BooksForKidsBlog

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Snowed In? Cousins Coming to Visit? Need a Nap? Best Holiday Movies for Kids from Common Sense Media

Holidays can be tiring for adults, but stimulating for kids. Sometimes too stimulating. But there's nothing like a good movie, preferably one which began its literary life as a book, to help young people chill out a while.

Common Sense Media has a spread of crafting ideas, best books, best music, and best movies for kids to use throughout the holiday season.

Their Best Holiday Movies for Kids covers ages 3 to 17 with multiple films for each age group, from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerto It's A Wonderful Life, from A Very Merry Pooh Year to While You Were Sleeping.

There are the classic classics, like Miracle on 34th Street, and Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and modern classics such as The Snowman, The Polar Express, and even Home Alone. For 'tweeners, there are The Nightmare Before Christmas, Samantha: An American Girl Christmas, and Elf, to name a few of the offerings.

On screen with the listed titles are graphs which rank each movie with the familiar one to five stars. Even better, clicking on any movie icon takes you to a summary of the movie, its production date, rating (G, PG13, etc.), genre, and running time, and also ranks aspects such as positive messages, violence and scariness, sexy stuff, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs, and smoking. For example, the review of the popular comedy The Santa Clause advises parents of Santa believers that Santa "dies" (!) at the beginning and that some of the older kids in the story insist that there's no real Santa. Other movies for young adults (14-17) point out aspects that suggest that teens should watch these away from younger relatives, which is probably their preference anyway.

Whether you stream from Amazon or other movie providers, these movies are all sure to be available.

Common Sense's complete film list can be found here.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hai-Cool! Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka

Santa is a man of many talents--toy maker, reindeer trainer, sleigh pilot, world traveler. But did you know that he is also a poet?

Years ago, Mrs. Claus gave him a book of haiku. Santa loved these poems. He was inspired to write his own.

There are thousands of Santa stories, but not very much in the way of Santa poetry, except, of course, for that long poem about his famous visit to a house with the insomniac dad which launched St. Nick's celebrity.

But this one is rare--not written in quaint iambs, but in Santa's favorite poetic form, if we are to believe Bob Raczka, whose new holiday book,
Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole (Carolrhoda Picture Books) (Junior Library Guild Selection) (CarolRhoda Books, 2014) ascribes an advent assortment of twenty-five haiku from Santa's own typewriter. Here's poet St. Nicholas-san, reflecting upon the first day of the Christmas rush:

December 1:
The wishes blow in
from my over-filled mailbox.
December's first storm.

Raczka's haiku vary as the days get over toward the big day, sometimes sweet and nostalgic, sometimes with quite poetic imagery, and one with self-deprecatory humor as Santa struggles to button up his too-tight red tunic.

December 3:
Mrs. Claus makes a snow
angel and becomes a
little girl again.

December 4:
Sprinkling sand on my
snow-covered steps, thinking
of nutmeg on eggnog.


December 24:
Which is packed tighter,
the sack full of toys or the
red suit full of me?

Raczka ghost-writes Santa's Japanese haiku with elan and his collaborator, artist Chuck Groenink, gives them a perfect setting in his warm and humorous, but amazingly striking illustrations in mixed media, showing both folksy-cozy indoor scenes of the Claus cottage and lovely snowscapes alive with beauty. Published in a snow storm of rave reviews. this one may become a new classic, perfect for reading an entry each night of the days of Christmas to come. "A rare treat," says Kirkus Reviews.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Designated Santa Sub: CC Claus: A Baseball Christmas Story by CC Sabathia and Ray Negron

IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE AND EVERYTHING WAS READY AT THE SABATHIA HOUSE.

THE ONLY THINGS MISSING WERE THE PRESENTS SANTA WOULD LEAVE UNDER THE TREE.

Oldest child Carsten is allowed to stay up late with his dad, CC, while he catches up on his fan mail. But Carsten notices a small envelope not addressed to his dad, but to Santa Claus!

