The best holiday tales are wrapped together in “A Christmas Treasury: Very Merry Stories and Poems” (HarperCollins, $16.95, all ages), a beautiful gift from illustrator Kevin Hawkes.
The book includes a tasty morsel from “Wind in the Willows” as old pals Mole and Rat enjoy a holiday meal with their new friends. In “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn,” Mr. Dog, posing as Santa Claus, shares his generous spirit with his friends and learns about the gift of giving.
“He found some long wool out in Mr. Man’s barn for his white whiskers, and he put some that wasn’t so long on the edges of his overcoat and boot tops and around an old hat he had. Then he borrowed a big sack he found out there and fixed it up to swing over his back, just as he had seen Santa Claus do in the pictures.”
Hawkes’ drawings, mostly of happy Christmas Eve preparations, complement each story and all seem to bask in the same warm glow.
Inspired by “The Friendly Beasts”, a medieval song, Helen Ward’s “The Animals’ Christmas Carol” (Milbrook Press, $17.95, ages 4-8) gives voice to the animals in the Nativity story. The animals, including a bear and lion, are drawn at a kid’s eye level (in camel brown, ram black, rooster reds and peacock teal inks) so the readers see things from their own perspective.
In the Christmas spirit, the animals cooperate to guard the sleeping baby. Dog brings the sheep. Woodworm spares the stable its wormy holes. Moth avoids the candle’s flame to keep it steady, and mongoose keeps poisonous snakes away.
”‘We,’ said the camels from Eastern lands, ‘we carried three men over desert sands to place their gifts in your tiny hands. We,’ said the camels from Eastern lands.”
“Baboushka: A Christmas Folktale From Russia” (Candlewick, $15.99, ages 4-8), retold by Arthur Scholey and illustrated by Helen Cann, tells of missed opportunities.
The stenciled pages and traditional-style, brightly colored illustrations complement the text about a peasant woman who spends her life “preparing” — for what, no one knows.
While the villagers are excited about a star in the night sky, she mutters: “All this fuss for a star! ... I don’t even have time to look. I’m so behind, I must work all night!”
But a knock at her door reveals three kings in need of a place to rest on their journey to see a newborn king. When the kings leave, they invite Baboushka to go along. “This new king could be your king, too.”
Baboushka says she will follow “tomorrow.” But when she finally sets out, she can’t find the kings or the child they were so eager to see. As she continues to search for them, the woman leaves gifts at the homes of sleeping children.
It isn’t only the lights that make a Christmas tree shine.
In “Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel” (HarperCollins $15.95, ages 4-8) by Shirley Climo and illustrated by Jane Manning, Tante (aunt in German) has made it a tradition to decorate the most beautiful tree in the village and gives the most wonderful gifts to all. But no one can fulfill her holiday dream: to experience a little Christmas magic.
Leave it to Kriss Kringle and a clan of curious spiders to weave glittering webs that light up the holiday for Tante.
Rumor has it that tinsel has been a tree-trimming tradition ever since!
John Speirs’ “The Little Boy’s Christmas Gift” (Abrams, $16.95, ages 4-8) combines medieval artistry and Christian tradition for a new tale.
Speirs uses light, illuminated text, gold inks and color to create a rich tapestry for the warm story of a gardener’s son who has an unusual gift to give a newborn king.
“A boy helped his father tend the gardens of three exceedingly learned men, Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior.”
Knowing the bright star in the sky signaled the birth of a new king, these men set off on their search. The boy is told he must stay behind since he has no worthy gift, but he follows the procession in the shadows.
“And, so they journeyed on. ... The wise men with their richly laden camels, the nomads with their bright woven rugs, the herdsmen with their goats, the olive growers with their jars of oil, the farmers with their loaves of bread and the beekeepers with their combs of sweetest honey.”
The gardener’s son, unnoticed in the crowd, then steps forward to offer his gift, decorated with green and purple olives, threads from the rugs and a star of golden beeswax.
The night of the play arrives and when there is no star in the sky or on the tree, Porcupine finds his moment to shine in “Little Porcupine’s Christmas” (HarperCollins, $9.95, ages 3-6) by Joseph Slate and illustrated by Felicia Bond.
Santa Claus has plenty of help preparing for his big night in “Santa’s Workshop” (Sterling, $12.95, ages 4-8), illustrated by Alastair Graham. The secrets hidden behind a satisfying number of flaps are sure to delight children.
Laura and Mary worry that Santa Claus will not find them since the creek is so swollen with rain, in “Santa Comes to Little House” (HarperCollins, $15.95, ages 4-8).
This chapter from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” is filled with affectionate illustrations by Renee Graef.
Of course, Ma and Pa wouldn’t let their girls go without Christmas, even if it turns out to be a little different from the holiday they all were expecting.
Other Christmas books
—“Santa’s Toys” (Sterling, $12.95, ages 3-6) by Sam Williams and Tim Gill finds Santa Claus under the tree, unable to resist looking inside a dollhouse or playing with a toy train that rolls across the page of this pull-the-tab book. Planes fly above and soldiers march off alphabet blocks in a book that captures the sheer joy of Christmas toys.
—“A Shepherd’s Gift” (HarperCollins, $15.95, ages 4-9) by Mary Calhoun and illustrated by Raul Colon is a sweetly told Christmas tale. Its unusual and textured illustrations and gentle text tell about a simple shepherd boy who is searching for his lost lamb when he stumbles upon a newborn child in a hillside stable.
—“The Christmas Story” (DK, $7.95, baby to preschool) by Deborah Chancellor and illustrated by Julie Downing, is an easy-to-read, glowingly illustrated story of the birth of Jesus that makes a good introduction for toddlers.
—“Christmas Magic” (Dutton, $15.99, baby to preschool) by Michael Garland is a magical, mystical Christmas Eve in brilliant color for a snowman, snowwoman and Emily.
—“Christmas Is Coming!” (Chronicle, $6.95, baby to preschool) by Claire Masurel and illustrated by Marie H. Henry captures a little girl’s — and her toys’ — anticipation of the big day. After Juliette is asleep, the curious toys go downstairs for another peek at the Christmas tree and find more than they expected.
—“The Christmas Promise” (Blue Sky-Scholastic, $15.95, ages 4 and older) by Susan Bartoletti and illustrated by David Christiana captures the emotion and the small glimmer of hope of a Depression-era Christmas. Retro-style illustrations in black and white with touches of color capture both the hardship and happiness shared by a father and daughter.