Brand new holiday books for children make perfect, timeless gifts. These are a few of the latest and brightest.
"The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Emma Thompson; illustrated by Eleanor Taylor; Warne; 72 pages; $20.
Penned true to the original series by actress Emma Thompson, this new Peter Rabbit tale will thrill young animal fans. The wonderful-to-read-aloud tale begins when young Peter is sent to his aunt's to "fetch a cup of suet" and bumps into his cousin Benjamin Bunny on the way. The gloomy pair encounter William the Turkey, "a puffed-up person, full of his own importance," and set about to hide him away from his Christmas day dinner plate fate.
A happy ending for readers, who will certainly cheer on the pair and William, the turkey survives (as a hat decoration), and Mr. and Mrs. McGregor have boiled potatoes and winter cabbage for dinner.
Large, clear text upon uncluttered backgrounds, plus colorful, appealingly vintage illustrations combine to make Thompson's tale incredibly reader-friendly. The Oscar-winning actress throws her joy for Peter Rabbit's quirks and character, and the English Lakes area of his birthplace, into this enthusiastic, entertaining new tale. Lucky for us, a CD of Thompson reading aloud accompanies the book.
"Santa's Eleven Months Off" by Mike Reiss; illustrated by Michael Montgomery; Peachtree Publishers; 32 pages; $16.95.
Kids wonder what Santa Claus does in his many months off. In this funny rhyming tale, Santa doesn't rest on his laurels in any way. He visits Hollywood in February, sings in the rain in April (even though he "sings worse than a goose and dances like a clumsy moose"), sumo wrestles in May and hammocks on a beach in August.
Montgomery's Norman Rockwell-like illustrations add a classic feel to Reiss' uproarious words. Kids will sigh a breath of relief at the end, learning that Santa rests up all of November because, "He certainly deserves a pause. Sweet dreams to you, dear Santa Claus."
"Hanukkah in Alaska" by Barbara Brown; illustrated by Stacey Schuett; Henry Holt and Co.; 32 pages; $16.99.
This wintry, personable picture book is an entertaining read for young readers who celebrate any kind of holiday. With a focus on Alaska's cold weather and dark days, Brown brings in a spectacle with which kids on the "outside" will be amazed. There are big moose everywhere, and kids even hug trees while outside so moose can't knock them over.
All the frigidness and moose annoyances aside, our young narrator is cheery and straightforward, making dreidel spinning in the snow and scaring the backyard moose away seem fun. The highlight of the fun story? When the rainbow-like northern lights present the family's very own Hanukkah Festival of Lights.
A lovely, zesty chronicle of one child's winter holiday experiences, "Hanukkah in Alaska" is pure joy.
"Gifts of the Heart" by Patricia Polacco; Putnam Juvenile; 40 pages; $17.99.
Polacco's tales are always heartwarming, real and mind-lingering. "Gifts of the Heart" is a beautiful story about a housekeeper named Kay Lamity who helps take care of two children after their grandmother dies. Since Grampa must sell their farm and money is tight, Kay shows the kids how making gifts from the heart is much better than those from the pocketbook.
Non-Santa believers will also believe again, as young Richie does, after Santa's bells are heard on the rooftop on Christmas Eve. Best of all in this magical story, the family later learns that Kay Lamity was never actually a housekeeper sent from an agency. Readers are left to wonder where she came from — was she an angel?
A fantastically hopeful Christmas tale, Polacco's family story proves there's much, much more to holiday joy than money and grief.
"Little Rabbit's Christmas" by Harry Horse; Peachtree Publishers; 32 pages; $7.95.
Little Rabbit longs for a red sled and is disappointed with his bouncy blue ball, yo-yo and pair of mittens. Focusing solely on the sled, he refuses to join in the joy, until he finally spots his sled out in the snow. At first selfish and showoff-like, Little Rabbit ignores his friends' pleas to play, eventually realizing sledding alone is lonesome and cold. Finally, when the sled breaks, his friends come to the rescue with tools and paint, and they all sled together with joy and abandon.
A simple but kid-friendly reminder that sharing is more fun than being selfish, "Little Rabbit's Christmas" is the perfect holiday read for the preschooler crowd.
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.