Dear Santa,
We had a terrible flood and lost all our toys. Can you bring my brothers baseballs and gloves?
Love,
Anabelle

No baseball equipment? This is serious! Carsten persuades his dad that they must get Anabelle's letter to Santa before he takes off for his Christmas Eve flight.

"How do we get there, Dad?" asked Carsten.

"We go North!" said CC.

CC and Carsten jump in the car and take off in the snow for the North Pole. (This IS a Christmas story, you know.) But when they arrive at the Claus residence, things are not going well. Santa is sneezing, and the elves are swamped with unfinished toys. Who're you going to call for a rush job at the last minute before the sleigh lifts off?

CC knows. He calls THE BOSS, George Steinbrenner.

Mr. Steinbrenner is a take-charge guy, and he's on it. But even he can't manufacture baseball equipment on such short order. Who can do it?

Steinbrenner calls on... the THE GHOSTS OF BASEBALL PAST!

"Get me Ted Williams, Satchel Page, Phil Rizzuto, Bob Feller, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Tetsharu Kawakamui, Jackie Robinson, Elston Howard....!" he barks.

And the baseball greats report for action and come through in the clutch, even doing up a doll for Anabelle just in time. But by this time, Santa is seriously sick, coughing and sniffling, so CC borrows a spare Santa cap for himself and an elfin cap for Carsten, and, as Clemente serenades them with "Feliz Navidad," they are ready to pinch-hit for St. Nick.

And it's a grand slam all around the waiting world in Ray Negron's CC Claus: A Baseball Christmas Story (HarperCollins, 2014), as CC Sabathia and Carsten touch all the bases around the globe to bring Christmas home  to all.  Of course, subbing for Santa is not a new plot in Christmas literature, but Negron manages a slightly tongue-in-cheek "willing suspension of disbelief" mood in this baseball-themed holiday fantasy, greatly assisted by artist Laura Seeley's terrific illustrations, carrying off faithful caricatures of twenty-one gone-but-not-forgotten baseball legends, elves, children, Santa, his missus and reindeer, and scenic snowy landscapes which enable this fantastical plot line to, er, get off the ground.  Baseball fans will particularly enjoy this story, and if they are too young to know much about the featured baseball greats who come off the bench to save the day, there is an appendix with thumbnail biographical sketches of the careers of those twenty-one spirits of baseball history.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gifting: Love Monster and the Perfect Present by Rachel Bright

WELCOME (BACK) TO CUTESVILLE.
HOME OF THE FLUFFY

Okay. You have been warned!

Love Monster thinks his favorite monster... is the most perfect monster in the world. Yes, they are the best of friends!


And we know what that means when a gift-giving occasion rolls around. The gift had better be something really special.

Love Monster (a little red monster as cute as they come) knows that on Present Day, his gift has got to be over-the-moon perfect.

He sets out to go shopping. The shops--BIG SPENDERS, PLANET PRESENT, WILDEST DREAMS!--on Cuteseo Drive are ablaze with lovely, lively lights. All the stores are stocked with glitz, bling, glam, whiz-bang, whoopee, and whoa-Nelly stuff! But what to get for his Perfect Monster? Love Monster needs a special gift, just the right one. He thinks and thinks.

Love monster has nothing!

None of these shiny-full presents quite says what he wants his gift to say to Perfect Monster! How can he show her how much their special times together mean?

Rachel Bright's third story about her fluffy and admittedly oh-so-cute Love Monster, Love Monster and the Perfect Present (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) is too cute for words, but hey, this is story land, and words are what we do, and Bright's story is amazingly realistic, considering her furry and modestly fanged hero and heroine. Sensible Love Monster finds the oversold over-the-top stuff in the stores insincere, and settles for his own distinctive present for Perfect Monster in a story that is, well, perfect for any occasion, even, owing to the several red hearts adorning the illustrations, Valentine's Day. When in CUTESVILLE, feel free to be FLUFFY!

