What could those thin, rectangular gifts be? Three carols ring out as a trio of board books in a reclosable gifty box with an audio CD in Merry Christmas: Let's All Sing by Grace Lin: "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls" and "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Each depicts a zoo's worth of cartoon animals singing and acting out the lyrics. The CD features music arranged by Peggo and Paul. (Little, Brown, $12.99 60p ages 6 mos.-5 yrs. ISBN 0-316-79490-2; Oct.)

Hummel figurine collectors will appreciate Christmas Angels: Book & Ornament Gift Set, based on Hummel's vintage drawings of cherubim, and paired with Biblical quotations and poetic musings on themes such as gift-giving and angels. The book is available in a box set with a collectible ceramic ornament, or as a standalone hardcover. (Dutton, $19.99 boxed set 24p ages 4-up ISBN 0-525-47304-1; book only $12.99 ISBN 0-525-47309-2; Sept.)

The First Noël: A Christmas Carousel by Jan Pienkowski, paper engineering by Helen Balmer with Lois Bulow Osborne, unfolds into a 3-D, star-shaped diorama of silhouetted vignettes (ribbons hold the covers together). Intricately cut white paper scenes pop out against a bright red backdrop, depicting the angel's visitation, Jesus' birth and more. Brief text (based on passages from the Bible) accompanies each panel of this cleanly designed package. (Candlewick, $12.99 10p all ages ISBN 0-7636-2190-0; Oct.)

A miniature paper-over-board edition of Holly Hobbie's I'll Be Home for Christmas (2001) comes packaged in her Toot & Puddle: Book and Two Dolls Gift Set, along with the two porky characters as plush dolls, dressed in Christmas pajama finery. PW said of the holiday title, "Hobbie's chipper text and alternately cozy and funny watercolors are as winning as ever." (Little, Brown, $19.99 32p ages 3-6 ISBN 0-316-73586-8; Oct.)

The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories, edited by Ian Whybrow, illus. by Paul Hess and others, consists of standards such as a retelling of "The Nutcracker" and the legends of the poinsettia ("A Gift from the Heart") and Befana (tied to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6) as well as "Becky's Christmas Dream" by Louisa May Alcott and "Christmas at Mole End," an excerpt from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Red foil accents in the jacket of this weighty volume earmark it for gift-giving. (Kingfisher, $19.95 144p ages 5-up ISBN 0-7534-5732-6; Sept.)

The Angel & the Christmas Rabbit: 24 Advent Stories, edited by Brigitte Weninger, mixes titles new and previously published (mostly abroad) to pass the days leading up to the holiday. The short stories tie together through conversations between the titular cherub and hare, as they attempt to think of the perfect gift. Miriam Monnier illustrates these transitional scenes, while Birte Müller, Eve Tharlet and various other artists illustrate the 24 none-too-familiar tales. (Penguin/Minedition, $18.99 112p all ages ISBN 0-698-40005-4; Sept.)

The action-packed holiday escapade Superhero Christmas by Stan Lee, illus. by Tim Jessell, combines all the puns, punches and suspended disbelief one expects from the comic rack. When the evil Ice King captures Santa, it's up to the Protector, the Protectress and their resourceful kids to save the day. Jessell contributes dramatic larger-than-life spreads that capture the intensity of this whiz bang adventure. (HarperCollins, $15.99 32p ages 4-7 ISBN 0-06-056559-4; Oct.)

A red fuzzy hat to touch throughout the pages is the big attraction in One Snowy Night by M. Christina Butler, illus. by Tina Macnaughton. Little Hedgehog finds the fuzzy gift from Father Christmas when it lands with a "Thud!" Unfortunately his "prickles" prevent him from wearing it, so he rewraps it and gives it to his friend, Rabbit. The hat is passed along between friends, cheering up each one's wintry night, until the gift comes full circle. (Good Books, $16 26p ages 3-8 ISBN 1-56148-452-0; Oct.)

The Santero's Miracle: A Bilingual

Story by Rudolfo Anaya, illus. by Amy Córdova, trans. from the Spanish by Enrique Lamadrid, introduces don Jacobo, a santero (a carver of wooden saint statues) in New Mexico. As don Jacobo instructs his grandson in the santero traditions, he worries about a huge snowstorm that strands his ill neighbor at home. But don Jacobo's faith helps bring about a miracle, just in time for Christmas. Córdova's earthy, authentic portraits take on a folkloric woodcut quality appropriate to this tale, which appears in English and Spanish text, side by side. (University of New Mexico Press [800-249-7737], $16.95 paper 32p all ages ISBN 0-8263-2847-4; Oct.)

