“Dasher,” by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press)
In the introduction, a narrator tells how, long ago, reindeer didn’t pull Santa’s sleigh; a lone horse named Silverbell accompanied Santa. That changed thanks to “a brave young doe named Dasher.” Then we learn how Dasher and her family were part of a traveling circus, where they lived in cramped quarters under the sweltering sun, to be ogled by visitors. Dasher’s mom tells her about life before the circus: “It was a magical place,” she would say. “The air was crisp and cold, and the ground was always covered with a cool blanket of white snow. Your father and I were free to roam under the glow off the North Star.” Dasher dreams of going there, and one night, she escapes. She comes across Santa and Silverbell, and helps with their heavy load. Later, Santa discovers Dasher’s desire to be reunited with her family, and a happy ending ensues. This story of dreams, wishes and empathy — paired with gorgeous artwork — bursts with emotion and the magic of Christmas.
“Kugel for Hanukkah?” by Gretchen M. Everin; illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown (Kar-Ben)
A little girl celebrates the eight nights of Hanukkah with her family, and each night brings a surprise — although not the one she’s hoping for. The tone is set early on: “I lit the shamash and the first candle. Grandma said the blessing. Then we feasted on crispy potato latkes with sweet applesauce.” Her grandmother gets a gift of candied cranberries; the little girl, wanting a pet, instead gets a lamp. Each night the family lights another candle, eats more latkes (made with various ingredients and toppings), and the grandmother and girl each open a gift. At the end, the grandmother combines all her gifts to make the girl’s favorite treat — kugel. Later, we see that each of the child’s gifts relates to the surprise she receives on the last night: a new pet. Bright, cheerful illustrations pair with the sweet story.
“My Family Celebrates Kwanzaa,” by Lisa Bullard; illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo (Lerner)
This festive, engaging book, organized into informational chapters, begins: “Hi! I’m Kevin. We’re getting ready for Kwanzaa.” From there, he explains how his family prepares for the holiday, followed by definitions of key terms, a history of the holiday and how the family celebrates. He says: “Somebody new lights the candles each night. I watch closely so I’m ready for my turn.” Back pages provide further details, including components of the celebration and explanations, such as “Families celebrate Kwanzaa in many ways. Some families drink juice from a special unity cup.” A question-and-answer page and glossary offer expanded learning.
“The Tree That’s Meant To Be,” by Yuval Zommer (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)
A little tree in a forest sadly watches as all the trees around him grow big and strong. He worries why he isn’t like them, and he’s devastated when, one snowy night, families arrive and choose trees to bring to their homes. Suddenly, he is all alone. But after calling out, “I-i-i-is anyone out there?” nearby animals respond: “And then, at dawn, foxes, deer, and birds. They had heard!” The animals decorate the little tree with items from the forest, and the tree seems to come alive with happiness. “Hello! Hello!” “Welcome, squirrel. Greetings, bear!” “Laughter filled the air. My clearing rang with Christmas cheer.” The tree, now surrounded by friends, grows through the seasons and becomes a central meeting place. The story brims with heartfelt emotion, friendship and compassion, and it embraces the Christmas spirit.
“Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah,” by Joni Klein-Higger and Barbara Sharf; illustrated by Monica Gutierrez (Kar-Ben)
This short board book combines Hanukkah, counting and guessing. For seven nights, a different animal knocks on Barnyard Bubbe’s door, letting her know it left her an item. We see only the animals’ foot as it knocks, and we see the word for the sound it makes. “KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK/On the first night of Hanukkah, what did Barnyard Bubbe see?/One sack of meal./ ‘Oh, my. Who has left this for me?’ ” The next night, she receives two cups of oil, and so forth, until the eighth night, when she combines all the ingredients to make latkes. On the last two pages, she and each of the animals hold a plate with the latkes. It’s a fun read-aloud, and little ones will enjoy guessing which animal makes each of the sounds.
“Snow Globe Wishes,” by Erin Dealey; illustrated by Claire Shorrock (Sleeping Bear Press)
After a major snowstorm causes the power to go out in a neighborhood, a young girl and her family happily make use of their time together: “Picnic dinners, candlelight. Darkness draws us close tonight.” Later, she makes a wish on her snow globe. When everyone awakens, the storm has stopped: “Magic sparkles, beckons, swirls — Come outside, dear boys and girls!” But she wonders if adults, too, can embrace the day, filling it with the simple pleasures of sledding, snowman-building and making snow angels. At the end, her wish — for the community to come together — is symbolized by neighbors standing together, hand in hand, circling around a star-topped tree. Both kids and adults will want to hear these sweet rhymes and sincere message again and again.
“The Great Santa Stakeout,” by Betsy Bird; illustrated by Dan Santat (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Freddy loves Santa so much, he has Santa everything — from posters to underwear. But he is on a mission: to get a selfie with Santa while he is still on the chimney. Freddy devises a step-by-step scheme, complete with stringing cans on the rooftop to detect movement and motion-sensitive cameras in his living room. When a large bump in the night indicates something has gone awry, he investigates — and gets a surprise. Big, bold illustrations that almost pop off the page and Freddy’s evocative facial expressions add to the suspense and hilarity in this high-energy holiday romp.
“Grover’s Hanukkah Party,” by Joni Kibort Sussman; illustrated by Tom Leigh (Kar-Ben)
A smiling, familiar face from Sesame Street leads readers in counting the many parts of Hanukkah — all of which add up to eight. “Hanukkah is the holiday of 8,” reads a page, with the numbers one through eight brightly depicted underneath. Eight also refers to the number of items on Grover’s grocery list, the time for the party to start, the number of friends and so on. Various Sesame Street characters make appearances in this short yet upbeat holiday book.
“The Crayons’ Christmas,” by Drew Daywalt; illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Penguin Workshop)
The Crayons are back! This time, the mail carrier delivers letters to the room of their boy, Duncan, as he and his crayons prepare for Christmas. The letters appear in real, large envelopes and contain interactive elements, such as paper-doll-type clothing for the crayons, ornaments, a cutout dreidel and a game. The crayons’ and other items’ unique characteristics are conveyed via funny asides, like when an elf ornament asks: “Can I please NOT be on the back of the tree facing the wall this year?” While Duncan is happy for the gifts his crayons receive, he feels left out. Not to worry, though, because his crayons have a big (pop-up) surprise in store for him. The book ends with, “In this season of giving, they decided to give back to the boy who had always given them love, respect and even a home.”
Mia Geiger is a writer in the Philadelphia area. Follow her on Twitter @MiaGeiger.