The Children's Book Compass

Posts Tagged ‘Holiday House

Cuddle up with your children and make Christmas memories by reading aloud these books. The first four tell about Christmas in past times.

The Money We’ll Save by Brock Cole.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  FSG.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

Cole’s droll, expressive illustrations coupled with his subtle, humorous text make this a book that requires multiple reading to keep savoring the fun of the story.  The setting is a ninetieth century New York City tenement.  The family with four children is stuffed into the three small rooms.  Ma asks Pa to go to the market to purchase two eggs and a half of pound of flour so she can make pancakes for supper.  She instructs him, “Now just buy two eggs and a half pound of flour,  Remember, Christmas is not far off, and we must save every penny.”  Pa also brings home a turkey poult to fatten for Christmas dinner.  Pa tells the family, “It will fatten up into a fine bird, and we can have it for Christmas dinner.  Think of the money we’ll save!”  The children name the turkey Alfred and feed him table scraps.  Alfred quickly out grows out his box by the stove, steals the families’ food and makes messes everywhere.  Pa’s wacky ideas to solve the problem escalate as Alfred grows.  When Alfred is hung from the clothes line with a pulley that runs out over the privies the neighbors protest with umbrellas covering their head to protect them from Alfred’s massive white droppings littering their clothes, their hair and even a dog.  The children object that it would be like eating a friend when Pa is ready to take the bird to the butcher.  The family comes up with a clever solution to save Alfred and restore peace to their home.  They eat oatmeal on Christmas day because all their pennies have been spent.  Pa remarks sadly, that “…it isn’t much of a holiday feast…”  “Ah, but think of the money we saved,” said Ma …”   Allow children plenty of time to relish the fun details in the illustrations.  Some made me laugh out loud.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.  Illus. by Ellen Beier.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

This quiet memoir is about sacrificing, giving and caring.  Virginia and her brother grow up on the Sioux reservation where their father is the Episcopal priest of the village.  Virginia longs for a new coat to replace the threadbare, outgrown one she has and to keep her warm in the frigid South Dakota weather.  She hopes for one from the boxes sent by church congregations in New England.  When the boxes arrive there is a coat that Virginia hopes for, but another girl takes it.  A happy ending provides Virginia with a beautiful, new coat and her brother with cowboy boots.  Small details in the illustrations enrich the story:  in school the children write with pens and inkwells; a Christmas pageant in the church guildhall features children as the wise men in feathered headdresses and full regalia; Santa’s pack is filled with dolls, balls and toy cars.   This unusual story captures the spirit of Christmas.

The Carpenter’s Gift:  A Christmas Tale About the Rockerfeller Center Tree by David Rubel.  Illus. by Jim LaMarche.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Random House.  Grades 1-4.  Picture book.

This book that takes place in the Depression of 1931 tells a hopeful story that will resonate with children of today.  Henry’s parents are out of work and his family is barely surviving in a shack with no money for coal for the stove or warm blankets for the beds.  Henry’s dad borrows a truck on Christmas Eve and father and son cut spruce trees to sell in New York City that is an hour from their small home.  They find a good spot to sell their trees close to the construction site for Rockefeller Center.  When they have sold most of the trees they give the tallest and best to the construction workers.  Henry helps decorate the tree and makes a star out of newspaper.  As he hangs the star he wishes for a new home for his family.  He takes home and plants a pinecone from one of the trees.  On Christmas morning, the family is thrilled to find the construction workers who have brought extra wood from the construction site to build a home for the family.  Henry gets to help.  Many years later, when Henry returns to his parent’s home and finds that the pine cone has grown into a gorgeous, tall spruce.  He donates it to the Rockefeller Center for their Christmas display.  The gift of a new home continues when the season is over because the wood from the tree is used to build a home for a family in need.  Notes at the end explains about the history of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and how Habitat for Humanity builds home for families like Henry’s that lack adequate shelter.  LaMarche’s lush, expressive paintings glow and show the compassion to the story.

Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World by Douglas Wood.  Illus. by Barry Moser.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Grades 4-8.  Nonfiction.