Alessandra Cimatoribus's luminescent, twilight-toned artwork is the main attraction in One Night in a Stable by Guido Visconti, a tranquil tale of an old ox who makes room in his stable, first for animals who seek shelter from inclement weather—and then for the Holy Family. A dove acts as messenger for the old ox's invitations, and Cimatoribus's renderings of softly rolling hills and Middle Eastern architecture as the bird takes to the skies make for some breathtaking views. (Eerdmans, $16 32p ages 3-up ISBN 0-8028-5279-3; Sept.)

In Ozark Night Before Christmas by Amanda McWilliams, illus. by James Rice, latest in the publisher's "Night Before Christmas" series, "Santy" arrives "a-paddlin' the crick" and exclaims, "By hick'ry yer roof's high as cats' backs, mebbe more./ An' yer chimbley's might narr'... I'm all fer yer door!" (Pelican, $15.95 32p ages 5-8 ISBN 1-58980-056-7; Sept.)

Favorite characters and companion titles ring in the holidays. Fireman Small replaces a sleepy Santa in A Small Christmas by Wong Herbert Yee. The diminutive hero finds Kris Kringle covered in soot in the coal bin; the wee fellow inadvertently shrinks the famous red suit in the dryer, and winds up delivering gifts around town via fire truck in Santa's stead. (Houghton, $12.95 32p ages 4-8 ISBN 0-618-32612-X; Sept.)

In Harry and the Dinosaurs Make a Christmas Wish by Ian Whybrow, illus. by Adrian Reynolds, the boy and his bucket of dinos wish for one of Mr. Oakley's baby ducklings. Harry finds many other toys he wants for Christmas too, but a present inside an egg under the tree shows that wishes do come true—even if not as expected. (Random, $15.95 32p ages 3-7 ISBN 0-375-83111-8; Sept.)

The star of Santa's Twin returns in Robot Santa: The Further Adventures of Santa's Twin by Dean Koontz, illus. by Phil Parks. Bob, attempting to alleviate some of Santa's work load, constructs an android lookalike, which ultimately malfunctions and runs afoul of young Emily and Lottie: "By the fireside, cake and cookies await/ with Emily's note: Santa Claus, you're great! / This robot Kris Kringle eats only the plate." (HarperCollins, $19.95 72p all ages ISBN 0-06-050943-0; Oct.)

The science behind Santa's magic is revealed in How Santa Really Works by Alan Snow. In a format established with his bestselling How Dogs Really Work!, Snow devotes a spread to answering burning questions (such as "How does Santa know what you want?") and packs the pages with chatty elves that attend Christmas College for Elves, spy on hordes of naughty children and man posts in Santa's Production and Dispatch departments. Clever touches such as global gift transporters disguised as stray islands and elephants typify the droll humor. (S&S/Atheneum, $15.95 48p all ages ISBN 0-689-85817-5; Oct.)

The Siamese star of Henry the Sailor Cat and other outings tracks down a lost sheep that a child has borrowed for the Christmas pageant, in Henry the Christmas Cat by Mary Calhoun, illus. by Erick Ingraham. Despite some scary moments and near misses, Henry comes through in time to howl along with the children's carols. (HarperCollins, $15.99 32p ages 4-8 ISBN 0-688-16560-5; Oct.)

For Lily, her cobalt cohort is the reason for the season in Merry Christmas to You, Blue Kangaroo! by Emma Chichester Clark. Here, the girl cheerily decorates, sings and makes other preparations for the holidays, always announcing, "Just for you, Blue Kangaroo." With some help from Santa, the blue marsupial repays Lily's kindness. (Doubleday, $15.95 32p ages 2-5 ISBN 0-385-74682-2; Oct.)

Extolling simpler times, Dick and Jane: A Christmas Story, illus. by Larry Ruppert, tracks the educational characters as a blizzard hits. Dick, Jane and sister Sally head out to play in the snow, coming in only to bake cookies with Mother. The text unspools in short sentences typical of the original primers: "Jane and Sally went inside. Puff and Spot went inside." (Grosset & Dunlap, $12.99 32p ages 3-up ISBN 0-448-43617-5; Sept.)

