Books for Kids: There's a big holiday haul for youngsters this year

From the mystery of how Santa gets down the chimney to the history of activism in music, there’s something for every age and interest.

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Need gifts for the youngsters in your circle this holiday season? Books open a world of possibilities, and have the added advantage of being easy to wrap. Below, a few suggestions to spark the imagination.

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney?, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen.

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How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney?
By Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press

Many a kid has asked how Santa gains access to the homes where he leaves Christmas gifts, and many an adult has hazarded a guess. But even adults as clever and talented as American author Mac Barnett and Canadian illustrator Jon Klassen have had to admit that’s all it is: guesswork. Still, in the process of creating their latest book, the two have come up with some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps Santa just tightens his belt, making himself as thin as possible. Or maybe he shrinks down to the size of a mouse. If he gets stuck partway down the chimney, maybe one of the reindeer gives him a kick to unstick him. But what if you don’t have a chimney? “If you’ve got a mail slot,” writes Barnett, “I bet Santa folds up like a letter / and has a reindeer pop him through.” He has plenty of other ideas, all aptly illustrated by Klassen, and despite the fact there’s no definitive answer to the question posed in the title, this book makes for a lively, amusing read — and a great gift. Aimed at ages 4 to 8, but good for all ages.

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How to Decorate a Christmas Tree, by Vikki VanSickle, illustrated by Miki Sato.

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree
By Vikki VanSickle
Illustrated by Miki Sato
Tundra Books

When it comes to how-to books, this one is a great addition to the holiday season and shares some useful tips related by the featured character: young Della Rose Santiago, who introduces her baby brother Clem to the yearly ritual of decorating the family tree. The text by Vikki VanSickle is accompanied by Miki Sato’s cut-paper collage art; the Toronto-based duo have created a book that not only lends itself to family read-alouds, but may also prompt craft sessions that result in homemade ornaments like those gracing the Santiagos’ tree. Ages 4-8.

Miki Sato built three-dimensional collage illustrations for How to Decorate a Christmas Tree using cut paper, fabrics, embroidery thread and craft supplies. In this two-page spread, young Della and her Uncle Rob get ready to add strings of popcorn to the tree, while Taffy the cat tries to join in.
Miki Sato built three-dimensional collage illustrations for How to Decorate a Christmas Tree using cut paper, fabrics, embroidery thread and craft supplies. In this two-page spread, young Della and her Uncle Rob get ready to add strings of popcorn to the tree, while Taffy the cat tries to join in. Image: Tundra Books

Eight Nights of Lights: A Celebration of Hanukkah
By Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Hilli Kushnir

A unique and highly appealing treatment of the Hanukkah story is found between the oversized colourful covers of a “book” that looks like no other. Open the front cover, and instead of regular pages you find a pseudo menorah with nine candle-shaped little books — one representing the “shammash, or helper candle” and eight others that represent the eight nights of Hanukkah and tell brief stories about a little girl named Lena, her cat Pickles, her parents, and how they celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights with friends and family. A very inventive and engaging approach to the traditional holiday event. Ages 4-8.

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Eight Nights of Lights: A Celebration of Hanukkah, by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Hilli Kushnir.

Skating Wild on an Inland Sea
By Jean E. Pendziwol
Illustrated by Todd Stewart
Groundwood Books

Author Jean E. Pendziwol, we’re told on the cover flap, lives in northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior, “and loves to skate wild.” Her poetic account of such a skate by two young children captures the joys of the winter season, especially in a rural lakeside setting. Todd Stewart is an urban resident of Montreal, but has clearly done some research: combining digital art with coloured screen prints, he does a masterful job of bringing Pendziwol’s words to life. This book might prompt both readers and listeners to strap on their skates during the holiday season, and maybe look for an outdoor rink if lake ice is lacking. Ages 4-8 (and older).

Skating Wild on an Inland Sea, by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Todd Stewart.

Lonely Bird
Written and illustrated by Ruth Whiting
Candlewick Press

This remarkable picture book is bound to appeal to any child with a flair for art and making things. Author/illustrator Ruth Whiting uses oil paints and cut-paper collage to tell the story of a shy, solitary little bird who turns a crumpled bit of paper into a six-footed friendly creature who joins her in a playful adventure that quickly turns into disaster. Lonely Bird sets out to rescue her friend from the bowels of a sucking monster. Beautifully illustrated, this is a paean to bravery, friendship and creativity. Ages 4-8.

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Lonely Bird, written and illustrated by Ruth Whiting.

Animal Eyes: How Creatures See and How Their Eyes Have Adapted to Their World
By Françoise Vulpé
Illustrated by the work of various photographers
Firefly Books

For youngsters more interested in non-fiction than fiction, Animal Eyes offers not only an eye-catching cover, but pages of intriguing facts related to the book’s subtitle. Lavishly illustrated with colourful photographs, the book is rife with surprising information. For example, I had no idea a horned lizard could shoot blood from its eye. Or that caribou have UV vision. Or that the eyes of an ostrich are bigger than its brain! Ages 8-12.

Animal Eyes: How Creatures See and How Their Eyes Have Adapted to Their World, by Françoise Vulpé, illustrated by the work of various photographers.

The Mona Lisa Vanishes
By Nicholas Day
Illustrated by Brett Helquist
Random House Studio

And for kids who like their non-fiction with something of a story attached, The Mona Lisa Vanishes fits the bill — and then some. Author Nicholas Day published a work of narrative non-fiction for adults 10 years ago, but this is his first non-fiction book for children. Illustrated by Brett Helquist, it tells the true story of how the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911, and how that theft made the painting world-famous. In the process of telling the story of the theft (which includes a stolen doorknob, and a very lucky break for the thief), readers are taken back to the early 1500s, when Leonardo da Vinci painted it, as well as intervening centuries and various artists, dealers and art thieves of those years. It’s a lively and often amusing account that brings art and artists to life. (For example, twice the author tells us that Michelangelo “was a real jerk” — and gives us his source material, should we want to check that claim.) It’s the kind of book you wish would never end. Ages 10-14 (and older).

The Mona Lisa Vanishes, by Nicholas Day, illustrated by Brett Helquist.

Rise Up and Sing!
By Andrea Warner
Illustrated by Louise Reimer
Greystone Kids

Subtitled Power, Protest, and Activism in Music, this book is rich in stories of social activism and the music that, as author Andrea Warner states in her introduction, “has always been a big part of movements for social change.” Names familiar to parents and grandparents — like Pete Seeger, Nina Simone and Buffy Sainte-Marie — might not be so to young readers, but they’ll surely recognize the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Billie Eilish. Each of the book’s eight chapters includes a Top 10 playlist and bonus tracks so readers can familiarize themselves with the music in question. Ages 12 and up.

Rise Up and Sing!, by Andrea Warner, illustrated by Louise Reimer.

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