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Originally published December 8, 2009 at 5:30 AM | Page modified December 8, 2009 at 2:59 PM

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Explore the winter holidays and the science of snow with new kids' books

A list of children's books for Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

The Associated Press

Hyper young Santa waiters, spinning dreidels and the special sounds of Kwanzaa await parents looking to freshen the holidays with new books for their kids this year.

Among them are noteworthy takes on classic scrooges, prancing reindeer and magical nutcrackers. There's also straight-up accounts of the birth of Jesus and the magnified science of snow.

Consider these:

"Christmas with Rita and Whatsit" (Chronicle Books, $14.99, ages 4-8) by Jean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod and illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

Whatsit, a little dog with a big personality, is getting ready for Santa. So is his feisty little girl, Rita. Dog has a tree adorned with sausage, salami and bologna. Girl goes beyond the traditional Christmas stocking and hauls all her footwear out for treats. Pencil drawings on white with just a splash of holiday red.

"A Season of Gifts" (Penguin, $16.99, ages 9-12) by Richard Peck.

Eccentric Mrs. Dowdel is back in a companion to "A Year Down Under" and "A Long Way from Chicago." In small-town, 1958 Illinois, a preacher and his family move in next door. "She was no church woman, and she didn't neighbor, and Christmas was just another day to her." But the Barnharts reap priceless gifts from the old lady who swats the Fuller Brush man off her sagging porch with a broom.

"The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder" (Chronicle Books, $16.99, ages 4-8) by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson.

A nature photographer (Cassino) and a snow scientist (Nelson) team up to satisfy any young science geek's curiosity about ice crystals. The two begin at the beginning, explaining in text accompanied by fascinating magnified photography exactly how tiny particles of dirt, ash or salt form a speck that starts a snow crystal growing.

"I Love Christmas" (Simon & Schuster, $9.99, ages 2-6) written and illustrated by Anna Walker.

Zebra child Ollie (think stuffed animal come alive) and his dog Fred trim the tree and play Santa and reindeer in the bathtub. Among the things Ollie loves most about Christmas: making glitter stars and doing the dance of a joyful angel. A wonderful low-stress Christmas Eve. One in a series of simple "I Love" books from Walker.

"The Secret of Santa's Island" (Penguin, $16.99, ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Steve Breen.


Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the syndicated comic strip "Grand Avenue" shows Santa kicking back in straw hat and flower shirt on his top-secret vacation island. Little boy Sam stows away to see it for himself. Santa hangs 10 and the reindeer take oceanside spa treatments.

"A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas" (Chronicle Books, $18.99, ages 4-8) by Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills, illustrated by Wilson Swain.

Based on the musical by Mills and Covert of Ralph's World fame. Fritz loses video-game privileges for breaking his sister's nutcracker, then defies parental punishment and unlocks a magical world where a stinky cheese-spraying Mouse King is put in his place in a showdown over Toy Town.

"Happy Hanukkah, Corduroy" (Penguin, $5.99, 0-3) boardbook based on a character created by Don Freeman and illustrated by Lisa McCue.

The beloved little bear Corduroy hosts a Hanukkah party for his friends. He lights the candles and serves latkes in a dreidel-pattern apron and yarmulke. .

"A Chanukah Present for: ME!" (Scholastic, $6.99, ages 0-3) boardbook by Lily Karr and illustrated by Jill McDonald.

Packaged in its own attached gift box for added fun and portability. Chanukah from applesauce and latkes to glowing menorahs and presents represented in simple question text. Christmas version also available.

"The Sound of Kwanzaa" (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 4-8) by Dimitrea Tokunbo and illustrated by Lisa Cohen.

"Come close, gather 'round. Listen to the sound of Kwanzaa," accompanies the turn of every page as the seven guiding principles of the seven-day celebration are explained. The colors of the candles lit each night and Swahili terminology included, along with Tokunbo's favorite karamu (feast) recipe for brownies to give away with a surprise for each recipient.

"The Christmas Magic" (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 4-8) by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by Jon J Muth.

Deep in the snowy woods, in a cabin with a bright red door, lives Santa and his reindeer. He's not the usual roly-poly Santa in red suit. He has serious eyes but wears bunny slippers as he prepares toys and polishes his sleigh for the magic of a holiday that sets his white whiskers tingling. Dreamy illustrations from Muth.

"Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star" (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Petr Horacek.

The determined but not so bright Suzy sets out to capture a bright star in the sky for the top of the barnyard Christmas tree. Flying for it lands her splash in water and jumping from a log pile to grab it doesn't work, either. But nature takes over to great honks, hee-haws, moos and oinks of glee.

"The Christmas Baby" (Simon & Schuster, $15.99, ages 2-5) by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey.

Traditionally told Christmas complete with God and mean innkeepers who have no room for the pregnant, donkey-riding Mary. There are shepherds and kings and singing, haloed angels — and a huge party in the stable with talking animals to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and babies everywhere.

More retellings of Christmas classics:

"The Night Before Christmas" (Penguin, $16.99, ages 4-8) retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora. Santa's got brown skin and snow white dreadlocks in this Africa-set version of the classic Clement C. Moore poem. Cut-paper work that pops.

"The Nutcracker" (Sterling, $17.95, ages 5-12) retold by John Cech and illustrated by Eric Puybaret. Lovely, sophisticated story and pictures with text true to E.T.A. Hoffmann's original. Toddler warning: The mice are very realistic looking.

"Disney's A Christmas Carol: The Movie Storybook" (Disney Book Group, $8.99, ages 10-up) adapted by T.T. Sutherland. Not for the faint of heart adaptation of the new Robert Zemeckis movie.

"A Christmas Carol" (HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 5-up) illustrated by Brett Helquist. Gorgeous illustrations with lots of big, smiling faces among the snarling pre-reborn Scrooge and his visiting ghosts.

"The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" (Scholastic, $18.99, ages 4-8) illustrated by Gail de Marcken. Richly detailed art that includes two golden dolphins pulling Marie and the Nutcracker to the city of Sweetmeatburgh.

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