Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein

Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein
“All she wants for Hanukkah is…Christmas,” reads the tagline on the cover of Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein. It seems that Rachel loves all the colorful decorations — she’s seen looking fondly back at them as her mother drags her by the hand. And of course, everyone on her block celebrates Christmas — except Rachel’s family. So one night Rachel writes a secret letter to Santa, promising cookies if he comes down her chimney (and pointing out she’s been good all year).

It’s a playful way to address a very real dilemma that Jewish parents with young children have to face every December, according to the book’s co-author, Amanda Peet. “A lot of Jewish parents seem very relieved and excited,” she told The Jewish Standard, “and then I think that a lot of people from our parents’ generation are also kind of tickled by it, because they remember feeling that way on their blocks growing up… I know my mother-in-law felt really touched by it, because that’s how she felt in her town where she grew up.”

I especially liked the colors in the book — lots of bright pastels, often emphasized by white backgrounds which can suggest a snowy street. (Illustrator Christine Davenier worked with Julie Andrews on her “Very Fairy Princess” series.) And it’s inspiring that despite its lighthearted story, some of book’s profits are being donated to a very serious non-profit, “Seeds of Peace” (founded in 1993 as a peace-building program for teenagers in Palestine, Israel, and Egypt, and other areas of conflict around the world). But best of all, like any good children’s picture book “Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein” has a thoughtful message that’s honoring a child’s feelings, and making sure they know that they’re not alone

The book includes a sincere description of celebrating Shabbat, and acknowledges that “Being Jewish was fun most of the time. It meant you got to hunt for the afikomen on Passover, blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and get a present a day for all eight days of Hanukkah — not to mention as many latkes as you could eat.” The book’s dramatic climax comes, of course, on December 24th. Rachel has created Christmas stockings for her family’s fireplace, strings of popcorn, and a big sign that says “I love you, Santa!” (And she even presses chocolate chips into latkes, then leaves them out with a glass of milk…)

“The Rosensteins were ready for Christmas,” the narrator writes, and Rachel anxiously stays up late, “listening for the clip-clop of Santa’s reindeer on the roof.” But will Santa make an appearance? I hope this isn’t a spoiler, but the answer is…. no. The next morning her father takes Rachel, who’s very disappointed, to an empty park drawn with bare, twiggy trees and covered with snow.

But then the family eats at a Chinese restaurant, and it’s there that Rachel sees some friends from her class at school. There’s an Indian girl and a Chinese boy — who celebrate Diwali and Chinese New Year, respectively. (And who also don’t celebrate Christmas.) Here’s where the book delivers its message of reassurance. “Rachel realized: when there were so many great holidays in the world, why feel so bad about one little old day like Christmas?”

Although as a final joke, the narrator concedes Rachel might feel “a tiny bit bad” — as she sees four Christian kids walking down the street with enormous presents wrapped with red bows…

The Turkey Mystery Rhyme by Moe Zilla

A funny turkey ebook

Yes, it’s that once-a-year tradition, sharing this funny free ebook about turkeys — mine! It’s a fun short mystery that’s written entirely in rhyme, with 12 cartoon-y illustrations that tell the story of four turkeys on Thanksgiving Day waiting for the farmer’s axe. (“But one of the turkeys has a plan to escape!” read’s the book’s description at Amazon. “Can the farmer figure out which one? And can you?”)

For a shortcut to this free Thanksgiving ebook, just point your browser to

It’s called “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme,” and it was a real labor of love. (For five days every November, I make it available for free in Amazon’s Kindle Store.) Over the years the ebook has even had some strange adventures of its own. The day after I published it, I’d discovered that my turkeys had snuck onto Amazon’s list of the best-selling children’s ebooks about animals – and stolen the #73 spot from a book about Curious George!

And my friends surprised me one year by insisting that we all read the whole ebook out loud on Thanksgiving Day. They’d connected their widescreen TV to their computer, so it was mirroring whatever appeared on its desktop, and then they’d pulled up Amazon’s Kindle app on that computer, and led it to The Turkey Mystery Rhyme. It was a great way to get some real reactions to the story, especially since most authors never get to actually be in the room while their ebook is being read! And then we all took turns reading the rhyming story out loud.

“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name…”

I remember we had a teenager in the room, and his mother asked if he knew which turkey had launched the daring plan for escape. But that mother was a sharp cookie, and she challenged one of the book’s important fictional premises.

Fearing folks on every street
hungering for turkey meat,
In the farmer’s yard’s a spread
where Thanksgiving turkeys bred.

