This blog was first posted on NewmarketToday.ca and republished here with permission.
I saw a fun idea on Facebook recently – an advent calendar of books. The idea is to wrap 24 books, one book for every day leading up to Christmas. A book countdown to Christmas. While you could do this for any age, here are 24 picture book ideas.
Red and Green and Blue and White by Lee Wind and Paul O. Zelinksy, Raincoast Books (www.raincoast.com )
It’s the holiday season. Isaac is helping his family decorate their window for Hannukah, while Teresa and her family are trimming their tree. Isaac and Teresa both like to play in the snow and count down to the holidays.
One night, someone throws a rock through the window of Isaac’s family home, dimming the lights of the menorah. In support of her friend, Teresa draws a menorah and places it in her window. Soon, their entire town rallies in support of Isaac and his family, mixing blue and white with red and green.
This is such a beautiful story, inspired by true events.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings, Raincoast Book (www.raincoast.com)
After the Night of Broken Glass on Nov. 9, 1938, Oskar’s family puts him on a ship to American. He doesn’t have anything except an address and a photo of his aunt Esther, whom he didn’t know. Oskar arrives in American on the seventh day of Hannukah, which was also Christmas Eve. Alone and afraid, he walks throughout Manhattan looking for his aunt. Along the way he sees the city during the holidays and receives small blessings along the way. While a terribly sad story, it also offers feelings of hope and happiness – in times of darkness, there is often light. This book is by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon.
Oh, What a Busy Day!
Oh, What a Busy Day! by Gyo Fujikawa and is one of my all-time favourite picture books. As a kid, I would take it out every time we went to our public library. Eventually I bought my own copy, and I have gifted it a number of times.
The book begins as the sun rises and kids greeting each other from their bedroom windows. Each double page spread is a new idea of how these children are spending their day. There is a mix of poems and stories, nursery rhymes and expressions. There is lots to look at and discover on its pages. I loved the interaction with the book and how no matter how often you read it, there was always something new to discover. Note, this isn’t a book you can read in one sitting.
Bedtime Math, Raincoast Books (www.raincoast.com )
While not a typical picture book, Bedtime Math by Laura Overdeck and Jim Paillot provide information in story form – ice cream in space or how Play-Doh was created. Each story is then followed by four math questions – for wee ones, little kids, big kids and a bonus question. Each question is math related and the answers are provided at the bottom of the page. For example, for the astronauts, the wee one question asked “If you’re counting up your astronaut ice cream ingredients – coconut fat, sugar, milk fat and chocolate – what numbers do you say? My son has always loved math and he loved this book. We read a page a night and because he had a math brain, was often able to answer all the questions for all the ages. The illustrations are fun, too.
The Library Bus, Pajama Press (https://pajamapress.ca/)
Author Bahram Rahman said he was inspired to write The Library Bus by the children he met during visits to refugee camps and orphanages in Kabul. In this book, Pari is a young girl who is riding the Library Bus with her mother who goes to villages and refugee camps bring books, supplies and story time to the children who may not be able to access these things without her. Pari is lucky as she will be able to go to school when she is old enough, but many of the children they meet will only see her mama and the library bus. Education, Pari is reminded, means freedom. Such a great book to show children the power of education and books.
Wolfboy, Raincoast Books (www.raincoast.com )
Wolfboy by Andy Harkness offers the right amount of creepy and suspenseful. Wolfboy is hungry and he wants the rabbits to come out immediately. When they ignore his call, he stomps across forests, getting more huffy and drooly, until he finds them. I love the illustrations created in plasticine and the fact the reader can see a rabbit on every page.
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, Kids Can Press (www.kidscanpress.com )
One day, Hana tells her family she is going to play the violin at the upcoming school talent show. Her brothers nearly fall out of the tree laughing, but Hana doesn’t care. Inspired by ojichan, her grandfather who was a professional violinist, Hana practises and practises until the day of the show. Will her nerves get the best of her?
Illustrated by one of my favourite people – Qin Leng – Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki is a wonderful book about a determined girl and her love of her grandfather.
