Children's books that spread holiday cheer

WASHINGTON • Books might not be the first item on your child's wishlist for the holidays. But they just might be a gift they turn to again and again, long after all those batteries need to be replaced or the toys no longer hold their lustre. These books add joy to the holiday season and beyond.

The Great Spruce by John Duvall, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Alec loves climbing the giant spruce outside his house and he loves hearing his grandfather explain how, many years ago, he replanted the then-tiny tree from a shady part of the forest to a sunny spot near their house.

When townspeople see how beautiful the tree is, they ask if they can chop it down and place it in the town square during Christmas. Alec finds a way to save the tree while still allowing it to be enjoyed by the community - relaying a message of conservationism in a kid-friendly way. Soft coloured-pencil drawings and saturated acrylic ink illustrations give the artwork depth, warmth and vitality.

Kwanzaa by Rebecca Pettiford

Kids eager to learn about Kwanzaa can find lots to look at in this book, from the upbeat photographs of families celebrating to the rich, bold colours on each page.

The slim volume answers questions, such as "What is Kwanzaa?" and "What does Kwanzaa mean?", followed by concise, easy-to-understand answers. Originally published in 2014 and now available in paperback, the book includes a short picture glossary.

A Hanukkah With Mazel by Joel Edward Stein, illustrated by Elisa Vavouri

Misha, a talented yet poor painter, lives alone in an Eastern European village and has no one to spend Hanukkah with.

One day, he finds a hungry cat in his barn. Though he has very little to eat, he shares what he has with the cat, whom he names Mazel.

The two happily celebrate Hanukkah, even though Misha has no candles for the menorah and just a few potatoes with which to make latkes.

A knock on the door the next day brings a friendly peddler with surprising news.

The old-world charm of the drawings combines harmoniously with the holiday tale emphasising the power of kindness and compassion.

The Doll People's Christmas by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Based on the characters in The Doll People series enjoyed by tweens, this new book is geared to the younger set. Two main characters set the stage: Annabelle Doll, who is part of a delicate Victorian doll set; and Tiffany Funcraft, part of a family of plastic dolls. The dolls belong to sisters Kate and Nora Palmer. When the girls are not around, the dolls come to life. When the dolls see that Kate accidentally breaks the angel that was supposed to top the tree, they are devastated. More mishaps follow and the dolls think the perfect Christmas they planned is ruined. But a surprise event ensures a happy holiday.

The details in the full-page drawings will capture kids' attention.

Potatoes At Turtle Rock by Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman; illustrated by Alexandra Steele-Morgan

Annie, her brother, Lincoln, and her parents prepare to celebrate Hanukkah as they usually do when it snows - with a trek through the forest.

Annie has planned four stops - Old Log, Squeezy Cave, Billy Goat's Bridge and Turtle Rock. Each one offers a chance to sing songs, say blessings and talk about the meaning of the holiday. At the last stop, Annie surprises her family with hot baked potatoes, butter, salt and maple syrup, along with spoons for scooping snow.

"Yum," says Lincoln. "Baked potatoes and snow cones." It is a fun twist on traditional stories about the holiday.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'Children's books that spread holiday cheer'. Print Edition | Subscribe