Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Books in Verse

I have a stack of new Christmas picture books here that I had hoped to review for Wild Rose Reader by this time—but Thanksgiving and Robert’s Snow and preparations for Christmas have taken up much of my time in the past couple of weeks. Jules has some fine reviews of holiday picture books here and here and here at 7-Imp. You may want to read her impression of a sampling of Christmas titles that were recently published.

For today’s post, I thought I’d provide readers with a list of Christmas picture books that are written in verse. Except for Bear’s First Christmas, the books were published prior to 2007. I reviewed three of the books previously at Blue Rose Girls. All of the books are still in print.

By Janet & Allan Ahlberg
Little, Brown, 1991

In this sequel to The Jolly Postman, the postman goes about delivering mail to different fairy tale characters on the day before Christmas.

Once upon a Christmas Eve
Just after it had snowed,
The Jolly Postman (him again!)
Came down the jolly road…

Jolly Postman’s got a load of holiday tidings and packages in his mailbag—including a Christmas card for Baby Bear from Goldilocks and her baby sister; Beware!, a “hazardous” board game for Miss R. Hood from Mr. Wolf; and a jigsaw puzzle for Humpty Dumpty of himself from all the King’s men (and horses)—so Humpty can be put together again. At his final stop, the postman shares a cup of tea with the Clauses and receives a present himself. Not only that, Santa transports the postman and his bicycle back home in his sleigh.

In the final illustration, the Jolly Postman is settled into his armchair near the fireplace, his dog sleeping at his feet.

A Jolly Postman, warm and snug,
A postman’s dog upon the rug.
A clock that’s chiming in the hall.
A Merry Christmas—one and all!

The Jolly Christmas Postman would make a “jolly’ gift for some young child.

Written by Caralyn Buehner
Pictures by Mark Buehner
Dial, 2005

Snowmen at Christmas is the sequel to the popular bestseller Snowmen at Night. Although I think the text isn’t quite as strong in the sequel, this book is still a delight. In fact, I’d say it’s a visual feast for readers’ eyes. Mark Buehner’s illustrations are luminescent—street lanterns and strings of Christmas lights actually seem to glow on the pages. The outdoor scenes are infused with color. In some pictures, the sky and snow radiate shades of orange, pink, or purple—imbuing pictures of a cold winter night with warmth.

In this fanciful story, a young boy imagines how snowmen might celebrate Christmas. As he falls to sleep, the snowman in his front yard is shown slipping away. All the snowmen are on the move. They “glide down snowy avenues” and pass by shop windows “framed with twinkling lights.” They gather in the center of town and start their holiday celebration. They trim the square with icicles and holly. They enjoy frosty treats like ice cream and snow cones. Snow children play games.

Then the dancing begins:
To the tune of a fiddle,
All the snowmen line up,
And sashay down the middle.

Soon a snowman Santa appears on his flying toboggan and distributes presents. After Santa rides off, all the snowmen circle round a large Christmas tree and “sing songs about snow/and the birth of a King.” Finally, the snowmen, young and old alike, grow tired from their night of merriment.

The children are sleepy,
The grown-ups are yawning,
The snowmen go home
Just as Christmas is dawning.

By the time people arise early on Christmas morning, all of our frosty friends are back in place. They look no different from the previous day except that…

Their smiles are more tender,
Their eyes softly shine,
As the snowmen dream dreams
Of their Christmastime.

Mark Buehner’s art in Snowmen at Christmas is radiant! This picture book would be great even if it had no text. Pair this book with Raymond Briggs’ classic The Snowman.

By Wendell and Florence Minor
Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2005

Christmas Tree! is the first picture book collaboration between award-winning artist and illustrator Wendell Minor and his wife Florence. In her rhyming verse, Florence asks readers to imagine what kind of Christmas trees they would like to be. Her text is simple and spare. She doesn’t get too specific with her language. Wendell gets whimsical with his art, and his paintings provide the details—and images of what readers might picture in their heads.

Here are two excerpts from the book along with descriptions of the illustrations that are paired with them. So, readers, would you like to be...

A tree so
high it would
touch the sky?

In the illustration that accompanies this verse, Wendell paints the Statue of Liberty holding a lit Christmas tree aloft in her right hand instead of her torch.

Or a tree
so small it would
fit in the wall?

For this verse, Wendell illustrates four mice clustered around a star-topped tree made of cheese in their mouse hole. In some other illustrations, we see a huge Christmas tree balloon floating down a street in a city parade, a flock of white geese forming the outline of a holiday tree on a background of blue sky, and a tree decorated with carrots, apples, and sugar cubes—a tree just perfect for horses.

This book could be used as inspiration for an art lesson. Young artists could imagine themselves to be different kinds of Christmas trees. They could also picture themselves as trees in unique settings--shining out from a lighthouse or set at the top of a sailboat mast--the way Wendell does in this book.

