A holly jolly haul Festive feast of children’s books sure to please young readers


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Stewart (top) and Alexander Heather enjoy a quieter moment in front of the Christmas tree while sharing a book.

Are you still looking for the perfect gift for your favorite youngster?

Want to give them something they’ll keep longer than the latest TikTok episode?

Pick one of these recommended books and you’re sure to please. It also guarantees some quiet time on a hectic holiday day.




Yetis are the Worst!
By Alex Willan (Simon & Schuster, 40 pages, $24, hardcover)

The author of Unicorns are the Worst! and Dragons are the Worst! has added the Yetis (or abominable snowmen) to his list of wacky adventures for Gilbert the Goblin. Gilbert stumbles through the snow on a distant mountain looking for the yetis but never seems to see them behind the trees or peering over the nearby hill.

When Gilbert is swept by an avalanche into a yeti’s underground home, he finds it’s he who is the object of curiosity.

Early readers will be anxious to point out the numerous yetis who are hiding in American author Alex Willan’s humorous pictures. A fun story for a winter day.

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By Cary Fagan, illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova (Groundwood, 32 pages, $19, hardcover)

For a slightly quirky picture book for early readers, try this little story of a girl walking in the woods who discovers an animal bone. After washing it carefully she treats it as a pet: putting it on a swing, sitting it in a chair, putting it to sleep beside her. Only after some time does she realize that in the cycle of nature, the bone belongs in the earth.

Toronto author Cary Fagan writes for both children and adults and won special praise for Son of Happy, named best Canadian picture book of 2020 by CBC. New York artist Dasha Tolstikova’s illustrations are done in watercolour and coloured pencil and are suitably eccentric in style. Ages 3-6.

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Returning to the Yakoun River and Dancing with our Ancestors
Books 3 and 4 in the Sk’ad’a Stories Series
By Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson, illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Highwater Press, 40 pages, $21 each, hardcover)

“Remembering the way things were so we can clearly see the way things can be” is a quote from award-winning author David A. Robertson, but it could be the mission statement for the Sk’ad’a Stories. Lavishly illustrated by Haida artist Janine Gibbons, they recall how the people of the Haida Gwai lived and celebrated in the days before colonists arrived.

The importance of the salmon run to the culture of the people is recounted from a child’s viewpoint in Returning to the Yakoun River. The children love to go to “the cabin,” close to where the fish are caught and grilled on carved sticks over open fires. After supper they love the time of storytelling, song and drumming.

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Dancing with our Ancestors celebrates the potlach as the whole community gathers for a time of feasting, dancing, gift-giving and storytelling. Large and glowing paintings by Gibbons emphasize the richness of the ceremony and its importance to the people.

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Oolichan Moon
By Samantha Beynon, illustrated by Lucy Trimble (Harbour Publishing, 32 pages, $25, hardcover)

When the little oolichan fish return to the rivers on the West Coast in early spring, the time is known as the Oolichan Moon and the Nisga’a people flock to the shores to harvest them. It is a time of rejoicing and remembering and in this beautifully illustrated children’s book we experience the importance of this special time.

Beynon, born in Prince Rupert of Nisga’a, Tsimshian, Irish and Swedish ancestry, uses the viewpoint of two small sisters visiting their grandmother to emphasize how important this traditional celebration is to her people.

But the real treasure of this picture book is in the illustrations, by Indigenous artist Lucy Trimble. By layering a multitude of colours over each other she gives the impression of shimmering scales on the sacred fish. As grandmother explains the significance of their return, the children learn the history of their people and mourn the loss of what was once a mighty invasion but is now simply a trickle.

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Nonna and the Girls Next Door
By Ellie Arscott (Second Story Press, 24 pages, $22, hardcover)

A little girl envies the children next door for their treehouse, their pets and for having each other to play with. She spends most of her time alone with her nonna, or grandmother, and is too shy to approach her neighbours.

She comes to realize she also has a treasure: her nonna. With the help of nonna’s cookies, she soon makes friends with the girls next door.

A gentle story that will resonate with both grandmas and grandkids. Ages 6-8.

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The Return of the Christmas Witch
By Dan Murphy and Audrey Plaza, illustrated by Julia Iredale (Viking, 56 pages, $26, hardcover)

Did you know Santa (or Kristoffer, as he was known in the Baltic countries) had a sister, Kristtorn? That she was frozen in ice for dozens of years but was awakened by global warning?

When Kristtorn wakes up, she finds Santa has disappeared and Christmas has been taken over by a huge commercial company, Kringle, who promotes that it’s only the number of presents that counts. No joy, love or happiness is allowed, and even Christmas trees have died out.

It’s up to Kristtorn to find Santa and save Christmas. Can she do it before it’s lost forever?

