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Christmas for Greta and Gracie

Yasmeen Ismail. Nosy Crow, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8943-8

It’s tough being a younger sister, especially when your older sibling—by “one year, six months, and three days”—is an irrepressible chatterbox like Greta. Quiet and careful, Gracie takes it in stride, “most of the time.” Greta pushes Gracie through a rigorous lineup of Christmas preparations, Greta-splaining everything from what Santa is really like to how to ice skate the right way, but it’s during the hush of Christmas Eve that Gracie has a magical encounter all her own. Ismail (I’m a Girl!) uses brightly colored speech bubbles and hand lettering to amplify the personalities of these rabbit sisters; Greta’s diatribes dominate the pages the same way that she dominates, well, everything. In digital compositions with the airiness of watercolor paintings, Ismail creates an exuberant portrait of Christmastime bustle that demonstrates all too clearly how holiday excitement can intensify an already-spirited relationship between sisters. Ages 3–7. Agent: Vicki Willden-Lebrecht. Bright Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Fox

Anik McGrory. Knopf, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-101-93500-2

McGrory (Quick, Slow, Mango!) transplants the Nativity story to a snowy woodland setting, where a puppylike fox ignores the urgings of his fellow animals as they prepare for the baby’s arrival. “Come!” says a brown cow, peering back at the fox as it trudges toward a distant barn. “A baby is coming. There’s a place to make warm with sweet-smelling hay.” Instead, the fox romps in the woods, eventually coming to believe that he has nothing to share with the child. “Just come,” urges the donkey. “It is enough.” It’s a distinctly allegorical version of the story—Mary and Joseph are unseen, and fox’s recalcitrance recalls Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” Yet McGrory’s soft, gestural artwork, washed with pale color and infused with lemony light, celebrate the fox’s play, and his joyful spirit is a gift both to the waiting child and to readers. Ages 3–7. Agent: Victoria Wells Arms, Wells Arms Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Random House, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-101-93743-3

All the hallmarks of the Holm siblings’ Babymouse graphic novels—vivid fantasy sequences, a drily funny narrator, and punchy cartooning—make their way to the irrepressible mouse’s first picture book. After Babymouse scarfs down the cookies meant for a certain jolly old elf, the narrator asks what she hopes Santa will bring her: “A nice tea set, perhaps?” No, Babymouse wants a suit of armor (“Because of all the dragons!” she explains, with more than a hint of scorn), and that means baking special cupcakes for Santa. But can they survive an encounter with a cranky baby brother turned dragon? That’s right, cupcakes and dragons—both featured elements in previous Babymouse books—are big, nontraditional parts of this story, which neatly avoids overfamiliar holiday territory while still highlighting the chaos of the days leading up to Christmas. Ages 3–7. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf

Greg Wolfe, illus. by Howard McWilliam. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-61963-521-0

With exaggerated drawings reminiscent of Mad magazine spoofs, McWilliam (When a Dragon Moves In) makes the most of newcomer Wolfe’s comical story. After discovering that some “quite good” children aren’t getting visits from Santa, an elf named Shmelf learns what’s up from the head elf, who tells him, “of course you don’t know, since you’re still quite newish,/ But the kids on this list are actually Jewish.” Intrigued, Shmelf does some reconnaissance at a Jewish home where Hanukkah is in joyous swing, then gets himself appointed the Hanukkah elf—complete with a blue and white costume, a Jewish reindeer named Asher, and a mandate to make Hanukkah a little more “magical.” Three cheers for Shmelf for recognizing that “Hanukkah’s awesome! I’m totally in,” though it may rankle some families to see the Santa juggernaut expand to include Hanukkah, too. Ages 3–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Presents Through the Window

Taro Gomi. Chronicle, $15.99 (36p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5138-0

First published in Japan in 1983, this delightful holiday tale features die-cut windows through which Santa peers into the houses he visits. But Gomi’s Santa—who tools around in a helicopter and wears a mustache instead of a beard—isn’t paying the closest attention to who lives in each house, and that’s the source of this story’s substantial charm. “A little kitten must live in this house,” Santa proclaims in one scene, but a page turn reveals that the “kitten” is just an image on the nightshirt of a snoozing pig. “A zebra definitely lives here,” declares Santa at the next house, dropping off a striped scarf; too bad those “stripes” are actually the long white necks of three swanlike birds, sleeping side by side against a black wall. Luckily, the seemingly mismatched gifts are a hit with everyone. Gomi’s vibrant, pared-down artwork and the effervescent fun of Santa’s well-intentioned bumbling make for laughs on every page. Ages 3–5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Doll People’s Christmas

Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, illus. by Brett Helquist. Disney-Hyperion, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4847-2339-5

The Doll People series of novels expands to picture books as Christmas descends on the Palmer household. The Dolls—delicate Victorian dolls who belong to Kate Palmer—and the plastic Funcrafts who live in younger sister Nora’s room neatly represent the push-and-pull between tradition and change that often arises during the holidays, and that drives the action of this story. After the tiny angel that always tops the Doll family’s Christmas tree is broken, it’s the first of several unwelcome events that cause some holiday strife before Annabelle Doll realizes that spontaneity and new experiences can be good things. Interestingly, the dolls spend time near the (non-mobile) figurines of the Palmer family’s Nativity scene, though the book doesn’t delve into what the crèche represents. Still, the authors’ gentle storytelling and Helquist’s intimate images of the dolls’ miniature world create a Christmas story that’s rich with emotion. Ages 3–5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree

Lori Nichols. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-16756-0

Maple and her younger sister, Willow, return in their fourth picture book, and they’re busy with the “hard work” of Christmas preparations, including baking cookies, selecting “the best Christmas tree... in the whole wide world,” and decorating it. When Maple starts sneezing as soon as the fir tree comes inside, the sisters’ visions of Christmas are upended. Nichols does a lovely job of showing the closeness between these girls (discussions of which tree is best are conducted in pig Latin) and how that closeness is, at least temporarily, threatened. “Willow, I’m sorry I ruined Christmas,” Maple confesses. “I’m sorry you ruined Christmas, too,” Willow replies. The younger girl’s anger and disappointment are short-lived, and her (truly unexpected) solution to their allergy-driven holiday dilemma will bring smiles to readers’ faces, just as it does to Maple’s. Ages 3–5. Agent: Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Gingerbread Christmas

Jan Brett. Putnam, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-17071-3

Brett celebrates the holidays with the cheery hero of Gingerbread Baby and Gingerbread Friends and his friend Matti, who once again bails out his confectionary pal. When Gingerbread Baby hears about the Christmas Festival, he announces that he will sing with his Gingerbread Band (which doesn’t exist), so Matti bakes up a batch of gingerbread instruments. Their performance is a hit, until a girl identifies them as cookies, and Matti quickly camouflages them with snow to prevent the audience from devouring them. Gingerbread Baby taunts the crowd to chase him, and the clever hiding spot he finds, revealed in a festive Christmas tree pop-up, lets readers do a little seek-and-find of their own. In her signature style, Brett frames her pages with intricate themed borders that supplement or foreshadow the story’s action; featuring candies, gingerbread, and ornate loops of icing, they look good enough to eat. Ages 3–5. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Biggest Smallest Christmas Present

Harriet Muncaster. Putnam, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-16432-3

Essentially a modern-day Thumbelina, Clementine sleeps in a matchbox, bathes in a teacup, and fits neatly in the palm of her mother’s hand. Unfortunately, Santa doesn’t realize that she isn’t an “average-sized” girl: her presents, including a puppy and a paint set, are always much bigger than she is. This year, to clue Santa in, Clementine and her family leave photographs of her with her previous Christmas gifts—such as using xylophone mallets as stilts and balancing on her puppy’s nose. Finally, Santa gets it right, giving Clementine a dollhouse that’s just her size. At the heart of Muncaster’s story is a subtle message about gently but firmly letting one’s needs be known, but many readers will be happy just to pore over the delightful images of Clementine making the most of a very large world. Ages 3–5. Agent: Jodie Hodges, United Agents. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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This First Christmas Night

Laura Godwin, illus. by William Low. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-250-08102-5

From the opening page, Godwin (the Doll People series) directly addresses readers, beckoning them to witness the sights and sounds of the first Christmas through their senses. “See this small gray donkey,/ this long, dusty road,/ this promising star,” she begins, and a quiet urgency builds with successive phrases (“Feel the frost on this clear Bethlehem night/ See this inn with no room”) until the final spreads reveal the miracle: “Welcome this tiny baby boy./ Feel this hush./ This peace on Earth./ This first Christmas night.” An inky sky serves as the backdrop for Low’s (Daytime Nighttime) commanding digital paintings, brightened only by the stars far above and a chorus of angels who appear in the final pages, showing the family with golden light. It’s a lyrical and understated account of the Nativity that will leave readers feeling as though they are witnessing something momentous. Ages 2–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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