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December 1, 2006 Edition

An African Christmas, by Ifeoma Onyefulu, photos by Ifeoma Onyefulu and Mamta Kapoor

This is the story of how Afam, a young boy, helps his family get ready for Christmas in Nigeria, all the while thinking about his favorite part of the celebration: the costumed spirit dancing, or Mmo. He decides to make his own costume and be a Mmo, too, and while he helps out at home, he collects the fan, cloth, cardboard, string, cane, and feather that he needs for the costume. This engaging story shows a very different celebration than we are used to.

Lucia and the Light, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

Lucia, her mother, and her baby brother live in a small mountain hut in this solstice story. One winter day, the sun disappears and doesn’t return and everything is still but the wind. After waiting so long that the cow goes dry, Lucia decides to go and find the sun, taking the tinder box and accompanied by her milk-white cat. What she finds are trolls, who’ve caught the sun sleeping and have wrapped it in rags so it will never shine again. Thanks to the cat, who is very good at batting balls, the sun returns to the sky, the trolls turn into stone, and Lucia returns home to a warm welcome and a nap in the sun.

Hanukkah, Shmanukkah! by Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

This lively take on Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” tells the story of Scroogemacher, a turn-of-the-century sweatshop owner who makes his employees work their fingers to the bone, docking their pay for the least offense. The Festival of Lights has lost its meaning for him, and he makes his employees stay late even on the last night of Hanukkah. But that night, three rabbis appear to him and take him on a tour of Jewish history, his own present, and one version of his future. By appealing to his pocketbook, his family ties, and his long-buried sense of humanity, they convince him of a need for change. Charming paintings illustrate this picture book for families and older children.

The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Kveta Pacovska

This holiday classic has never been for the faint of heart: now, illustrations by avant-garde Czech artist Pacovska gives this tale all new visuals that are fascinating to puzzle out. Boldly colored matchsticks, a child’s face sketched on ledger paper, and a barely-controlled chaos of color tell the grim story of a girl sent out into the snow on New Year’s Eve to sell matches. Afraid to go home, she burns the matches to stay warm, seeing warming visions in the flame of each one… Not a story or style for everyone; still, this book will have ardent (though perhaps few) fans.

Good King Wenceslas, by John M. Neale, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

Present and past mingle in the lively pictures illustrating the words to this holiday favorite. The boy listening to the busker in the square under St. Wenceslas’ statue becomes the page who aids the king in his act of generosity towards a peasant and his family. In the end, as Neale intended, the boy performs his own act of kindness. Look for the original words and music at the back of the book, along with a note about Neale and the real-life king who inspired him.

Three French Hens, by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Richard Egielski

On the third day of Christmas, three French hens get separated from the turtledoves, the partridge, and the pear tree en route from Paris to New York – and their smudged label makes them undeliverable. Taking matters into their own hands, Fifi, Poulette, and Colette search out the mysterious “Philippe Reynard” and soon arrive at Phil Fox’s shabby tenement apartment. Their good natures and amazing talents quickly make him see that he’s much better off having them as friends than as supper in this silly holiday story.

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