For those of you out there who have not yet finished Christmas shopping (has anyone not yet started, or am I the only one?) or for anyone who just can't get enough of the sweetness that comes with Christmas nostalgia, I've compiled a brief review of CHRISTMAS PICTURE BOOKS!
These are all published or re-published in 2010, though Snowmen at Christmas is the only new one. I guess I think the oldies are the best when it comes to Christmas.
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, includes a CD performed by Peter, Paul and Mary
illustrated with paintings by Eric Puybaret. This is the most beautiful illustration of The Night Before Christmas I've seen, and it brings a modern-day relevance and contemporary ambiance to the canonized poem (originally published in 1823). As an absolute staple, this ought to be read to all ages, but it is not a board book and has some more advanced reading words, so the nostalgic adults in your life may enjoy this best.
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus by Christopher J. Plehal, illustrated by James Bernardin, is one of many re-tellings of the story of 8-year-old Virginia who writes to the editor of a then-major newspaper The New York Sun, asking if Santa Claus is real. I like this version because while historically accurate, and occuring in 1897, the pictures are in the contemporary cartooning style. It was made to go along with the CBS special Yes, Virginia, which aired last year. The message is really about the importance of kindness and the defense of childhood innocence. It's best for children who can conceptualize the social pressures between characters, but is fairly easy to digest, so I'd recommend it for ages 3 and up.
Would you like another classic Santa story? Don't forget The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett. A girl is given the honor and daunting task of prepping a group of wild reindeer to lead Santa's sleigh, and she learns how to be a leader with love while she struggles to reign in the trouble. Jan Brett's illustrations are gorgeous and timeless, and this is a story that can be enjoyed even when the mention of Santa seems saccharin in January. Another great Jan Brett winter story (that I remember reading for the first time in my 4th grade classroom): The Mitten (1989). Seriously, there is no way that I will not eventually buy every Jan Brett book. This is available as a board book so any age will enjoy it, but those ages 5 and up would get the most out of it.
And now for something new: Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Beuhner, illustrated by Mark Beuhner. This is so much fun! Caralyn Beuhner has published several books (and the only one I don't like is Fanny's Dream--throw all the rotten tomatoes you want, but little girls need better dreams than being swept off their feet by a man). She and Mark Beuhner bring to life snowmen who have their festivities at night when everyone is sleeping; imagine the amazing secret life of snow! You may see your snowman wink at you after reading this book, or the original Snowmen at Night (2009). Available in board book or regular, the simple, delightful text and pictures make it appropriate for any age.
Also notable, The Polar Express 25th Anniversary edition! And if you live in Utah, I learned through the always adorable Dear Lizzy that the Heber Valley Railroad is magically transformed into The North Pole Express until December 24th.
If you notice that none of these books are about Christ, a shockingly common oversight in Christmas merchandise, it is because I have not found any picture books about the birth of Christ that I like. The ones I have seen either have poor illustrations, badly written prose, or a lot of fiction--all of which traits I deem intolerable when telling a true and important story. Leave me a comment if you know of a good Nativity picture book!