2001-12-20 / Arts & Entertainment

Book News More Holiday Selections

Book News More Holiday Selections

Reviewed by M.E. Greene

©2001 King Features Synd., Inc.

For Youngsters

Magical adventure, historic drama and whimsical fantasy rule the bookshelves this holiday season, particularly in the children’s section. And for parents looking for a holiday tale to add to the traditional "Night Before Christmas" reading (kids always want just one more story, especially on Christmas Eve), three tales stand out.

When I recognized Wendy Froud’s name on the cover of "The Winter Child," (by Wendy Froud & Terri Windling, Simon & Schuster) I was ashamed to admit that I haven’t kept up with this talented doll maker’s career (or her artist-husband Brian’s). Her name can be found in the credits of many Jim Henson productions, including "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth," and her creations — especially in this beautifully detailed and photographed story — are wonderful.

Author Terri Windling and Froud have created a second adventure for a young fairy named Sneezle and his best friend Twig. In a forest where winter should have appeared months before, the weather is still warm and leaves have not yet fallen. But the two friends don’t worry about that, because King Oberon’s favorite cup has been stolen.

Children will love picking details out of the richly depicted scenes, and the story is long enough that parents will be reading it to them over successive nights.

*A less fantastic adventure tale, drawn from history, will nonetheless hold kids’ attention. "The Race of the Birkebeiners" by Lisa Lunge-Larsen (illustrated by Mary Azarian, Houghton Mifflin) tells the story of a group of fierce warriors in medieval Norway who rescue an infant prince — and future king — on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1206. (The event is commemorated every year in Norway and Wisconsin with a 50-kilometer, cross-country ski race.) Illustrator Mary Azarian’s beautiful woodcuts illuminate a fascinating tale that kids will love.

*Keep them laughing with Irving and Muktuk: Two Bad Bears" by noted (and slightly demented) children’s author Daniel Pinkwater (illustrated by Jill Pinkwater, Houghton Mifflin).

It’s time for the Muffin Festival in the frozen town of Yellowtooth. But the muffin supply is threatened every year by two imaginative polar bears. This silly tale will send the kids to bed, giggling away. And that’s tough to do on the most exciting night of the year.

For Adults (and young-at-heart)

Daniel Pinkwater tops the list of recommended holiday stories — although his latest collection of tales, UNCLE BORIS IN THE YUKON: AND OTHER SHAGGY DOG STORIES is not a Christmas-oriented offering. After all, the opening story is about a Polish Jew prospecting for gold in turn-of-the-century Alaska who is delighted to discover that his lead sled dog can speak Yiddish.

But for sitting back, forgetting the annoying relatives infesting the kitchen and getting absorbed in a slightly off-center tale of growing up amongst a uniquely dysfunctional family (Uncle Boris is just one of the cast of characters here), Pinkwater’s ode to these folks, and his favorite dogs, is perfect.

If a nice Christmas story is more to your taste — without added saccharine —Jimmy Carter’s CHRISTMAS IN PLAINS: MEMORIES is a nice way to unwind and remember America as it was. Or, at least, may have been. Written in the same straightforward, understated way as "An Hour Before Daylight," Carter’s recently published memoir, CHRISTMAS IN PLAINS describes holidays spent at the former president’s home, from boyhood to present. There’s nothing masterful about Carter’s prose, but his matter-of-fact depiction of life in and around his south Georgia home, and the lives of those around him, black and white, give the reader a clear perspective on the changing traditions of a Southern Christmas.

Some folks, however, can’t relax without a good, uplifting story — and for them, Adams Media has trundled out a whole collection of uplifting, life-affirming anecdotes designed to strengthen the spirit. A CUP OF COMFORT, edited by Colleen Sell, is touted by the publisher as not just "another addition to the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ genre." Of course, it is; but who’s complaining? The most comforting thing about A CUP OF COMFORT is that you know exactly what you’re going to get. And that’s not a bad thing, especially these days.

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