In December of 1941, Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, came through a terrible Atlantic storm on a battleship to meet at the White House with President Roosevelt.  Churchill had already led his country in two years of war against Nazi Germany.  “… he and the president would plan how they might save the world.”  Wood describes the important meetings of the two leaders and their aides as well as the events of the Christmas holidays.  At the end of the book the two leaders had forged a relationship that would sustain them over the terrible years of the war.  The book ends with “The two friends did trust each other, through every hardship and difficulty, victory and defeat, over the next years of World War II.  Millions of others trusted them as well, all around the world.  It was a world they helped to save with their courage and their friendship, on that important Christmas of 1941.”  Wood shows the human side of the two leaders.  Churchill insisted on two hot baths a day.  “One day Franklin barged into Winston’s room just as he was getting out of the tub.  “Think nothing of it,” said Winston.  “The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to conceal from the president of the United States!”  Moser’s painting shows Churchill a cigar clutched in his mouth with a towel draped over his lower body.  The choices of paper, typeface, design elements, and paintings combine to make this a beautifully crafted book.  A note at the end explains that the paintings “were based, in part, on historical photographs, which were freely cropped, modified, and merged into totally new images …”  This excellent book will introduce young readers to a vital part of our history.

A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Philomel.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

I have read this book aloud several times to appreciative audiences.  Pyn and her father, Oother, live alone on a mountain.  “Oother loved his daughter very much.  But he was a bearlike mountain man who did not soften for anyone.  Not even Pyn.”  Pym is industrious in taking care of their home and providing meals while Oother works in the woods.  Pyn ask for a Christmas tree to help them celebrate Christmas.  Taciturn Oother doesn’t seem interested.  Pyn takes matters into her own hands and decides to surprise Oother with a perfect tree she cuts down herself.  Finding the perfect tree turns out to be hard work as Pyn struggles through the deep snow.   When she becomes buried in the snow Oother finds her and together they discover the perfect tree.  Pyn decorates the tree with a collection of things she has found in the woods and saved.  Oother surprises her with a precious ornament for the top of the tree he made for her mother and saved.  Dunrea’s quiet illustrations in gouache and pencil shows daughter and father in profile and thus captures the contrast in their sizes and natures.  This story is about how steadfast love and the beauty of Christmas can soften a heart.




Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell.  Illus. by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Viking.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book/Realistic Fiction.

I’m Adopted! By Shelley Rotner & Sheila M. Kelly.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Grades K-5.  Nonfiction.

Nini by Francois Thisdale.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Tundra Books.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book/ Realistic Fiction.

These three books fill a need for stories about adoption.  They will be especially loved in families who have adopted.  Share them with children in discussions about different kinds of families in your home or classroom.  Also, please note my previous review of a novel about adoption, Mother Number Zero.

Goyangi Means Cat tells the story of a young girl, Soo Min, who is adopted from Korea and the first week in her American home.  McDonnell skillfully captures how overwhelming it must be for a child to experience a new home, parents, places and especially a new language.  Soo Min teaches her new parents some Korean words.  She finds comfort in the family cat that she calls Goyangi.  The child is tearful when the cat disappears.  But when it returns, Soo Min declares, “Goyangi home” her first English word.  The illustrations in this book are evocative of the tone and nuances in the story.  .The illustrators use paper collage with acrylic and oil paints.  “The patterns used in the paper collage were selected to reflect the Eastern and Western worlds of Soo Min…”  The richness of the patterns with Korean characters integrated into them provide a textured and softly colored background for the story.

I’m Adopted! is a joyful celebration of the variety of ways families adopt.  The simple text is accompanied by bright photographs that feature children adopted at different ages and countries as well as the U.S.  The authors focus on questions that children have about adoption.  “Usually adopted children want to know why their birth mothers could not keep them.”  Or, “Adopted children often want to know about the country where they were born.”  The answers are straight forward and show that there are various ways to address the questions.   The photographs are the highlight of the book.  There are several to a page that shows animated, happy children and their families engaged in all kinds of activities.  The book ends with the satisfying statement about how “Most children want to hear the story of how they came to their families . . . They want to hear it again … and again.”

Nini is unusual and memorable in its portrayal of the adoption of the author’s daughter from China.  It starts with the baby in the womb and how she listens to the voice of her mother.  “It spoke of rice paddies and lotus flowers blowing in the evening breeze.”  …“Warm and safe, she listened carefully to all it said.”  The illustration that accompanies this part of the text shows the baby floating in the womb.  Then the story follows the child to an orphanage and finally to the home of her new parents across the ocean.  The story comes full circle ends with “Years have passed.  Some days, the child hears a distant echo.  She thinks of rice paddies, of lotus flowers in the wind, of a little house with a pointed roof.  Sometimes, just before she sleeps, she whispers to the moon that she is happy. . . . And they (the family) thank a distant echo that travels on the night breeze for allowing them to become a family.”  Thisdale uses mixed, multi-textured images that are haunting in their beauty.  Some of the illustrations feature photographs of his daughter woven into the illustration.  Words, child-like drawings and Chinese characters also float through the pictures.  Treasure this story.



