The Nutcracker (E. T. A. Hoffmann)

Hello friends, and merry Christmas Eve! We picked a classic tale for our review today: The Nutcracker, from the story by E. T. A. Hoffmann and illustrated by Don Daily.

This condensed version of the classic fairy tale opens on Christmas Eve, where Marie and her brother Fritz peek through a keyhole to watch the adults decorate for a grand party. As the children are welcomed in to share dancing and sweets with the adults, Marie takes interest in the present her beloved Godfather Drosselmeyer has sent: a handsomely-crafted nutcracker. Testing out the toy’s abilities, Fritz cracks nut after nut, until an especially tough one breaks the nutcracker’s jaw. Marie tenderly cares for her broken toy, even sneaking out of her bed to check on him in the middle of the night. But what she will find in the otherworldly hours of Christmas Eve is that magic is afoot, and there is far more to her little nutcracker than meets the eye…

Cute, but… This abbreviated version of Hoffmann’s classic story cuts out a fair bit – the battles with the mouse king, the exposition of the nutcracker mythos, and the troubling “child bride” ending, most notably – giving a shorted version that follows Marie through the party and her visit to the fairy world. In many ways this works, giving kids a fun fairy tale without the more adult themes, and Daily’s classic illustrations, as lovely and detailed as ever, fit the tone perfectly. However, this version chooses to portray Marie’s adventure as only a dream and without the fairytale ending, completely removing the fantasy aspects of the tale. It’s a disappointing choice, and one that robs the fable of its magic. This choice might have been more understandable if the book was geared toward very young bookworms (which the board book binding would suggest), but this is at odds with the lengthy, verbose text and the intricate and more mature illustrations (JJ, for instance, lost interest with the visuals fairly quickly, and the story soon after). This is a nice version to look at, but it’s hard to ignore that that are more complete and/or better-balanced ones out there, and those are the ones we would recommend.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Santa’s Story (Will Hillenbrand)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Santa’s Story by Will Hillenbrand, a delightful Christmas tale.

It’s the most important night of the year, and Santa is ready for his big flight… but his reindeer are nowhere to be found! Turns out, they’re all off doing their own thing: Dasher’s running a race with some rabbit pals, Dancer’s practicing his jig, Prancer’s prancing with excitement, and so on. Wanting to get on the road (sky?), Santa tries various methods of calling the reindeer together, but to no avail. Then he realizes the one thing he forgot! A special Christmas Eve tradition to get everyone in the holiday spirit…

Absolutely adorable. From the introduction of all eight reindeer (sorry, Rudolph fans, but he’s absent this time around) using clever plays on their names to the charming resolution, this is a sweet Christmas tale that feels fresh enough to be new, yet is timeless and entertaining enough to come back to each year. The art is a real treat, giving Santa, the reindeer, and all their North-Pole animal pals a friendly and cheerful look, offset nicely by a backdrop of soothing, twilight snowy forests and hills. The length is perfect for a bedtime story, and JJ really liked it. A warm and cozy tale of Christmas traditions to kick off the holiday season, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

The Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Night Before Christmas, written by Clement C. Moore and illustrated by Lindsay Dale-Scott!

A festive board book brings the classic holiday story to life, with a few surprises along the way. You know how it goes: “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…”. A trimmed and decorated home, little ones fast asleep and dreaming of treats, even the mice tucked in and silent for the night. It’s Dad who wakes up at the sound of jingling bells and prancing hooves, and happens upon Santa as the jolly old elf goes about his work.

Practically everyone of a certain age who celebrates Christmas has heard Clement’s classic rhyme; the abridged version used here is a perfect length for the youngest of bookworms, including the most recognizable phrases and themes. Dale-Scott’s illustrations are bright, gentle, and colorful; crisp lines around familiar holiday shapes and characters are eye-catching but not overstimulating. The main draw of this version is the integrated lights on the last page, which use a switch-operated battery pack to toggle five twinkling stars in the sky. It’s cute but, to be honest, slightly underwhelming – I flicked the switch beforehand as instructed, expecting a light show and receiving five yellow LEDs that flickered occasionally at the end. Still, it would certainly make for a cozy Christmas Eve read together, and the LEDs and battery pack are secure enough that the book can be safely explored by toddlers and up throughout the year. Overall, a fun holiday treat, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Bear Stays Up For Christmas (Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman)

Hello, friends! Well, it’s the penultimate book in the holiday countdown, and we’ve picked a great one for Christmas Eve: Bear Stays Up For Christmas, written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. This sweet story follows Wilson and Chapman’s popular Bear and his friends as they prepare for Christmas Day.

Bear’s friends have made decision: this year, they are going to wake their friend Bear from hibernation so that he can enjoy the Christmas holiday with them. And while it’s tough to wake a hibernating bear (and even tougher to keep him awake!), the friends are insitent – Christmas is a time to be together, and they don’t want for Bear to be left out. As the day goes by, the friends prepare for Christmas in all the usual ways: getting and decorating a tree, making yummy goodies, singing carols. As the day wanes, the friends all begin to stretch and yawn themselves – they’re so sleepy from all their work! One by one, they nod off until… only Bear is left awake. Grinning, Bear is delighted – now he can work on presents for all his friends, and perhaps have a very special visitor…

I have yet to read one of the Bear books that isn’t an absolute delight, and this one keeps the tradition alive. Sweet, kind, whimsical and wondrous, Bear and his friends are as cheerful and dedicated as always, and their adventures here are a festive treat that explores the Christmas theme of togetherness and friendship. Chapman’s illustrations are wonderful, using lifelike critter models and imbuing them with loads of personality and movement. The length is perfect, and JJ and I always love reading about Bear and company together. A wonderful Christmas story for a beloved cast of characters, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story (Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin)

Hello, friends! Our holiday countdown week continues with The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story by Kallie George and Stephanie Graegin, a wonderfully cute tale of selfless kindness.

It’s Christmas Eve, and four friends – Deer, Rabbit, Bird, and Squirrel – have gathered on Merry Woods Hill to watch Santa fly overhead. As they see the jolly figure fly by in his sleigh, they watch as a gust of wind knocks loose one of his presents and sends it to the Earth. When Santa does not come back for it, the friends decide to investigate (with the exception of Squirrel, who is adamantly opposed to getting involved in any way). The friends locate the gift and find that it is for the new baby at the nearby farm, her very first gift for her very first Christmas. The friends (even the reluctant Squirrel) decide to deliver the present themselves – it’s what Santa would want! But the terrain is snowy, and the farm is a long walk away. Can the friends make the delivery in time for Christmas?

This is pure, sugary Christmas sweetness and I adored it. The animals’ selfless kindness and generosity (which is repaid by a grateful Santa), the adorable interactions between the guileless friends, the sense of hope and goodwill the story produces by its end – this is a perfect story to put little readers in the mood for Christmas. The illustrations are darling, the woodland pals in their winter scarves enormously endearing in every scene. The length is fine, and JJ loved it as well. This would make a great gift and/or a fabulous Christmas Eve read, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!