Little Red's Christmas Story by Sarah Ferguson, illus. by Sam Williams, brings back the cheerful redhead and her friends as they help save Christmas. When one of Santa's reindeer gets sick, Little Red's pony reluctantly takes his place while the others decorate. (S&S,$15.95 40p ages 3-6 ISBN 0-689-85561-3;Oct.)

The spiralbound I Made It Myself! Christmas: 38 Festive Crafts and Recipes stars favorite Nick Jr. characters offering holiday fun for kids and adults to share. Thick cardboard pages hold punchout stencils and gift tags alongside ornament ideas such as "Snowless Snowmen" that use candy, foil or popcorn, as well as recipes including "Hot Cinnamon Cider" and "Chocolate Snowballs." (Chronicle, $12.95 24p ages 3-6 ISBN 0-8118-4420-X; Nov.)

Two new decks of cards from Lynn Gordon offer holiday cheer: 52 Christmas Activities and 52 Activities for Jewish Holidays. For Christmas, ideas include a "Flag Garland" and no-bake "Chewy Snowballs" made from dried fruit and nuts. The second title offers "Beany Mosaics" of peas, beans and seeds, to celebrate the harvest at Sukkot, among other crafts and recipes. (Chronicle, $6.95 each 52 cards ages 9-12 ISBN 0-8118-4123-5; 0-8118-4124-3; Nov.)

Readers can take part in the paper-over-board Santa's Great Reindeer Chase by Vincent Bourgeau. By slipping a cardstock Santa through slits in the pages, they help the jolly fellow pursue two naughty members of his herd—down a chimney and past burly woodcutters, for example. (Chronicle/Seuil, $9.95 12p ages 4-6 ISBN 2-02-063948-3; Dec.)

A host of board books help youngest book lovers celebrate the season. Panels slide upward to reveal hidden Christmas presents in Santa by Salina Yoon. Youngsters can peek inside a gingerbread house, a cookie jar and more. Rhymed text pairs with the cartoon illustrations: "Brightly colored packages/ fill Santa's bag of toys./ Each one made by little elves/ for all good girls and boys." (PSS, $5.99 10p ages 3-5 ISBN 0-8431-1150-X; Sept.)

No need to wait 'til Christmas to unwrap presents in Dear Santa by Rod Campbell. In this board book, St. Nick tries to find the ideal gift; the text offers a clue about each one he considers, the answer hides behind a flap. About a beach ball, he muses: "Too bouncy, thought Santa. I'll send something else . So he wrapped up a...." This continues until the final spread where a feline (with fur to touch) awaits. (S&S/Little Simon, $7.99 16p ages 2-5 ISBN 0-689-87415-4; Oct.)

Photographic holiday images meet Yuletide scents in My Christmas Scratch & Sniff Book, with photos by Dave King, part of the First Holiday Books series. Minty-smelling candy canes hang with ornaments on a garland and stockings spill over with toys, pencils and a citrus-scented orange in this board title. Rhymed verse curves along the die-cut rounded top edge of the pages. (Kingfisher, $7.95 10p ages 3-5 ISBN 0-7534-5731-8; Sept.)

Eric Hill's chipper yellow canine returns in a board book edition of Spot's Christmas as the pup prepares for the holiday, decorating the tree with Dad and making a cake and cookies with Mom. Spot's reward: a full stocking on Christmas morning. (Putnam, $5.99 10p ages 1-up ISBN 0-399-24320-8; Sept.)

The Elves and the Shoemaker by the Brothers Grimm, illus. by Thea Kliros, finds new life in this board book, part of the Once Upon a Time series. Kliros adds a son to the illustrations, giving youngsters a chance to see themselves in the tale of the elves who assist a struggling shoemaker by night, and whom the man and his wife shower with gifts in appreciation. (HarperFestival, $5.99 20p ages 2-6 ISBN 0-06-052765-X; Oct.)

