roger duvoisin's night before christmas cover imageRoger Duvoisin’s The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
originally published in 1954
republished in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf

‘Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a mouse.

I wouldn’t want to guess how many illustrated versions of The Night Before Christmas have been done since Clement Moore wrote the poem in the 1800s.

Artist Roger Duvoisin brought his brilliant color and design to it back in 1954. 

the night before christmas illustration roger duvoisin

Just look at that charming, retro town. The boxy shapes of the houses and paned-windows are just like every child ever drew. The four, bold colors electrify the page.

the night before christmas illustration2 roger duvoisin

Darling bedsteads and cheery rag rugs scream 1950s as well.

Perhaps my favorite part of Duvoisin’s version is the cutaway views of Santa shoofting up and down the chimney.

the night before christmas illustration3 roger duvoisin

So much better than just watching him emerge, sooty, from the bottom.

It’s been 60 years, and now this nostalgic loveliness has been republished. It’s easy, once again, to purchase this tall, skinny book, shaped just like the chimney St. Nick’s soon to come down in houses the world over.

Great last minute gift for young and old alike!

rain reign cover imageRain Reign, by Ann M. Martin
published in 2014 by Feiwel and Friends

If you happen to be Rose Howard, life has some extra rules.

Like, no blurting out the prime numbers marching through your head.

And, no reminding your teacher or your dad or anyone that flea and flee are homonyms and your name Rose (rows) is, too (to, two) .

Also, it is not okay to shriek, “Stop!” to the bus school-busdriver unless it is a true emergency. Which, apparently, it is not an emergency if the driver in front of you does not use her directional before turning even though it is against the rules in the New York State driver’s manual.

It seems unfair that Rose’s extra rules are so sternly enforced, when other people break rules right and left. Life gets messy and frightening when people don’t follow the rules.

Rose’s mother didn’t follow the rules; she ran away when Rose was small. Rose’s father did not follow the rules when he found a dog out in a rain storm and gave her to Rose without checking to see if anyone had just lost a dog.

BenjiEyesPhotoHR from thesoulofahorse dot comThat dog, though, whom Rose names Rain (reign, rein) follows all the rules for being a Good Dog. She keeps Rose company during the long, lonely evenings while her father is at the bar, drinking. She welcomes Rose home from school and comforts her when she’s upset, resting her doggy head on Rose’s shoulder and breathing her doggy breath on Rose’s cheek.

So, when Rose’s father breaks the rules again, and lets Rain out during a hurricane without her collar, and Rain is lost — Rose is shattered. Her best friend is gone. Why did her father do that? Why did he break the rule? leather-dog-collarThere is no answer from him. Just dark, scary anger.

Rose must use her own compulsive, systematic ways to put things right. Mercifully, Uncle Weldon is a steady source of help, as well as her teacher. But putting things right will be far more costly than Rose ever dreamed.

This touching new novel revolves around Rose Howard, a fifth-grader with high-functioning autism. Rose’s obsessions and idiosyncracies are challenging to be around, yet she is a stunning heroine, resilient, interesting, and courageous. 

It’s an incredibly emotional novel, with deep seams of brokenness, neglect, vintage hat boxabuse, and sorrow, as well as rich portraits of understanding, empathy, and love. Pain and loss mark Rose’s life like grafitti scrawled upon a fine painting. Her journey begins to lead toward healing; her life gains a comfort level she’s never known. But sensitive readers will realize that some wounds leave permanent scars.

hurricane damageBottom line, this is an insightful story about belonging; of being in a place of home and among people who know and love you. So much strength stems from that. Rose is committed to bringing Rain back where she belongs, and as we accompany her, we all long for her to find such a haven, too.

 But no kidding, there’s a lot of pain here, so you’ll have to judge if it’s a good fit for your child. I’d say, ages 1o or 11 and up. Adults — it’s for you, too.



king island christmas cover imageKing Island Christmas, by Jean Rogers, illustrated by Rie Muñoz
published in 1985 by Greenwillow Books

Far, far in the north, surrounded by the icy waves of the Bering Sea, lies tiny King Island and its small Eskimo village.

The villagers have been awaiting their new priest for months. Now he’s so close — on a freighter anchored off the coast. They have only to paddle out in the oomiak and carry him back to the island. But wintery storms batter the ship, and no oomiak can safely make the trip.

Ooloranna, the island chief, has a plan. They have one chance to fetch the priest before ice seals off the village for the entire season. Will it work? Will they have a priest to light the church candles and hold the Christmas service?