Rachel Bright's other books in this series are Love Monster and Love Monster and the Last Chocolate,

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Warm Welcome: Frozen: The Christmas Party by Andrea Posner

IT'S ALMOST CHRISTMAS!

ELSA USES HER MAGIC TO MAKE ICE SCULPTURES!

Since Elsa has invited the entire kingdom of Arendale to her party, everyone has to pitch in on the party prep. Anna provides the goodies, Sven helps decorate their tree, Kristoff prepares to perform the carols, and snowman Olaf bakes the cookies, while Elsa worries that he's getting too close to the oven for his own good. With presents all hidden away and the desserts all done, Elsa thinks it's time to chill out for a while.

"WE'VE WORKED HARD," ELSA TELLS ANNA.

"WE CAN HAVE SOME FUN!"

The royals and their retinue can't resist going outside for some snow time, and the princesses join forces in a grand snowball fight with the villagers who are already outside playing in the new snow.

"SISTERS ARE THE BEST!"

Andrea Posner's The Christmas Party (Disney Frozen) (Step into Reading) (Random House, 2014) offers early readers this Step Into Reading, Level 2 outing with the current most popular characters in the princess panoply. In addition to a sparkly cover and familiar illustrations by the Disney artists, this book boasts a bonus, eight pop-out ornaments featuring the Frozen gang for their readers' own Christmas tree decor.

For more glitzy holiday reading practice, stocking-stuff this one plus Victoria Kann's Pinkalicious: Merry Pinkmas! (Step into Reading, Level 2).

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Home for the Holidays: A Chipping Cheddar Christmas by Katharine Holabird

IT WAS CHRISTMASTIME IN CHIPPING CHEDDAR, AND ANGELINA BALLERINA WAS VERY EXCITED.

ANGELINA PEERED THROUGH THE WINDOWS OF MRS. THIMBLE'S STORE.

"PERFECT GIFTS FOR MOTHER, FATHER, OR POLLY!"

But when she inquires about the price of the glorious Christmas tree ornaments, Angelina realizes that she doesn't have that kind of money. But Mrs. Thimble has an idea. She has a friend, Mrs. Tippytoe, who is in need of some help getting ready for the holiday. Angelina hurries over to apply.

The two hit it off immediately, Mrs. Tippytoe was once a prima ballerina at the Royal Ballet, and there is much ballet talk between them as Angelina helps put up decorations, wraps presents, and helps Mrs. T. make Christmas cookies.  Angelina has a wonderful day with her new friend.

"HERE'S THE MONEY YOU EARNED," SAYS MRS. TIPPYTOE.

"OH, NO! I'VE HAD SO MUCH FUN! THAT'S MY CHRISTMAS PRESENT TO YOU" ANGELINA SAYS. "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

But on Christmas morning, Angelina Ballerina experiences a bit of altruistic remorse.  She is feeling sorry that now she has no gifts for her family.   But then the doorbell rings, and she finds a gift on the doorstep. What could it be and who could have left it?

It looks like Mrs. Tippytoe and Mrs. Thimble have put their heads together to play Santa's elves, in Katharine Holabird's A Chipping Cheddar Christmas (Angelina Ballerina) (Grossett and Dunlap, 2014). It's a appropriately heartwarming Christmas story, and Helen Craig's quaint English village of Chipping Cheddar is a charming setting for a story in which a good deed does not go unrewarded. This inexpensive paperback offers Angelina fans and sweet holiday story with seventeen ballet-themed and kid-pleasing Christmas stickers inside.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reindeer Countdown: Eight Jolly Reindeer by Ilanit Oliver and Jacqueline Rogers


SIX JOLLY REINDEER, STRETCHING UP TO HEAVEN.

UP GOES DONDER, AND THEN THERE WERE...

What number comes before eight? Which reindeer does Santa urge on next?

