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Like snowflakes, every child is different and unique, but all children are the same in that they deserve the very best children's books! Santa's helpers can check this list twice to help fill the sleigh with seasonal read-alouds that are as wonderful as a snow day (or almost as wonderful).

Santa Claus, The World's Number One Toy Expert
by Marla Frazee

published by Harcourt

"No one knows more about kids than Santa Claus. He is the world's number one kid expert." How does he do it? With a flurry of post-its as heavy as a snowstorm, tireless market testing and the checking and double-checking of burgeoning warehouse shelves, the jolly man in red is able to pull it all together for the holidays and gets it right 99.9 percent of the time. Frazee's illustrations control the preparation frenzy with color and brilliant composition; the wall of wrapping paper is breathtaking, as is the montage of Santa testing a pogo stick. Santa is portrayed, rightfully, as a man of great warmth and ability, and in the end, we discover his gift of choice (though, with due respect, I think he'd prefer this book). (5 and up)

Richard Scarry's The Animals' Merry Christmas
by Richard Scarry
published by Golden Books

Overisized and glittering, this reissue is truly a Christmas gift to readers. This particularly affordable collection boasts eighteen stories and poems featuring friends from the woodland, farm and jungle, all celebrating and preparing for the season. Scarry has a flair for stories with a real hook: try "The Cold Little Squirrel," "The Naughty Little Reindeer," (note: Scarry fears no naughtiness), "The Goat Who Played Santa Claus" and the cliffhanging "The Goose Who Stuffed Herself" about a feathered friend who is a guest in a tiger home. Old-fashioned and as cheerful as a choir of carolers, this book is calls for gathering 'round the fireside (or lamp) for many nights of read-aloud. (4 and up)

Four Sides, Eight Nights: A New Spin on Hanukkah
by Rebecca Tova Ben-Zvi, illustrated by Susanna Natti
published by Roaring Brook

For those visited by Hanukkah Harry instead of St. Nick, check out this nifty little volume that sheds a fresh new light on the holiday. While a bit tricky as a read-aloud, this is an original and exciting informational book, including a list of eight invaluable "Hanukkah Do's and Don'ts," suggestions for potato substitutions on latkes (pinto beans, hmmm!), great ideas for what to bet while playing dreidel and plenty of history throughout. A generous peppering of black-and-white spot illustrations make this book extra festive and kid-friendly, and a lovely fesource for teachers as well.

And please note: a new reader's theater script is available for free to accompany the kosher Christmas Carol, Hanukkah, Shmanukkah! (click for link), in which Scroogemacher is visited by three rabbis to visit the past, present and future of Jewish-American history. Enjoy!

The Gift of Nothing
by Patrick McDonnell
published by Little, Brown

What do you get a friend who has everything? Nothing, of course. But when Mooch tries to shop for it, he finds it surprisingly difficult. And when, after careful thought, he manages to package it, will Earl receive it in the spirit in which it was given? Spare, sketchy cartoons perfectly complement the theme of sufficiency of the gifts we have in each other, and the deep idea at the heart of this book is told simply enough that it will help children see that whatever they have to give really is enough. With Zen undertones and comic overtones, this endearing, provocative tale about a dog, a cat and a whole lot of everything worth having will make you add Nothing to the very top of your wish list. (All ages)

Shall I Knit You a Hat? A Christmas Yarn
by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
published by Henry Holt

After receiving a form-fitting chapeau, Little Rabbit has an idea so delicious that it deserves a second piece of carrot cake: mother should knit hats for Christmas presents! When their friends at the market receive the somewhat outrageous creations, they are dubious, but when the snow starts to fall, there isn't any doubt that these are the best gifts ever. Matte illustrations in a warm palette are charming and folksy, and full of droll detail. This first picture book by a talented team celebrated for novels such as Regarding the Fountain deserves a hats-off. (5 and up)

Santa's Last Present
by Marie-Aude Murail and Elvire Murail
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
published by Peachtree Books

There comes a time in the life of every girl and boy when Santa makes his last visit. After a year of electronic toys and doo-dads, Julian finds himself entranced by a simple wooden toy train, obviously left by mistake. Will Santa take it back on his final visit? No fears; if anyone knows what to do, it's good old S.C. Blake's loose, expressive illustrations add to the humanity of the story, and the small packaging adds to the personal feel. Gentle, touching, and true to both the spirit of the holiday and the spirit of children, this story will resonate with those who are making this first turn toward adulthood. (7 and up)

A Confused Hanukkah: An Original Story of Chelm
by Jon Koons, illustrated by S. D. Schindler
published by Dutton

It's been a whole year since the town of Chelm celebrated Hanukkah, so can you blame them for forgetting how? In the absence of the rabbi, the questionably "wise" men send Yossel as an envoy to the next town to collect customs, but when he makes a wrong turn into the big city, he comes back with some unreliable information. Can the rabbi straighten things out when he returns? Schindler's style is perfectly matched to the story, fine-lined and full of personality. Purists may have trouble jiving this story about the mixing of holidays and the preservation of tradition with the original "Chelm" noodlehead stories, beautifully rendered by Issac Baschevis Singer among others, but in the end, it is a laudible attempt. The author is wiser than his folkloric characters, creating a slightly modern and very funny book that will be enjoyed by all faiths. (7 and up)

Elf Elementary
by Edward Miller
published by Abrams

When my son was little, he wanted to be an elf when he grew up; well, this book reads like a training guide. Follow an elf class as they make their way through an elf school day, and check out the sidebars as plentiful as a box of ornaments throughout, offering fascinating history, trivia and information (how is the holiday celebrated around the world? Who composed "Jingle Bells"? How did candy canes and gingerbread houses originate?) that will make your reader a true Christmas expert! A fancy flocked cover and mod computer-generated red and green illustrations make this book snazzy as well as smart. An elementary choice for teachers as well. (7 and up) Also of interest: How Santa Works by Alan Snow (Atheneum), and How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky.

In the Month of Kislev
by Nina Jaffe, illustrated by Louise August
published by Viking

Mendel the Peddler's children stand under the wealthy merchant Feivel's window, stealing the smell of the latkes, and Feivel expects them to pay for it! How can the rabbi solve this dispute? Children will jump at the chance to deliver justice. This classic Hanukkah story with bold, block cut illustrations is filled with the icons of the holiday and is a perfect read-aloud. In a world of have and have-nots, this is an important book to have. (5 and up) Another Hanukkah classic must-have: a href="" target="_top">Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by the inimitable Trina Schart Hyman (Holiday House), the dramatic tale in which Hershel cleverly tricks and wards off eveil spirits to protect his town and his traditions. (7 and up)

Are You Grumpy, Santa?
by Greg and Evan Spiridellis
published by Hyperion

Even old Saint Nick can have a bad day, and after a stubbed toe, freezing cold shower and a diet plan presented by Mrs. Claus and various unlucky run-ins all around the world the man in red is down to his last few ho-ho-ho's. Luckily, children know just what to leave near the tree to cheer him up! The illustrations look like animation stills, and children will get a lot of giggles from the energetic verse. Grown-ups overwhelmed by holiday stress will enjoy an inside joke here. Be sure to follow with a plate of cookies…Santa's favorite treat! (5 and up)

It's a Miracle! : A Hanukkah Storybook
by Stephanie Spinner, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
published by Atheneum

What a Hannukah, with Owen Block finally old enough to be the new O.C.L…Official Candle Lighter, that is. Nothing could be a better gift for each of the eight night of Hanukkah than a story, and boy, does Grandma pull out all the stops! Whenever Grandma asks, "Ready for a story?" Owen answers, "definitely." Good choice, Owen! From the dentist's parrot who says "open up" to the class clown who stays home from school to entertain his parents, to the space alien who is reminded of his home planet by the four candles lit on the menorah to the little girl that grows up to be a rabbi, could it be that these stories are inspired by Owen's real family? Naaah! In this modern treatment of a Jewish tradition, the stylish gouchae illustrations are as generous as a plate of latkes, and the voices of each character come through loud and clear. You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy the offbeat humor here, or the appreciation of the ties that bind. Includes a brief description of the Hanukkah legend, the Hanukkah blessings and a glossary. If a miracle is, as Grandma says, "something that makes you glad to be alive," then this book counts. Definitely. (7 and up)

A Christmas Promise
by Susan Bartoletti, illustrated by David Christiana
published by Blue Sky Press

This unusual and powerful historical/fiction picture book follows a father and daughter during the Great Depression as they hop trains in search of "someplace good" Daddy finds a home to care for his girl while he looks for work, and returns laden with packages in time for the holiday, though his return is clearly the best present of all. A stirring story, spare in words but strong in heart, and sure to ignite discussion about homelessness. The endpapers feature the "hobo code" of chalk symbols, used to communicate between the homeless as to what awaited them inside each home they would solicit. (6 and up)

