New picture books for the holidays

Published: Sunday, Dec. 11 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

There are many new holiday picture books such as recent versions of old favorites, ethnic traditions, stories surrounding the Nativity and contemporary celebrations.

The following are a few to brighten the season:

New versions of classics

JINGLE BELLS: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be,” by John Harris, illustrated by Adam Gustavson, Peachtree, $16.95 (ages 6-10)

James Lord Pierpont, credited with writing the popular song “Jingle Bells,” was a minister in Savannah when in 1850 he wrote the song for a children’s holiday choir. For this fictionalized account, John Harris set the story at the time of civil rights unrest. Adam Gustavson expands the text with realistic oil paintings. Young readers may enjoy reenacting this story with bell accompaniment.

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS,” by Laurel Long, Dial, $16.99 (ages 3-8)

Many versions of this traditional song exists but Laurel Long takes the story beyond the accumulated account of the Christmas gifts to hunt-and-seek tapestry-like paintings that divulge the embellished French hens, the dancing milking maids and other gifts tucked away in subsequent pages. This truly is a glorious work of art.

For a contrast to the Long version, Jane Ray’sThe Twelve Days of Christmas (Candlewick) is set in the 1920s with brownstone buildings and nostalgic events including nine maids dancing the Charleston. A version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," illustrated by Jade Fang (Accord Publishing) includes Animotion panels that show the animals and people moving as the pages turn.

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS,” by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Charles Santore, Cider Mill/Applesauce, $18.95 (all ages)

A stately colonial house is the setting for Charles Santore’s interpretation of this holiday classic. The glittering tree and stockings on the fireplace are beautiful in traditional design. A double-page fold out reveals a shimmering winter scene which adds to the interest and beauty.

Another adaptation of a classic worth noting is MARY ENGELBREIT's NUTCRAKER,” by Mary Engelbreit (Harper), which interprets E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story with the artist’s signature illustrations.

Ethnic traditions for the holidays

"THE CHRISTMAS COAT: Memories of My Sioux Childhood," by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier, Holiday House, $16.95 (ages 4-8)

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s childhood was spent on the reservation when her father was an Episcopal priest. One Christmas when her tattered coat was to be replaced by a donated gift, she was reminded that “others need it more.” Ellen Beier has captured the heart-felt emotions of a child’s sadness and the resolution that leaves a true giving spirit.

"THE THIRD GIFT," by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, Clarion, $16.99 (ages 6-9)

A boy who assists the family with collecting sap from trees in the Arabian desert doesn’t realize its value when it is sold to three wanderers who, with the bundle of frankincense and gold, deliver it as a gift to a newborn baby. Bagram Ibatoulline’s iridescent paintings add beauty to a tender story. Newbery-medalist Linda Sue Park’s notes provide information on myrrh and her inspiration for this story.

"STREGA NONA'S GIFT," by Tomie dePaola, Penguin, $17.99 (ages 5-8)

Tomie De Paola’s ideas of Italian holiday foods and traditional practices make a fun balance to what is celebrated in other places of the world. In Calabria, Strega Nona and the villagers are busy preparing for the major events: Feast of St. Nicolas (Dec. 6), Il Capodanno (Jan. 1) and Epiphany (Jan. 5) when animals receive special treats. Magic happens as always in Strega Nona’s world.

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