When the daylight brightly broke
all the farmer’s birds awoke.
And, since it’s a holiday,
all turkeys can talk today…

“What?!!” she said, to laughter from the room. “Since when can turkeys talk on Thanksgiving Day?”

Everyone knows that,” I joked. “You’ve just never been on a farm…” And then we laughed some more, and continued reading…

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Read the free rhyming Thanksgiving turkey mystery at

Go to Sleep, Groundhog, by Judy Cox

Go to Sleep, Groundhog by Judy Cox

“Groundhog went to bed on Columbus Day, just like he always did…”

Unfortunately, he’s not headed for a good night’s sleep. In Go to Sleep, Groundhog, the pointy-nosed groundhog puts on his jammies and sets his alarm clock, but after curling into his cozy bed, he just tosses and turns all night. He checks his clock – which says “half-past October” –  then goes for a stroll under the full moon outside his burrow. And to his surprise, all the houses are decorated with pumpkins!

“He saw things he’d never seen before! Raggedy scarecrows and grinning jack-o’-lanterns. Children dressed up like pirates, cowboys, and princesses…”

It’s a funny story that lets children enjoy a new perspective on other holidays throughout the year. Eventually the groundhog returns to bed, but he tries another stroll at half-past November, and discovers – again – “things he’d never seen before!  Tall yellow corn shocks and round orange pumpkins. Turkeys gobbling in the barnyard…” He returns to bed to try to sleeping again, but just ends up seeing even stranger sights in December.

Author Judy Cox adds an especially warm touch to the story, since the wayward groundhog is always coaxed back to his bed by someone appropriate for the holiday. In October, it’s a smiling Halloween Witch, who flies him home on her broomstick, gives him a glass of cider, tucks him in and even reads him a story. For Thanksgiving it’s a grand flying turkey, who also tucks in the groundhog, reads him a story (about pilgrims), and gives him a slice of pumpkin pie. And you’ll never guess who his escort is at Christmas time. It’s Santa Claus himself, who flies down in his sleigh, and asks – like everybody else – “What are YOU doing up?”

Paul Meisel really seemed to enjoy illustrating this book, filling the pages with simple colorful acrylic pictures for each of the festive holidays. And there’s a secret second story lurking this book’s illustrations, since the groundhog’s tree burrow is shared by a friendly mouse! He watches silently each time the groundhog wakes up early, and curls up next to him on the pillow when the groundhog returns to bed. When it’s finally February 2nd – Groundhog Day – the little mouse follows him up the burrow’s sunny stairs, where he shares in the book’s funniest moment. “What am I doing up?” the groundhog asks. “There are six more weeks of winter coming!

“I should be in bed!”

The Cave of Santa Clops by Gig Wailgum

The Cave of Santa Clops

“The Cave of Santa Clops” arrives with a shiny cover with a rich, dark red background and pastel green letters. Its title looks almost like a poster from a 1950s horror movie — or maybe a parody of one from Mad magazine. It all helps to set a playful tone for Gig Wailgum’s newest send-up of Santa Claus. And it turns out there’s many more surprises inside…

I like how the book’s text mimicked the familiar rhythms of the Clement C. Moore poem — but always with a twist.

The stockings were hung. The trees were cloaked.
The gifts were wrapped, and the kids were stoked!

The author dedicates his book to Clement C. Moore (and to Dr. Seuss, and to South Pole explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton, as well as his own children and parents…) And it turns out that much of the book’s action does take place near the South Pole, as an explorer named Mr. Bones reminisces about his encounter with the one-eyed Santa creature.

As a young boy, during a South Pole expedition, Odysseus Bones had wandered away from his parents’ exploration party. There’s a lot of dialogue setting up the premise, which ends up with Odysseus trapped in a creepy cave. There’s some giant talking penguins, and bats shaped like holly leaves. It’s meant to be a little creepy, like the “scary Christmas” surprises in the author’s first book, “A Vist from Santa Clops.”

But that book was set at the cozy home of the narrator, whereas this one leads us to Santa Clops in his very own lair! It turns out that Santa Clops flies in a sleigh pulled by penguins — who can fly because Santa (Clops) feeds them each a magical fish. Odysseus Bones stows away on the sleigh, but soon he’s tumbling through the sky in a shower of coal dust. Santa (Clops) wheels his sleigh in (for an attack?) But in the end, he just wishes his pesky stowaway…a scary Christmas!

My friend Elliott — an H.P. Lovecraft fan — says the book was fantastic! And it’s always nice when a book’s author is also its illustrator. There’s some special care in the layout, with multiple drawings often inset inside of a single page. And even when the children ask questions, the text is drawn inside dialogue balloons over their head.