Christmas for a Kitten
by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Layne Johnson
published by Albert Whitman

An mischievous abandoned kitten finds its way into a cozy home on Christmas Eve, and catches the jolly old elf in the act! Kitty worries that Santa will put him in the sack like his first owner did, but Santa has other plans for this kitten who is more nice than naughty at heart. Positively adorable paintings capture our pet sipping from the milk left for Santa and climbing the Christmas tree. By the author of Punctuation Takes a Vacation, the children just loved the drama and declared it their holiday favorite, and it will warm your heart like a roaring yule log. (5 and up)

Names for Snow
by Judi K. Beach, illustrated by Loretta Krupinski
published by Hyperion

The Inuits have more than fifty names for snow, which inspired the author to come up with fourteen of her own. How many can your children come up with? A little mouse living on the farm has the many kinds of snow defined for him by a loving mother. Silver-blue frames add to the wintry feel, and the delicate paintings of landscapes are charming and evocative in turn. A book as satisfying as a cup of cocoa that truly captures the spirit of winter, with it's chill on the outside and warmth on the inside. (4 and up) And I know you won't forget about Calecott winner Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian, one of the best children's books ever, about the first scientist to capture a snowflake on photographic film. (All ages)

The Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore,
illustrated by Robert Sabuda

Guess what I'm getting everyone on my list? Pop-up engineer Sabuda had a tough act to follow after last year's astounding 3-D tribute The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but he managed to pull off another Christmas miracle. The creature that is stirring is a mouse, and he observes all the magic of St. Nick making a delivery in the form of the classic poem. Using bold solids with silver detailing, the book's style is tasteful and comtemporary. There is only one tab to pull in the whole book, most all the movement comes from simply opening the pages, and when I say movement, we're talking Bolshoi Ballet, San Francisco Earthquake, Central Park carousel ride! Open to the oncoming reindeer that bolt off the page, and tell me you don't gasp! Open a page to send Santa down the chimney, or watch a mousie gently pull the covers over himself to get a little cozier. Open to the last spread and see a whole town rise up, while Santa rides away across two layers of shifting stars. There is something very loving about Sabuda's treatment, and whoever has this book shared with them will feel very loved indeed. As one teacher sighed after reading it, "Well. That just changes what a book can be." Also of interest: Sabuda's Winter's Tale. (All ages)

Another festive addition to your holiday pop-up collection is Chanukah Bugs by David A. Carter. Open a lift-the-flap package for each night of the eight days to to say shalom to the likes of a glowing Shammash candle bug, a Dizzy Dreidel Bug that really spins, sizzling Potato Latke Bugs, foil Golden Gelt bugs, and Menorah Bugs that outshine them all! Great for introducing the symbols of Chanukah in a primary classroom, or for holiday gift-giving (makes an amusing hostess gift as well as a treat for your favorite little shaneh yingle). You don't have to be Jewish to go bug-eyed over this book! More Chanukah titles may be found by clicking here!

Merry Christmas, Princess Dinosaur!
by Jill Kastner

One of the most charming Christmas books starts in the the toyroom where the toys have come to life, and from there your children can follow belly-buttoned Princess Dinosaur on her exuberant household rounds. The excitement of Santa's visit reaches fever pitch as her majesty checks the chimney, eats Santa's cookies (being excited makes her hungry, after all) and hides in the tree. What special gift will Santa deliver to such a devoted fan? The expressive illustrations of this little doll's adventures are big and bold and utterly joyful, perfectly capturing all the childlike carbonation of the night before Christmas. (5 and up)

Fancy That!
by Esther Hershenshorn, illustrated by Megan Lloyd
published by Holiday House

Pippin Biddle, "left-handed limner and fancy painter," is having a heck of a time supporting himself and three orphaned sisters with his artwork. It seems that his "correct likenesses" are displeasing to his subjects, now why could that be? At this rate, there is no way he can keep his promise that the family will be reunited in a home of their own by Christmas. Pip keeps his courage by sending portaits of Biscuit, the family dog and Pip's companion, to his sisters. Upon returning to his town, he heads to the poorhouse where he expects to find his siblings, but the limner's work has inspired his sisters in a way he cannot have predicted. Besides being an imaginative flight about how the first Christmas wreaths might have been created, it's an elegant story about how our encouragement of one another can pay in unexpected coin. The 19th century egg tempera technique used throughout is sumptuous and opulent, and deserves to be discovered by all young eyes and discussed with all young artists. (6 and up)

All You Need for a Snowman
by Alice Schertle,
illustrated by Barbara Lavallee

It all starts with one small snowflake…perfectly appropriate, because this book is as fresh as a snowflake on your tongue! Crisp, stylized illustrations (by the same artist who did the arctic tale Mama, Do You Love Me?) depict step-by-step the process of building a snowman with a bevvy of friends. This spirit of community climaxes in a delightful surprise conclusion. Huge creations at one point require the reader to tilt the book vertically to fully appreciate the grandeur, and the snowmen's garb is sure to make you smile. A snowy-day read aloud for every primary classroom, and great for emergent readers as well. (4 and up)

Pieces of Christmas
by Teri Sloat

Children can take a trip around the world just like Santa, thanks to this ingenious book! Santa is sorting through his mail, and as the letters swirl around bits and pieces of Christmas float across double-page spreads. Each picture focuses on a postage stamp of an animal in some part of the world, and of course the possibilities for classroom extensions are endless. Letter-writing is a natural. What a beautiful bulletin board it would make if each child designed their own holiday postage stamp! (Fiskars scissors are available at office supply stores with blades that look like perforation.) Or, how about mapping all the animals, from the javelinas in the southwest to the wildebeests on the African savannahs? Or classify the animals for science: are the Nashville newts amphibians or reptiles? Is the Belizean sloth in the tree a bird or beast? There is so much to discuss and connect in this book, not the least of which is admiration of the illustrations, which have very original and beguiling bits, such as raven adding the star to a tree of feathers, or chameleon changing into all the colors of the Christmas lights. (7 and up)

Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?
by Jan Brett

Every year, Kyri's Christmas feast is spoiled by an invasion of raucus, greedy trolls. The tables are turned, though, when a boy from Finnmark and his pet polar bear lodge there en route to Oslo. While Kyri's father is on the mountain to keep watch for the trolls, they make their intrusion, and all goes their naughty way until they mistake the slumbering briun for a big kitty. Based on a Norwegian folk tale, illustrator Jan Brett nearly plucks the stars from the sky in an effort to enchant her readers, literally, creating constellations of trolls looking down upon the considerable action below. Scandinavian motifs abound, with distinctive details like wooden clocks and tiled stoves and hand-knit socks, drawn with such care that you can almost feel each line with your eyes, each part of the picture like some carefully executed craft. It's hard to resist reaching out to feel all the texture of the woods and fabrics or bending over to smell the goodies on the table. Cameos of simultaneous stories are captured in wooden frames, giving this book a sophisticated filmic quality. My only complaint, as is the case with many of Jan Brett's books, is that they are so rich in detail that they can be hard to share with a large group. Save this title for one-on-one, when you can really point and ohhh and ahh at all the minute marvels within. Complaint number two is that reading this will make you greedy as a troll and calling for more…a craving readily catered to in Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury containing the text and pictures of seven---count 'em, seven!--- of her best winter wares: The Mitten, The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Trouble with Trolls, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Hat, Christmas Trolls, and The Night Before Christmas. This lavish heirloom belongs in every household where a tree twinkles. (6 and up) Also, check out the author's fabulous standard-setting website, brimming with contests, activity pages and surprises worthy of a holiday.

