The Little Owl & The Big Tree: A Christmas Story (Jonah Winter & Jeanette Winter)

Hello friends! Our book today is The Little Owl & The Big Tree: A Christmas Story by Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter, the true tale of a little owl and a big adventure.

Once upon a time, there was a little owl – a northern saw-whet owl, to be exact – living in a small hole near the top of a very tall tree. She didn’t have a name, as wild things rarely do, but she was happy and peaceful in her quiet woodland home. That is, until the day the voices and noises came. Suddenly, the little owl found her tree felled, wrapped up, and driving for many hours on busy highways. Where is she headed? When will she get there? And will she find her way back to the wild?

A complicated story covered with delicate grace. Based on the true-life story of Rockefeller the owl, who was discovered during the preparation of the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in 2020, this sweet story of nature and man colliding takes an interesting direction on its subject. The gentle and easy-to-read text tells the owl’s story with fondness yet pragmatism. Humans are not portrayed as monsters for messing with Rockefeller’s natural habitat, nor as heroes for rehabilitating and releasing her after her ordeal. Rockefeller is never overly personified or anthropomorphized, and the audience is repeatedly reminded that she is a wild creature and is meant to be returned to nature (which she is, though not to her home). It’s an oddly bittersweet tone that actually works perfectly for the story itself, encouraging readers to consider how humans impact the wilderness, for better or worse. The artwork is well done, using color and energy to reflect the owl’s moods rather than facial expressions, keeping with the story’s themes. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ enjoyed the soft illustrations and adorable owl. A complex book, and one definitely worth checking out. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Paperscapes: The Nutcracker (Lauren Holowaty & Margarida Esteves)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Paperscapes: The Nutcracker, retold by Lauren Holowaty and illustrated by Margarida Esteves, an early-reader version of the classic Christmas tale with an interactive spin.

A new retelling of the beloved ballet adaptation, this edition follows the familiar tale of Clara and the Nutcracker, their journey to the Land of Sweets, and their battle against the Mouse King and his army. Part of the Paperscapes series, readers can even make the story come alive with pop-out paper dolls of some of the main characters.

Better in theory than in practice. The adaptation of the story itself isn’t a bad one; Holowaty does a commendable job of condensing the classic ballet down to a five-chapter early-reader book with engaging text. Esteves’s illustrations are colorful and graceful, and fit the tone well. However, what should be the main draw of the book – the pop-out paper dolls – are actually to its detriment. While the book does conveniently provide an envelope on the back cover to store the dolls, removing them from the book still leaves gaping holes in the pages that display the next or previous spread’s text, making rereading confusing for young bookworms. There is also the matter of representation: the majority of the characters present white, with the main exception being the performers of the “festival of dance” – characters in ethnically-inspired ballet outfits. Holowaty and Esteves do their best to handle this part of ballet delicately, but it still has the uncomfortable taste of appropriation. Otherwise, the length is fine for elementary readers, and JJ did enjoy the paper dolls for a bit. This would make a nice activity near Christmas – just don’t expect it to be a repeat tradition. Not our favorite version of this tale, but still worth a look for fans. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved.

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

Robin Robin (Dan Ojari & Mikey Please)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Robin Robin, written by Dan Ojari and Mikey Please, and illustrated by Briony May Smith, an adorable picture book retelling of the new holiday Netflix special of the same name.

When little Robin’s egg is found by a family of mice, they decide to raise the little bird as a part of their family. Robin loves her parents and siblings, and tries everything she can to be an excellent mouse, especially when the family ventures into the “Who-man” house to stealthily search for crumbs. Unfortunately, Robin isn’t particularly skilled at being stealthy, and the family nearly gets caught by a ferocious cat. Feeling out-of-sorts about the incident, Robin tries once more to be a sneaky as a mouse, a choice that will lead her on an adventure of discovery – about “Chrim-Cross” stars, about a clever collector magpie friend, and most importantly, about herself.