Nerdy Birdy, Raincoast Books (www.raincoast.com)
Nerdy Birdy loves reading and video games and he is allergic to birdseed. The other birds – the robin, cardinal, and eagle – don’t have time for nerdy bird who is lonely. But one day, Nerdy Birdy meets a flock of other nerdy birds who are different just like him and suggest there is always room for one more. But when a new bird moved into the neighbourhood who is even more different than the rest of them, Nerdy Birdy’s friends wonder if there is room for that bird.
I love this book. It’s funny – particularly the comments from the “cool” birds, and it has a great moral.
Nerdy Birdy is by Aaron Reynolds and Matt Davies.
Rude Cakes, Raincoast Books (www.raincoast.com)
Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins and is another great book.
Rude Cakes are just rude. They never say please or thank you and sometimes take things that don’t belong to them. But one day, it “gets its just desserts” in an exceptionally funny way. I love everything about this book. The lesson, the dialogue, and the illustrations. This was a well-read book at our house, and I never stopped laughing.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, Penguin Random House (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/)
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles has one important job – to open any bottle found at sea and delivery it. The man loves his job, but wishes, just once, that a message would be for him. One day, he finds a message with no name attached and he makes it his mission to deliver it.
I just love this book. When I could choose a bedtime story, it was often this one. It had all the right emotions and the best ending.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is by Michelle Cuevas and E. Stead.
You Can Do It, Sam
Another favourite, You Can Do It, Sam by Amy Hest and Anita Jeram, inspired my son and I to copy Sam, a little bear who helped his mom make and deliver 12 cakes to his friends on Plum Street, all by himself, while his neighbours were sleeping. My son and I often did the same, dropping cookies off at neighbours, but usually when they woke up otherwise, I suspect, the four legged critters would have gotten them first.
The book has an amazing flow, a great story and wonderful illustrations. It’s another one we never tired of reading.
Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond is based on a true story of a boy whose mom ran a hotel at the edge of a lake deep in the woods. Antonio made friends with the lumberjacks and woodmen who stayed in the hotel, and he loved playing in the woods and finding signs of the animals who lived there. He never saw them until one day, a forest fire races through the forest and the people and animals joined together to survive.
The book was so different than I had seen up until that point, and still really. The book is dark, in that the illustrations look like they are in sepia and done in pen. They are roughly drawn, but still accurate. I love how the forest fire is illustrated. I can imagine being in the middle of it and how terrifying, but awe-inspiring it would be.
Gracie, The Public Garden Duck, Nimbus Publishing (https://nimbus.ca/ )
It always surprised me that my son loved Gracie, The Public Garden Duck by Judith Meyrick and Richard Rudnicki.
For a picture book, the story is quite long, but it was often requested when my son was younger.
Gracie has a fantastic life in Halifax Public Gardens. She swims in the ponds, naps in the bushes and eats sandwiches – she especially loves peanut butter and honey – from the park visitors. But one day, people stop feeding her and she gets creative to help them change their minds. That is until she figures out something even better. It’s a cute story with a great lesson for humans to stop feeding the animals.
And What If I Won’t, Owl Kids (www.owlkidsbooks.com)
In this book by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by Qin Leng, a mother asks her son to clear his plate from the table. When the little boy asks what happens if he says no, the mother responds with a response of her own. The story goes back and forth, each adventure getting bigger. The book is fun, with a great lesson at the end.
This might be my new favourite Christmas book. Written by Rose Rossner and illustrated by Gail Yerrill, the book is full of puns, rhymes and adorable animals. While the little ones may not get it, the adults may think it’s fun:
“Seasons tweetings have just begun! Snuggles, joy, and holiday fun (chickens).
“Howl be home for Christmas, this you know is true. To hooold you close, I just adore you (wolves).
Unicorn (And Horse), Raincoast Books (www.raincoast.com )
Unicorn (And Horse) by David Miles and Hollie Mengert makes me laugh. It’s the writing, but it’s also the illustrations. You can see the disgruntled look on horses face as unicorn is prancing around making rainbows instead of what horse is making (not rainbows). Everyone one loves unicorn. Horse does not, but deep down he knows he just wishes he was a unicorn. One day, two thieves steal unicorn and it’s up to horse to save the day.