Zooflakes ABC
by Will C. Howell

Cutting out paper snowflakes is a family and classroom tradition , but this book takes the snip-snip -snip of this familiar winter craft to a whole new level. Look twice and you'll see pelicans, jaguars, unicorns, in fact, an A to Z alphabestiary peeking out of the snowflake forms. Simple and exciting, your child doesn't have to stand on the outside looking in; directions for folding a 6-sided "zooflake" are included. For a storytime, it's nice in combination with Jacqueline Briggs Martin's Caldecott winning title Snowflake Bentley. Fill the windows! (7 and up)

Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear!
by Don and Audrey Wood

The pipsqueak hero from The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bearis back for Christmas, and guess what, he's still concerned about that Big Hungry Bear! Can mousie dear see past his fears to deliver the true spirit of Christmas? He does, and he's not the only one who delivers…turning each page of this book is like opening a new present. The colors in this big shiny bonanza are so cheerful and bright, you would swear they were painted with melted hard candies. The whole story is told in a one-sided dialogue, the reader speaking directly to the mouse on the page and the mouse's actions and expressions responding, making this story very sweet and very, very funny. A great book about giving that makes a great book to give! Be sure to visit the author and illustrator's website as well. (5 and up)

Christmas Tapestry
by Patricia Polacco

Jonathan Jefferson Weeks is a PK, or a "pastor's kid," and follows his father from Memphis to Detroit so he can establish a new congregation. Although Jonathan is frustrated by the move, he thrusts himself into the work of the church and finds himself looking forward to the first service on Christmas Eve. When a blizzard blows in and creates water damage to the sacristy wall, it seems all is lost, until Jonathan finds a tapestry in an antique shop to cover the blight. Jonathan wonders as they wait interminably for the bus to come and take them home why things have been so difficult and why so many roadblocks seem to appear, when a Jewish woman sitting at the bus stop proves to have an uncanny connection to the tapestry and ultimately shows Jonathan that there might be a larger force at work in the best laid plans. While the story is a bit pat for my taste, as in Polacco's Welcome Comfort and The Trees of the Dancing Goats, she manages to show connections between disparate lives and her stirring vision of community is a worthwhile message any time of year. A good pick for Sunday school read-alouds (church or synogogue!) and the season's top tear-jerker. (9 and up)

Snowmen at Night
by Caralyn Buehner,
illustrated by Mark Buehner

Every wonder why, when you build a snowman, he never looks quite the same the next day? Why is that snowman all slumped down, with drooping arms and hat askew? The answer that this story suggests is that you'd look weary, too, if you partied as hearty as the frosty folk do! This wintertime rhyme is an invitation to a fete twice as fun as a ride in a one-horse open sleigh. There are so many charming details: snowmen sip ice-cold cocoa served by their mothers, make rotund snow angels, and skate in tandem. The silvery blue palette is so luminous, it is like viewing a magical nightime world through an icicle. (Your family may have already enjoyed Buehner's illustrations in the classic The Adventures of Taxi Dog). To make this book extra cool, there are hidden shapes painted in the landscapes, making this one read-aloud that will be enjoyed long after the snow has melted. (6 and up)

Snow Bears
by Martin Waddell,
illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies

Frolic in the snow is the order of the day for these three darling bears, and the hoorays are heightened when Mommy Bear pretends to have lost her children. Who are these "snow bears" who seem to have taken their place? Making the best of it, each bear takes a turn choosing a game to play, and when Mommy Bear finally takes the snow bears in for hot toast, the warm fireside melts the snow from their fur and reveals her real babies. Readers could bask in the glow of a mother's love in Waddell's Owl Babies, and the theme is just as successfully carried out here, this time with more hair than feathers. The white snow powdered and clumped on the brown bears' fur will definitely give young 'uns the chilly-willies. Full of tumbles and cuddles, this is the coziest read of the season. (3 and up)

Sleigh Bells and Snowflakes: A Celebration of Christmas
compiled and illustrated by Linda Bronson

A very handsome collection of verse for the holiday is graced with textured illustrations, with plenty of glitter, beads, ribbon and fluffy, puffy stuff. The depictions of people are also truly multicultural, with skintones painted a wide variety of shades and hues, naturally celebrating together. What really gets this book on the "nice" list, though, is how merry it is to read aloud, since many traditional song lyrics are interspersed with the poems, making it both a tuneful and tasteful choice for bedtime or storytime. (7 and up)

The Twelve Days of Christmas
by Rachel Griffin

Needlework and embroidery make up the fabric of this fantastic picture book that miraculously turns a cumulative dirge into a delight. Sequins, buttons and elegant appliqué against lush, almost electric material make this like a quilt in a binding, and also like a quilt, this book is sure to be a family treasure. Gotta love those five ring-bearing elephants! British vocalist Caroline Butler carols on the accompanying CD. As far as gift-giving, this book is a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll, and definitely beats eleven pipers piping (probably considerably more economical, too). (7 and up)

What's Cooking, Jamela? by Niki Daly
"When our chicken is nice and fat, then it will be Christmas," explains Mama. Between now and then, Jamela becomes extremely attached to the chicken who she has fittingly named "Christmas," while Jamela's grandmother increasingly looks forward to a fine holiday dinner. When Mrs. Zibi the butcher finally pays a house call, wearing a comical scowl and rubbing hands "that looked ready for business," Jamela abducts her pet, only to lose Christmas in a crowd. The story climaxes with a fabulously wild scene in a ladies' hair salon, and resolves in an alternative treat for grandma. Set in a South African township, this story is energetic, and the artwork is both funny and masterful. Daly's treatment of figures is simply awesome, expressive and alive, and so original. Just look at the double-page spread of an African nativity play, with Joseph wearing a Basuto hat, wise men sporting flaboyant Madiba shirts and "Away in a Manger" being played on marimba! A glossary is included in the back, but the text flows as naturally as water to tell a universal story of mischief and affection. If you enjoy the work of Shirley Hughes, you will love Niki Daly, and vice versa. I'm afraid I can't write any more about it, I must go stare at this book with my family for the sixth time. Also, be sure to check out the prequel, Jamela's Dress. (6 and up)

Antonella and her Santa Claus by Barbara Augustin
Here comes Santa Claus, and some holiday literature that shines as brightly as Christmas tree baubles! Expressive and wet watercolor/mixed media illustration helps tell the story of Antonella in her little Italian village by the sea, who is teased for believing in Santa Claus. She writes him a letter wishing for the red rollerskates, but when nobody knows where to send it the clever balloon man suggests they try to deliver the letter via balloon. "The balloon floated through rain and snow, clouds and fog. Up and up abnd up it went, sailing over mountains and rivers, cities and farms." What happens when the letter lands on a playground in Hungary? This colorful, original book shows that you can still communicate long distance without roaming charges, and is a tribute to the true spirit of generosity and faith. (All ages)

And there's more good will to be found in Peter Claus and the Naughty List by Lawrence David, an absolutely brilliant book in which Santa is depicted as a family man with a young son named Peter. When Peter is helping Santa and Mother Claus add names to the "naughty list," he feels badly. After all, he had been on the list only the year before. "I didn't make the rules," Santa said. "But you know what they are: more nices than naughties and you go on the nice list and get lots of presents. More naughties than nices and you go on the naughty list and get nothing." Peter feels there are extenuating circumstances that his father is not taking into consideration, so he takes hold of the sleigh-reigns to investigate. Can Peter help the children who made bad choices redeem themselves in time for Christmas...or will his antics get him in trouble to boot? A great read-aloud with modern, funny illustrations. Definitely at the top of my holiday "nice" list! (5 and up)

Christmas Magic by Michael Garland
During the holiday bustle, be sure to stop and smell the poinsettias...taste the snowflakes...and read this book! A cup-of-cocoa toast to Michael Garland for bringing the beauty of an old fashioned Christmas story into the modern age of children's book illustration. Though starting with the traditional snowman-comes-to-life motif, this book takes flights of fancy not seen since E.T.A. Hoffman's Nutcracker! Wait until you see the double-paged spread of mice baking in the kitchen, or the morphing of two elegant snowpeople into ballroom dancers! The computer generated ilustrations are so sleek and snazzy that this book would be a tasteful corporate gift, but be sure to get your hands on one for yourself, most likely it will end up as part of a Christmas Eve read-aloud tradition in your home. (5 and up)

The Christmas Cobwebs
by Odds Bodkin, illustrated by Terry Widener

This acclaimed storyteller has spun an especially moving tale of a German immigrant family who loses nearly everything to a fire except for a box of precious ornaments. The family has to move into an abandoned farmer's shack. When the mother tries to spruce the place up by cleaning out the cobwebs, her husband stops her. "We lost everything. Those webs are their homes. Let them stay." When even the ornaments have to be sold to make ends meet, the enterprising arachnids take the opportunity to reciprocate in a most amazing way. A story about about appreciating what you have and the love of those around you is told in a dramatic way that won't be lost on reluctant readers. Flat, folksy pictures add to the spirit of simplicity. A prime pick for older listeners. ( 7 and up) Also of interest: A HREF="" TARGET="_top">Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel, the classic story by Shirley Climo reissued with new illustrations by Jane Manning, in which a very dear old grandmother plays a starring role in the story spun about a spidery Christmas.

And a holiday heads up...Valentine Davies' original Miracle on 34th Street has been lovingly reprinted from it's original 1947 release! This book even feels good to hold, and would fit in a generous stocking (tuck inYes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus while you're at it). Davies' classic story of a department store Kris Kringle will have you believing in Santa (if you ever doubted before). Great dialogue, great nostalgia, great read aloud! And after you've read the book as a family or classroom, see the movie, or do my favorite...listen to the old-time radio dramatization!

click here to find titles that will jingle your holiday bells, or here for a cozy read during winter's chill!