By Wong Herbert Yee
Houghton Mifflin, 2004

Fireman Small is back to save the day—or should I say Christmas Eve—for Santa Claus. The diminutive fireman has been very busy chopping down a Christmas tree for Mayor Mole at the tree farm and putting up holiday lights and decorations in the city. By the time the stores close on Christmas Eve, Fireman Small is exhausted. He heads back to the firehouse, gets into bed, and pulls the covers over his head.

Around midnight, he hears a jingling of sleigh bells…then a CRASH! Santa has fallen head first into a coal bin and is covered with soot. Fireman Small washes Santa’s suit and tosses it into the dryer. When he removes Santa’s red suit from the dryer, he sees that it has shrunk! Then he finds Santa Claus fast asleep in his bed. Fireman Small wonders:

What about all the good girls and boys?
Who will deliver the rest of the toys?
Though Fireman Small should be snuggled in bed,
He races up to the rooftop instead.
Dressed in Santa’s suit, he hops in the sleigh.
But the reindeer refuse to fly away!

Now what is Fireman Small supposed to do? Why, he delivers all the presents in his fire truck instead! When Santa’s sack is empty, Fireman Small finally heads back to the firehouse and goes to bed. He arises on Christmas morning to find Santa and the sleigh gone—but the jolly old man has left a present for his little helper…along with a note, which includes the following lines:

Thank you, Fireman Small,
You’re a fine substitute.
Please keep this token,
My now tiny red suit!

The small size of this book and Yee’s charming watercolor illustrations make this a cozy book for sharing with a little someone cuddled on your lap.

Written by Robert Kinerk
Illustrated by Jim LaMarche
Simon & Schuster, 2007

A young bear finds a cave to hibernate in and settles down for the winter. He is awakened from his sleep by a mysterious sound. He leaves his cave to follow the sound. Along the way he meets and helps a number of other wild animals: a crow, a moose, a pheasant and her chicks. All the animals then follow the bear through the snow in hopes of finding a place where they can safely spend the night.

On the bear trudged till he saw, through more snow,
A lair or a burrow all lit by a glow.
Icicles hung from its top, sharp and bright.
Its sides had a space that was open for light.
And what’s this from inside? That wonderful sound!
After all of his trekking, its source had been found.

It’s not a lair or burrow that the animals have happened upon—it’s a house where a family is celebrating Christmas. The animals peer in through a window and see a room aglow with light—light from people’s faces and eyes and from a glorious Christmas tree. Then the family turns off the tree lights and goes off to bed. The animals don’t have a clue about the meaning of the lights and the music and the gladness they had witnessed this chill winter night.

As the animals trudge on, a spark inside them gives off an inner glow. Bear breaks a wide trail for moose who is carrying the pheasants on his back. The pheasants burst into song filling the air with sweet music. Finally, the animals arrive at bear’s “well-hidden den.” The animals hibernate in the safety of the cave until spring arrives. They are warmed with the memory of the light of the tree—a light that remains with them.

The text written in rhyming couplets is quite long. Nonetheless, this rhythmic tale scans well and is gorgeously complemented by Jim Lamarche’s illustrations. There’s a softness to LaMarche’s young bear, an endearing main character who is often depicted with a gentle, childlike expression. LaMarche varies the size of his pictures—some are double-page spreads, some are full-page spreads, and some are smaller spot illustrations. He also uses close-ups and changing perspectives to add visual interest to this quiet story.

Bear's First Christmas would be a good book to share with young children learning about hibernation.

You can read reviews of the following books in my Poetry Friday: Christmas Stories in Verse post at Blue Rose Girls.

By Robert Barry
Doubleday, 2000

Written by Rhonda Gowler Greene
Illustated by Henry Cole
Dutton, 2004

Written by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Jon Goodell
Harcourt, 2005


Tricia said...

Thank you, Elaine, for this wonderful list. My only regret is that I have no good independent children's bookstore here, so I often must go online for these titles. I would so love to head to a bookstore with William, read a few, and take some favorites home.
I'm definitely going to look for Christmas tree and a few of the titles from your Friday post.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I'm so glad there's an outstanding independent children's book shop not far from where I live. The owner and I have become good friends over the years. She and her shop manager are both former children's librarians. I can always count on them for good advice and book suggestions.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

What a great list. I'll have to get some of these older ones I haven't seen. I love your take on Bear's First Christmas, too. Thanks!

-- Jules, 7-Imp

Elaine Magliaro said...


I'll bet your little girls would really like some of these books in verse--especially MR. WILLOWBY'S CHRISTMAS TREE. I read it to my students every December.

Thanks for all your reviews of Christmas books published in 2007.