It may not be the perfect book for every single child — but there’s definitely some naughty little boys and girls who will think this book is terrific!

Not Until Christmas, Walter by Eileen Christelow

Not Until Christmas, Walter by Eileen Christelow

Eileen Christelow created the popular “Five Little Monkeys” series of books. But at a Christmas party in 1997, she got an idea for a new story called Not Until Christmas, Walter!. “Someone told me how her eight-year-old daughter wrapped presents for all the family, including the dog, and put them under the tree,” Christelow remembers on the book’s jacket. “The next morning, they found chewed wrapping paper and dog biscuit crumbs. Their dog couldn’t wait for Christmas!”

“And I couldn’t wait to get home to see if I could turn her story into a picture book…”

The author used her own dog Ophielia as a model, and dedicated the book to the dog “with fond memories of walks through the woods.” And she uses bright watercolors with lots of white space to capture the festive snow-covered buildings around the city at Christmas time, filling in simple pen and ink sketches of a little girl and her family. Walter the dog wags his tail while he watches Louise making a painting for her father using yellow glitter stars. “Don’t worry, Walter,” the little girl tells her dog. “I’m going to give you a present too!”

All of Chistelow’s illustrations give the dog a real personality. As the girl shops for an extra-large dog biscuit, Walter presses himself hopefully against the glass door. As she lays the presents out on the family’s coffee table, the dog lowers his nose to sniff them all, and wags his tail enthusiastically. He’s still wagging his tail when the girl goes to sleep on December 23rd. And he’s still wagging his tail the next morning – when the girl discovers all of the wrapping paper has been mysteriously torn to shreds.

And her dog’s nose is gleaming with lots of yellow glitter…

At 40 pages, it’s a little bit longer than the typical children’s story, but the story keeps its happy energy going. The dog ends up in the doghouse, but then the little girl gets lost while looking for a Christmas tree, and it’s ultimately the family’s dog that tracks her down. And I thought Christelow came up with a surprising and funny twist for the ending of the story. The dog is about to steal the new dog biscuit that Louise has wrapped up for him. But just then, Santa Claus comes down the chimney, and startles the snarling dog. Santa also gives Walter a dog biscuit, which makes him look guilty when the little girl discovers him.

Then she realizes that her present is still wrapped, and she has to wonder if there really is a Santa Claus after all…

The Great PJ Elf Chase by Karen LoBello and Judy Voigt

The Great PJ Elf Chase

“There’s a Christmas Eve tradition in the Taylor household. While the boys take baths, Santa’s elves drop new pajamas outside their bathroom door!” That explains the book’s title — The Great PJ Elf Chase. And once you catch on to the premise, it’s suddenly a lot more intriguing.

There’s something fun about a children’s picture book that rhymes, and the book’s cover fills in the backstory. “The PJ elves are sly and quick, but this year they’re in for a surprise — Ben and Jack are on a mission to catch one of them! ” Away we go — the book starts with the two brothers making plans on the morning of December 24th — and their conversation is written entirely in rhyme.

“Wake up, Jack.
Tonight’s Christmas Eve!
I wonder which PJs
the elves will leave?”

The crisp rhythm keeps things interesting — and the book instantly delivers more intrigue by switching from the two mischievous brothers to the elves who are watching them! With a crystal ball they track which kids have finished their baths, then when the delivery’s a go, send a specific team of elves to the children’s address at the appropriate time. I like how the book shows both sides of the story — and at one point, you even see the elves snickering under the boys’ bed!

Will the little boys outsmart the elves? They’ve hidden cheese in a box labeled “Trap #1”, and enlisted their dog McGee to keep watch over their door. But there’s a rambunctious energy on both sides, since these elves also like to mess up each family’s house. It was a family tradition for the book’s authors, two sisters who remember that growing up they always had a lot of fun each Christmas — regardless of how many presents were under their tree. And they’ve worked their memories into a story that’s surprisingly exciting — with a funny twist at the end.

Young Ben won’t give up, and he hunts after those elves — running outside in his towel! It’s a snowy day, but soon Ben discovers that he’s got an even bigger problem. ” ‘Oh my gosh! This can’t be!’ Ben must hide near a tree. His bath towel is gone — did the neighbor girls see?” Children will probably enjoy laughing at the end of this book — and the little boy who was just a little too anxious to catch the PJ Elves.

I like how this book also includes a game, challenging readers to count how many elves are hidden throughout the book’s illustrations. (“Be careful — elves like to hide!”) The illustrations by Lorena Soriano are all appropriately colorful, with magical golds and greens for the elves, and nice pastel blue backgrounds sporting lots of Christmas decorations. And it’s also nice that Ben’s younger brother ran after him with a towel, saying playfully that “You ALMOST caught them.”