Other excellent holiday books:

Other holiday hits that shine brightly:
A Christmas Wish by Marcus Sedgwick, illustrated by Simon Bartram (Dutton) (A boy's wish conjures up a magical storm worthy of a snowglobe! Vellum overlays add to the enchantment.) (4 and up)
Father Fox's Christmas Rhymes by Clyde and Wendy Watson (Farrar Straus Giroux) (These modern-day Mother Geese do not dissapoint in this collection of darling new poems that capture Christmas as much as a box of ornaments. Take them all out!) (3 and up)
Snow Ghosts by Leo Landry (Houghton Mifflin) (Ghosts beat snowmen any day…they don't melt! Perfect size for a stocking.) (4 and up)
What Santa Can't Do by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Doug Cushman (Simon and Schuster) (Poor Santa, he can't do as many sit-ups as he used to, and he doesn't seem to know how to use a doorknob…that's okay, he'll take the chimney instead. But there's one important way we are all a little like Santa. Read and find out what it is!) (4 and up)
Home for Navidad by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Santiago Cohen (Houghton Mifflin) (More than anything else for Christmas, Rosa would like her mother to return from her job as a cleaning lady in New York, into the warm arms awaiting her in Mexico. Expressive paintings and a happy ending making this an unusual and moving holiday pick.) (6 and up) (Related reading: Mama Had to Work on Christmas by Carolyn Marsden, illustrated by Robert Casilla (Viking), a short chapter book for ages 8 and up.)
Snow Music by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow) (Concrete poems that are a joy to read aloud or choral speaking will have young listeners hearing the sounds of the season everywhere they go. Splendid paintings to boot.) (5 and up)
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Jesse Reisch (Dutton) (Celebrated throughout history and throughout the world, now you can use this book full of information, activities and experiments to join in the fun.) (5 and up)
Christmas Cakes by Francesca Bosca, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri (North-South) (The mystery of the missing cakes is solved in this suspenseful holiday read-aloud!) (5 and up)
Rare Beasts by Charles Ogden (Tricycle) (Here's a Christmas story that would have warmed the coddles of Wednesday and Puggsley Adams! In this first of a series, two entrepreneurial siblings who watch too much t.v. decide to make a few extra bucks by pet-napping, decorating their victims with Christmas ornaments and seeing what they can get for them. Even less redeeming than Lemony Snicket's work, and that's the fun of it. Visit this new dreadful duo's website at (9 and up)
Look-Alikes Christmas by Joan Steiner (Little, Brown) (Over a thousand hidden objects used in unexpected ways to create photographed scenes make for a book as enchanting as a Christmas store window. Children love to look and look and look.) (5 and up)
The Snowflake Sisters by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lisa Desimini Atheneum) (Two snowy sisters go on a jaunt through New York City, en route to their next step in the water cycle.) (5 and up)
The Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story by Joanne Oppenheim, illustrated by Fabian Negrin (Barefoot Books) (A stone angel advises a sweet, penniless little girl how she might bring a gift to the church altar. Magical!) (6 and up)
The Holly Pond Hill Christmas Treasury by Paul F. Kortepeter, illustrated by Susan Wheeler (Dutton) (Wow! I would have loved this collection of poems and recipes, songs and crafts when I was a little girl. Who am I kidding? I love it now! Join the bunny family in their holiday celebration.) (6 and up)
The True Story of Christmas by Anne Fine (Delacorte) (England's Children's Laureate cast a wry and irreverent eye on the holiday, courtesy of her cast of eccentric relatives and one Chritmas quiz game. Hilarious middle grade read-aloud!) (9 and up)
Auntie Claus and the Key to Christmasby Elise Primavera (7 and up)
Angelina's Christmasby Katherine Holabird, illustrated by Helen Craig (5 and up)
It's Snowing!by Olivier Dunrea (4 and up)
Was That Christmas?by Hilary McKay (4 and up)
A Small Miracleby Peter Collington (7 and up)
Runaway Dreidel!by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (5 and up)
The Night Before Christmasby by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Mary Engelbreit (5 and up)
Here Comes Santa Clausby Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (4 and up)
Christmas City: A Look-Again Bookby Michael Gardland (5 and up)
Santa Claustrophobiaby Mike Reiss, illustrated by David Catrow (7 and up)
Merry Christmas Everywhere!by Arlene and Herb Erlbach, illustrated by Sharon Lane Holm (7 and up)
Iguanas in the Snow/Iguanas en la Nieve and Other Winter Poemsby Francisco X. Alarcon, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez (6 and up)
Four Friends at Christmasby Tomie DePaola (4 and up)

For more wintery stories and holiday books (including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa), click here!
For the best new children's book releases that aren't necessarily holiday books, click here! wishes you and yours peace, health and a joyful tradition of read-aloud in the new year!

Children's Literature for Halloween!

Trick or treat, smell their feet, give them something good to read! The children you love will wear grins as wide as jack-o-lanterns after you share these kid-approved picks for October 31st, available at boooookstores and libraries nationwide. Click on images or underlined text for further reviews and information.

Bake Shop Ghost
by Jacqueline Ogburn, illustrated by Marjorie A. Priceman
published by Houghton Mifflin

Cora Lee Merriweather bakes such delicious pies and cakes, her bake shop customers are willing to forgive the fact that every bit of sweetness seems to go into her work. When mean Madame Merriweather finally gives up the ghost, that's all she's willing to give up. As a prankish poltergeist, she successfully drives away anyone who seeks to inhabit her former kitchen, but when former cruise ship pastry chef Annie Washington rents the storefront, it is going to take more than a little flying flour to drive her out. When Annie finally asks what she can do for Cora Lee to settle her spirit, she says, "Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like the one I might have baked, but no one ever made for me." Will Annie spend the rest of her life trying to bake this magical cake, or will she find the bittersweet ingredient that will free them both? Superb storytelling and ebullient illustrations are a recipe for read-aloud in this perfectly delicious ghost story about empathy and cooperation. (7 and up)

The Perfect Pumpkin Pie
by Denys Cazet
published by Atheneum

Believe me, if you stood in line for a half an hour at the bakery, you could not come up with a more delicious Halloween storytime treat. Slightly rowdy illustrations make this a pick for your slighty older and more fortified group, who will howl and shiver as Mr. Wilkerson rises from the beyond in order to bully a piece of perfect pie from Jack and his fearless grandmother. A balanced combination of put-the-flashlight-under-your-chin-and-speak-slowly prose and join-in-the-refrain verse ("Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkin pie!/ I must have one before I die./ It must be round and brown as toast/ Or I'll haunt this house as a hungry ghost.") will make for perennial pumpkin fun. Just as a perfect pie must have all the right ingredients, so does this book have the right dashes of fright and delight, and as the ending suggests, old Mr. Wilkerson may put in a few more appearances before all is said and done (apple pie, anyone?). (7 and up)

The Witch's Walking Stick
by Susan Meddaugh
published by Houghton Mifflin

An unfortunate little girl has a turn of luck when she is able to locate the missing magical walking stick of a witch, and decides to use it to play a few tricks on her unkind siblings before returning it to its owner. Reminiscent of William Steig, the artwork is a colorful and sunny match for the funny, winsome story. (5 and up) And when it comes to unexpected endings, though nobody can beat Susan Meddaugh, a close match may be found in the Halloween parody The Little Green Witch by Barbara Barbieri McGrath, illustrated by Martha Alexander (Charlesbridge). "The Little Red Hen" gets a seasonal twist when the Little Green Witch asks who will help her bake a pumpkin, and a gremlin, bat and ghost all answer "not I!" Do you think someone with a wand is going to stand for that? Illustrations sweet as a bag of treats. (4 and up)

Boris and Bella
by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Gris Grimly
published by Harcourt

Two star-crossed neighbors, Boris Kleanitoff (compulsive neatnick) and Bella Lagrossi (stylish but slobby) battle it out with dueling Monster Mash parties. Who will have the last dance? Full of funny detail in both picture and text, this book is a howl and should not have to wait until Halloween to be enjoyed. Best romance since William Steig's original Shrek! (7 and up)

The Best Halloween Ever
by Barbara Robinson
published by HarperCollins

The Herdmans, famous for the chaos wreaked in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, are back with sugar and spice and all things not-so-nice, to sabotage Principal Crabtree's bright idea for in-school Halloween celebrations sans trick-or-treating. Be afraid. Be very afraid. (8 and up)

The Skeleton in the Closet
by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Curtis Jobling
published by HarperCollins

When I first looked at this book, I thought, "oh, ho-hum, another skeleton-y Halloween book," and I only mention that in order to say, folks, this is not just another Halloween book. A little skeleton is thrillingly, chillingly following a harrowed tyke up the stairs (counting stairs adds to the suspense)…in order to…raid his closet! (He's a modest little skeleton, after all). Children will laugh out loud when they see the funky duds this dude picks out! Skeletons may not have tongues, but luckily you do, so you can try on this aboslutely delicious language, oh, goodness ghostness, I hadn't had this much fun with an itty-bit of rhythm and rhyme since Dr. Seuss. A former elementary school teacher, this author knows how to write a story that screams "feltboard!" and kids will enjoy dressing their own homemade skeletons. If you're looking for a shivery story to share with kids that delivers a little trick and a lot of treat, this is one you'll all enjoy right down to your bones. Like the skeleton in the story, you've really got to try it on for size! (4 and up)

