Holiday gift guide: 12 books for Christmas and beyond

The Christmas season is a time of wonder; 12 days of togetherness, sharing and caring. Those experiences — wonder, togetherness, sharing, caring — are gifts of the reading experience, as well. That’s why reading and Christmas go together like elves and Santa, whether you choose traditional holiday favorites or outstanding new titles that reflect the joys of family, friendship and growing up.

Christmas comes only once a year, but good books — full of eye music, heart art and mind magic — can celebrate the gifts of Christmas throughout the year. Here are a dozen favorite gifts, for toddlers to tweens.

Board books

“Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book,” by Molly Idle. Lovely little Flora, our parasol-toting heroine, definitely has a thing for birds. In her latest outing, she encounters and cautiously befriends an ostrich who enjoys playing hard-to-get. Plenty of lift-the-flap opportunities for little hands. Adorable and evocative. Pair this with its charming companion, “Flora and the Chicks: A Counting Book by Molly Idle.” Talk about counting your chickens!

“Goodnight, Manger,” by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman. An appropriately Middle-Eastern Mary and Joseph try desperately to establish a bedtime ritual for Baby Jesus in the manger. They are repeatedly thwarted by all manner of visitors from kings to sheep, shepherds, Seraphim and stablemates. A fresh, sweet Nativity story in verse. Another excellent choice is “Goodnight, Ark,” by the same team. A scary storm has the Ark’s critters snuggling up to Noah to get some sleep. Clever and fun.

Middle-grade novels

“The Apprentice Witch,” by James Nicol. Arianwyn flunks out of witches training and is sent off in disgrace to the backwater village of Lull. But Lull is not dull, and Arianwyn has powers she has never dreamed of. Growing up and into your own skin is tough even for magical girls.

“The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” by Kelly Barnhill. The 2017 Newbery Medal winner is a lovely, complex fairy tale about the evil that lurks in plain sight. Citizens of the isolated Protectorate are terrified. A witch in the woods will destroy them if she is not appeased with an annual offering — a baby. But Xan, actually a good witch, rescues the infants and finds them homes in the Outside world. When one baby, Luna, is accidentally fed magic-infused moonlight, Xan knows she must raise Luna herself. As Luna grows, so does her magic — and the dark forces that gather around the forest.

“The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog,” by Adam Gidwitz, illuminated by Hatem Aly. This is an amazing book. In 1242, an unnamed narrator gathers with others at a country inn in France to relate the ongoing story of William, Jacob and Jeanne, and her greyhound, Gwenforte; all equally blessed and outcast, who are on the run from King and Church. Their plight and their flight weave a rip-roaring, Chaucerian adventure packed with mayhem, murder and miracles. A hilarious, provocative tale about ignorance and intolerance. A 2017 Newbery Honor Book.

“The Stars Beneath Our Feet,” by David Barclay Moore. I’m predicting this will be a 2018 award winner. I guarantee that it will be an eyeopener for many kids (and their parents). Twelve-year-old Lolly lives in the projects in Harlem. He’s hurting from the loss of his big brother to gang violence and from assaults by other bangers trying to recruit him. His mother’s girlfriend, trying to keep his spirits up, brings him two gigantic garbage bags full of discarded, unmatched Legos, and his life becomes a project of constant building up and tearing down, without an instruction sheet. A gritty, but ultimately inspiring story about how we become the choices we make.

Picture books

“Egg,” by Kevin Henkes. Four eggs. Three hatch and wait and wait and wait for number four. When it finally cracks open, the three have to figure out how to deal with what pops out. Simple pictures and soft pastels color this tale of friendship.

“Santa Rex,” by Molly Idle. The (great!) big guy is back, with a bunch of his prehistoric friends in tow, to help Cordelia and her little brother celebrate Christmas. Idle’s deadpan prim-and-proper commentary is a perfect foil for the visual hilarity.

“They All Saw A Cat,” by Brendan Wenzel. An ordinary cat wends its way through the world, creating many fascinating reactions, from fear to fantasy, based on the different ways other creatures see it. A wonderful exploration of perception. A 2017 Caldecott Honor Book.

“The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse,” by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. When a mouse gets swallowed by a hungry wolf, he’s amazed to find (a) he’s not dead, and (b) a clever duck has set up the ultimate in safe mobile homes inside. They all join forces to protect their sweet ride when a hunter threatens.

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