Asleep in the Stable
by Will Hillenbrand
Holiday House, 2004, $16.95

This charming classic opens with a stable full of sleeping animals. The only ones awake are Baby Owl and his mama. "WHOOOO … is that baby sleeping in the nest below?" asks the curious little bird. The playful back-and-forth between mama and baby brings out the Christmas story in a manner especially suited to very young children. The soft-toned mixed-media illustrations reinforce the tale's gentle, spiritual message of love, and text and art together introduce the "star so bright," the Nativity's donkey, sheep and cow, and the swaddled Holy Child and his tired, earthly parents.

ages 3 - 8

Hanukkah Bear
by Eric Kimmel
illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Holiday House, 2013, $16.95

A hungry bear and an elderly lady named Bubba Brayna celebrate Hanukkah together in this funny tale of mistaken identity by storyteller extraordinaire Eric Kimmel. Bubba neither sees nor hears very well, and she takes the bear at her door for the rabbi. The two light the menorah, spin the dreidel and share "a platter piled high with steaming potato latkes." Bubba then wipes the creature's furry "beard" and sends him home with a new scarf. Only when the entire village visits to wish her a Happy Hanukkah does Bubba Brayna realize, with the help of the children, the true nature of her hirsute guest. Children will get a kick out of Mike Wohnoutka's expressive cartoon art, especially his rendering of the grateful bear bestowing a lick-kiss on Bubba's beaming face.

Tallulah's Nutcracker
by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Clarion, 2013, $16.99

Young ballet lovers will do a grand jete of excitement upon seeing the title character's sparkly costume on the cover. The story inside is no less delightful, with Tallulah chosen to play one of the mice in a production of "The Nutcracker." She works hard and becomes supremely self-confident, but her pride takes a tumble when she falls during the first show. The dance master comforts her by saying, "In ballet, embarrassing things happen all the time, but a REAL dancer keeps right on dancing. And that's just what you did." Tallulah emerges from the humbling experience happy to be not a star but a "real dancer." Illustrator Alexandra Boiger's depiction of a diverse cast of dancers lends a fresh, contemporary look to Marilyn Singer's popular ballet series.

Big Snow
by Jonathan Bean
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013, $16.99

With his green scarf and red sled, David is ready for snow-but the weather is not cooperating! Mom solicits his help in making cookies and changing the sheets, but the "flour, white and fine" and the "new sheets, white and cool," make him "think of snow," and out he goes again to check for the first flakes. This is a lovely book for Kwanzaa and Christmas, since David's desire to help his family exemplifies Kwanzaa's first principle of umoja (unity), even as his chores and decorated tree highlight the coming of Christmas. David's impatience and excitement will resonate with any kid who yearns for a BIG snow. In several double-page spreads, author/illustrator Jonathan Bean shows the transformation of David's neighborhood from the moment of the initial lazy flakes to the swirling blizzard.

Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift
by Dara Goldman
Sleeping Bear Press, 2013, $15.99

This sweet Christmas/Hanukkah story re-imagines O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" with two bears instead of a human couple. In a nameless American city, Boris, a Russian emigre, plays the piano at the restaurant beside Stella's Italian bakery. She loves his music, he loves her cakes, and they both love their time together. With the holidays fast approaching, they each want to give the other the perfect gift. Stella sells her potted pine tree, presented to her as a seedling by her father in Italy, and buys Boris a beautiful dreidel. Boris, in turn, sells his collection of dreidels in order to purchase a "dazzling glass star" for the top of Stella's tree. At gift-giving time, the two friends are amazed at the generosity of the other. Boris immediately starts another dreidel collection and Stella decides to grow a new pine tree from the pine cone dropped by her first. A bright, beguiling book.

The Family Christmas Treasury
selected by editors
Houghton Mifflin, 2013, $18.99

This trove of classic Christmas tales features a host of beloved characters, including Curious George, Lyle the Crocodile and Tacky the Penguin. Author/illustrator Tomie de Paola's folkloric Strega Nona appears here, as does Clement Moore's Twas the Night Before Christmas, first published in 1823. This collection is a treat for family members of all ages, who will enjoy a nightly read-aloud in the weeks preceding Christmas and revel in a variety of artistic styles. A special bonus: The art accompanying carols such as O Christmas Tree, The First Noel, Deck the Halls and Silent Night is in the style of H.A. and Margaret Rey (creators of the original Curious George books) and lends a lively note to that iconic music.

ages 9 - 12

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things
by Cynthia Voigt
Knopf, 2013, $16.99

Newbery Medalist Cynthia Voigt turns her deft pen to a humorous caper set in the early 20th century. Max Starling's highly dramatic actor parents have disappeared. Did they abandon him-or were they kidnapped? Even his formidable Grammie, who lives next door, has no idea. In trying to discover their whereabouts, Max finds all manner of lost things, including children and dogs, but when a blurry photo of his parents surfaces in a foreign-language newspaper, he feels no closer to the answers to his many questions. The ending leaves the reader eager for the second and third books in the planned trilogy.