Olivia and the Missing Toy
by Ian Falconer
published by Atheneum

The porcine princess is back, and this time it's personal when her best, best, best toy comes up missing. Could the family dog really be the culprit, and can she ever learn to forgive? A combination of cerebral artwork (please note the poster of Martha Grahame mid-arabesque in Olivia's room, and the moody fold-out spread in which Olivia learn's her toy's fate on a dark and stormy night) and out-and-out snark (look at Mama's face when Olivia exclaims"Oh, thank you, Daddy. I love you more than anyone") gives many facets to a mystery that will capture the imagination and tickle the funnybone of both the child and the adult who is providing the lap. (5 and up)

by Eric Rohmann
published byKnopf

A boy with a pumpkin for a head is the odd premise for an equally odd story about a boy who misplaces his noggin, but, as children are prone to such disasters, they may find a kindred spirit. After a series of adventures that would impress even Andersen's Tin Soldier, the journey lands him back with his own clan. The strength of the book by the illustrator of last year's gold-medal winning My Friend Rabbit is in it's design, small and square and bold with its boxt relief print illustration, perfectly peculiar as befitting the season that brought us Halloween. But this is more parable than scare-able, as the mother admonishes the son with who she has been reunited: "you know, the world will always be difficult for a boy with a pumpkin for a head." I can hear the spirits of so many homework-forgetting boys resound, "Amen." (6 and up)

Dracula and Frankenstein Are Friends
by Katherine Tegen, illustrated by Doug Cushman
published by Harpercollins

Frankenstein decides to have a party, and lo and behold, best buddy Dracula was planning one, too…on the very same day. I was somewhat driven batty by the lengths that the vampire villain goes to in order to sabotage his friend's soiree, but the children I read it to were able to forgive his bloodsucking tactics, and focused instead on the territory of keeping a strained friendship afloat. The comical illustrations didn't hurt; what fun to view favorite monsters in costume doing the boogie-woogie, and floormaps of Frankenstein and Dracula's houses! In the end, both parties turn out to be a graveyard smash. (6 and up)

Night Cat
by Margaret Beames, illustrated by Sue Hitchcock
published by Orchard

Cat's eyes glowing out of the darkness is how this evocative book begins, and readers prowl alongside the feline as he moves through the garden, stealthily as a shadow. Who knew it was full of so many surprises? Most likely you and your children have not seen a book that looks like this before. Using computer generated images, it is emblematic of a new wave of children's book illustration; though many artists are experimenting with the technique, this is an example of it being done very well, so naturally that you might not notice anything besides the sharpness and depth of the images. Using an evocative palette of reds, blacks, and purples, with careful, sporatic use of light to create mood and surprise, it seems to capture the very spirit of night, of adventure, of the cat's own capriciousness. Perspective moves from near and far and startles the senses, textures seem so realistic that it seems natural to reach out and touch them. Howling, yowling, brazen, are your children brave enough to join this cat on the prowl? Once the last page is turned and you are left again, like the cat, safe and warm in your home, you will still be mouthing one word: "wow." (5 and up)

Curse in Reverse
by Tom Coppinger,
illustrated by Dirk Zimmer
published by Atheneum

Agnezza the witch wanders through the small hamlet of Humburg, looking for some shelter and a bite to eat. Selfish Mrs. Raff refuses her, and is given the Curse of the Silent Night. Rude Mr. Fooss rejects her, and is put under The Curse of the One-eyed Jack. When childless Mr. and Mrs. Tretter recieve her with open arms, they are chagrined when, upon their departure, she lays a Curse of the One-Armed Man upon them. Why did she do that? Their alarm grows as they see the curses of their neighbors come to unfortunate and surprising fruition. Little do they know that Agnezza has another trick up her sleeve when it comes to rewarding kindness! A funny folktale that's formalistically flawless, peppered perfectly with Zimmer's zany cross-hatched line drawings. Share this charmer anytime of year, and you'll have to decide for yourself if repeated readings are a curse…or a curse in reverse! (6 and up)

The Squeaky, Creaky Bed
by Pat Thompson,
illustrated by Niki Daly
published by Doubleday

Each time a boy goes to the country to visit his grandparents, the squeaky, creaky bed keeps him awake at night, and crying "Waaugh! Waaugh! Waaugh!" Each time, the grandparents reassure him and get him a different pet to keep him company, until the next visit, when the squeaky, creaky bed keeps both the child and the animals awake! It is not until a common-sense parrot is added to the melee that the problem is solved, winding the story down to satisfying closure and a sweet goodnight. What a cacophany rings through out the book, more places for children to join in than I can count; the joyful noise of a choral reading waiting to happen! The loose lines of the artwork are comical; get a load of grandpa's "ying-yang" pajamas! Whether you're looking for a grandparent story, something slightly spooky, a bedtime bonanza or a classroom chant, this book has got it all shoved under the old squeaky, creaky bed. (5 and up)

The Witch's Children
by Ursula Jones,
illustrated by Russell Ayto
published by Henry Holt

Halloween is only one day a year. What do the witch's children do when it's not time for trick-or-treat? They go to the park, of course! And the children are as lovely as can be, behaving absolutely princely until they try to help Gemma retrive her toy boat from the pond. As each child takes a turn trying to help, the problem grows increasingly tricky. The best is for last, though, when the youngest child knows the real magic word: mom! Stylish line illustration is funny and distinctive, and the creative storyline will cast a spell over your storytime listeners. Enchanting! (4 and up)

Just a Minute! A Trickster Tale and Counting Book
by Yuyi Morales
published by Chronicle

It takes more than a pretty please to separate a grandma from her grandchildren, as this clever abuela proves in a trickster tale in which party preparations take up a little too much time for Senor Calavera, a skeleton patiently waiting to take this busy woman to the other side. When he sees that she is indeed the hostess with the mostess, he rescinds his own creepy invitation…after all, he wants to come to next year's party, doesn't he? Bold Mexican motifs make this a sensible pick for Dia de los Muertos, but don't be silly like Senor Calavera and wait, use the book right away to help children learn to count from one to ten in Spanish, and to celebrate the special loving ties of a family that can cordially show trouble the door. This not-too-scary book ends with a reassuring wink, and is smiles all through, thanks to writing that belies Morales' storytelling background and an absolutely gorgeous palette that seems inspired by the streamers of a pinata. (7 and up)
Other excellent "Dia de los Muertos" literature (for November 1st):
The Spirit of Tio Fernando: A Day of the Dead Story/El Espiritu De Tio Fernando : Una Historia Del Dia De Los Muertos by Janice Levy, illustrated by Morella Fuenmayor (Whitman)(6 and up)
Clatter Bash! A Day of the Dead Celebration by Richard Keep (Peachtree)(4 and up)
Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book by by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt) (5 and up)
Felipa and the Day of the Dead by Birte Muller (North-South Books) (6 and up)
The Festival of Bones/El Festival de las Calaveras by Luis San Vicente (Cinco Puntos) (7 and up)
Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jeanette Winter (Voyager) (5 and up)
Pablo Remembers by Tony Johnston, illustrated by George Ancona (HarperCollins) (5 and up)

The Essential Worldwide Monster Guide
by Linda Ashman, illustrated by David Small
published by Simon and Schuster

"Guaranteed--some day, some place--/You'll meet a monster face to face./Don't destroy a great vacation--/Arm yourself with information!/With this handy monster guide,/You can take these beasts in stride./Save yourself the stress and stife!/Save your spirit! Save your life!" Now do you see why this title is an absolute necessity? So begins the voyage via hot air balloon to thirteen countries, each page luckily illustrated by a Caldecott artist in top form and unluckily plagued by lengendary creatures such as the nefarious Russian Domovik, the terrible Japanese Tengu, or the not-so-hot Hotots of Armenia. Anyone who reads this book is likely to learn something new in this international monster who's who, and the frontspiece is an attractive world map to help you locate the monsters (and steer clear of them). Let each child in a classroom make up their own monster description using the format in the book, and bind them together for your own homemade Essential Monster Guide! (7 and up)

The Wicked Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House
by Mary Chase, illustrated by Peter Sis
published by Knopf