This isn't an image from the book, but my stars, isn't her work amazing?!

This isn’t an image from the book, but my stars, isn’t her work amazing?!

Beloved Alaskan artist Rie Muñoz lived on King Island in 1951, teaching in an Eskimo school. Her experiences there led to this collaboration with her friend and fellow-Alaskan, Jean Rogers. It’s such an intriguing place to drop in on, and Muñoz’s artwork is exceptionally appealing.  Using the same rounded shapes found in Inuit carvings, she creates crowds of colorful, parka-clad villagers amid boulders, crashing surf, and a purple-black sky aswirl with northern lights.

It’s a beautiful book, for ages 3 and up. You should check out more of Rie’s gorgeous work here.

an island christmas cover imageAn Island Christmas, by Lynn Joseph, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1992 by Clarion Books

Moving from icy blasts to Caribbean sun, this is a story of Christmas on the island of Trinidad.

Rosie is helping Mama prepare for their holiday. She gathers juicy red sorrel fruits so Mama can bottle a tangy Christmas drink. She lines cake pans with wax paper for the sticky, sweet currants Tantie is mixing with spices and molasses and eggs for luscious black current cakes.

She barefoot-runs into the warm night to join the parang band, guitar-

an island christmas illustration catherine stock 001

Sorry for the poor color. Catherine’s people are much handsomer on the page.

strumming, maraca-shaking. Rosie tings along with her drinking glass and spoon while Mama claps, Daddy snaps, Tantie sings. Then she doles out ham sandwiches to the band as they tingalayo off to the next street.

There’s lots more sweetness here …soursop ice cream, the sugar cane man, alloe pies, and the jumble of family together, all told in Rosie’s wonderful Caribbean dialect. I’d like to spend Christmas with her, after reading this!

Catherine Stock’s watercolors are, as always, gorgeous. Swishy tropical color, warm and handsome figures, inviting island settings — every page is beautiful. A lengthy Author’s Note tells about Trinidad and their Christmas traditions in more detail. Ages 3 and up.

the christmas coat cover imageThe Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood, by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier
published in 2011 by Holiday House

Virginia lives on the vast South Dakota praire, where winds travel far and fast, pelting sleet and snow, sending wind chills plummeting. Walks between school and home are shivering affairs, especially when children grow while coats stay stubbornly the same size.

Her father is the Episcopal priest in the village. This means that each year, when New England congregations send a charitable shipment of used clothing, the boxes come to her home.

Coats and sweaters and overalls and shoes — Virginia watches as Mama and the christmas coat illustration ellen beierthe ladies unpack cartons. She’s longing for a new coat, one that reaches the top of her boots and has a warm hood.

But Mama never lets Virginia and her brother choose first. “Others need it more,” she says, and this year that means Virginia tearfully watches as another girl nabs the beautiful, shimmering gray fur coat she’s had her eye on.

And that’s not the end of Virginia’s putting others first, but keep reading, because a sweet wish-come-true is on its way.

This story is based on a true event in the author’s childhood which she spent on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. It’s a moving account of generosity plus a rich opportunity to witness this Native culture. The watercolor and gouache illustrations are warm, inviting scenes of prairie winters, honey-gold wood floors, and such handsome people.

Especially for those of you who love the Little House books, this is a golden chance to read a positive account of a Native people, to begin correcting the caricaturization in those and so many other stories. Ages 5 and up.

yoon and the christmas mitten cover imageYoon and the Christmas Mitten, by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
published in 2006 by Frances Foster Books

A small, crimson berry on a frozen landscape.

That’s our opening image of little Yoon, a Korean immigrant to America. Her stylish cranberry coat and hat and ruby lips arrest us as she turns her head and gazes our direction. Far in the distance, a swirl of children, the ones who belong in this wintry world, sled and snowball and play together in happy abandon. But Yoon stands, proper and alone.

Yoon feels her singularity as her new teacher tells the class about Santa and North Pole and presents. She has never heard of such things before. Trees Yoon and the Christmas Mitten illustration gabi swiatkowskiawith colored lights. Santa in his sleigh. Yoon longs to have a Christmas just like her classmates. An American Christmas.

But her father and mother are adamant. We are Korean. We are not a Christmas family.

How will Yoon face the other children if she has no Christmas stories to share? Can she be both Korean and American?

