For families, Christmas and Hanukkah are great times to begin a tradition of choosing a book to read together every year - preferably while enjoying hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies. Here are a few of our favorite new titles, plus a well-loved classics, to put on your December reading list.
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"Angela and the Baby Jesus," by Frank McCourt. Illustrated by Raul Colon. The famous author of the grownup book "Angela's Ashes" tells a warm, tender Christmas story that his mother told him about herself as a 6-year-old living in Limerick, Ireland. She would look at the Baby Jesus in the crib at St. Joseph's Church and worry that he was cold, without even a blanket to keep him warm. So a few days before Christmas she hid in the church, waiting until everyone had left, and then took the Baby Jesus home. Tucking him into her bed, she went downstairs to sit with the family by the fire.
But her brother Pat saw what she'd done, and brothers never stay silent. How would the family return the baby to the church?
"The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll," by Patricia C. McKissack and Jerry Pinkney. During the Great Depression, Nella, the middle daughter in a family hard-hit by the poor economy, sees an advertisement for a Baby Betty doll. She declares the doll is "all I want ... ever," even though there is almost no hope she will receive one. She writes a letter to "Santy Claus" and waits and hopes. On Christmas Eve, the family sings carols and the father tells the story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem. On Christmas morning, their presents are walnuts, oranges, raisins and peppermint sticks - and a Baby Betty doll! Just one, meant for all three girls.
Of course, the fighting begins until Mama tells them to work it out themselves. Nella ends up with the doll and does not want to share with her sisters, who go outside to play together. Nevertheless, Baby Betty just sits silently and can't play, sing, clap or do anything. Finally, just as Christmas is about sharing and loving, Nella discovers just how much fun Baby Betty can be - with her sisters.
"Olivia Helps With Christmas," by Ian Falconer. Everybody's favorite piglet is back just in time to help you celebrate Christmas. In this story, we learn how Olivia and her mother, father and brothers, Ian and William, keep family holiday traditions alive and build memories. First comes the last-minute shopping and choosing the tree. Then the tree has to be decorated, leaving Olivia tangled up with lights. She sets the table but won't let her father build a fire in the fireplace ("Daddy! ... Do you want to cook Santa?"). The whole family sings carols, leaves treats for Santa and puts up stockings, and Olivia tosses and turns all night. Morning comes with presents and stockings, and Olivia gives her parents a self-portrait. After playing in the snow with their new presents, the family sits and warms their trotters by the fire. The illustrations are excellent with several foldout pages and photographs.
"Runaway Dreidel!" by Leslea Newman and Kyrsten Brooker. New in paperback this season, this story - told in rhyming couplets reminiscent of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (aka "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") - portrays a family celebrating the traditions involved in getting ready for Hanukkah. The menorah, potato latkes, babkas, matzo ball soup and dreidel are all here. This dreidel, however, decides to spin out of control through the house, out to the street, out of the city and to the seashore, followed by the family chasing after but never quite catching it. At last "it spun past the planets, it spun past the stars," until it stops by Mars and shines brightly in the sky. Back home, the family shares the feast, dances and opens presents until all are tired.
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas! A 50th Anniversary Retrospective," by Dr. Seuss and Charles D. Cohen. How time flies! Did you know Dr. Seuss' famous book is 50 years old? This special edition contains the complete original book, plus information about Dr. Seuss and his views on Christmas. Cohen, a Seuss collector, has written a commentary liberally illustrated with Dr. Seuss' drawings. Included are samples of Dr. Seuss' Christmas cards, illustrated Christmas poems, a self-portrait of Seuss looking like a Grinch and the story of how the Grinch jumped from a book to a TV show and changed his looks.