Maureen Swanson is, ummm, how shall we put this nicely? Socially challenged? The kind of kids with lots of check marks up the right side of the report card? Maybe we should stick to the author's language: "a hard slapper, a shouter, a loud laugher, a liar, a trickster, and a stayafterschooler." The trouble she causes grows big enough that she has to hide out in the old Messerman place. Sure it's supposed to be haunted, but Maureen isn't daunted, au contraire, she has often imagined what it would be like to be a wealthy Messerman herself. But fancy pedigree is not all it's cracked up to be as Maureen discovers when the portraits come to life, giving naughty Maureen a run for her money. Predicatable in places, the wicked wicked humor from this 1968 novel foreshadows not only the plot, but the dark delights like those of Lemony Snicket and Joan Aiken that children so enjoy today. And who doesn't like a good haunted house story? (9 and up)

by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean

This is the scariest children's book I have ever read, and it took a mighty long time to read, I might add, because I had to keep taking intermissions in order to tell myself that it's just a book, it's just a book. I literally had to shove it under my sofa for two hours to try to get it out of my spinal cord, but then I had to take it out because it was too creepy to have under the couch. Then I read a little more and had to do some cheerful karaoke while the sweat that had accumulated on my palms dried out. What's so scary? I couldn't tell you, nothing really happens and everyone speaks in civil tones, but somehow it is so exactly like reading a bad dream, with disturbing little symbols and details that shine like a smile made up of a few too many sharp teeth. Parents that work too much, parents that love too much, too many hours in a bored girl's day all scrape away like too long fingernails against a bare back. There is a black cat that out-freakies Lewis Carroll's Cheshire and a deadpan little girl heroine bent on exploring an alternate universe where innocents are held captive and are called upon to handle more than the reader can stand to read. But you will read, "because," as Coraline says, "when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave." Inarguably well-written if uncomfortably psychological, give it to children who have been sneaking your Stephen King anyway, and don't blame me if they get nightmares. (11 and up)

Everything I Know About Monsters
by Tom Lichtenheld

After a very reassuring note from the author explaining that monsters exist only in our imaginations, this comic field guide of creepy creatures puts that imagination to hard and rewarding work. Brought to literary life are under-the-bed monsters, closet and basement monsters, school monsters (I think we've all met a few of those), outside monsters, man-made and movie monsters, and special attention to almost-monsters like shadows and aliens. The writing is so natural and conversational, it really feels as if the author is in the room with an arm around the reader's shoulder, glancing side to side to spot and describe the objects of his expertise. Illustrations seems to be inspired by Silly Putty, with all sorts of gloopy elastic ghouls sporting an abundance of eyeballs, slathering tongues and gnashing teeth. The electric colors and tongue-in-cheek captions keep anything from being too scary, rather, it keeps in the perfect Purple-People-Easter spirit of Halloween fun. The extra-silly "Official Mad Scientist Monster Maker" will help children create a monster name by choosing words from columns. Like Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants, this book is sure to be grabbed at and argued over by otherwise reluctant readers, but if the children start any monsterous fights over who gets to read it next, at least you'll know how to classify them. (7 and up)

by Kathryn Lasky,
illustrated by David Jarvis

After losing his two brothers to the Big Bad Wolf, Dr. Smart Pig is understandably lonely. Dr. Pig finally creates a humongus hog to fill this void, but is again discouraged when he realizes he can't keep ahead of his new friend's equally humongous appetite. This porcine propensity comes in mighty handy, though, when the wolf comes trick-or-treating at Dr. Pig's door. The pictures are smooth and stylish, with cinemanic tilts and close-ups that play on the parody very nicely. Dr. Pig's initial failings in the lab creates a series of freakish friends that children will find funny. A great title for hamming it up at a Halloween storytime! (6 and up)

Francis the Scaredy Cat
by Ed Boxall

When devoted pet Francis imagines his owner is in the clutches of a monster, he faces his fear of the dark. Is the object of his frenzy really felonious, or a feline just like him? The naive illustrations, full of zig-zaggy lines and an orange cat against a black background, are as appetizing as candy corn and perfectly suits this moonlit little treat. Lovely thrills and chills for the youngest listener. (4 and up)

by Miriam Glassman,
illustrated by Victoria Roberts

A foundling is raised by a witch in appropriate black-magic fashion, but Mama Hepzibah gets her broom in a knot when little Halloweena expresses a desire to make some human friends. Just when the cauldron seems to be about to bubble over, Halloweena offers a creative solution in a cornfield. The cartoonish art by New Yorker artist Victoria Roberts is droll, but thin lines and small figures make it more tricky than treat-y to share with a group; rather, give this to some little girl who is about to start a classic like Eleanor's Estes's The Witch Family. (6 and up)

Skeleton Hiccups
by Margery Cuyler,
illustrated by S.D. Schindler

A bad case of hiccups is rattlin' them bones, so a friendly Ghost steps in to suggest a series of cures. Finally, Ghost decides the best prescription is to scare Skeleton…no easy feat, but he manages. The illustrations are sparse but sprinkled with morbidly funny details and scenarios, such as when Skeleton tries to eat a spoonful of sugar only to have it pour right through his ribcage, or the werewolf bedroom slippers waiting outside Skeleton's shower. Children will love to join in Skeleton's painful refrain of "hic, hic, hic," and root for this hero to survive an all-too-human malady. This book will tickle the funny bone for sure! (5 and up)

This Book is Haunted
by Joanne Rocklin,
illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi

Simply written stories and verses that are more funny than fearsome leap from the pages like wonderfully warty frogs. I am still chuckling, thinking about just a few: "Tap, Tap, Tap," in which an older brother tries to scare a younger brother at bedtime, only to give himself goosebumps; "House for Rent," in which an echo ends up being something more so; and my very favorite, "The Story of Bill," in which a boy who scoffs at returning an overdure library book reaps a harrowing vengeance. Angular, stylized artwork with candy-dish colors help will definitely ring your doorbell. Don't you witch you had a copy to give to an emergent reader child right now? (5 and up)

Halloween Hats
by Elizabeth Winthrop,
illustrated by Sue Truesdell

Hats off to this jaunt in which neighborhood kids get decked out for some happy haunting. Truesdale's cartoon figures seem to have bones made out of rubber bands, with an energy that springs from the page, and her vibrant watercolor palette sets a party mood. Children will enjoy deciding which of all the funny costumes they would choose, as well as the grand finale of a wild costume mix-and-match. A family read without any frights, this book celebrates the best parts of the holiday: children's enthusiasm and imagination! (5 and up)

The Charles Addams Mother Goose
by Charles Addams

The goose is cooked in this gruesome collection which is way more suitable for a Generation-X'er or snarky seventh-grader than a baby in bunting. Traditional rhymes are each illustrated with a twisted twist: Mary Quite Contrary is growing poisoned mushrooms in her garden, Daddy catches the fishy, fishy in the brook using a hook-hand and you wouldn't want this ghastly Wee Willie Winkie rapping at your window and crying through your lock! Slightly disturbing, yes, but what do we expect from the same marvelously maniacal mind that brought us The Addams Family? The photograph of Addams in his home leering beneath his crossbow collection is my favorite bonus in the biographical scrapbook included in the back of the book. This compendium will cause shrieks of either offense or laughter, but any way it goes, the monsters seem to be enjoying themselves. (10 and up)

The Dream Stealer
by Gregory Maguire,
illustrated by Diana Bryan

The Blood Prince stalks the forests of Russia, frightening gentlefolk out of traveling to their vacation homes, which means empty supper bowls for the unfortunate villagers of Miersk who sell food to train passengers. Is the bloodthirsty wolf a legend, or does he really exist, preying on both bodies and souls? A young boy and girl take it upon themselves to seek out the answer from the fearsome witch Baba Yaga, and hopefully save their modest town. Many different Russian folktales are woven together to make an enchanting tapestry of both horror and beauty, and one of the most memorable reads of a childhood. The writing is astounding, making The Dream Stealer a read-aloud dream come true. Take, for instance, the description of Baba Yaga, the iron-toothed witch who "doesn't know the difference between taking prisoners and entertaining guests," who lives in a house surrounded by talking skulls: "Her shawls and skirts were filled with burns and burrs, and repaired with awkward stitching--one big tear in her blouse had been woven together with a tail of a rat." Some of the pen-strokes are simply lyrical, as in the description of the train tracks : "rails stretched out like four endless moonbeams nailed down to the earth." Each character is carefully crafted from the inside out, developed with a past and present that will leave every reader hoping desperately for their futures. Fairy tale, mystery, scary story, this book has it all, and we all should have it! (9 and up) For background before beginning this adventure, check out Baba Yaga and Vasilisa The Brave by Marianna Mayer, Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll by Hiawyn Oram and versions of The Firebird retold by either Gennday Spirin, Ruth Sanderson or Jane Yolen .

