Christmas Books: Visions of sugarplums

  • By Diane Schlindwein Creators News Service
  • Thursday, December 3, 2009 8:47am

Chances are when Christmas Eve rolls around this year, a good number of 88-year-old Margaret Taylor’s descendents will be enjoying the classic book “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” That’s because Taylor has gifted different editions of the book to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — more than 60 people altogether — for the past 50 years.

“Oh, I’ve lost track of how many of those I’ve given out,” says Taylor, who writes a special note in each book. “There have been a lot of them; I do know that.”

Bart Tschacher, an electrical engineer in Montana, is one of Taylor’s 23 grandchildren. He received a large glossy copy of Clement Clarke Moore’s poetic lines for his first Christmas, when he was just a newborn. Now 36 years old and the father of three young sons ­— with another baby due in January ­— Tschacher reads the same book to his children that his father read to him and his five younger siblings. It’s a fond family tradition he hopes his children will remember and continue.

“A Visit From St. Nicholas,” commonly called “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” is “enormously popular in all its versions and variations,” says Barnes &Noble buyer Ben Ruby of the work, first published in 1822. Modern versions include the well-known picture book illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, published in 2002, as well as a humorous piratical version, “A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas,” written by Philip Yates and illustrated by Sebastia Serra, published in 2008.

Children’s novels are also big sellers, including perennial favorites, such as “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” written by Barbara Robinson, published in 1972. Robinson’s novel, required reading by many teachers, is the story of a rambunctious and dysfunctional family, the Herdmans, who find themselves cast in leading roles in a church pageant.

Robinson’s novel is laugh-out-loud funny, but touching as well. Listed on the National Education Association’s list of 100 Best Books, it is recommended for children in third through fifth grades.

In addition, many children’s series include a Christmas story, such as the Junie B. Jones series, by Barbara Park. “Junie B., First Grader: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (P.S. So Does May)” and “Christmas in Camelot” — part of the Magic Tree House series, by Mary Pope Osborne — are sure hits for kids, Ruby says.

“Christmas picture books are very popular,” says Ruby, who recommends classics, such as “The Polar Express,” written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg and being released in a special 25th-anniversary edition this year. “Of course, Dr. Suess’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ has been delighting families for over 50 years.”

“Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas,” a new entry in the well-loved Fancy Nancy series of picture books, written by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, probably will be a good seller this year, Ruby says. So will “The Christmas Sweater: A Picture Book,” an adaptation of Glenn Beck’s novel.

Ruby says Christmas novels for teens are, predictably, mostly romances, such as Kate Brian’s “Ex-mas,” or the anthology “Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances,” which was published in 2008.

Most children’s Christmas books are purchased in November and December, both to read at home and to give as gifts, Ruby says. He recommends that families who are seeking to launch a new tradition purchase the book “The Elf on the Shelf.”

“’The Elf on the Shelf’ has become increasingly popular since 2005,” Ruby tells us. It was written by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell and illustrated by Coe Steinwart. “It comes with a picture book which explains how Santa’s elves keep track of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, along with an elf to take home then and there. It really is a new Christmas tradition for the whole family.”

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