Holiday books satisfy children’s entertainment needs

No matter what the holiday this season, publishers have something delightful to satisfy every child’s desires.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Clement C. Moore’s 1912 classic, is available in an excellent paperback edition (Houghton Mifflin Co., $5.95) with old-fashioned illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith. Children and adults will delight in the book’s period feel, with its subtle colors and quaint characters.

Although the poem continues to speak to the modern world, this edition reminds readers of Christmases past. Santa is not dressed in bright red, but in green Nordic gear, and his pack is filled with toys from days gone by. A wooden elephant on rollers and a brass bugle bespeak times long ago.

As an escape from TV commercials and Christmas present, this is an ideal treat. Each picture is as evocative as the well-loved words.

In the season of joyous gluttony, “Mind Your Manners!” offers a debauched guide to getting through elaborate meals. Diane Goode’s rowdy depiction of a 19th-century mealtime will make present-day readers laugh, even with their mouths full.

This tongue-in-cheek etiquette book (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16), replete with greedy children and equally greedy pets, puts across its message better than Emily Post.

With its lavish meal and fashionably dressed household, “Mind Your Manners!” could well be portraying a chaotic Christmas Day. As it advises “Gnaw not bones at the table,” one diner does exactly that, and then tosses another bone aside. It is a scene out of many contemporary homes, and poking fun at it couldn’t come at a more valuable time.

This is a book to consume, with conscience in hand, before approaching the holiday dinner table.

“My First Menorah,” written and designed by Salina Yoon, is a sparkling tribute to Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. The board book (Little Simon, $7.99) features gold foil candles that will intrigue children of any faith.

Though it will be welcomed by families celebrating Hanukkah, “My First Menorah” is just as important to children who are not. Its explanation of the candle-lighting festivities opens up new realms to anyone who doesn’t understand Jewish tradition.

The illustrations are certainly light-filled. Bright warm colors have been chosen to leave each page radiant. Although it is a board book, it will be welcomed by kids older than the traditionally toddler audience. And as the book says, it leaves readers appreciating “a time for family and friends!”

Equally appropriate for Christmas and Kwanzaa, “Christmas for 10,” by Cathryn Falwell, features a black family enjoying a traditional holiday. Appropriately, happiness radiates from the paperback volume (Clarion Books, $6.95).

Almost hidden amidst the colorful activities is the fact that this doubles as a simple counting lesson. The message is so deftly disguised that children won’t realize they’re being taught; they’ll just learn effortlessly.

Created with vibrant collages, “Chrismas for 10” will attract any child with an eye for smiling faces and a barrage of colors and patterns. To come away from it is to feel that a party was held and a good time had by all.

Dual gift items by Little, Brown and Company will suit any child looking for excitement. “The Cranium Big Book of Outrageous Fun!” ($19.99) features a head-spinning number of books, games and opportunities housed in a heavy-duty fold-up box.

There are mind-challenging books which can be written in and erased over and over. Kids can crack codes, create their dream jobs, become DJs, and have scavenger hunts. There are paints, too, and a fold-out game board. In fact, the package is too much to comprehend in one sitting. Nobody who gets this will ever again exclaim “I’m bored!”

The publisher’s “Make Your Own Calendar 2006” also offers the chance for creative thinking. Young children will love to leaf through the months, read the notations, and create pictures and add stickers throughout. At $8.99, it provides hours of fun for 3-year-olds and up. At the same time, it is an excellent developmental tool.

For stunning illustrations, nothing beats “Winter Lights: A Season in Poems and Quilts” (Greenwillow Books, $16.99). Anna Grossnickle Hines’s verses are fun, but it’s the quilts she designed and made to accompany the poems that dominate the 32 pages.

Her Aurora borealis quilt defies description, as does her moon-lit snow landscape. It’s almost impossible to believe these scenes were sewn, not painted.

Children will glory in the grandeur. Adults will marvel at Hines’ technical and imaginative skills. Given the infinite number of details, viewers could gaze for hours without taking in every minute variation in texture and hue.

An explanation at book’s end adds to, rather than clears up, the mysteries of creation.

From youth to adulthood, readers will want to keep “Winter Lights,” which will perpetually offer them something new to examine.

For seasonal sentiment, “Mortimer’s Christmas Manger” promises to be a perennial. Written by Karma Wilson with illustrations by Jane Chapman, this picture book (Margaret K. McElderry Books, $15.95) combines a modern tale with elements of the Nativity Story.

Mortimer Mouse takes refuge in a household’s miniature tabletop inn, which contains all the familiar characters, including Jesus in his manger.

At first, Mortimer covets the manger for his own bed and throws the Jesus statue out. For good measure, he mumbles, “There’s no room for you here.”

What Mortimer eventually learns about the manger changes his outlook. And once he restores the Jesus statue to it, Mortimer finds a special haven of his own.

Words and pictures bring not only heavenly peace, but earthly peace as well. In the end Mortimer gets a reward in every possible sense.

Kids will eat up this confection, which offers plenty of nourishment as well as a little holiday sweetness.