Daily Press (Sunday)

4 tales to help kids waiting for Santa

- Caroline Luzzatto Caroline Luzzatto has taught preschool and fourth grade. Reach her at luzzatto. bookworms@gmail.com

One essential truth of Christmas with young people is that there will be tears. There will be weeping over how far away the big day is (starting in November, at the latest), and over what Santa might think of them, and over the pure exhaustion of trying to be good, day after day. And finally there will be tears of excitement, then joy. (And then, maybe, a very long nap.)

Until the seasonal roller coaster ends, nothing is quite as soothing as a little quiet time in a warm, loving lap with one of the many wonderful books on the holiday shelf.


“Merry Christmas, Strega Nona” by Tomie dePaola.

(Ages 4-8. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. $18.99.)

Beloved author/illustrato­r Tomie dePaola is no longer with us — he died in 2020 — but his many books live on, especially his stories of Strega Nona, a good-natured Italian witch. The stories feel like old folk tales but are in fact his inventions.

The 2023 reissue of dePaola’s Strega Nona Christmas story is a beautiful reminder of his heartfelt storytelli­ng, wry sense of humor and expressive illustrati­ons — and of the fact that (as Strega Nona’s helper Big Anthony puts it) “Christmas has a magic of its own.”

“Red & Green” by Lois Ehlert. (Ages 4-8. Beach

Lane Books. $18.99.)

The work of author/ illustrato­r Lois Ehlert (1934-2021), renowned for her vibrant collage art and commitment to early literacy, lives on in this beautiful die-cut take on the real story of the night before Christmas.

Not a creature in this house is stirring “except a small mouse,” who wanders past drying mittens, a sparkling tree and a plate full of treats. Of course, those treats are meant for someone else … but Ehlert’s bold, grinning mouse isn’t intimidate­d by Santa, as he scurries off for his own long winter’s nap with a suspicious­ly full belly.



“How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney?” by Mac Barnett, illustrate­d by Jon Klassen. (Ages 4-8. Candlewick Press. $18.99.)

Once again, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen collaborat­e to make magic — this time, of the holiday variety. Barnett’s humor is so very deadpan and Klassen’s visual humor so sly, and yet their musings on how Santa does his thing are warm and loving, and respectful (in a cheeky way) of that special Santa magic.

Does he shrink? Do the reindeer stuff him down the chimney with their hooves? Does he have to do laundry? And if there’s no chimney, then what? “Maybe Santa knows about the key under the flowerpot, even though nobody is ever, ever supposed to mention the key under the flowerpot.”

However Santa does his job — whether it involves night-vision goggles, dog kisses or mail slots — one thing is clear: We are all “so glad he can.”

“Santa’s Gotta Go” by Derrick Barnes, illustrate­d by Courtney Lovett.

(Ages 4-8. Nancy Paulsen Books. $18.99.)

Of course Santa is the hardest-working man in the holiday pantheon, but what is it like to just hang out with him?

When his sleigh breaks down in the Macks’ yard, Mr. Claus becomes their guest for a few days, and young Monte and Mabel are thrilled … until he empties the fridge (drinking spaghetti sauce straight out of the jar), jams on his guitar all night, and takes off for a spin on Dad’s motorcycle without asking. Mabel has had it, and Monte agrees: “Yep. It’s time for Santa to bounce.”

But of course Santa is Santa, and he knows when he’s gone a bit too far. True to form, Santa puts things right and the Macks have memories to treasure — and maybe a reputation as hosts that will bring them a few more surprise houseguest­s.

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