Soon schools will recess for the holidays and family members will gather. It is the perfect season to snuggle up in a chair with the children for story time, and Christmas offers wonderful books that keep on giving year after year.
This year, central peninsula librarians and book sellers are recommending family classics and delightful new picture books in the Yule spirit.
n "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss always has been popular, but this year's movie version has given it a boost. The Soldotna Public Library and the Kenai Community Library reported the quirky morality tale as one of the most popular seasonal checkouts for children. The original edition debuted in 1957, but this fall there is a new "deluxe edition" plus a "movie storybook" version on the market.
n "A Visit From Saint Nicholas," also known by its first line, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," also was named as a family favorite by both libraries. Numerous versions of the poem by Clement Clarke Moore have been published over the years, most recently in 1998.
n "Amahl and the Night Visitors," by Gian Carlo Menotti, is a children's version of his famous opera about the three kings traveling to Bethlehem. Terri Burdick, assistant librarian at Soldotna, said it is the most popular of their stories centered on the Nativity. A 1986 edition of the book is illustrated by Michele Lemieux.
n "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was a children's story in verse by Robert Lewis May back in 1939 before it inspired the hit song. A 1994 edition has illustrations by Michael Emberley.
n "The Polar Express" is another favorite at the libraries. The thought-provoking, moody story about Santa Claus won a Caldecott Medal for author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg when it came out in 1985. This year a new gift edition combines the book with an audio version narrated by actor Liam Neeson.
n "The Nutcracker," based on the old story by E.T.A. Hoffman and revitalized every year by the enchanting ballet version, is out in book form, too. Peggy Mullen, of River City Books in Soldotna, said a new version features a compact disc of Tchaikovsky's beloved musical score.
Several newer books are attracting attention as well. Corey Hall, who runs the youth services at the Kenai Community Library, said she is reading several good ones this week at the preschool story hour:
n "The Legend of the Candy Cane," written by Lori Walburg and illustrated by James Bernardin, was published in 1997. The picture book links the popular candy to Christ-mas' biblical roots.
n "The Christmas Candle," is a haunting tale about charity, reminiscent of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Written by Richard Paul Evans and illustrated by Jacob Collins, it was first published in 1998.
n "Auntie Claus," in contrast, is a whimsical tale linking a mysterious woman in New York City to doings at the North Pole. Written and illustrated by Elise Primavera, it was published in 1999. According to book reviews quoted on the Internet, a movie and a sequel are in the works.
This year, new titles are out that may become Christmas classics of the future:
n "All You Ever Need," by author Max Lucado, is recommended by Gary Harris, one of the owners of Good Books and More in Kenai. Although the book is not strictly about Christmas, its message about the gift of grace makes it, along with other inspirational Christian titles by Lucado, popular and appropriate books for the season, Harris said.
n "If You Take a Mouse to the Movies," by author Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrator Felicia Bond, continues their popular and wacky series of animal escapades. This mouse tale has a Yuletide focus. A trip to the movies turns into a search for a Christmas tree and other holiday adventures.
n "Dream Snow" by children's master storyteller and artist Eric Carle, weaves a gentle tale about snow, a farm and the Christmas spirit. For a surprise ending, it features a musical microchip on the last page.
n "Stranger in the Woods," written by Carl R. Sams II and illustrated by photographer Jean Stoick, is a photographic fantasy for older children about a snowman and wildlife. It won the Ben Franklin Award 2000 for Children's Picture Book from the Publishers Marketing Associ-ation Online.
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