With help from the lavish illustrations by Victoria artist Julia Iredale, she’s up to the task. Murphy and Plaza have collaborated on many previous books (including last year’s The Legend of the Christmas Witch). There’s a hint of danger to add to the mix in this enjoyable this Christmas fable.

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Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
By Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (Holiday House, 32 pages, $34, hardcover)

This Hanukkah holiday classic, originally published as a short story in 1985, returns here in a special gift edition with many striking full-page paintings that were added in 1989 by Schart Hyman.

When Hershel of Ostropol seeks shelter on the first day of Hanukkah in a remote village, he is surprised to find it in the dark. Menacing goblins have terrorized the villagers and forbidden them to light the Hanukkah candles. Using only his wits, Hershel fools the goblins into letting him light candles until he faces the largest and scariest goblin of all. How can one weak human survive?

Hyman’s illustrations are suitably scary and beautifully rendered. The book is covered by a second attractive hardcover that could make it a treasured keepsake.

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Unstoppable Us, Vol. 1: How Humans Took Over the World
By Yuval Noah Harari, illustrated by Ricard Zaplana Ruiz (Puffin, 208 pages, $30, hardcover)

For young readers who ask “Where does the human race come from?” or “Why us and not those incredible mountain gorillas?” this widely published American author has all the answers. He explains why homo sapiens and not denisovans or florisians won out due to sapiens’ ability to cooperate in large numbers.

Why do we prefer sweet foods over sour ones? Why are most people right-handed? How come giant animals evolved only in Australia? How could puny humans capture giant mastodans? These are just some of the questions Harari answers in easy-to-read, conversational text. The illustrations by Ruiz are plentiful, sometimes comic and always welcome.

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Archie Celebrates Diwali
By Mitali Banerjee Ruths, illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Charlesbridge, 32 pages, $20, hardcover)

Archie (for Archana) has invited several friends to help celebrate her family’s special holiday, Diwali, the festival of lights. She worries when it starts to rain, and the party moves indoors, that they may find the food, the decorations and her special dress strange. But after Archie tells the story of how a former king and queen saved the earth from evil and darkness, they all enjoy celebrating together.

This is Canadian Mitali Ruths’ debut picture book, and it is enhanced by bright and enchanting pictures by Indian artist Parwinder Singh.

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The Raven Mother: Mothers of Xsan, book 6
By Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Highwater Press, 32 pages, $25, hardcover)

Anyone who has travelled in northern B.C. or the Yukon knows how numerous ravens are there. Curious, clever and omnipresent, they dominate the wild and feature prominently in the folklore and culture of the Gitxsan people.

In The Raven Mother Huson details how the raven is both a scavenger and a bringer of new life as it scatters seeds across the forest. He shows how they work cooperatively with other ravens and even interact with animals such as the wolf and bear.

Difficult words are explained in sidebars in this informative non-fiction story, while striking artwork by Métis artist Natasha Donovan, originally from Vancouver (now based in Washington State), adds to the appeal of this educational and entertaining book.

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Where the Crooked Lighthouse Shines
By Joshua Goudie, illustrated by Craig Goudie (Breakwater Books, 88 pages, $20, paperback)

Joshua Goudie says his father told him to “be anything else but a purposeless poet,” but he obviously ignored his advice as this little book proves. Written in rhyming couplets, he offers a series of very short stories that have more than a hint of their Newfoundland origins.

One of the best, The Ones That Got Away, tells how a boy hooks a fish in the middle of the night only to be pulled into the water by the cod. Only the intervention of his younger sister with a net saves him from drowning and from dying of starvation. Craig Goudie, Joshua’s father, an established graphic designer and visual artist, has added plenty of humorous pictures. Fun to read aloud.

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Eight Nights of Flirting
By Hannah Reynolds (Razorbill, 400 pages, $27, hardcover)

Sixteen-year-old Shira has never had a boyfriend. She freezes when she is approached by a boy, or a popular girl. They think she’s cold and aloof because her family is wealthy. How can she make Isaac, the hot new intern her uncle has hired, become interested in her?

In despair, Shira makes a deal with Tyler, the super-popular guy who rejected her advances and broke her heart when she was 14, to teach her to flirt. The outcome is much more complicated and more amusing than she imagines.

Set in scenic Nantucket, we also get a glimpse of its whaling history as Shira and Tyler team up to solve a century-old romantic mystery. But that’s not the only romance in this fresh and current tale…

Reynolds lives in Massachusetts, the setting of much of this young adult story. This is a thoughtful, enjoyable coming-of age epic that will appeal to teens of all ages.

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Helen Norrie is a former teacher/librarian who hope everyone gets a new book to read in this holiday season.

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