In Elissa Brent Weissman’s joyful holiday book, “Hanukkah in Reverse,” two cousins — one in New York, the other in New Zealand — argue over which of their families celebrates the best Hanukkah. For Noah, who lives in the Northern Hemisphere, it is obvious and right that the festival of lights takes place during winter; to Nora, it is just as obvious and appropriate that Hanukkah takes place during the summer, as it does in the southern hemisphere. For each of the eight days of Hanukkah, we see the children find eight things to argue about; every evening we also see what they have in common. For example, on the third day, Noah might have pastrami on rye and Nora might have frozen hokeypokey in a cone, but “they both ate potato latkes, hot and crispy and golden.” Omer Hoffmann’s exuberant, cartoon-like drawings make it clear to readers ages 3 to 8 that rivalry is just plain fun; there’s no doubt that the cousins love each other (and by the end of the book we see how true that is). Although they are “on opposite sides of the same little world,” on the last night of Hanukkah, for them, everything seems “right side up.”
A good collection of children’s Christmas books should contain at least one illustrated version of Clement C. Moore’s 1822 poem “The Night Before Christmas.” All sorts of talented artists have tried their hand at this beloved chestnut – Arthur Rackham, Tasha Tudor, Tibor Gergely, Jan Brett – and now Ella Beech takes her turn with “The Night Before Christmas” (Folio Society, 42 pages, 60 $. In this elegant boxed edition (the box has glow-in-the-dark decorations), Moore’s verses are unchanged and begin, as always: “It was Christmas Eve, / when the whole house…” Most illustrators play up the comfort of the story, with children all snuggled up in bed dreaming of jelly beans and the like, but the friendly lines and marzipan colors of Mrs. Beech’s naive illustrations take comfort to a new level. Young readers will wish they could physically climb into the images to walk on the soft, colorful carpets of the sleeping family and to explore the stockings that St. Nicholas leaves tantalizingly stuffed upon his departure. A pictorial subplot involving the dog and cat of the family adds new narrative interest to this interpretation of a very old story. .
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