These reindeer do more than mount to the rooftop, click, click, click! As they wait to be called to their place in harness, they limber up, stretching, kicking a soccer ball around, doing some jumping jacks, and running in place.

The countdown continues from eight down to one, from Dasher right through Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.

With tabs for each reindeer and sturdy board book composition, this one is just right for small fingers and young minds, with the added bonus of rhyming text and the practice of guessing the next number in the countdown with each page turn. There's a bit of Christmas learning as well as fun in Ilanit Oliver's Eight Jolly Reindeer (Scholastic/Cartwheel Books, 2014). Jacqueline Roger's illustrations offer everything but, alas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in this jolly holiday book, perfect for preschool stocking stuffing.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Night Flight: The Snowman and the Snowdog

"COME ON!" CRIED BILLY TO HIS DOG. "WERE HERE! LET'S EXPLORE OUR NEW HOME!"

BUT BILLY'S DOG WAS OLD AND TIRED. HE BECAME SLOWER AND SLOWER, AND THEN ONE DAY HE DIED.

Billy's first days in his new house are sad, but as winter sets in, he explores the old house by himself, still missing his dog. Then, one day, he finds a loose floorboard, and underneath it a shoebox with some intriguing contents--a worn and floppy green hat, some lumps of coal, and a shriveled tangerine. It's a mystery, but when Billy wakes to find a deep snowfall outside, he immediately sees what to do with his find.

Outside Billy builds a snowman, placing the old hat on his head, wrapping the scarf around his neck, giving him a big smile and buttons with the lumps of coal, and placing a new tangerine in place for his nose. Then Billy has an inspiration. He shapes a snowdog, just like his own dog, to stand beside the snowman and keep him company.

Around midnight, Billy is wakened by a familiar bark and looks out his window.

SOMETHING MAGICAL HAD HAPPENED.

SNOWMAN AND SNOWDOG CAME ALIVE!

The Snowman lifts Billy and Snowdog in his arms and suddenly they are flying through the midnight blue sky, filled with stars and then with a host of soaring snowmen! Billy is dizzy with the thrill of it all. At the North Pole, he meets Santa, who gives him a special gift.

Back home again, Billy can hardly speak, but he whispers that he wishes the Snowman and Snowdog could stay with him. Then he remembers Santa's present and opens it to find a dog collar. He puts it around Snowdog's neck.

"THERE, JUST LIKE A REAL DOG," HE SAID.

AND WHERE THE SNOWDOG HAD BEEN... STOOD A REAL DOG, HIS TAIL WAGGING.

With the approval of Raymond Briggs, creator of the original 1982 The Snowman, this new companion book, The Snowman and the Snowdog (Random House, 2014) captures some of the magic of Brigg's classic, with the addition of the sure-fire kid-pleasing elements of a Christmas puppy and a visit to Santa's North Pole workshop. Artists Hilary Audus and Joanna Harrison create the look of Brigg's Snowman nearly perfectly, but as a whole the work does not quite match the charm and wry visual humor of the wordless original. To see Brigg's boy putting the Snowman to bed in his family's chest-type freezer or the Snowman fanning himself in front of the family fridge to cool off, make sure that the original is "read" first in tandem with this sequel. Not to be missed is the award-winning video of Brigg's book, Aardman: The Snowman, and there is also a new DVD of the companion book, The Snowman and The Snowdog.

Together, these books and videos make for happy holiday giving, and for go-with stocking stuffers, there are also the plush toy tie-ins, The Snowman Plush Toy and The Snowman Snowdog Soft Toy.

For more, um, "frosty" snowman fun, don't miss Caralyn Buehner's and Mark Teague's best-selling snowy series, Snowmen at Night, Snowmen at Christmas, Snowmen at Play, and Snowmen at Work. Check out my cool reviews here.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Taking a Bite of the Big Apple! Angelina's Big City Ballet by Katharine Holabird

ANGELINA WAS ON HER WAY TO MOST FAMOUS CITY IN MOUSELAND.

