1 of 2
THE BARNYARD NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, Beth Terrill, illustrated by Greg Newbold, Random House, 32 pages, $14.99

THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER'S HAND, Myra Brooks Welch, illustrated by Greg Newbold, Stellar Books, 32 pages, $17.95

While Beth Terrill's creative barnyard revamping of Clement C. Moore's classic "The Night Before Christmas" is engaging, and Myra Brooks Welch's (1877-1950) "The Touch of the Master's Hand" still pulls at the heart, it is Gregg Newbold's ebullient illustrations that bring these books to delightful, narrative life.

Over the course of his career, Newbold has won myriad awards from such groups as the Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Graphis, the Los Angeles Society of Illustrators, Spectrum and more. Clients such as Simon & Shuster, Random House, Harper Collins, Heinz, Smuckers, Kleenex and Sony Pictures have commissioned his art for more than a decade.

In the children's book "The Barnyard Night Before Christmas," we quickly learn that Santa is in a pickle: His reindeer have overeaten, stuffing themselves with Christmas pudding, and are now unable to fly.

Some sour-puss and recalcitrant barnyard animals — a horse, cow, pig, sheep, goat, dog, rooster, duck and a mouse — are quickly drafted to haul Santa and his sleigh for the night; the tale ends with all the animals feeling important and happy.

A cute story to be sure, but it's Newbold's supportive scene-renderings that make the tale positively charming, and his creative barnyard character compositions, through unique points of view, only increase the tale's whimsicality.

The poem, "The Touch of the Master's Hand," which deals with the worth of a soul, has been around a long time and has often been quoted during religious proceedings by diverse denominations.

In this book, Newbold gives us imagery reminiscent of American Regionalist painters, which helps set the scene for the story. The figurative work is clever in its scene juxtaposition; each color page is lush with color.

As with the illustrations in "The Barnyard Night Before Christmas," these images were completed in acrylic, giving a rich, tightly rendered detail that strengthens the story with what can only be described as "crispness."

Both of these children's books would make a fine addition to any family library.

For more information and illustrations by the artist, visit his Web site at www.gregnewbold.com.

E-mail: gag@desnews.com