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I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel

Caryn Yacowitz, illus. by David Slonim. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-439-91530-4

This isn’t just a holiday-themed spoof of the classic cumulative song—Slonim (Digger, Dozer, Dumper) takes readers through a nothing-sacred salute to art history. It all begins as the old lady gulps down a growing litany of Jewish-related food and nonfood items (brisket, candles) in search of a remedy for the triggering mishap of the title; she inadvertently swallows a “Chanukah dreidel she thought was a bagel” after her cat knocks it onto the cream cheese–schmeared item. All the while, Slonim’s illustrations parody, among others, Hopper’s Nighthawks, Wyeth’s Christina’s World, Munch’s The Scream, and van Gogh’s Starry Night, complete with menorah. An artist’s note at the back identifies all of the original works. It’s meshugenah in the best sense of the word. Ages 4–8. Author’s agency: Adams Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Star Bright: A Christmas Story

Alison McGhee, illus. by Peter H. Reynolds. S&S/Atheneum, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4169-5858-1

News travels quickly in the heavens, especially when it involves the arrival of a baby on Earth in late December. The “newest angel” wants to join in the joyous celebration, but she’s stymied when it comes to selecting the right baby gift. Her “aha moment” arrives when she looks down through the vast night sky and sees three “others” on camelback riding through the desert: “They too looked lonely—No, they looked lost!” The angel tumbles down, gathering light along the way, “Until she came to rest exactly where she was needed.” McGhee’s spare, tender language and light-dark imagery exert a powerful pull on the heartstrings. Reynolds’s delicate pen, ink, and watercolor art is accented with gently humorous details (the angel’s aviator goggles, the wise men consulting a map) even as it matches the text’s emotional intensity. Ages 4–8. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Navy’s Night Before Christmas

Trish Holland and Christine Ford, illus. by John Manders. Random/Golden, $10.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-385-36998-5

A young sailor on lookout duty aboard an aircraft carrier narrates this tongue-in-cheek restaging of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, a companion to The Soldiers’ Night Before Christmas. Holland and Ford swap out the chubby, bearded Santa for a brawny “Master Chief Claus,” who arrives via a Greyhound cargo aircraft filled with presents. “A salty old dog, he was all chest and arm./ I bet he could bench-press a Jeep with no harm,” gushes the narrator, before the Chief and his crew deliver gifts for the sleeping sailors: “Garcia and Washington, Collins and Yee,/ and Williams and Rubin, and Clark and Ali./ ‘Our mission tonight: to take care of our own,/ Bringing joy to our sailors with gifts straight from home.’ ” Manders’s retro caricatures infuse the sailors with personality in this shipshape twist on a holiday favorite. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Manger

Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illus. by Helen Cann. Eerdmans, $16 (34p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5419-3

This joyful collection of new and previously printed poems features creatures great and small heralding the arrival of Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve during the one hour, as legend has it, that God granted them the gift of human speech. Each of the brief entries—from Alma Flor Ada, Marilyn Nelson, Alice Schertle, and others—appears on its own spread, nestled alongside one of Cann’s (Brigid’s Cloak) watercolor and mixed-media paintings, whose detailed feathers, scales, and shaggy fur lend a realistic air. On the whole, the verses convey a sense of wonder, awe, and humility. “I tiptoe near;/ gaze down to see/ a babe—/ whose sweet arms/ welcome me,” says Jude Mandell’s “Curious Cat,” while Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s “Sheep Whisper” reads, “I’ve never seen a baby/ or so much golden light.” Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Little Women Christmas

Heather Vogel Frederick, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4424-1359-7

A cozy Christmas with the March clan is on tap in this picture book adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Using accessible but not overly contemporary language (and retaining some of Alcott’s phrasings), Frederick turns a holiday-centric episode from the novel into a standalone story brimming with warmth. Admirers of the original will still find much to love, as the characters’ personalities and the basic plotlines remain true. Ibatoulline’s gouache portraits of family life, often awash in the glow of candlelight, are steeped in 19th-century detail, from the modest dresses and carefully set dinner table to a crackling orange-red fire in the fireplace. Outdoor scenes of the March house and its snowy environs are as crisp and clear as a snap of winter air. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Nancy Gallt, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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And Then Comes Christmas

Tom Brenner, illus. by Jana Christy. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5342-2