There are some great lessons in this book as well. It’s colourful and bright. What a fun book.
Merry Christmas, Squirrels, Puffin Canada, https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/imprints/NV/puffin-canada )
My son always loved this book by Nancy Rose. Rose creates mini sets, stuffs them with peanuts and waits patiently for her backyard squirrels to interacts with the creations, snapping pictures and then writing the story.
In this book, the squirrels are getting ready for Christmas – going sledding, building a gingerbread train and reading stories by the fire. There is so much to look at and my son and I enjoyed trying to figure out how Rose did it.
When Santa Was a Baby, Tundra Books (www.penguinrandomhouse.ca )
When Santa Was a Baby, instead of a goo, goo, he let out a big ho, ho, ho. He wanted red PJs not blue, and he often would re-wrap his birthday presents and give them away to all the boys and girls.
His parents encouraged his uniqueness, wondering what sort of person he would grow up to be.
What a fun book by Linda Bailey and Genevieve Godbout. I love the illustrations as well, particularly the scene when little Santa stands in front of the fridge because it’s too hot outside (he, of course, likes the cold).
Just One by Sam McBratney and Ivan Bates is another favourite. It, too, is a much longer picture book than normal, but the story is fun, and the illustrations are wonderful. In this book, Digger and old gray squirrel are picking blackberries. When old gray leaves to get a container to put them in, he reminds Digger not to eat too many, just a few. One by one, Digger’s other forest friends come by for a visit and a few berries.
Here Comes Santa Cat, Penguin Random House, www.penguinrandomhouse.ca)
Cat is a bit worried. He is going to be Santa because he is afraid the real Santa isn’t going to give him a present because he is 98 per cent naughty (as seen on the pie chart he holds up) and he thinks there isn’t time to change. But the narrative convinces him he can be nice. It won’t be easy, but he can try and try he does.
Santa Cat is so funny, both in words and illustrations. Cat doesn’t talk, but his actions speak volumes. It’s such a fun, but different Christmas read.
I love this picture book. It’s a great way to introduce fantasy and comics to kids. In this book by Ben Hatke, we meet goblin, who no one likes – not the farmers, innkeepers or adventurers. But Goblin will do anything to save his friend and along the way, he meets more creatures who do like goblins.
I love the illustrations in this book. I think they are amazing.
If Kids Rules The World, Kids Can Press, https://www.kidscanpress.com/)
If Kids Rules the World, there would be trampolines on the sidewalk, tree forts with ladders and playing all the time, plus, if you want to grow up strong and healthy, you will have to eat cake. This is a fun book by Linda Bailey and illustrated by David Huyck. It reminds me of Oh, What A Busy Day (Book 3) in how it encourages imagination both in words and pictures.
Stan Lee’s Superhero Christmas, HarperCollins Canada (https://www.harpercollins.ca/ )
Sneaking into my older brother’s comic book collection, I read a lot of the late Stan Lee’s work. In this book, he brought his talent to children, creating a world where the kids save not only Santa, but their parents, too. This book has it all – superpowers, an evil Ice King, Santa and kids who save the day. I love the illustrations by Tim Jessell.
I love all the books that I have featured here, but just like in a chocolate-filled advent calendar, I have saved the best for last.
I received this book as a gift more than five years ago and everything about it is beautiful. Despite that my son is now too old for picture books, I read this one every Christmas and recommend it highly. It’s all about hope.
Winter’s Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan
It’s Christmas eve, but the old man doesn’t feel like celebrating. His wife died earlier in the year, and the season makes him remember how it used to be – going out to cut down the tree and decorating it, putting the star, a symbol of hope, on last. This year, the old man doesn’t have hope. Not far away, a mare is lost in the woods, separated from her herd. The snow is falling fast, wolves are close by, and she is frightened. Exhausted, she collapses. Inside, the old man hears something. He finds the mare, brings her into the barn and ensures she is comfortable before falling asleep and waking up on Christmas morning to make a discovery.
So beautiful. The story. The message and the illustrations.