Dog in Boots by Greg Gormley.  Illus. by Roberta Angaramo.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.   Holiday House.  Grades K-3.  Picture Book.

In an original and humorous tale, Dog is inspired by reading Puss in Boots to visit his local shoe shop to obtain his own footwear.  However, the new boots “were not at all splendid or magnificent for digging.  So Dog took them back to the shop.”  After many visits to the shop to obtain new shoes that fit his needs, Dog discovers that his own paws work best.  What a fun romp – why should cats have all the adventures with boots?  This is a circle story, the adventures begin and end with Dog reading a brilliant book.  At the end he is pictured reading Red Riding Hood.  The reader is left wondering how will Dog be inspired by that tale?  The expressive, colorful illustrations add to the fun.  The large size of the book will make it a great read aloud, because the children can see all Dog’s shoe swaps and his humorous trial of each pair.


All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts by Gretchen Woelfle.  Illus. by Thomas Cox.  Holiday House.  Grades 6-9.  Novel/Historical Fiction.  –

This fascinating novel is based on historical events and people, like William Shakespeare.  Woelfle creates a new character, Kit Buckles, a twelve-year-old orphan who leaves behind a job as a pickpocket to become one of the skilled stagehand in Shakespeare’s theater.  The dramatic event in the story centers around the acting company’s eviction from their playhouse.  Working together the actors and stagehands secretly dismantled the theater, moved it across the Thames and reconstructed it to become the famous Globe Theatre.  During the dramas that involve the theater company, Kit discovers his passion for carpenter work.  A lively girl, Molly adds humor and colorful language to the story.  Speaking to Kit when he feels sorry for himself, Molly says, “You are like a pitiful hound, ears dragging in the dirt.  A pityhound, ‘tis what you are.”  Woelfe adds a contents list, a list of the characters, a glossary, author’s note, and bibliography to support readers.  Blac-line drawings for each act and scene will help young readers visualize the story.


As an introduction to this novel, build young reader’s background knowledge of Shakespeare and his plays with the picture book, All the World’s a Stage by Rebecca Davidson with illustrations by Anita Lobel


Jane Goodall writes in her message at the end of Me…Jane,  that, “The life of each one of us matters in the scheme of things …”  The following biographies of women demonstrate how each woman made contributions that still matters to us today.

Me … Jane by Patrick McDonnell.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Little Brown.  Ages 6-12.  Biography.

This beautifully crafted biography tells the story of Dr. Jane Goodall’s early life in simple pictures and text.  McDonnell emphasizes Jane’s zest for learning about nature, and how her talent for making observations in nature began.  In her investigations, Jane takes her stuffed toy chimpanzee, named Jubilee, everywhere.  A black and white photograph on the title page shows Jane as a child holding Jubilee.  The title is taken from the books Jane read about Tarzan of the Apes, “in which another girl, also named Jane, lived in the jungles of Africa.  Jane dreamed of a life in Africa, too.”  The book ends with a color photograph of Jane in Africa reaching out to a baby chimp – her dream realized.  Two pages of actual notes, drawings and puzzles made by Jane as a child show her childhood explorations.  More information about Jane’s life and her discoveries is in the back matter with another photo of her with Jubilee and a message from Jane today.  She writes,  “… I encourage everyone, especially young people, to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment.”  The last page in the book features a cartoon that Jane made of her life in the forest at the Bombe Stream Game Reserve.  Ornamental engravings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries enrich the pages throughout narrative.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter. (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Schwartz & Wade Books.  Ages5-12.  Biography.

This book compliments Me … Jane.  Winter’s graceful narrative describes more about Jane’s life in Africa and her perseverance, patience and hard work to learn about the lives of the chimps.  It also explains how her talent for observation made her discoveries possible, “Now Jane watched every day, all day – even huddled in the rain.”  Winter includes quotations from Jane’s journal – “I wanted to learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets…” she wrote.  Winter’s patterned, detailed illustrations provide even more information about Jane’s life.  Guide children in comparing the two biographies of Jane’s life and give them opportunities to examine these books as mentor texts.

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin.  Illus. by Bill Farnsworth.  (2011). 40 pages.  Holiday House.  Ages 11 and up.  Biography.

This biography of a little known heroine of the Holocaust begins with a quote from Sendler, “I was taught by my father that when someone is drowning, you don’t ask if they can swim, you just jump in and help.”  Her quote captures the nature of Sendler’s unselfish work in smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto starting in 1942.  She worked with the underground to find ways to save the doomed children.  “Barely 4 feet 11 inches tall, she risked her life when she disguised herself as a nurse and used a forged medical pass to enter the ghetto.  Irena planned ingenious ways to smuggle out the children.”   Rubin’s Afterword tells how Sendler’s story finally was told when the Communist regime collapsed in 1989. Extensive back matter lists a variety of resources, source notes and testimonials.