This thoughtful look at cultural identity is illustrated in Gabi Swiatkowska’s breathtaking paintings. Complex colors and textures, a mixture of stark, blue winter and blazing Korean reds, tender faces and emotions — absolutely beautiful. Read this with ages 4 and up, and gain insight into the world of America’s newcomers.

lighthouse christmas cover imageLighthouse Christmas, by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
published in 2011 by Dial Books for Young Readers

I’ve heard of the Flying Doctors in Australia, but not the Flying Santa Service begun in 1929 by a floatplane pilot to serve lighthouse keepers and their families among the islands of Maine’s Penobscot Bay. Have you?

Frances is a young girl who has to grow up too quickly when her mama dies and her grieving papa moves the family from the mainland lighthouse to the Ledge Light tower, far off the coast. She cares for her younger brother Peter, manages the household, and now as Christmas approaches, worries over how to make the holiday special on this barren island.

Papa wants to send the children by dory to Aunt Martha’s for Christmas, lighthouse christmas toni buzzeo and nancy carpenterthough Frances can hardly bear the thought of leaving him alone in the lighthouse. When a storm blows in, that trip is out of the question. Instead, Frances has to help Father succeed in the dangerous rescue of a shipwrecked fisherman.

Frances keeps up her courage and selflessly works to bring holiday cheer to her brother, father, and rescued stranger, so when Santa really does surprise them, roaring through the skies in a small plane and landing a heavy sack of goodies on their rocky island, it’s a particularly happy moment.

This story offers a nice peek at an unusual subculture, accompanied by friendly, weathered images of this 1920s lighthouse-hold. A short note tells more about the Flying Santa Service with a link to their website to learn more. Ages 4 and up.

There are about 80 more Christmas titles in the Orange Marmalade archives as well as a couple dozen Winter books full of deliciously-cozy snowy stories. Find them by looking in the Subject Index under Holidays and Seasons. The Subject tab is on the top of this page.

poetry friday

In the Wood
by Eileen Mathias

rectory wood from amershamsocietyCold winter’s in the wood,
I saw him pass
Crinkling up fallen leaves
Along the grass.

Bleak winter’s in the wood,
The birds have flown
Leaving the naked trees
Shivering alone.

sparkly branches from notonthehighstreet dot comKing Winter’s in the wood,
I saw him go
Crowned with a coronet
Of crystal snow.

jane the fox and me cover imageJane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated from the French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou
published in 2012 by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press

Hélène is a thoroughly-average, thoughtful, bookish young girl who for reasons incomprehensible to her and us has recently become a social pariah.

The mean girls decide these things. One day you’re in. The next minute you’re the butt of the joke.

The very school buildings are now an open wasteland with no place to hide, where laughter and cruelty gray the atmosphere and smother Hélène’s confidence. Snuff it right out.

jane the fox and me fanny britt and isabelle arsenault2

Salvation comes by immersing herself into a good book. The story is Jane jane the fox and me fanny britt and isabelle arsenaultEyre. Oh, to be like Jane, the tormented orphan who grows to be self-assured and conversational and who wins the heart of the dashing and brooding Mr. Rochester. Hélène feels more like a squat, fat sausage. She has absorbed the idiotic insults scrawled on the bathroom walls and they have become her reality.

But now, her worst nightmare comes true in the form of a class trip to nature camp. Four days and nights with her tormentors. Great. Buying a new swim suit for camp. Even better. A lonely bus ride. A spot in the tent for outcasts. Are we having fun yet?

Two things happen at camp, though, that are beacons in Hélène’s world. An electrifying encounter with a fox. And meeting Géraldine, a girl generously supplied with duck feathers, who lives and loves in a wonderfully disarming manner, and who thinks Hélène is a peachy friend. Imagine!

jane the fox and me fanny britt and isabelle arsenault3

This quiet story is honest to the bones. It throbs like a toothache in places, flickers with hopefulness in others as Fanny Britt’s calm, measured words pull us along. At first I thought the holidays weren’t the right time to post this, but a second later I realized it’s quite possible to feel like “nothing but a sad sausage” precisely at this time. In the end, Jane is able to hear the truth about herself from people who have their heads on straight, and her world begins to brighten.

Isabelle Arsenault’s artwork is just so cool. Her rough, scratchy images of Hélène’s saggy existence contrast with the sharp, rosy illustrations of Jane jane the fox and me fanny britt and isabelle arsenault4Eyre’s storybook life. Beat-down-beige, gray, and black contrasts with brilliant persimmon, robin’s egg blue, and watermelon. The hand-lettering, too, varies, from generic, uneven capitals, to handsome penmanship in perfect lines as we move from Hélène’s mundane world to Jane’s romantic saga.