"WOW! I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO SEE THE BIG CHEESE!" SHE SAID.

ANGELINA WAS GOING TO PERFORM AT THE BIG CHEESE DANCE SHOW WITH HER COUSIN JEANIE.

Aunt Violet and Jeanie are there to meet them when the S.S Mousetania docks and to whisk them away in one of those famous yellow cabs to their downtown apartment. Angelina is dazzled by everything. She's never seen an elevator or someone's home on the tenth floor. Soon they are off on a whirlwind tour of the Big City sights--Parmesan Park Avenue and the Empire Cheddar Building! I'm not in Chipping Cheddar anymore, Angelina thinks to herself.

But it's not long before Cousin Jeanie starts talking about their performance. She has it all choreographed in her mind, and she tells Angelina something disturbing!

"TRY MY TAP DANCING! IT'S SO MUCH BETTER THAN BALLET!"

But in the best spirit of "the show must go on," Angelina diplomatically suggests to her cousin that perhaps they can pool their talents and come up with a unique two-way routine to wow the crowd, in Katharine Holabird's newest Angelina Ballerina saga, Angelina's Big City Ballet (Angelina Ballerina) (Penguin Group, 2014).  Holabird's text handles this danseuse dilemma with her usual empathetic writerly footwork, and Helen Craig's delicate pastel watercolor illustrations fairly sparkle, as the mouse cousins face the footlights in their fancy flapper costumes and deliver a stellar retro routine that brings the crowd to their feet.  Jeanie and Angelina are the toast of  Big Cheese Town as Angelina, still a ballerina, sails for home, a star of the Great Mouse Way.  This Angelina tale has a delightful dose of la danse for young ballet fans, especially in the season of The Nutcracker.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Undercover: The Christmas Pop-Up Peekaboo! by Dawn SiretteDaw


AT CHRISTMAS TIME THE BUSY ELVES

HAVE LOTS OF WORK TO DO.

A REINDEER SHOULD BE HELPING,

BUT HE'S PLAYING PEEKABOO!

And Reindeer is not the only one!

In Dawn Sirett's Pop-Up Peekaboo: Christmas! (DK Books, 2013), Mr. Snowman hides behind a  big snowball, a Christmas fairy hides at the top of the tree, a robin hides with a sprig of mistletoe, and Santa comes through with a bulging stocking that opens to reveal a plush dog, a top, and a big candy cane.

Lift the flaps and these Christmas favorites pop right up. Tots love surprises and there are plenty of well-designed popups to delight, and the artful script of this toy book provides plenty of opportunity for little ones to practice their predicting skills as they are urged to guess what may be hiding inside the scenes.  Artist Susan Culver's illustrations are full of holiday spirit, and DK's book design is well-paced to keep little eyes and hands engaged in the seasonal discoveries inside this entry in Dorling Kindersley's excellent Peekaboo series. For toddler stocking stuffers, pair this one with Usborne's That's Not My Santa....

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Snow Job! Skippyjon Jones, Snow What? by Judy Schachner

"WE NEED TO PICK A BOOK!" SAYS MAMA.

"SNOW WHITE!" GUSHED THE GIRLS.

When Mama Cat calls her kitties to come in out of the snow for some catnip cocoa, her kitty BOY, Skippyjon Jones, can't take the girly stories his sisters Jezebel and JuJuBee choose. He cuts out and flees to his room.

HE HOPS OVER TO HIS MIRROR, AND USING HIS VERY BEST SPANISH ACCENT, HE SAID:
"MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL,
WHO IS THE HANDSOMEST CHIHUAHUA OF ALL?

OH, MY NAME IS SKIPPITO FRISKITO... (CLAP! CLAP!)
AND I KNOW AN OLD FUZZY TALE-ITO.
IT'S GOT PLENTY OF FIGHTS,
AND NO ONE WEARS TIGHTS!
AND THAT'S THE BEST PART, MIS AMIGOS!" (CLAP! CLAP!)

