Our picks include the Christmas story “Stowaway in a Sleigh,” about a cat that climbs into Santa’s bag and is spirited off to the North Pole.
“Dragons Love Tacos,” by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, $17.99, ages 3-7: I’m not a big fan of book-and-toy sets, but in this case the toy, a soft red dragon carrying a plump taco, is endearing and well-executed, and the price is in line with books that are sold solo. If your kid is a fan — or likely fan — of the zesty best-seller, the toy set is a nice twist.
“The Lego Christmas Ornaments Book,” by Chris McVeigh, $19.95, ages 8 and up: Looking for a holiday activity to share with your Lego-loving (older) kids? Consider this handsome, step-by-step guide to building ingenious ornaments: a hamburger, a wreath, a computer or maybe a wrapped present. Holiday purists can try designs for snowflakes, classic ornaments and poinsettias.
“Leaping Lemmings!” by John Briggs, illustrated by Nicola Slater, $14.95, ages 3 and up: Picture a line of lemmings marching toward the edge of a snowy cliff. “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” asks the second lemming. “NO!” screams a caped lemming named Larry, nearly drowning out a chorus of enthusiastic yeses. A fresh, funny take on nonconformity with retro-hip illustrations that will appeal to troublemakers young and old.
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“Littpe Penguins,” by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Christian Robinson, $17.99, ages 3-7: This charming tale of four penguins heading outside the igloo for a snowy adventure is told with pared-down collage and paint images and simple words that will really speak to preschoolers. The book has plenty to show us about color and counting, but the lessons are embedded in the story with rare skill and style.
“Pax,” by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen, $16.99, ages 10 and up: If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to actually be a wild animal, you have to read this stunning story of a boy and his fox, told, in alternating chapters, from both points of view. Separated on the eve of a cruel war, the two friends fight to be reunited. In the process, the fox discovers his wild nature and the boy discovers how far he will go to do what’s right.
“Stowaway in a Sleigh,” by G. Roger Mader, $17.99, ages 4-7: Our feline heroine, Slipper, is a green-eyed, white-bellied tabby, rendered with marvelous feeling and pinpoint accuracy by the author/illustrator. Slipper’s journey to the North Pole is full of small wonders and honest surprises and the ending is just plain perfect. A Christmas classic in the making.
“The Christmas Boot,” by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Jerry Pickney, $17.99, ages 4-8: A glowing palace rising suddenly from the snow. A white hare so alive he seems to bounce off the page. The wonders that Caldecott-winning illustrator Pinkney works with pencil and watercolor are the perfect companion to a stunningly simple — and strikingly original — fable of wishes granted and withheld.
“The Great Spruce,” by John Duvall, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, $17.99, ages 4-8: Alec loves the great spruce his grandfather planted and so do the nice men who come looking for a giant Christmas tree for the big city. Alec’s creative solution to the problem — and the beautiful pencil-and-ink drawings of the great tree’s epic journey — will please young environmentalists and art lovers alike.
“Before Morning,” by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes, $17.99, ages 4-7: The striking scratchboard illustrations draw us into a darkening world more solid than our own. Inside a city apartment full of coats, mugs and cozy nooks, a little girl dreams of the first snow of the season, a snow that silently settles over the landscape and — like all good snows — changes absolutely everything.
“Radiant Child,” by Javaka Steptoe, $17.99, ages 6-9: The big, operatic story of budding artist Jean-Michel Basquiat coming from a troubled family is told with grace and panache by an inspired illustrator who also proves to be a deft storyteller. Steptoe tells a complex story in simple, child-appropriate language and illustrates it with paintings brimming with joy, sorrow and outsized inspiration.