And then the boys begin planning together how they’ll catch those elves next year…

Fat Santa by Margery Cuyler

Fat Santa book cover

“More than anything in the world, Molly wanted to meet Santa Claus.”

This children’s picture book offers a funny twist on the cliched Christmas story about a little girl who stays up to see Santa arrive. Unfortunately, this year Santa ate two much plum pudding, and gets his fat stomach stuck in the chimney. So when the little girl wakes up, she finds Santa growling with exasperation from insider her chimney. “Santa? Is that really you?” the girl asks sweetly.

“Of course it’s me!” Santa growls back. “Who else would be stuck in a chimney on Christmas Eve?”

She ties a rope around Santa’s ankles, but she just ends up yanking his boots off, along with his socks. (Santa’s bare feet dangle from the chimney, as he yells that “My toes are cold! And I’m still stuck.”) The little girl’s next idea is a little sadistic – tickling Santa’s toes – but her next idea finally dislodges the overweight man with the beard. She throws pepper into the fireplace, and it makes Santa sneeze.

The illustrations by Marsha Winborn really give this book a Christmas-y feel — even if it is called Fat Santa. The little girl wears red-and-white pajamas, and her house is filled with festive symbols of the seasons. There’s a decorated tree, and a long green wreath along the staircase where she watches for Santa. And of course there’s stockings on the chimney – plus the jingly bells on Santa’s black boots.

This book was written in 1987, and it’s fun to watch for clues about how Christmas has changed. Molly waits for Santa while plugging in her earphones and listening to Christmas carols – on her tape deck. But the story might be even more timely today, with our concerns about childhood obesity. When Santa falls out of the chimney, Molly even gasps because he’s “round as a snowball” – and from the illustration, he looks enormous!

In fact, Santa’s afraid to climb up the chimney again, even though he’s got one more house to visit that night. He shanghais Molly into making the run for him, and dresses her up in his red coat and hat. “I know you can do it…! Get your boots on…! Scoot…!” I feel bad for the little girl, because it all happens “Before Molly could make up her mind…” It almost felt a little codependent, with Molly enabling Santa’s addiction to overeating. And I worried for a second we were teaching children to laugh at people who are overweight.

But maybe we’re just teaching them to laugh at grown-ups, which is good every once in a while. And the little girl does get to enjoy riding in Santa’s sleigh, which is obviously a lot of fun!

Georgie’s Halloween by Robert Bright

The cover of the children's picture book Georgie's Halloween

It was 1958, and President Eisenhower was presiding over the post-war boom. And illustrator Robert Bright decided to write a gentle children’s book about a charming little ghost named Georgie. Bright had already written stories where George meets a magician and some attic-pilfering robbers. But eventually, he’d end up writing a book about Georgie’s Halloween.

It’s a fun book for Halloween, because Bright uses two colors – orange and black – for each of his illustrations. The first picture shows seven children dressed in costumes – there’s a witch, a pirate, and a clown. A dark black patch signals night behind them, making the costumes seem even more cheerful. And the book opens with a warm moment of appreciation. “Wherever there are children there is Halloween, with pumpkins and funny faces, with tricks and with treats.”

First Bright recaps the basics of his character. (Georgie lives in the attic of Mr. and Mrs. Whitaker, and he’s friends with Herman the cat and an owl named Miss Oliver.) Georgie was shy and stayed hidden – like a ghost should – which gives the story a kind of hushed magic. And of course when Halloween comes around, he doesn’t have to wear a costume, since “he was so especially perfect for Halloween just as he was.”

His mouse friends in the attic urge him to enter the yearly costume contest – though that doesn’t seem proper to Georgie. Even his owl friend, and Herman the cat, urge him to enter, and there’s a smiling moon, and a grinning pumpkin in his window. But instead, Georgie spies on the town’s party on the green, peeking out from behind a tall tree. Yet in each illustration he creeps closer to the costumed parade…

Bright really outdoes himself with this book’s illustrations. The moonlit house and the nighttime party scene both lend themselves to exciting effects with light and shadows. The white spaces seems to be the gleam of moonlight, and the dark lines turn into stark shadowy highlights. And in a two-page drawing, the light spaces are complemented by the orange of the children’s costumes.

Georgie hides behind a corn stalk, but the cat and the owl urge him on. And when he finally arrives, the children shout “It’s Georgie! It’s GEORGIE!” The happy ghost runs home to tell his mouse friends about his triumph. When he gets home, the mice will present him with their own award for best costume of all.

“And all the way he could still hear the children cheering.”