And it's through the looking glass (actually through his closet) for Skippyjon, who morphs into his adventurous alter ego, Skippito Friskito, and joins his Chihuahua poochito pals, rescue dog-searching for a certain famous, well-cooled princess. But when it comes to the cure for the hyper-chilled heroine, this pooch is smooch averse!


"I'M NOT KISSING SNOW-BODY!" HE DECLARES.

Skippyjon leads the poochitos in a really cool winter romp, in which Skippito Friskito has to go back on his boast, ironically coming up with his own best beso, a kiss to release the icy princess from her spell.

"DUDE, JUST KISS THE CUBE!!" URGE THE CHIHUAHUAS.

Judy Schachner's Skippyjon is always good for a South of the Border-flavored fantasy adventure in Chihuahua land, this time in el heilo (the snow). There's a blizzard-ito of bilingual puns and kid-pleasing rhymes and the usual Skippyjon limerick song to keep the tail-itos wagging in this latest kitty boy tale, Skippyjon Jones Snow What (Dial Press, 2014), all done up in a chilly blue and white palette to set the wintry scene. More chuckles for fans of that Jones boy! "Both feline hero and story are full of beans (more Mexican-jumping than pinto) but ay caramba, mucho fun," quips Kirkus Reviews.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Waiting for Christmas: Merry Christmas, Ollie! by Olivier Dunrea

OLLIE IS WAITING. THE GOSLINGS ARE WAITING, WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS.

WAITING FOR FATHER CHRISTMAS GOOSE!

Gossie and Gertie, BooBoo and Peedie, and little Ollie, all are eager for Christmas. They know they have to wait. But goslings wait in different ways.

A Christmasy snow begins to fall on Ollie as he lies on the snow, watching the sky with single-minded determination on his face.

Gossie and Gertie stay busy preparing for the big day. They hang their red and green boots up in the barn for when Father Christmas Goose brings their gifts.

BooBoo and Peedie follow with their stripy stockings and hang them beside Gossie and Gertie's boots.

But Ollie can't think about anything but Christmas. Where is Father Christmas? Why doesn't he come? He stomps through the snow, finds a snow hill, and plops down, facing in the direction where Father Christmas always comes.

"I WANT CHRISTMAS NOW!" SHOUTS OLLIE.

And of course, Father Christmas Goose eventually flaps into view, bells jingling, in Olivier Dunrea's classic board book edition of Merry Christmas, Ollie board book (Gossie & Friends) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Dunrea's trademark illustrations of the gang of goslings preparing for Christmas are totally charming, and little Ollie's anticipation anxiety adds a touch of humor to the mix of characters. Dunrea's deft hand with small, watercolored artwork, set center page against bright white backgrounds, feature well-delineated personalities for each little goose, while Ollie's stubborn resolve carries the action in a relentless left-to-right direction until Father Christmas soars in from page right. Fun for toddlers eager for the big day, fans of the many Gosling adventures, and easy enough for emergent readers to read it to them--while they wait.



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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Caped Christmas Crusaders: A Chick 'N' Pug Christmas by Jennifer Sattler

"SANTA CLAUS BRINGS PRESENTS AND SPREADS JOY TO EVERYONE ON CHRISTMAS!" PUG TELLS CHICK.

"HOW DOES HE DELIVER EVERYTHING IN ONE NIGHT?"

"HE FLIES THROUGH THE SKY!" SAYS PUG.

"SO HE'S A SUPER HERO!" SHOUTS CHICK. "DOES HE NEED A SIDEKICK?"

Fans of Chick 'n' Pug know that Chick has quite a thing for caped crusaders, but in this dynamic duo, Pug, for whom eating is second only to napping, is definitely deficient in the dynamics department. But Chick has enough pizzazz for them both, and she zooms into action to spread cheer with Pug as her own Super Santa.

