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Thursday Three: Holidays

Posted by Pam on December 10, 2009 at 10:14 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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With the holidays quickly approaching, here are three books that I've been favoring lately to celebrate the season.

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming.
Lemony Snicket
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop ScreamingJust hysterical. A latke runs screaming from the frying pan, and encounters various Christmas icons along its path. As the latke explains what it is and its significance in the celebration of Hanukkah, it keeps getting compared to Christmas. And so it keeps screaming. Lemony Snicket actually gets in a fair bit about the meaning of Hanukkah, while keeping a wry tone throughout. For instance as the latke explains in a long paragraph about being fried in oil as a reference to the oil that was used to rededicate the temple and the miracle that made the oil last for eight nights, the answer it receives is par for the course:

“So you’re basically hash browns,” said the flashing colored lights. “Maybe you can be served alongside a Christmas ham.”

“I’m not hash browns!” cried the latke. “I’m something completely different!”And then it runs screaming, “AAAHHHHHHHHH!” for two pages. As my kids have grown past the traditional - and too often schmaltzy - Hannukkah stories, this one is our new family classic.

The Lump of Coal
Lemony Snicket
The Lump of CoalOn the same note, we've turned to this title to replace the cute Christmas stories that absorbed us in the past. It contains perhaps one of the most perfect opening sentences of all times:

The holiday season is a time for storytelling, and whether you are hearing the story of a candelabra staying lit for more than a week, or a baby born in a barn without proper medical supervision, these stories often feature miracles.
A humble lump of coal longs to be something more and visits an art gallery and Korean barbecue in hopes of fulfilling his search for meaning. Instead a drugstore Santa decides he'll be the perfect thing for his stepson's stocking as punishment. But this ill intent goes right as the coal finds his purpose in an artist's hand. Wry, funy and odd, this book ends on just the right note for the holidays, and in echoing the first sentence, with miracles.

Robert's Snowflakes
Grace Lin
Robert's SnowflakesLest you think I'm all about the wit, my third choice is not about either holiday, but it is about beauty, joy, and hope. The book features dozens of snowflake shapes decorated by famous children's illustrators and gentle haikus for the winter season. The artwork created is amazing. Some illustrators featured their characters - like Oliva, of Ian Falconer and the dinosaurs of Mark Teague. Others contributed scenes of snow, skating, Santa, and lights. The real story within the book is the dedication of this group in auctioning of the original snowflakes to fund cancer research with the push of Grace Lin and her husband Robert Mercer, diagnosed with the disease. It's been a few years now, another set of snowflakes were auctioned, and more money raised through Robert's Snow for Cancer Cure.

Unfortunately, Robert himself has died. In his memory, Grace wrote and published her latest book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - a beautiful book of love, friendship, and gratitude that I can't recommend enough. Where the Mountain Meets the MoonIncorporating Chinese folktales with the style of European fairytales, the story tells the adventure of a girl trying to help her family by appealing to the Old Man in the Moon to change their family's fortune. I mention it now because the cover is very similar to the snowflake that Grace contributed to Robert's Snowflakes - a girl riding on a dragon against a blue background. I was in love with the cover months before I even had a chance to fall in love with the book. I also mention it because it would be the ideal gift for either/any holiday for a special girl in your life. Or for you.

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Susan writes...

I am DYING to read the Snicket books, the idea of such irreverence is awesome! One book I remember from my childhood is The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia Scarry. One book I discovered this year is Look Alikes: Christmas by Joan Steiner.

Els Kushner writes...

I love The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming! Another good non-schmaltzy one is The Flying Latke.

Kathryn writes...

Another personal favorite it Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner.

Jules writes...

Oh, I haven't seen THE LUMP OF COAL -- but must.

Thanks for this.

Elaine Magliaro writes...


"The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming" sounds terrific. Kids love zany stories. It looks like a wonderful book for reading aloud.

Thanks for your remembrance of Robert Mercer. Robert was so excited about Grace's book "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon." I'm sorry he didn't live to see this beautiful book published.

Happy Holidays!!!

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