By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit
Every year, ReadTheSpirit makes a point of highlighting great “children’s books,” and we always stress: The best books in this genre always appeal to adults, as well, because early literacy depends on a spirited interaction across generations. As we reach November, and the start of the “holiday shopping season,” we are recommending three new children’s books by Candlewick Press.
All three of these books are opportunities for fun—and all of them include surprising opportunities for discovery and even further learning with the curious kids you love.
And, all three are from Candlewick Press. If you haven’t already discovered Candlewick—you’ll want to make note of this publisher’s name. Like ReadTheSpirit magazine, Candlewick was founded around a public list of basic principles that include a commitment “to make the world a better place, not just through the books we publish but also in the way we work.” (Want to know more about Candlewick’s collective values? Check out the Candlewick Cares page in the publisher’s website. Want to know more about our own 10 founding principles? Check out this About Us page.)
‘WALK THIS WORLD AT CHRISTMASTIME’
I wish I had a copy of Walk This World at Christmastime when my own children were young. As a journalist who specializes in religious and cultural diversity—including coverage of religious holidays—I love the way this book literally opens doors to year-end observances around the world. The book is focused on Christmas, but there are lift-the-flap doorways that provide opportunities to touch on Hanukkah and Kwanza as well.
Each page is a collage of illustrations from various countries as we slowly “read our way around the world.” Children are invited to spot the lift-able flaps on each page. There also is a numbering system scattered through the book from 1 to 25, so adult readers could go through just a page or two per day. If you are intrigued by global cultural diversity, you could easily talk with young ones about a wide range of questions. Why is “Santa Claus” represented by “Father Frost” in former Soviet republics? Why do some communities celebrate the holiday on December 6—or even early January? You’ll see a range of lights and lanterns pictured in this book, and you could go online for do-it-yourself versions of these symbols of the season.
At first glance, you won’t see much text in this book. However, there is a surprisingly extensive array of micro-stories, as well, because every flap holds more text. Got kids who love Where’s Waldo? You can ask them to search for particular scenes on each page. Can they identify each country’s landscape as we make our way around Earth? You may be surprised at how much children have picked up from television and pre-school. And note: As part of my review of this book, I invited five adults in my family to sit through a reading of the book. Everyone was intrigued—and we took time to lift every single flap, reading every word!
For parents who love holiday reading and cultural diversity, this is a must-buy book!
‘A CHRISTMAS FOR BEAR’
A Christmas for Bear is the latest volume in this beloved series of best-selling picture books, which we’ve been recommending for family reading over the years as each new volume has appeared. How popular are they? They’ve made the New York Times best-seller list and during an early November visit to the Macy’s Chicago Christmas department, this new book was stacked up in at least three locations for the holidays.
At this point, the characters are well known to regular readers. Bear is a gigantic, fuzzy and often over-bearing homeowner with few friends. Clever and compassionate little mouse breaks through his gruff exterior and continually warms bear toward the wider world.
In this new adventure, Bear is extroverted enough to be planning his first Christmas party—ever. As it turns out, he only is inviting one guest: mouse. But mouse fills the house with mischievous glee. Bear’s carefully scripted plan for the party includes a poem and a special holiday meal involving pickles. Mouse refuses to stay on script, because he can’t see any sign of gifts in bear’s elaborate Christmas display. The two friends scamper around the entire house as mouse tries to plumb this mystery. Bear huffs and puffs, suggesting that gifts will not be exchanged! Mouse simply cannot believe that his friend’s heart hasn’t grown large enough, at this point, to include at least one Christmas present.
What’s the discovery here? If you care to dig further, you can explore the so-called “Christmas Pickle,” which turns out to be a fanciful “tradition” involving a Woolworth promotion of European-made Christmas ornaments in the late 1800s. Those early shipments included lots of colorful glass fruits and vegetables and, for some reason—pickles.
Care to read more? If you’re thinking of a Christmas present for children who have not yet discovered bear and mouse, you might also want to order a copy of the original A Visitor for Bear, the first volume by Seattle-based children’s author Bonny Becker. These characters jump to life in Kady MacDonald Denton’s illustrations—so much so, that you’ll enjoy reading the book over and over again with children. Want even more? Here’s a link to our earlier story about another treasure in the series: A Bedtime for Bear, about a sleepover at bear’s house.
In our family, we have loved pop-up books for several generations, including examples from more than a century ago that are beloved volumes on our bookshelf to this day. While this third book has zero holiday content, we immediately recognized ABC Pop-Up as a marvelous choice for holiday gift-giving.
Our publishing-house staff has spent more nearly two years working on early learning materials for nonprofits working in communities with many challenges, from recent immigration of non-English-speaking families to poverty and related issues. One of the major goals in the innovative programs we highlight in our own publishing is engaging as many senses as possible in early literacy. This pop-up book brilliantly invites adults and children to explore several senses: sound, vision and even tactile experiences of exploring the pop up shapes!
My favorite sequence is a pop-up bed that stands up in front of us, as we read the book, without any immediate clue as to the letters involved. Then, if we closely examine the bed, we discover the pillow has an embossed P in one corner and the quilt has an embossed Q. Little fingers can touch the letters and actually feel the raised shapes.
Then, the sequence continues with a stately tree that leaps up with an attached tire swing and, as we look over the entire page, we discover that we can glimpse the tree’s gnarled roots at the bottom of the page. What letters are we discovering? The tire swing actually dangles from a string and, if our eyes are quick, we can see the S for swing. But what about R? Little fingers can detect an embossed R in the tree’s roots. And then what’s the T? Well, you can guess.
In our family collection, we now own more than 100 pop up books and, while this book is, indeed, little in its physical scale, it is truly a work of genius!
Looking for more great books?
As you shop for the holidays, be sure to check out our own bookstore as well!