"OOH! OOH! I WANT TO BE AN ELF!" SHE CRIES.

But not everybody is in the market for cheer! Duck ducks the big rubber ball Chick rolls toward him. The Dude, their old shaggy dog friend, just slobbers all over it. Neither of them seems especially over-joyed. Then Chick spots their old nemesis, Mr. Snuggle the cat, whose owner has decked him out as a "wittle weindeer." Mr. Snuggle is manifestly not in any mood for joy and cheer.

Between his itchy Santa suit and the lack of good cheer so far, Pug is about ready for a long winter's nap, when Chick spots a squirrel seriously schlepping an acorn toward a hollow in a tree.

"WE'D BE NUTS NOT TO HELP!" CHICK EXCLAIMS!

Chick rounds up what like an an acre of acorns and piles them up right in front of the hole in the tree where squirrel lives. Stuck outside, Squirrel has a tizzy tantrum right there on the snow.

"NO NEED TO THANK US!" CHICK WAVES CHEERILY.

Squirrel doesn't return the gesture, and Super Santa Pug 'n' Sidekick Chick seem strangely to have cleared the landscape of customers for their particular version of Christmas cheer.

"WHAT WOULD SANTA DO NOW?" WONDERS CHICK.

But Pug manages to stay awake long enough to supply his best friend with some seasonal joy, in Jennifer Sattler's latest little holiday story of her dynamic duo, in A Chick 'n' Pug Christmas (Bloomsbury Books, 2014). Pug and Chick are the perfect contrast, the classic odd couple, and Sattler's crisp and seriously silly cartoon illustrations draw of their humor from the contrasting body language of the two unlikely best buddies.

Sattler's other top-selling stories of her non-traditional twosome are Chick 'n' Pug and Chick 'n' Pug Meet the Dude. (Read my pugnacious reviews here.)

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Left Behind: The Last Christmas Tree by Stephen Krensky

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

The trees arrived for the holiday. On the day before, the lot had been empty.

Now it was full to bursting--almost like magic.

There are balsams, firs, spruces, and pines, all lined up.

The big perfect trees crowd the rows of greenery. But squished into the middle of one row, there is a different sort of tree. Dwarfed by the big, unnaturally conical green giants, the little tree looks even smaller, unsymmetrical, with branches missing in crucial places, a little off-balance and certainly scraggly. He's clearly no one's first choice.

Still, no tree was more filled with the spirit of the season. Surely everyone would see that at once.

But no one does. The fine trees with big swishy branches are quickly snapped up by families with kids excited by the idea of decorating the tree and the hope of the beautifully wrapped gifts soon to be underneath.

In no time it seems that the little tree has plenty of room. He tries to spruce up his branches and stand as straight and tall as he can. But all the buyers pass him by.

By Christmas Eve, only a few trees remain for last-minute seekers. And as twilight deepens and stars begin to twinkle, the little tree stands alone in the cold wind-swept lot, with the most humiliating sign of all hanging from his sad, drooping branches.

FREE!

But just before dawn, there comes a sound.

JINGLE, JINGLE, JINGLE! JINGLE, JINGLE, JINGLE!

The little tree finds a home in the far north, where he stands proudly, decorated and lighted by a cheery fire in a fireplace where eight stockings hang, each with the name of eight famous reindeer, in Stephen Krensky's latest holiday story, The Last Christmas Tree (Random House, 2014). Youngsters who are familiar with the Charles Schulz's A Charlie Brown Christmas will probably guess where this story is going early on, and others familiar with Hans Christian Andersen's evergreen The Little Fir-tree will be ready to empathize with the sad little tree waiting and longing to be chosen, but Krensky's version gives the story a new twist, with the sad little tree given an honored place in the living room of Santa himself.