Returning to the sequential narrative style of And Then Comes Halloween, Brenner alternates between sentences beginning with “When” and those starting with “Then,” lyrically evoking a shift in seasons: “When the days barely start and they’re over again, and red berries blaze against green shrubs, and bare branches rake across the sky... Then hang boughs of fir or spruce or pine, dotted with cones and bits of holly, welcoming winter.” The text describes holiday traditions generally, while Christy’s (A Year with Friends) digital art—suggestive of watercolors scribbled over with crayon and pencil—personalizes the story, showing two siblings visiting a department store Santa, selecting and decorating a Christmas tree with their parents, and making and wrapping homemade presents. The contrast between the cool palette of snowy outdoor scenes and cozy interior settings is as pleasing as this family’s palpable affection. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agency: Shannon Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Merry Moosey Christmas

Lynn Plourde, illus. by Russ Cox. Islandport (www.islandportpress.com), $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-939017-38-3

The search for a sleigh-leading substitute is on after Rudolph begs for Christmas Eve off to “listen for jingling sleigh bells on the roof and a whooooooosh down the chimney with presents just for me!” But it turns out that Rudolph’s hooves are big ones to fill, and few creatures are up to the task. After ruling out a slew of candidates, Santa agrees to give a moose a try. Though he needs a bit of gadgetry—namely a headlamp, jet pack, and GPS—to get things into gear, the moose eventually finds a way to pull off this all-important mission. Readers will enjoy being in on the silly problem-solving, and Cox’s art, often focused on Rudolph and the Moose’s big expressive eyes, gleefully plays into the story’s comical premise. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Joelle Sadler, Sadler Children’s Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Frankenstein’s Fright Before Christmas

Rick Walton, illus. by Nathan Hale. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-312-55367-8

Walton and Hale, again collaborating under the pen name Ludworst Bemonster, return with a Christmas companion to their 2012 Frankenstein-meets-Madeline mashup, Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody. Lumpy-headed little Frankenstein can’t wait for Santa’s arrival at Miss Devel’s decrepit castle; he even drags a Christmas tree—ornamented with bats, snakes, and bones—in from the graveyard. When Santa Claus lands on the roof, it gives way, and he crashes unceremoniously onto the floor. But no matter, he’s got gifts: new heads for the tiny monsters, who have been making do with toasters, cacti, fishbowls, and other off-kilter substitutes after literally losing their heads in the opening scene. Despite a muddled sequence of events once the presents are delivered, the book’s wicked sense of humor will have mischievous readers cackling—Hale even manages to use the red-and-green Christmas palette to cadaverous effect. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Night Before Christmas

Clement C. Moore, illus. by Barbara Reid. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-5625-2

Never mind that shelves are jammed with versions of this classic: make room for Reid’s (Picture a Tree) innovative interpretation, distinguished by her trademark Plasticine artwork and a generous supply of humor. Reid turns Moore’s verse on its head, revealing a mouse who is very much stirring—it stares out at readers in alarm, caught in the act of sneaking a cookie from a bowl. This isn’t the only mouse awake, either: its siblings are scrambling to hang their stockings by the fireplace. The discrepancy between the familiar words and fresh visuals provides ample humor as the mice resist bedtime, rather than nestling “all snug in their beds.” Tableaux-style scenes let readers view antics on both stories of the mice’s log house, and Reid’s artistry results in detailed scenarios with uncommon dimension and texture. Ages 4–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Robert L. May, illus. by Antonio Javier Caparo. S&S/Little Simon, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-7495-6

The original Rudolph story—as written by the late May for a booklet published in 1939 by retailer Montgomery Ward—enjoys a vivid revival in this 75th-anniversary adaptation. The story, more expansive than the omnipresent Christmas carol, gives Caparo plenty of room to exercise his artistic talents. After being teased by the other reindeer, Rudolph settles into his bedroom, buried under thick quilts and looking forward to gifts from Santa. May’s rhymes hold up well to contemporary ears (“And Santa was right, as he usually is./ The fog was as thick as a soda’s white fizz”), and after Santa struggles to deliver gifts amid inclement weather, he happily happens upon Rudolph’s home and enlists his help. Caparo’s wintry spreads, swirled with starlight, have a cinematic richness—a sense of wonder and surprise permeate this whimsical retelling. Ages 4–6. Illustrator’s agency: Shannon Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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