop; in fact, he’s seen there only on December 9, calmly whistling while listening to “Elves pounding, sawing/ and sanding, a holiday/ concert performance.” Ostensibly typed up on Santa’s typewriter, the poems capture the sounds and sights of the season, indoors and out, while conveying the personality of the gentle, perceptive poet and his loving bond with Mrs. Claus. Suggesting elements of folk art, silkscreen, and stencil, Groenink’s (Dear Daisy Dunnington) graceful pictures are similarly soothing, whether he’s portraying the moonlit, frozen outdoors or the peaceful, warm interior of the Claus home. This is Christmas from the heart—with scarcely a toy in sight. Ages 5–9. Illustrator’s agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Great Pirate Christmas Battle

Michael G. Lewis, illus. by Stan Jaskiel. Pelican, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4556-1934-4

A rough-and-tumble pirate and his ragtag crew face off against Santa and his elves. Though Cap’n McNasty’s rhymed narration is full of gusto, its pirate speak and syntax are strained: “Our ship wuz full o’ booty—/ no more need for gold./ Me crew wanted adventure/ ’cause things wuz gettin’ old.” On Christmas Eve, McNasty finds a solution for their ennui: he and his minions steal (and then play with) the toys Santa has left for children in a village, until Santa arrives in a ship pulled by flying reindeer. A “Christmas Battle” ensues, including a joust between the hook-handed captain and a candy cane–wielding Santa. McNasty loses, but gets the last laugh, which will have kids snickering as well. Jaskiel’s rowdy cartoons feature comical pirate caricatures and over-the-top action. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Eight Candles and a Tree

Simone Bloom Nathan, illus. by Brian Barber. Beaver’s Pond (www.beaverspondpress.com), $19.95 (28p) ISBN 978-1-59298-935-5

Tommy friend and neighbor Sophie has a Jewish mother and Christian father, so they celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas: there are holiday lights on Sophie’s house and a Christmas tree in her living room, but there’s also Grandma’s latkes frying in the kitchen, blessings over the menorah, and dreidel spinning. Tommy declares Sophie “lucky” to get two holidays—his family’s Christmas celebration is “great, but it’s not eight days long.” The December dilemma is very real for many families, but Barber’s innocuous marker-style drawings and Nathan’s relentlessly cheery storytelling probably won’t make anyone feel any closer to interfaith rapprochement. The treatment of Christmas strikes a particularly sour note—it’s either not enough on its own or simply an exercise in nostalgia. Interfaith families seeking more equitable treatment of the two holidays will want to look elsewhere. Ages 4–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Donkey in the Living Room: A Tradition That Celebrates the True Meaning of Christmas

Sarah Raymond Cunningham, illus. by Michael Foster. B&H Kids, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4336-8317-6

A bit of a mashup of an Advent calendar and the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon, this book—originally self-published with different illustrations in 2012, and then as an e-book with the current art in 2013—presents the Nativity story from the perspectives of key characters in a typical “manger scene.” Cunningham explains how adults can wrap and hide individual figurines around the house, and then read the related rhyming story together with children once they locate and unwrap the figurine. Beginning with Mary, mother of Jesus, and ending with Baby Jesus, nine characters have their say, including the Angel: “Have you heard how angels lit up the sky/ And delivered a message from our God on high?” Comedic, animation-flavored artwork gives the proceedings a slick, commercial look. This volume can be purchased individually or with a boxed manger scene containing wooden standing figures. Ages 4–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Legend of Saint Nicholas

Anselm Grün, illus. by Giuliano Ferri. Eerdmans, $16 (28p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5434-6

Grün, a Benedictine monk, employs a gentle, confident voice to narrate the biography and stories of several miracles performed by this well-known saint. With a vast inheritance from his family, Nicholas was able to offer assistance—first as a priest, then as a bishop—to those in need (largely in anonymity, as he preferred). His dramatic rescue of a storm-tossed ship, performed by walking on water to the vessel, earned him the designation of patron saint to sailors. Though the global tradition of celebrating St. Nicholas Day is mentioned, readers are left to make their own inferences about how Nicholas has become so closely linked with Christmas. Ferri’s (Jonah’s Whale) paintings provide evocative vistas of an ancient seaside village, and a closing scene of a snow-covered cottage and Nicholas in a red robe adds a dash of holiday flavor. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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