It's not exactly a new story, but veteran author Krensky tells it well for his young readers, catching the magic of the coming holiday and the longing of the last little tree to find a happy place of his own. Artist Pascal Campion takes special honors for the pathos in his subdued but lovely holiday colors and evocative cartoon drawings that extend Krensky's story movingly. With a pleasing marriage of art and prose, Krensky's newest offers a fresh take on an old theme that should find a place in the crowded calendar of Christmas stories. As Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona says in Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, "Christmas has a magic of its own."

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Mousetrap! Tallulah's Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer

THERE WAS ONLY ONE CHRISTMAS PRESENT THAT TALLULAH WANTED.

WHEN THE PHONE RANG, SHE WAS SURE HER WISH HAD COME TRUE.

"THEY PICKED ME! I'M GOING TO BE A A MOUSE IN THE NUTCRACKER!"

As is the job of little brothers, Becket points out that Tallulah disdained his role as Mouse in their dance school's production the Christmas before.

"BUT BEING IN A REAL BALLET COMPANY IN A REAL THEATRE IS BIG TIME!" TALLULAH INSISTED. "MAYBE I'LL BE ON TV!"

Tallulah throws all her energy into being a good mouse, trying to crawl creepily out of the clock as Clara falls asleep under the Christmas tree, Her knees take quite a beating, but Tallulah just knows that if she can impress the ballet master as the best mouse in the troupe, she will be paving her way to a starring role as Clara or even the Sugar Plum Fairy someday.

"I BET THEY ASK FOR MY AUTOGRAPH!" SHE DREAMS.

At last opening night comes. The huge theatre is resplendent, and the Sugar Plum Fairy sparkles in the stage lights. Tallulah's whole family is out front with hundreds of others, and although she secretly believes she is the very best mouse, she has some butterflies in the stomach as the director hisses "PLACES!" The orchestra begins the cue for the mice to make their entrance creeping out of the old clock and scurrying around the stage. "GULP!" thinks Tallulah as she senses the big audience watching for the first big scene in the story.

"I'M THE SCARIEST, MOST MARVELOUS MOUSE OF ALL," SHE REMINDS HERSELF!

But pride goes before a fall, and as the mice stealthily approach the footlights, Tallulah steps on the tail of the mouse in front of her.

"WHOMP!"

Tallulah barges into the fallen mouse in front of her and sets off a series of unfortunate events. concluding in a pile of mice and toy soldiers center stage. Chuckles spread through the audience.

The show must go on, and a much chastened Tallulah Mouse picks herself up along with the others as they regroup and finish their routine. Tallulah exits and runs for a place to hide, feeling that she's flopped in her one chance to be a star--ever!

But to her surprise, when the curtain goes down the dance master and the dancers playing Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy find her and console her with stories of their own embarrassing stage moments. Playing a boy at Clara's Christmas party, the ballet master says he burped so loud the whole audience roared. "Clara" recalls the time she was dancing as a snowflake and went onstage still in her striped legwarmers, and "Sugar Plum Fairy" tells her about the time she did a fast pirouette and her tutu fell right off. These things happen, they say. That's show biz, but the show must go on. And then the dance master adds,

"BUT A REAL DANCER KEEPS RIGHT ON DANCING, AND THAT'S WHAT YOU DID."

As always, our Tallulah gets a little ahead of herself in her dreams, but gets some good advice from older and wiser dancers, in Tallulah's Nutcracker (Clarion, 2013). It takes a troupe to make a real ballerina, and luckily Tallulah has plenty of support for her big ambitions. As always, too, Alexandra Boiger adds her elegante watercolor artwork, revealing character in facial expressions and body language in a way that extends Marilyn Singer's skillful narrative. Little balletomanes will find Boiger's cover illustration of every young dancer's dream, the Sugar Plum Fairy, in her glittery white gown, irresistible, while taking comfort perhaps in just being in the show.

Other Tallulah tales by Maryilyn Singer are Tallulah's Tutu, Tallulah's Solo, Tallulah's Toe Shoes, and Tallulah's Tap Shoes (see reviews here) for all those aspiring ballet stars.

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