Jan Brett's interpretation of The Twelve Days of Christmas returns as a board edition. PW said, "[Brett] illustrates the fantastic gifts in outrageous splendor,... turns them into a border of tree decorations, includes a menagerie of animals carrying banners with 'Merry Christmas' in different languages and sets into the outer edges of each frame an ongoing story about a family's preparations for the big day itself." (Putnam, $6.99 32p all ages ISBN 0-399-24329-1; Sept.)

Cooper Edens and Harold Darling pull together vintage 19th- and 20th-century illustrations for Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas, a board book edition with rounded corners for smallest hands. (Chronicle, $6.95 20p ages 1-4 ISBN 0-8118-3933-8; Nov.)

With all the glitter of his The Rainbow Fish, Marcus Pfister uses shiny foil inlays to add sparkle to the board book edition of The Christmas Star, adapted from the translation by Alison James. Shepherds, kings and the animals of the "deep forest" all follow the shiny stars to the waiting stable. (North-South, $6.95 14p ages 2-4 ISBN 0-7358-1973-4; Oct.)

A board book abridged from Robert L. May's original story, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, illus. by David Wenzel, allows youngest Rudolph fans to join in the fun. PW said of the original, "The text, which gives a nod to Clement C. Moore, gets a boost from David Wenzel's illustrations of a warm, appealing Santa." (Grosset & Dunlap, $5.99 20p ages 2-5 ISBN 0-448-43642-6; Sept.)

The board book adaptation of The Very First Christmas by Paul L. Maier, illus. by Francisco Ordaz, tells the Biblical story in the simplest terms. Realistic illustrations convey the miraculous events, such as the angel's visitation to Mary, the birth of Jesus and the angels' appearance to the shepherds. (Concordia, $6.99 20p all ages ISBN 0-7586-0689-3; Sept.)

B Is for Bethlehem: A Christmas

Alphabet (1990) by Isabel Wilner, illus. by Elisa Kleven, works well as a board book primer, moving smoothly through the alphabet as it follows Mary and Joseph's trek, the baby's birth and on to present-day scenes, such as schoolchildren reenacting the Nativity for their parents. Folksy collage illustrations accompany text couplets: "S is for Stable and Star, and for Story/ Of animals, angels, manger, and glory." (Dutton, $8.99 24p ages 2-up ISBN 0-525-47323-8; Sept.)

Several treasured titles make a comeback as reissues. In preparation for the November release of the book-based film starring Tom Hanks, Houghton has reshot the artwork for the 1986 Caldecott Medal— winning The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, sprucing up this perennial holiday favorite. (Houghton, $18.95 32p ages 4-8 ISBN 0-395-38949-6; Oct.)

Diane Goode's pen-and-ink and watercolor wash illustrations update the Nativity story originally published in 1952 (with artwork by Barbara Cooney), Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. The rhythmic narrative echoes the lyrics of several familiar carols, while Goode's compositions are simultaneously sweet and respectful of the book's theme. (HarperCollins, $15.99 32p ages 3-7 ISBN 0-06-052634-3; Oct.)

Nutcracker, E.T.A. Hoffman's fantasy about a warring seven-headed Rat King and Nutcracker, toys come to life and mesmerizing lands made of candy, retains its bite in a new picture-book abridgement with illustrations by Lisbeth Zwerger, retold by

Susanne Koppe, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell. The gracefully composed watercolors in this new edition refrain from the frolic and whimsy she exhibited with the artwork for a 1979 edition of The Nutcracker, but possess dreamlike flair nonetheless. (North-South, $15.95 32p ages 4-8 ISBN 0-7538-1733-2; Oct.)

Goose love conquers all in Petunia's Christmas (1952) by Roger Duvoisin. The feathered heroine's true love, Charles, is being fattened by a farmer to be sold for Christmas dinner. She tries a number of creative schemes to free the ill-fated fowl and all ends cheerfully. (Knopf, $15.95 40p ages 4-8 ISBN 0-394-80868-1; Oct.)

Originally published as part of a Christmas Nutshell Library, A Firefly in a Fir Tree: A Carol for Mice by Hilary Knight expands the borders with this hardcover edition and full-color rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." A pair of loving mice alternately shower each other with gifts, shown in illustrated "photographs" with handwritten labels. Youngsters will enjoy the artist's attention to detail, along with visual clues to the contents of each successive present. (HarperCollins, $14.99 32p ages 4-8 ISBN 0-06-000991-8; Oct.)