MERRY CHRISTMAS, ERNEST AND CELESTINE, by Gabrielle Vincent (Greenwillow, $11.50; ages 4-8). That famous French bear and his little mouse friend, among the most charming animals invented for the entertainment of children, plan a Christmas party, which they pull off successfully with little money but lots of spirit. As usual the affectionate interplay between the avuncular Ernest and the ingenue Celestine carry the story. It is a particularly winning evocation of the spirit of Christmas.
OLD SADIE AND THE CHRISTMAS BEAR, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, illustrated by Patricia Montgomery Newton (Atheneum, $11.95; ages 4-8). It is again a bear, in this collaborative effort by a talented artist and writer, that demonstrates the spirit of Christmas. The bear in question is Amos, who awakes from his drowsy hibernation with a sense that "there is something in the air." The something he discovers is Christmas which he ends up sharing with an elderly and not very keen-eyed lady, into whose house he accidentally barges. She, unfazed, simply shares her dinner with him, and he leaves behind the only gift he can, a nice warm chair where he's sat. There's a cozy quality to the story much enhanced by Patricia Newton's finely detailed drawings.
HURRY HOME, GRANDMA! by Arielle North Olson, illustrated by Lydia Dabcovich (Dutton, $9.95; ages 5-9). The granny in this book is the thoroughly modern kind -- gallivanting around the world while her grandchildren patiently decorate holiday cookies back home. The scenes alternate: Granny paddling her canoe through crocodile-infested waters, the children decorating their traditional tree; Granny flying her own plane, the children wrapping gifts. Finally she arrives, with monkeys and a tropical bird as gifts for her family, who settle down to a nice traditional Christmas with their very untraditional Grandma. The story provides a nice twist to the usual Christmas stories featuring cookie-baking grandmothers. I suspect it's been planted by the American Association of Retired Persons.
THE HOME BOOK OF CHRISTMAS, edited by May Lamberton Becker (Dodd Mead, $15.95; all ages). For those too young to remember the traditional family Christmas books full of stories, carols, and occasionally puzzles and plays, this 1941 reprint offers some insight into Christmas entertainment before the days of Snoopy specials and televised Nutcrackers. The Home Book of Christmas is meant to be shared, read aloud, around a hearth. All the old chestnuts are there: "A Christmas Carol," the Bible stories from St. Luke and St. Matthew, "The Little Match Girl," plus some less well-known stories and sketches which were popular in their day: "A Plantation Christmas" by Julia Peterkin, and Ring Lardner's "Old Folks' Christmas." There are many caros (no music, only words), and to top it off, the editor included 11 pages of Christmas recipes, many of them either based on, or actually lifted from the novels of Dickens ("Roast Goose e), and some which have long histories, such as King George I's Christmas Pudding, and -- something to date the book -- "Wartime Plum Pudding" made with potatoes, carrots, but no plums.