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Wintry Holiday Tales

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Though still a tad early in my own mind, these wintry tales should get young readers in the holiday mood.

With these new gift selections, kids can create their own Christmas story with festive cards, watch Caldecott award-winning tales on DVD and escape to Italy with the latest Strega Nona tale from Tomie dePaola.

"StoryWorld: Create-a-Story Kit: Christmas Tales" by John & Caitlin Matthews; Templar Books/Candlewick Press; $9.99.

The innovative StoryWorld kits are the size of chapter books and include a small idea-filled storytelling book and a sturdy set of 28 cards. The cards feature people, places and other story ideas centering on a Christmas theme; in this case, a magical, Old World holiday feel. With the book, the set encourages kids to write, draw, act out and imagine umpteen stories and games.

A smart way to help kids, parents and teachers unlock their imaginations, "StoryWorld" sets make lovely gifts. Others include "Fairy Magic," "Legends of the Sea" and "Tales from the Haunted House." The sets are also perfectly sized for stocking stuffing.

"Caldecott Favorites Featuring The Snowy Day" from Scholastic Storybook Treasures; $17.99.

The high-quality Scholastic Storybook Treasures DVD series features award-winning children's books captured on video, with read-along features and a timeless, quiet appeal. This set includes Caldecott award-winning favorites, from Ezra Jack Keats' "The Snowy Day" to "Make Way for Ducklings," "The Ugly Duckling" and "In the Small, Small Pond." Twenty stories in all on three DVDs aim to promote "honesty, humor and respect," and run over three hours.

And though too late for Thanksgiving viewing, the reminder to be thankful and to honor those who came before us is always important. Also from Scholastic Storybook, "Giving Thanks" tells four award winning stories, with the titled tale, plus "Hiawatha," "The Pilgrims of Plimoth" and "Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship" to celebrate history and Native American heritage.

"The Snowy Day: 50th Anniversary Edition" by Ezra Jack Keats; Viking/Penguin; 40 pages; $19.99.

In 1962, this tale of a little boy in a snowsuit changed the face of children's literature with its portrayal of an African-American child and beautifully innovative collage artwork.

Now 50 years later, Peter's innocently wondrous snow-filled journey still warms hearts. This anniversary edition features the story plus eight pages of extras including photographs that inspired the character of Peter and letters from fans like Langston Hughes.

A beautiful presentation of a wondrously magical, simple winter tale, "The Snowy Day" remains one of the most beloved tales in children's literature.

"Strega Nona's Gift" by Tomie dePaola; Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin; 32 pages; $17.99.

The prolific Tomie dePaola's Caldecott Honor Award winner, "Strega Nona," captured the love, warmth and joy of growing up in a delicious Italian family. His newest release stars Grandmother Strega Nona and Big Anthony as they cook for and celebrate eight feasts during their Italian village's holiday pageant. Hilarity and animal-themed adventure ensue with a series of mishaps bound to make kids giggle.

A heartwarming holiday story, "Strega Nona's Gift" introduces young readers to fun Italian phrases and customs and is a smart choice for not only Christmastime, but also for welcoming in a New Year, and for exploring new traditions.

"Hansel & Gretel" by Susan Jeffers, the Brothers Grimm and Amy Ehrlich; Dutton/Penguin; 32 pages; $17.99.

Enchantingly retold by Amy Ehrlich, this timeless Grimm fairytale is presented here for younger children, with deliciously non-scary, but detailed, illustrations from Susan Jeffers. Full of familial love and the classic appeal of true fairy tales, this "Hansel & Gretel" includes lots of friendly gingerbread people, colorful gumdrops and hopping bunnies. The story, however, remains basically true to the original, and the witch is still pushed into the stove before the relieved brother and sister escape to find their father's house.

A fabulously entertaining read-aloud for children who can handle a tale, which ends with the ramifications of good versus evil, Jeffers' scenic tale is scrumptious.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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