A lovely tale of blended family and self-identity. Robin eventually learns how to embrace her strengths as a bird to help her magpie pal and her beloved mouse family achieve their dreams; it’s a satisfying and affirming outcome, and a lovely message for readers who may themselves feel out of place or stuck between two worlds. The text features some fun repetitive lines that make the story entertaining to read aloud, and the rich artwork has a nice blended of traditional and modern storybook aesthetics. The length is fine for a storytime, and JJ really liked this one – so much so that she wanted to watch the special afterward. Overall, a sweet holiday treat that is light on the Christmas but heavy on themes of familial love and self-acceptance, and we loved. Baby Bookworm approved!

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

A Christmas Too Big (Colleen Madden)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Christmas Too Big by Colleen Madden, a heartwarming look at what makes the holidays special.

The day after Thanksgiving, Kerry’s family goes into mega-Christmas-mode. Dad is obsessed with lights, Mom turns into a Christmas-song-jukebox, grandma becomes a cookie-baking tornado, and her little brother hides elves in every corner of the house. The whole neighborhood seems to be overtaken by this oversized, flashing, jingling, headache-inducing version of Christmas… except Mrs. Flores. After assisting her elder neighbor, Kerry is invited in for cocoa and learns about some of Mrs. Flores’s holiday traditions from Mexico The two make crafts, sing songs, and talk of faraway family. As a thank you, Kerry helps Mrs. Flores set up a tablet to video chat with her son’s family in Mexico. While walking home, Kerry decides that it’s fun to explore different kinds of Christmas, and brings home her lessons from Mrs. Flores to share with her own familia.

Wonderful. This sweet holiday story starts with humor and ends with heart, all the while incorporating lovely lessons in kindness, friendship, and cultural appreciation. The story is sure to note that, while Kerry’s family can be overwhelming, there’s nothing wrong with their enthusiasm for Christmas; it only suggests that there are lots of ways to celebrate, and all of them can be special. The Spanish/Spanglish dialogue is another treat, especially for bilingual readers; context clues keep monolingual English speakers from getting lost, and some moments – such as when Mrs. Flores and her son weep tears of joy upon seeing each other over video chat – are universal enough to not need translation. The artwork is perfect, visually reflecting the chaos of the initial scenes, the calm and exuberance of Mrs. Flores’s house, and the festive balance of the two in the final act; details are numerous and often hilarious. Backmatter includes instructions on making the flores de Navidad featured in the story and a very cool visual Spanish vocabulary page. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I loved it. This is a great read to start 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 publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

If Animals Celebrated Christmas (Ann Whitford Paul)

Hello, friends! We’re finishing up our slightly belated Christmas reviews today with the sweet board book version of If Animals Celebrated Christmas, written by Ann Whitford Paul and illustrated by David Walker.

This holiday-themed addition to the author-illustrator pair’s popular series begins with the Koala family, with the youngest of the bunch counting down the days until Christmas comes. More animal families from around the globe are introduced, each with their own special way of celebrating the season: the cranes go caroling, mother hedgehog knits a silly sweater for her little hoglet, the buffalo give nosey kisses under a sprig of mistletoe. The action periodically swings back to the young Koala helping to bake a leafy eucalyptus cake and drape their tree with strands of berries and grapes. At last, everyone is ready for the big night, and the arrival of Santa… Polar Bear Santa that is (naturally)!

Very cute. Each installment of the If Animals series is a sweet treat, and this holiday-centric one is no exception. The cuddly, cartoony animals are lovable, especially decked in winter attire and participating in popular (human) Christmas traditions. The rhyme scheme of the text can be a little unexpected at times, but never so much that it loses the innocent, inoffensive and gentle charm of the tone. JJ enjoyed this one, especially learning a few new or less familiar animal names, such as Oryx or Tortoise (though it’s a bit of a bummer that a fascinating creature like the narwhal was depicted but not named). Overall, this is enjoyable holiday fun, and worth a read. Baby Bookworm approved!

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