I must say, I also love the mother in this story. She’s a single mom, and her unflagging love  is partially appreciated by Hélène. Her conspiratorial work in the swim suit department, her pushing past fatigue to accomodate Hélène… Hélène acknowledges these, but she doesn’t comprehend yet how much her mother knows of the world and its sorrows, so she keeps her secrets to herself. As I look on, I feel how much more Hélène’s mom sees and bears than her daughter realizes. 

There’s lots more to say, but you should just read it for yourself. It’s a compelling graphic novel for ages 11 and up. Adults will definitely appreciate it as well.


my grandfather's coat cover imageMy Grandfather’s Coat, retold by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2014 by Scholastic Press

An old Yiddish folk song tells the tale of a little overcoat grown old. Tra la la — what to do? Make that overcoat into something new! 

Jim Aylesworth has now recast that song into a truly charming immigrant story. I’m quite smitten with it.

Our narrator tells of his grandfather sailing into Ellis Island with “little more than nothing at all” who becomes a tailor, falls happily in love, and sews himself a handsome, long, wedding coat.  As the years go by, full of hard work and a growing family, the coat frays. So, snipping and clipping and stiching away, he turns it into a shorter jacket, then a vest, then a tie to wear for his daughter’s wedding.

my grandfather's coat interior jim aylesworth and barbara mcclintock

Time flies. Cloth frays. Where will it all end? The unfolding story uses pleasantly repetitive bits that will lure children into chanting along. Very upbeat.

What I really fell in love with are McClintock’s charming illustrations tracing the passing years. The handsome young man’s hairline slowly recedes and tinges with gray. Fashions change immensely and sewing machines modernize as new generations come into the picture.

my grandfather's coat illustration barbara mcclintock

Besides that, the re-purposing of tired belongings which our parents and grandparents were so good at, is affirmed as well. Author and illustrator have written sweetly-personal notes about their connections to this work, a lovely story to read again and again with children ages 3 and up.

the fox went out on a chilly night cover imageThe Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, illustrated by Peter Spier
Originally published in 1961; Revised Edition published in 2014 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Foxes get rather a bum rap in a lot of children’s books. They steal those featherbrained chickens, of course. And ducks. And eat them. We are supposed to be on the side of the poultry and shake our fists at the sly old fox.

But not in this story.

The text of this book, which won a Caldecott Honor when it was first published in 1961, is the lyrics to an old folk song. Mr. Fox raids old John Giggle-Gaggle’s farm snatching a grey goose and a fine duck and carrying them off with “their legs all dangling down-o, down-o down-o!”

the fox went out on a chilly night illustration2 peter spier

Here’s where we usually glare at the fox, but you see — that fox has a family to feed. He’s got two heavy birds weighing him down as he flees Farmer John, who’s chasing after with his rifle. Poor fellow! Why should his darling fox kits go hungry?

And they don’t. They have a tasty dinner, and in a deliciously-shocking ending, “the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o!” 

Stiff stuff! 

Peter Spier’s artwork is in a class all by itself. I love every book he’s drawn. These gorgeous watercolors of a New England countryside aflame in autumn glory, the hills silvering beneath a full moon, and a cozy fox home with its own wall-sized New England hearth and heaps of fox kits tumbling about — well, it just doesn’t get any better.

the fox went out on a chilly night illustration peter spier

Well, actually it has gotten better, because when Spier originally created this book, it was too expensive for all the illustrations to be colored. Half were his still-glorious black and white drawings. Now, more than 50 years later, he has gone back to these pictures and finished painting them. Every page in

Peter Spier

Peter Spier

splendid color.

And almost my favorite part of this book is Spier’s sweet, personal recollection of how the book originated, and the process of adding color in last year at the age of 86. His lengthy Author’s Note is truly lovely.

Music is included. Don’t miss this classic book, reborn. Enjoy it with wide-eyed children ages 3 and up. Note that the poor images in my blog do not nearly do this work justice.


peppermint-cocoa from thesweetestoccasion dot comMoms can become jaded and weary at Christmastime, but for children it’s a magical, happy season. Let’s soak up some of their exuberance and delight. Grab a stack of merry stories and mugs of peppermint cocoa, snuggle together, and read :)


and then comes christmas cover imageAnd Then Comes Christmas, by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jana Christy
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press

Snowflakes feather down. Neighborhoods twinkle. The smell of gingerbread warms the house.

