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Wonderland of Words


Holiday books seem to fall like snowflakes from publishers. This year is no exception. Here are some of the holiday and other titles for children and adults.

♦ “The Polar Express” written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, $18.95). No doubt you’ve read this memorable fable of a boy who rides a magical train to the North Pole and receives the first gift of Christmas from Santa.

The book, a Caldecott Medal winner, was first published in 1985. So this new publication celebrates the book’s 25th anniversary. It comes with a CD with Liam Neeson reading the story, and with a keepsake ornament showing the train’s conductor shouting, “All Aboard the Polar Express!”

♦ “Nutcracker” by E.T.A. Hoffmann, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Crown, $24.99). The story of the famous “Nutcracker” ballet is based on Hoffmann’s 1816 tale. Sendak’s rich illustrations bring the story to life on the sturdy pages of this book.

Sendak, who died earlier this year, was probably the premier book illustrator of his time; he received a National Medal of Arts. Perhaps Sendak’s most famous contribution was the award-winning book “Where the Wild Things Are.”

♦ “Christmas at the Toy Museum” written and illustrated by David Lucas (Candlewick Press, $15.99). The toys gather around the Christmas tree awaiting their presents. Alas, there are none. What to do? One of the toys, Bunting the Cat, a wise feline, decides that the toys give themselves as gifts to one another.

But there were no gifts left for Bunting to unwrap. The angel flies down from the top of the Christmas tree and gives the cat a wrapped box. Inside was the gift of a wish that Bunting could wish for and share.

♦ “Santa’s Hat” by Linda Bleck (RP Kids, $16.95). It’s Christmas Eve day and Santa can’t find his hat. Mrs. Claus shows him various types of hats in a chest. Santa tries on some that are either too silly, too wide, too scary, too fancy or too big. Maybe a baseball cap will do or a hockey helmet or a cowboy hat. Then the elves give Santa his own present. It just might fit and it just might be the right style. Bleck’s children’s book, “Pepper Goes to School,” won the 2006 National Parenting Publication award.

♦ “The Christmas Tugboat, How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City” by George Matteson and Adele Ursone, paintings by James E. Ransome (Clarion Books, $17.99). In the predawn of a November morning, a tugboat leaves New York harbor with the daughter and wife of the tugboat captain. The tug is headed up the Hudson River for Stony Point, where it will tow a barge laden with the Christmas tree resting on a tractor-trailer truck’s bed, bound for Rockefeller Center.

This is a sweet, and a true, story told from the viewpoint of the young girl. The authors are the young girl’s dad, the tug captain, and her mom.

♦ “Just Right for Christmas” by Birdie Black, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Nosy Crow, $15.99). This is a delightful and imaginative tale about gifts elaborate and simple, and about frugality.

It begins with the king buying a bolt of beautiful red cloth at market so his sewing maids can stitch a cloak for the princess. He leaves the scraps of cloth on the back door. Castle kitchen maid Jenny brings the scraps home to make a jacket for her mother. And so diminishing amounts of left-over scraps are sufficient for Bertie Badger to make a hat for his dad, for Samuel Squirrel to fashion gloves for his wife, and for Milly Mouse to make a scarf for her son.

♦ “On the Night You Were Born” written and illustrated by Nancy Tillman (MacMillan Young Listeners, $12.99). This is a paperback edition of a nonholiday book first published in 2005. It’s an adorable picture book with rhyming lines about the uniqueness of every baby. “Not once had there been such eyes,/ such a nose,/such silly, wiggly, wonderful toes … When the polar bears heard,/they danced until dawn.” Just as two bears are doing on the book’s front cover.

The book is accompanied by a CD with a reading by Orlagh Cassidy, a special reading by Tillman and a third cut on the CD for young listeners to read along.

♦ “Happy Hanukkah, Curious George” by Emily Flaschner Meyer, illustrations by Mary O’Keefe Young (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $7.99). OK, so Hanukkah ended at sundown last Sunday. Curious George and his trusty friend dressed in yellow lit candles, ate latkes, spun the dreidel, no doubt before the last candle on the last night burned out.

But this book holds an important social message for anyone on the planet — doing good deeds year-round. Curious George responds to the spirit of the holiday: On the penultimate page, he’s wrapping latkes to take to a sick friend.

♦ “A Christmas Home — A Novel” by Greg Kincaid (Crown, $16). Todd McCray, age 24 and with developmental disabilities, works at a local animal shelter. He meets Laura, a young volunteer with physical disabilities. Todd trains an abandoned dog named Gracia to help Laura.

The backdrop for this budding love story is a town with many struggling families having to abandon so many animals that the shelter is full. Then there’s more bad news — the shelter is closing for lack of funds. Where to find home for the animals? Family and friends come to the rescue. Some readers may recall McCray, the hero of Kincaid’s book, “A Dog Named Christmas.”

♦ “A Christmas Garland” by Anne Perry (Ballantine Books, $18). The garland helps motivate Lt. Victor Narraway in his investigation into the truth in the murder of Brits in India in 1857. Narraway is defending medical orderly John Tallis in the case. There are no witnesses and no evidence against Tallis. Still, Narraway’s superiors want to make the case a show trial.

Perry is the bestselling author of nine holiday novels as well as a slew of other fiction, including the William Monk series and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series set in Victorian England, and five novels set during World War I.

♦ “A Miracle Under the Christmas Tree — Real Stories of Hope, Faith and the True Gifts of the Season” edited by Jennifer Basye Sander (Harlequin, $12.95). Inside the covers are 28 true stories, including one by Sander, the editor. She has written or co-written more than 50 titles, including the 1997 “Christmas Miracles,” a New York Times best-seller.

♦ “A Gift of Hope, Helping the Homeless” by Danielle Steel (Delacorte Press, $20). For 11 years, Steel, a bestselling author, and a small group of friends have been anonymously helping the homeless of San Francisco, providing them with food, clothing and bedding. In this memoir, Steel goes public with her charitable work.

It began as her way to deal with the loss of her beloved son and transform that pain into community service. Steel’s book, “His Bright Light,” was the story of her son’s life and death.

♦ “The Onion Presents: Christmas Exposed” by the staff of The Onion (Quirk, $12.95). The print and online newspaper that satirizes the news has compiled holiday-related topics to spoof. Inside you will find “Hot Holiday Toys”; among them is “Ball Point Pen — The Game Where You Can Write Stuff.”

There’s a story datelined Lancaster, Pa., that identifies a man who braved freezing weather by crossing a parking lot in 4 1/2 minutes to reach his car. He is quoted as saying he would pick up his pregnant wife at the supermarket entrance as soon as possible. And a headline over another news story reads: “Department Store Santa Told to Push Chinaware.”

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