Each December, Christians throughout the world turn to the story of the birth of Jesus and to the celebrations that have grown out of the event. Once again the publishers have furnished an abundance of new books for holiday reading.
In the picture book A Child Is Born, Elizabeth Winthrop gives a faithful adaptation of the familiar story of Jesus' birth from St. Luke and St. Matthew in the King James Version of the Bible.
The text begins with Caesar's decree that everyone be taxed. It ends on the eighth day after Jesus' birth with an illustration that looks very much like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in flight to Egypt.
The prose is dropped into colorful double-page illustrations by award-winning artist Charles Mikolaycak. The unusually powerful artwork was achieved by applying watercolors and colored pencils to Diazo prints of pencil drawings.
A second outstanding picture book is by award-winning illustrator, Tomie dePaola. DePaola begins The Story of the Three Wise Kings by explaining the development of the biblical legend. He begins with St. Matthew, where there is no mention of the number of kings or their countries of origin. He then continues to the 8th century, when the number of wise men, and their names, and their home countries become established.
In Tomie dePaola's story we see the wise men, each in his own domain studying the stars, each sighting a brilliant new luminary in the sky. As each recognizes the heavenly sign which heralds the birth of a new king, he sets off with a special gift for the child. Of course, they meet on the way and travel together to find the child. Young readers will enjoy the story and the stylized Romanesque illustrations painted in delightfully strong colors.
For seasonal enjoyment, few things are more fun than gathering around the piano for carol singing. Margaret Cusack, known for her fabric collages, has now brought her technique to a book.
The Christmas Carol Sampler features 13 familiar carols with simplified arrangements by Kathleen Krull. To illustrate each carol, Ms. Cusack has used an assortment of fabric, braid, embroidery, upholstery trimming, and applique to reproduce works by her favorite artists.
Among them are Edward Hopper, Grandma Moses, Edward Hicks, Norman Rockwell, and Luca della Robbia. She includes several of her own original works, which may well inspire readers to try this interesting form of art.
The whimsical text of another book features the words of a single carol, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Illustrator Tracey Campbell Pearson takes a group of eight little carolers across a snowy meadow.
They first stop to serenade a group of complacent - but not unappreciative - red and white cows.
The second stop is at the home of a kindly elderly couple. In true Christmas spirit the couple invites the children in to get warm and have some decorated cookies. Naturally the carolers take off their soggy coats and make themselves right at home as they continue to sing the words.
When the verse demands three times, ''Now bring us some figgy pudding'' and ''We won't go till we've got some,'' - the polite couple rushes to the kitchen to look for a substitute. After making a shambles of the contents of the cabinets and finding none, the host is forced out into the cold night to buy some ''figgy pudding.'' The children sing on but are now so very much at home that they are racing around the dining room.
By the time the host returns with the pudding, the once raucous crowd is asleep at the table. So the polite couple sits down in the quiet kitchen - and eats generous servings of the precious pudding.
In case you really are interested after this outrageous display of behavior, the music and words are reproduced on the final page of the book.
In Merry Christmas, an enlightening book about the customs and traditions of Christmastime around the world, Robina Beckles Willson explores the festivities associated with the birth of Jesus as well as the origins of gift giving.
Illustrator Satomi Ichikawa shows great sensitivity in his artistic renditions of children involved in holiday scenes. And Ms. Willson tells numerous legends and customs giving the reader a feeling for the similarities of celebrations.The text tends to lean toward the religious significance of the season.
The book's six sections, arranged by countries in geographic proximity, accents the music and words of an appropriate carol for each area. A nice inclusion is the occasional activity page where a recipe - say for ginger cookies - or instructions for making authentic Swedish straw and paper decorations are included.
Fans of Caldecott Award-winner Peter Spier will welcome Peter Spier's Christmas! The intricate illustrations of this wordless picture book begin with a scene in a local bank where the Christmas Club sign indicates that there are now 12 days till Christmas.
The ''reader'' then follows a father and mother, three children, a dog, and a cat through preparations for Christmas Day. They buy cards, make and wrap gifts, buy groceries, and decorate the tree.
We observe the family going to church on Christmas Eve and almost feel the magical quiet of the gift-filled living room. We're jolted by the wild opening of gifts on Christmas morning with wrapping paper strewn all over the room. Later, when grandma and grandpa have arrived, we see the family at dinner.