The great thing about a bookstore at holiday time is that it’s a one-stop shop. You can find gifts for everyone, bookish and nonbookish alike. And remember that even when there are no young people in the plans, a well-chosen children’s book can make a creative, thoughtful, or even ironic hostess gift.
It takes a lot of imagination to picture big-bellied, white-bearded Santa Claus as a child, but that’s just what Jon Agee does in “Little Santa” (Dial Books, $17.99, ages 3-7). Before making a splash with his revolutionary approach to gift delivery – flying reindeer, chimney entry, etc. – Santa was, like every innovative genius, a square peg in a round hole. The Claus family hated living at the North Pole, but Santa, their perverse youngest, loved the cold and couldn’t be coaxed out of his favorite red flannel snow suit. Just when the family was set to move to Florida, a well-timed blizzard changed the course of history.
The latest in Brian Biggs’ rambunctious “Everything Goes” series is a chunky board book, the perfect stocking stuffer for the youngest readers. “Santa Goes Everywhere!” (Balzer + Bray, $7.99, ages 0-4) will tickle the transportation-obsessed as well as their jaded parents. Here is Santa in a canoe (with the reindeer looking a tad grumpy), in a truck (advertising “Claus Overnight Delivery”) and in a sailboat (cool shades!).
Every family gift-giving occasion should include promises to read aloud. “Mouse Bird Snake Wolf” (Candlewick, $17.99, all ages), David Almond’s mythological story about children pitching in when the gods got lazy after creation, offers plenty for everyone, youngest to oldest, to discuss. Illustrations are by Dave McKean.
Graphic novelist Gareth Hinds puts a new twist on Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” (Candlewick, $21.99, ages 12 and older) by making the Capulets Indian and the Montagues African, although the action still takes place in a romantic Veronese setting. The text is skillfully edited, and the panels easy to follow, especially as the warring families’ costumes are color-coded. The effect is that of a good stage production: Shakespeare’s language speaks clearly to modern ears.
If you’re still casting about for Hanukkah gifts, “With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah” (Candlewick Press, $29.99, ages 5 and older), adapted by Amy Ehrlich, illustrated by Daniel Nevins, may serve. Ehrlich’s handsomely illustrated retelling of the story contained in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible walks a line between formal and informal by minimizing complex syntax but retaining some fancy language (for example, “timbrel” rather than “tambourine”).
Holly Hobbie’s illustrations reinterpret the Clement C. Moore poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” In “The Night Before Christmas” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18, ages 3-6) she gives it, in effect, two narrative points of view. We see the traditional first-person storyteller awakened by the clatter of hooves – “I in my cap/had just settled down for a long winter’s nap” – but there is a second observer. The baby creeps out of bed, too, so all of St. Nick’s bustlings are seen through the eyes of both the disbelieving father and the enchanted child.
For readers who can’t get enough of Mo Willems from his many books – the pigeon books, Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie, and various creatively fractured fairy tales – “Don’t Pigeonhole Me!” (Disney Editions, $40, all ages) is a true gift. This tour of the writer-illustrator’s sketchbooks makes clear that he left at least as many books on the studio floor as he published.
For those rowdy father-son pairs to whom you’d normally give only sports-themed gifts, try Hallie Durand’s “Mitchell Goes Bowling” (Candlewick, $15.99, ages 3-7), an irresistible picture book about a high-energy kid’s outing with his super-competitive dad. It’s hard to say which of Tony Fucile’s illustrations jumps off the page more: the high-five on “Battle on!” or the celebratory “triple steamin’-hot-potato dance, with salsa.”
Train travel might seem quaint in the age of jumbo jets, but two picture books capture why a 19th-century innovation still thrills us: Elisha Cooper’s “Train” (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 4-8) presents a cross-country journey, and Brian Floca’s “Locomotive” (Simon & Schuster, $17.99, ages 4-10) takes place in the American West of 1869.
Who can resist a well-written (and gorgeously drawn) love letter to New York? “Herman and Rosie” (Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, ages 7-10) is a soulful story about two musical lonely-hearts, an oboe-blowing crocodile and a shy, sweet-singing deer, brought together by the magic of the city. Australian writer and illustrator Gus Gordon hasn’t spent much time here – his editor had to school him on allowable toppings for street dogs – but his rooftop romance rings deep and true.
The publisher McSweeney’s enlisted some of the most anarchic minds in the book business – Mo Willems and Jon Scieszka among them – to produce “The Goods” (Big Picture Press, $22.99, ages 7 and older), an activity book on steroids. What other party-planning guide suggests you use creamed corn for a Slip ’n Slide?
For more ideas, go into any bookstore and ask for this year’s anniversary editions; you’ll get an instant list of beloved books. This year there is a 50th anniversary edition of Leo Lionni’s “Swimmy” (Dragonfly Books, $17.99, ages 3-7) and a 20th anniversary edition of Allen Say’s “Grandfather’s Journey” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, ages 4-8), not to mention a beautiful collector’s edition of Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” (Knopf, $50, ages 12 and older).