Other excellent books to throw into your bookshelf brew:

Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian (reissue of a classic favorite!) (4 and up)
Skeleton Bones and Goblin Groans: Poems for Halloween by by Amy Sklansky, illustrated by Karen Dismukes (What could be a better treat than poetry? Unique beaded artwork.) (4 and up)
Good Babies: A Tale of Trolls, Humans, A Witch and a Switch by Tim Myers, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (A witch tries to make mischief, but a mother's love foils all.) (6 and up)
Precious and the Boo Hag by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Onawumi Jean Moss (Nothing and nobody is coming in the house with a brave and clever little girl on the other side of the door.) (6 and up)
The Monster Trap by Dean Morrisey (Read it and build your own monster trap!)(6 and up)
Pumpkin Cat by Ann Turner, illustrated by Amy June Bates (A special Halloween cat tries to find home in a library.) (6 and up)
(Read it and build your own monster trap!) (6 and up)
Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Lydia Monks (This adorable arachnid needs a friend). (4 and up)
The Teeny Tiny Ghost and the Monster by Kay Winters, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (A little spook is having a hard time with his Halloween art project.) (5 and up)
How to Trick or Treat in Outer Space by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Paul Brewer (Ever wonder how the treats are outside your own neighborhood?) (5 and up)
Here They Come! by David Costello (See what makes the biggest scare at this monster mash.) (5 and up)
The Mystery of Eatum Hall by John Kelly and Cathy Ticknell (Dark machinations are the subplot to this invitation to dinner. Can the reader use clues to discover what's really cooking here?) (6 and up)

Autumnblings by Douglas Florian (Greenwillow) (Poems of the season!) (6 and up)
The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Richard Egielski (HarperCollins) (A never-before published story by the author of Goodnight Moon!) (6 and up)
The Graves Family by Patricia Polacco (Philomel) (7 and up)
Halloween by Harry Behn, illustrated by Greg Couch (North-South Books) (5 and up)
It Was a Dark and Silly Night edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly (Comic book vignettes from such celebrated and creepy cartoonists and storytellers as Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket.) (HarperCollins) (8 and up)
Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken (Distress has never been so divine as when these orphans get pilfered out of their inheritance…this is a reissue written long before Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, mind you!…and are cast out to defend themselves on some mighty mean streets. By the same author as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase!) (9 and up)
Halloweenies by David Wisniewski (Parodies of our favorite movie monsters in print form! Prepare for the attack of the space toupées!) (7 and up)
The Company of Crows by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Lomda Saport (A murder of poems about the blackest of the beaked, from varied points of view. Rich pastel illustrations.) (7 and up)
Oliver Finds His Way by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Christopher Denise (Beautiful autumnal story of a bear lost in the woods.) (4 and up)
In a Dark, Dark Wood by David Carter (Traditional tale with a perfect pop-up surprise on the last page big enough to scare a large group! Boo...I mean, yay!) (6 and up)

For more Halloween backlist (a.k.a. oldies but goodies) check out the autumnal recommendations in Stories for All Seasons!

And for those of you already planning for Turkey Day, here are some picture books your children will be thankful to feast their eyes on…

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving
by Laurie Halse Anderson,
illustrated by Matt Faulkner

So much more than a book about Thanksgiving, this is a book about the power of the pen and one woman who knew how to put it to good use. Sarah Joseph Hale, who also wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb," lobbied for Thanksgiving as a national holiday at the onset of the Civil War. Using sheer perseverence and her influence as a magazine editor, she was able to unite the country at a time when we were suffering such terrible divisions. A remarkable story is made even better by Anderson's enthusiastic and chatty writing style. A whole other book's worth of information is at the end, including the origins of football games and parades on Thanksgiving day, a short timeline of historic events during Sarah's day and a synopsis of Sarah's life as a working mother of five children. Faulkner's sketchy illustrations are a cross between David Small's caricatures and David Catrow's hyperbole. (Look at that big Macy's-Parade-like dinosaur balloon floating over the table of plenty!) Anderson's prowess as a young adult novelist left everyone speechless in Speak, and this book puts her on the map as a picture book powerhouse as well. Great for mother-daughter book groups, lessons in history, letter-writing, wonderful women and of course the holiday itself…once you look at this book, you'll never want to talk turkey without it. (7 and up)

The Thanksgiving Door
by Debby Atwell
published by HarperCollins

Ann burned the dinner, and so she and her husband Ed decide to try the new restaurant, the New World Café, down the street. "I'm not sure we should be here," worries Ann upon seeing all the empty chairs, but Ed replies, "Nonsense, their door was open." It so happens that the door was ajar by mistake, and the restauranteurs in the kitchen are in a tizzy. This was supposed to be a family party! Should they throw the elderly couple out? Grandmother decides now is the perfect time for an old-fashioned lesson in sharing, and Ed and Ann are treated to a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration, Russian style! The burnt bird--and new friends--turn out to be what this pair are most thankful for. A wonderful story and folksy illustrations combine with all the warmth of a warm slice of turkey with a side of kasha. Extend your own family of favorite holiday titles by adding this to your collection.(5 and up)

Turk and Runt
by Lisa Wheeler,
illustrated by Frank Ansley

Turk's the turkey to beat in the barnyard. He's an athlete! He's a dancer! "He's a goner," mourns little brother Runt. Frail and four-eyed, he's the only one who seems to see the dire situation clearly through his nerdy glasses. His efforts to sabotage turkey sales is misunderstood, but when it's Runt who is about to headline on the menu, will Turk finally get his feathers ruffled? Stuffed with the most hilarious one-liners, a surprise ending and two painfully misguided poultry parents, this is the funniest book about Thanksgiving of this or any season. Fine vegetarian fare, and a good lesson on just how healthy a little skepticism can be. (5 and up)

Milly and the Macy's Parade
by Shana Corey,
illustrated by Brett Helquist

Milly, a Polish immigrant girl, is thrilled that her father works at Macy's department store, where she can play in the revolving doors, ride the escalators , loiter in ladies lingerie and of course, play with toys, toys, toys! But when she notices that the employees are down-in-the-mouth as a result of homesickness, she suggests an event to the CEO that will mix many traditions, bringing everyone together and giving them a reason to want to call America "home." A touching an imaginative blend of fact and fiction, the story is elegantly illustrated by the spot-artist of Lemony Snicket's bestselling series. Here, however, we see the expressive detail in wide-screen. What fun to viacriously visit an old-fashioned department store, and what a cheerful companion Miss Milly is! Red and copper foil lettering on the cover make it a tasteful gift as well as a great classroom read-aloud and salute to the spirit of our country. Besides, it's the best thing to hit Macy's since Miracle on 34th Street. (6 and up)

Best Backlist Back-to-School Picks:

In English, of Course
by Josephine Nobisso, illustrated by Dasha Ziborova
published by Gingerbread House

The members of Josephine's classroom all seem to come from somewhere else, and are called upon in turn to talk about where their families are from. But when it's Josephine's turn, she is not sure she has enough English under her belt to explain that her parents are architectural engineers from Napoli, Italy. Her limited language leads her into uncharted farm territory, where with the help of her teacher she is able to share an extravagant reminiscence about a cow, told with a lot of body language. This hilarious and honest book explores both the insides and the outsides of an extremely intelligent child who is just gathering the tools she needs to make herself understood. The splashy collage illustrations appropriately reflect the wild amounts of information that are being sorted through, along with the style and spirit of the story's heroine. ESL students and teachers will cheer here, but any child will empathize with Josephine's earnest attempt to share the best of herself with her class. "Sometimes native-speaking people underestimate the talents, dignity and wit of newcomers to a country," the author muses in her postscript. All of these attributes come through loud and clear in one of the more endearing characters and accurate classroom narratives to appear in children's literature in a long time. (6 and up)

Punctuation Takes a Vacation
by Robin Pulver,
illustrated by Lynne Rowe Reed
published by Holiday House

Poor Mr. Wright plods along, trying to teach about punctuation marks, but when the frustrated fellow suggests "let's give punctuation a vacation," the underappreciated notations take him up on it, hopping a plane and leaving the class in a lurch. It turns out that writing is so hard to understand without those funny dots and dashes! When postcards arrive with crytic signatures, can Mr. Wright's students (and yours) figure out who each one is from? Leave it to clever Robin Pulver to take something as pedestrian as the period at the end of a sentence and infuse it with her signature zing. This attractive, funny book earns exclamation points all the way, and is a teacher's dream come true. Overheads of the illustrations will bring grammar lessons to life (unscramble the badly behaved punctuation in Mr. Rongo's room!), and children will love preparing their own punctuation postcards for a trip abroad to the bulletin board! Language arts has never been so lively. Also a nice end-of-year gift for teachers as they embark (hopefully) on a restful summer vacation. (7 and up)

Coyote School News
by Joan Sandin
published by Henry Holt

Marvelous storytelling timeline following twelve students who attend the Coyote School. The tales of Monchi and his family living between Tucson and the Mexican border are told in fast-moving anecdotal style, describing exciting events like the Fiesta de Los Vaqueros (the big annual rodeo) and breaking open the Christmas pinata, as well as more everyday events like a visit from the nurse to the school and an attempt at a baseball game…who let the cattle out! Each vignette is perfectly accented by a page from "The Coyote School News," inspired by actual newsletters written by Arizona ranch country schools between 1932 and 1943. Besides this unique treatment, lovely watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations, both big and small, help bring the school year to life. By the last day, readers will have a very clear picture of a school that they will surely wish they could attend. And qué bueno, there's no way your own estudiantes will not be inspired to create their own classroom newsletter after reading this book! (7 and up)