Tillie The Terrible Swede: How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History by Sue Stauffacher.  Illustrated by Sarah McMenemy.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Knopf.  Ages 6-11.

When we see woman cyclists today in their tight racing togs, let’s remember Tillie who first created an outfit that discarded the voluminous dress of the period for a tightly fitted garment to become a “whirling sensation!”  She won races and set records earning for herself the nickname – “Tillie the Terrible Swede.”  In the late 1890’s she began her recording breaking career and continued through the early 1900’s.  McMenemy’s illustrations energize the story with drawings that show Tillie sprinting across the page in her races.  The back end papers show a time line of “Tillie’s Cycling Victories.”

Liberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus by Erica Silverman.  Illustrated by Stacey Schuett.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Dutton.  Ages 8-12.

Emma Lazarus penned the poem engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty.  This book emphasizes her life as a writer and her work to help impoverished immigrants in New York City..  Silverman describes how she kept a writer’s notebook, “Emma found inspiration everywhere.  She filled up one notebook after another with poetry.”  She was inspired and taught by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He gave her advice and recommended books for her to read.  Her work for immigrants and her skill as a poet came together when she was asked to write a poem to help raise money for the statue’s pedestal.   Schuett’s color infused illustrations extend the text.  The back matter gives more details about the poem and an extensive bibliography with websites and books for further reading.



These biographies are each about men who made major contributions.  All of these books will interest a wide range of ages.  Since children today are so oriented towards visual expression, the picture book format of these books will make them more appealing.

Ben Franklin His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z by Alan Schroeder.  Illustrated by John O’Brien.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Ages 8-14.

What a clever format – a biography in the form of an alphabet book. Schroeder chronicles Franklin’s inventions, contributions, and life experiences with items for each letter of the alphabet.  For example, D includes: Deborah his wife, the Declaration of Independence, Doll – the French made a Franklin doll, and a Duet, he played with his daughter.  Each entry is explained with a short annotation.  Quotations, and adages from Franklin’s almanacs and writings are sprinkled throughout the pages.  There is humorous drawings, one for each of the entries, on each page.  They add to the fun of discovering the genius and amazing versatility of one of our country’s Founding Fathers.

The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn with considerable help from Robert Burleigh and Barry Blitt.  (2011).   Pages not numbered.  Atheneum.  Ages 9-14.

Burleigh sparks his biography of Twain with a narration in the voice of Twain’s character, Huckleberry Finn.  A “Warning to the Reader” at the beginning advises that the author of the book “… is NOT A WRITER!”  The warning goes on to explain that the reader needs to be prepared for the way Mr. Finn speaks.  Finn’s colorful first person dialogue enlivens the account of Twain’s life.  “This ain’t intendin’ to be some windy bioografy.”  Finn divides his account into logical chunks, “About When Sam Was a Boy,”  “About Sam the Steamboat Captain.”  About Sam Becomin’ a Writer” and more.  Children will chuckle over Twain’s adventures and learn about his colorful life at the same time.  Blitt’s action-packed illustrations feature Twain cavorting through his life all the time watched over by Finn.  A timeline at the end fills in some of the gaps in the chronicle..

When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio.  Illustrated by Marc Burckhardt.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Little Brown.  Ages 8-12.

This account of the early life of musician, Bob Dylan, will introduce him and his hero, Woody Guthrie, to young readers.  Golio explains, “Woody was everything Bob wanted to be: a roamin’ and ramblin’ singer and storyteller who’d played for striking miners and starving farmers.  … he had written more than a thousand songs – about dust storms and tornadoes, heroes, hobos, and gunslinging outlaws.  He played country, blues, and folk music.  His song “This Land Is Your Land” was a national favorite.”  When Dylan learns that his hero is alive and ill he travels to New York City to meet Woody.  There he plays for Woody who is in the hospital and keeps visiting him.  The Afterword tells how in “meeting Woody, Bob came to know some of the most talented and important figures in American folk music.”  He then went on to become a famous musician.  The acrylic and oil portraits and illustrations flesh out the characteristics of the two men.  Sources & Resources are listed in the back matter for children to find out more about these musicians by reading more, listening to their audio recording and watching videos.  .  An author’s note describes how Golio was inspired to write the book by Bob’s search for his guiding star.  Finally, the back matter lists the sources of the many quotations from Bob and Woody that appear throughout the text.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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