Everything signals that the time has come! Time to hustle secret packages into the house, play in fresh snow, hang up your stockings, and finally celebrate Christmas together.

This lyrical book walks us through quintessential holiday moments, written with a nod to simple joys  — neighbors bringing plates of cookies to your door and paper snowflakes hanging in your windows.

and then comes christmas interior tom brenner and jana christy

The artwork is juicy-bright and contemporary, bursting with warmhearted scenes. Fuzzy, frosty blues and piney greens, glowing fireside oranges, and a hearty helping of holly-berry-red jotting here and there.  Hugely appealing choice for ages 3 and up.

happy christmas gemma cover imageHappy Christmas Gemma, by Sarah Hayes, illustrated by Jan Ormerod
published in 1986 in the U.S. by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Gemma is a favorite of the Swanson household. We smile each year as we pull this book out from our Christmas boxes.

She’s a spunky little one with mischief sparkling in her big brown eyes and she certainly gets into a lot of T-R-O-U-B-L-E during the Christmas season, spilling, tearing, messing, andhappy christmas gemma illustration jan ormerod 001 dipping busy fingers into the icing of Grandma’s Christmas cake!

Happily, she’s surrounded by a family who patiently love her including her wonderful big brother, age about 5, and her kind grandmother.

Jan Ormerod is one of my very favorite illustrators and here again are her masterful human figures interacting so naturally with one another and particularly that little scooter, Gemma.  Such a sweet title for under-Two and up; out of print but worth searching for.

a houseful of christmas cover imageA Houseful of Christmas, Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
published in 2001 by Henry Holt and Company

The whole clan is heading to Granny’s for Christmas — aunts, uncles, kids, dogs…even one great-aunt smelling of wild cherry cough drops.

Granny has been baking for weeks, waiting for the hullabaloo to burst through her door, crowd around the table, sing carols, and open gifts.

Then it’s usually time to go back home, but a hefty snowfall this year meansa houseful of christmas illustration betsy lewin everyone’s hunkering down at Granny’s overnight. The grandfather clock gently ticks; snowflakes quietly flit; and everyone settles into a giant heap of blankets and family. So much togetherness! And such sweet peace.

This dear story reminds me of the family reunion in The Relatives Came.  Joosse’s immensely friendly text, sparkling with gentle humor and brimming with love, is complemented by loose, affectionate pen-and-watercolor illustrations by Betsy Lewin.  Wonderful read for ages 3 and up.

christmas with the mousekins cover imageChristmas with the Mousekins: A Story with Crafts, Recipes, Poems and More, written and illustrated by Maggie Smith
published in 2010 by Alfred A. Knopf

Come visit this cute mouse-hold, lively with bustle and gladness, getting ready for Christmas.

The Mousekins are a creative bunch, busily making jolly decorations, baking scrumptious treats, and frothing up peppermint cocoa for carolers. Their cheery story includes snatches of christmas with the mousekins illustration maggie smithclever poems, songs, and even a story-within-a story.

Detailed, illustrated instructions show us how to make the Mousekins’ darling mitten garlands, paper snowflakes, and gingerbread-cookie mice. Nine crafts and two cookie recipes are here to try, for kids about age 5 and up with help.

My daughters, especially, would have loved this when they were young, and would have wanted to try all the things. If you have any crafty, bake-y sorts, you already know they would love this, too.

the christmas giant cover imageThe Christmas Giant, written and illustrated by Steve Light
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Up at the North Pole, a gentle giant named Humphrey and an elf named Leetree are best friends. Together, they’ve got the job of making all Santa’s wrapping paper, and they manage it brilliantly!

One year, Santa asks them to grow the Christmastown evergreen. This they do with tenderloving care.

the christmas giant interior by steve light from theresabook dot com

Calamity strikes while hauling the tree to Christmastown, however. The ice breaks up, carrying off the tree! Oh dear.  Leave it to these two to find a beautiful, inventive solution.

This story has a lithe air to it. Steve Light’s pen-and-ink line is elegant, with lovely, sweeping curves and etchy woodcut-style detail. Love that giant’s curly-curly beard!

A wisp of narration and numerous wordless panels move things along nimbly. The graceful font, tall, slim book size, and rich color palette add to the stylishness. A pleasant, original read for ages 3 and up.


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