Little Brown Bear Won't Go to School!
by Jane Dyer
published by Little, Brown

Every child has those days where they simply don't want to go to school, and Little Brown Bear is no exception. "I want a job," he complains, and sneaks off in puruit of one instead of going to class. It seems he doesn't have the aptitude to work at at the restaurant, the contrsuction site, the knitting or the barber shop. Is there any place where his skills match the job he has to do? This gentle watercolor illustrations feature a menagerie of animal characters that makes the story extra fun. The story plays on the fantasy of so many children to work as the grown-ups do, while celebrating the special work that children do every day. Don't be absent for this one! (6 and up)

Other stories with class during the 2003 season included First Day by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (Harcourt), which is everything you could want in a first picture book about school. Pictures as colorful as a box of 64 crayons depict a world of activity and comraderie, while cheerleading verse gears children up for the special first day, and all the days that will follow. (4 and up) Older children will be revitalized by The Best Class Picture Ever by Denis Roche (Scholastic), which deals interestingly with the common situation of being in-between teachers. Here it is, picture day, and the class pet is missing and the children don't even have a substitute. No wonder Olivia can't gather the gumption to grin! It's up to Mr. Click the photographer and Olivia's classmates to find a way to turn that frown upside down, and in doing so, Mr. Click discovers some competencies he didn't know he had. Listeners will have fun locating Elvis (the guinea pig) in each of the rowdy pictures, and smile at the surprise ending whether or not they say "cheese!" (6 and up)

Unique Monique
by Maria Rousaki,
illustrated by Polina Papanikolaou
published by Kane/Miller

With a bow to Kevin Henkes' Lily's Purple Plastic Purse and Peggy Rathmann's Ruby the Copycat, here is Unique Monique, the latest in a long and illustrious line of young ladies who are trying to break the mold. Hard work for Monique, consistently squelched by her principal at school, who do not seem to appreciate the fashionable findings from the old attic costume trunk. It seems Monique will have to conform unless she can come up with something to set her apart that even the school can't say no to. (6 and up)

Stanley Birdbaum in Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg (published by Candlewick) suffers from an opposite problem when he confuses "Crazy Hair Day" with "School Picture Day," making his multicolored mohawk more of a hair-don't than a hair-do. Even school spirit can't save him now…or can it? This is an excellent story about what it means to be a community, and how classmates can offer support through acceptance. (6 and up)

Mind Games
by Jeanne Marie Grunwell
published by Houghton Mifflin

Smarty-Pantses in the house! The schoolhouse, that is…high I.Q.'s are all the fall fashion rage on the shelves of children's literature. Six only slightly willing members of the seventh grade Mad Scientist Club team up to create a science fair project about ESP and end up correctly predicting numbers in the Maryland State Lottery. How did they do it, you may ask? Well, interested readers will be privy to the private notebooks of all the members, where they will not only get to read about their hypothesis but follow along as a friendship fades, two very different sisters find some common ground, an egghead tries to solve the enigma of his mother and a Russian immigrant gets her footing. The voyeuristic format lends itself well to the slightly spooky theme. Distinct and compelling characterizations throughout the book make it hard to believe that one author could have executed so many voices so flawlessly, but obviously we are dealing with a very unusual new talent who shows shades of E.L. Konisburg. The juggling act of many stories is done with shocking ability, and together they form one potent story that suggests knowing each other well is the best way of knowing what comes next…or at least surviving it. (11 and up)

It is very rare to find a book in which you cannot manage to turn a page without laughing. Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee (Scholastic) is that book. Millicent's tentative, earnest steps toward achieving every pre-teen girl's dream--making and keeping a real best friend--loom larger even than Millicent's goal to win the Field's Medal, the highest mathematical honor a person under forty can achieve. ("It would be great to do all this by age twenty but I donŐt want to put too much pressure on myself. Therefore, if it doesn't happen until I am, say, twenty-three, that's fine with me.") As Millicent tutors a jock named Stanford, survives her first sleepover, spikes a point for her volleyball team and tries valiantly to hide her genius from her ebullient friend Emily, she learns that there are book smarts and people smarts, and both are important. It's nice to have a heroine who is more concerned with learning curves than body curves, and her character's development is gradual and convincing and a pleasure to read. Millicent is the valedictorian of the intermediate reading list (no Field's Medal, I know, but it will have to do for now). (11 and up)

Leon and the Spitting Image
by Allen Kurzweil, illustrated by Bret Bertholf
published by Greenwillow

Leon's lack of fine motor skills is landing him in hot water with his new teacher, the odd Miss Hagmeyer, a Medieval throwback who has an almost deranged obsession with sewing. In order to pass, the children must create stuffed "animiles" (stitch count not to exceed four s.p.i., or stitches per inch, mind you), culminating in a master piece at the end of the year. The story takes quite a fantastic turn midsection, though, when Leon makes a doll of his teacher and discovers that he can control her every move by using it. The book brims with mystery (is Miss Hagmeyer's hair really held on with velcro? What are all of those funny eyeballs she keeps locked away? And what on earth is The Hag doing with all those stuffed animals?) and ends on a sharp note of revenge, both of which are extremely appealing to the dark side of middle-graders. The story's great strength, however, resides in Hagmeyer's willingness to redirect her curriculum based on the best of what she has to share. The fact that this one teacher's passion, for all the controversy she stirs up, is able to transform her students, makes this book an inspiration for all classroom teachers to stand and deliver their lessons through the filter of the best in themselves. A highly unusual classroom read. Plus, I just loved staring at those endpapers covered in eyeballs…and I could swear they were staring back. (10 and up)

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow

Molly Lou is the shortest girl in first grade, has a voice like a boa constrictor, buck teeth like a beaver, and the grace of a left-handed gorilla, but Molly Lou also has a secret weapon: her loving grandmother's good advice, which helps her shine like the star she is, even when she attends a new school. This is easily the most encouraging back-to-school book out this season. Besides a formalistically flawless story, David's Catrow's illustrations are hilarious, imaginative and perfectly married to the text. Molly emanates a cuteness that is first-cousin to Dr. Seuss's "Cindy Lou Who." The illustration of Molly Lou standing in the middle of a paper snowflake that is exponentially larger than she is is breathtaking, the image of Molly Lou barreling past the school bully to make a touchdown will illicit cheers and the close-up of Molly Lou's smile is completely contagious. On the last page, Molly Lou writes a letter to her grandma telling her how it's going, and wait until you see grandma! Children will laugh out loud and cherish this book until they have grandchildren of their own. Take my advice and don't miss this winner! (6 and up)

Other Back-to-School Supplies
(these also make welcome gifts for teachers any time of year):

Once Upon an Ordinary School Dayby Colin McNaughton, Satoshi Kitamura (A supportive teacher uses music to help a boy's inagination take flight. Even the endpaper are beautiful!) (5 and up)
Danitra Brown, Class Clown by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (A spunky collection of poems that prove a best friend who marches to a different drummer makes back-to-school so much more exciting!) (6 and up)
Yoko's World of Kindness: Golden Rules for a Happy Classroomby Rosemary Wells (Six Yoko stories previously available separately are collected in one place to help your child feel good and confident in their first year of school. Also available by the same author: My Kindergarten. ) (4 and up)
Schoolyard Rhymes : Kids' Own Rhymes for Rope-Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Funby Judy Sierra, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (What a collection! Jump-roping has never been so jubilant. A must for any schoolyard bard!) (6 and up)

The Frog Principal by Stephanie Calmenson, illustrated by Denise Brunkus (laugh out loud as adminstration takes a flying leap! Great read-aloud for principals who want to visit classrooms!) (7 and up)
A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Harry Bliss (school on Saturday?! Nice rhythms and wry humor tell the story of a loving principal who goes overboard.) (6 and up)
Score One for Sloths by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (hilarious read-aloud about a school full of students...amd a teacher... who want to do nothing but sleep. So good you'll think you're dreaming.) (6 and up)
Alphabet Adventure by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Bruce Wood (can lower-case "i" find the dot he's lost in time to help a boy learn to read? Colorful and wild computer-generated illustrations! Also, check out the new Wood family website here !) (5 and up)
Did You See What I Saw? by Kay Winters, illustrated by Martha Weston (lively and lovely poems about school and reading written by a real teacher, now in paperback!) (6 and up)
Miss Bindergarten Takes a Field Trip With Kindergarten by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff (The bakery, post office and library are a few of the stops made in the latest of the popular Miss Bindergarten series!) (4 and up)

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