Holiday reads

By Susan Townley

The holiday season is just around the corner and now is the perfect time to cozy up with your young readers to enjoy some new seasonal reads available from your local library.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, winner of the Newberry Medal, arrived at the library last year just before the winter solstice. It is a beautiful celebration of the Yuletide season and one of my new favourite seasonal reads for adults and children alike. The illustrations by Carson Ellis evoke the joy and community found in the universal celebration of the light festivals that occur at this time of the year when the sun fades soonest and we are in darkness for the longest time. Cooper’s poem captures the magic of the returning light, the ongoing mystery of life and the celebration of rebirth. This book evokes the sense of wonder that people have felt for nature, the earth and the seasons throughout time, and it has a message that holds true at in this season of darkness.

In The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, author Arthur A. Levine creates a mythical holiday hero whose magic and generosity spreads joy to all in a celebration of Hanukkah. Levine writes this tale as an explanation of the origin of Hanukkah presents.


Some readers might be concerned about the presence of Santa and the introduction of Christmas into the tale but at its heart, this is a story of generosity and sharing and of the immigrant experience. The illustrations by award-winning Kevin Hawkes are appealing and full of glimmers of gold that help to capture the magical feel of this mythical tale.

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A.E. Ali is not only about the celebrations that happen at this time of year but also all the days that are loved by a classroom of kindergarten children. On the first day of school, the teacher tells the class that they will be sharing their favourite day of the year with their classmates. Each child feels their day is the most special, and the joy and wonder shine through in each celebration that is shared in the classroom. The celebrations are less about religion than about family traditions and connections. There is a diverse collection of holiday celebrations, from Eid Mubarak to Rosh Hashanah, from Las Posadas to Pi Day, celebrated with pie, of course. The colourful and charming illustrations by Rahele Jomepour Bell show a diverse classroom where learning is thoughtful, full of energy and filled with music, dancing and eating. This book is available from the library as an e-book as well.

Santa’s Story is a lively, new picture book from prolific author and illustrator Will Hillenbrand. It’s Christmas Eve and Santa is ready to go but his reindeers are nowhere to be found. It seems as if they are too distracted to answer Santa’s call to action. Finally, Santa spies Comet holding a book and realizes the he’s the one who has forgotten an important tradition, the reading of The Night Before Christmas. Once story time has been announced, Santa is surrounded by his attentive crew. The text has an alliterative lilt, and both the story and illustrations have a comical charm.

The Tree That’s Meant to Be is a new picture book by Yuval Zommer, an author and illustrator best known for his beautifully illustrated non-fiction books for children. Here he tells the story of a small misshapen forest tree that is left behind when all the other taller, more beautiful evergreens are cut down to become Christmas trees. The poor tree is forlorn and feeling unloved until the animals of the forest gather around and adorn the little tree with all kinds of pretty decorations that they find in the forest. In the end, the little tree is jubilant and knows that it is loved. This story is less about Christmas and holidays and more about feeling left out and then finding yourself appreciated. This is a lyrical story that many young children will find easy to relate to.

Lastly for the younger readers is a beautiful picture book from the prolific author and illustrator Emma Dodd. Christmas is Joy is a delightful, simple read that will appeal to toddlers and preschoolers alike with its story of a pair of reindeer exploring their winter world. The gentle text and illustrations touched with silver bring a sparkle to the story of the joy this season can bring.

Happy reading!

Susan Townley is a children’s programs and public service assistant at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library.

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