Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Snobbity Snowman has everything a snowman could possibly want: a shiny hat, freshly-picked noses and enough pride to last a lifetime. In fact, he is so egocentric that he can’t even see when his life starts falling apart.

What disasters must take place to open his charcoal eyes? To help him see that pride and possessions cannot bring true happiness? Will he defrost his chilly ego and embrace the warmth of friendship? Only Snobbity can tell.

Depicting winter in rich and whimsical tones, Snobbity Snowman’s quirky characters and unexpected twists promise to leave a lasting impression on all its snobbulous readers.

Nobody likes a snob, even if that snob is a snowman!

The vocabulary in this story was very advanced for this age range. There were several words that the average 6-year-old won’t know, but I liked the fact that the authors provided so many context clues about what those terms mean. I’d recommend reading this aloud as a group so that those terms can be explained if the clues don’t give enough hints. With that being said, it was a pleasant surprise and it’s definitely something that will work well for young readers who would like to be challenged a little bit.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how Snobbity behaved before his makers moved away. He had such a terrible reputation in his neighborhood that I was expecting to see him spend more time looking down on the people who lived nearby before his circumstances began to change and he got a taste of his own medicine. While there were examples of his bad attitude, having more of them would have made the final scene much more meaningful.

The conclusion was well written and completely satisfying. Some of the earlier scenes involved people treating Snobbity very poorly, so I was curious to see how his life would turn out after they were finished mistreating him and he was left alone with nothing. The lessons he learned in life only became clearer once I saw how his tale ended. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to it.

Snobbity Snowman was a heartwarming book that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something kindhearted.

Shadow Eyes by Dusty Crabtree


Shadow Eyes by Dusty Crabtree
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Inspirational, Paranormal
Length: Full (334 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

Iris thought she could ignore the shadows…until they came after everyone she loved.

Seventeen-year-old Iris Kohl has been able to see both dark and light figures ever since a tragic incident three years ago. The problem is, no one else seems to see them, and even worse…the dark figures terrorize humans, but Iris is powerless to stop them.

Although she’s learned to deal with watching shadows harass everyone around her, Iris is soon forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her world and herself. Her sanity, strength, and will power are tested to the limits by not only the shadows, but also a handsome new teacher whose presence scares away shadows, a new friend with an awe-inspiriting aura, and a mysterious, alluring new student whom Iris has a hard time resisting despite already having a boyfriend. As the shadows invade and terrorize her own life and family, Iris must ultimately accept the guidance of an angel to revisit the most horrific event of her life and become the hero she was meant to be.

 

Have you ever wondered what unseen forces move throughout our world which we do not see?

Iris Kohl began seeing weird “shadows” that seemed to impact how people relate to each other and the world around them around her fourteenth birthday. Iris mostly just tries to stay away from these strange entities, but when a few very personal events occur, it forces her to re-evaluate what these shadows are and what they want. Within the school year, Iris meets her new English teacher that seems to almost sense these strange figures as well. Iris begins to wonder if there is more going on than she originally imagined.

Shadow Eyes is the initial story in a series focused on Iris and her abilities to see and interact in the world around her. The plot is strong and character development and emotions are right on point. I did find myself frustrated from time to time wondering what happened on Iris’s fourteenth birthday, but this was finally revealed at the end of the story.

Dusty Crabtree does an excellent job of bringing in the reader to the center of the story. The various plot twists and foreshadowing cause the reader to consider and then reconsider what is happening within the story and Iris’s life. While the main story focuses on Iris, the secondary characters including Iris’s close friends and family members each have a strong backstory that is integral to the overall plot in which Iris the focus.

The editing is clean, and the story flows nice without being too descriptive or wordy. Everything that occurs or is described has a place within the story. Aside from the frustration of being left in the dark with events surrounding the fourteenth birthday, this was a nearly perfect read!

If you have ever wondered what lurks just outside our line of vision, be sure not to miss Shadow Eyes!

Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book by Laura Krauss Melmed


Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book by Laura Krauss Melmed
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Genre: Childrens, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Moishe’s Miracle author Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrator Elisabeth Schlossberg celebrate Hanukkahin joyful action rhymes, festive poems, and exuberant scenes of family life. From traditional holiday foods to the story of the Maccabees, they capture the warm sights, sounds, and tastes of this wintertime festival.

There’s a different special candle that needs to be lighted for every night of Hannukah, and that’s only the beginning of the festivities.

One of my favorite scenes showed what happened when the characters received some special visitors on one of the nights of Hannukah. Everyone looked so happy when that happened, especially the children. I smiled when I saw the joy on their faces in the illustration that was included in this section. They were clearly planning to have a wonderful time that night, and I looked forward to seeing what would happen to them next.

I would have liked to see longer explanations of why the characters were lighting the candles in that specific order and what the meanings were of certain rituals. This is the perfect age for children to begin learning basic facts about the holidays their families celebrate. These rhymes didn’t quite have enough details for my tastes.

With that being said, the rhymes were adorable and definitely a lot of fun to read. I loved the fact that they included so many references to active things young readers can do while listening to an adult read this book. It was a great choice for this age group. I wanted to sway to the music and bounce to the beat, too, while I was reading it.

Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book was a cute introduction to how this holiday is celebrated. I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for a playful way to discuss that topic with their kids.

Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre


Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In a faraway village there lives a farmer with his wife. The summer harvest has failed and winter already arrives. So, how should they feed their three sons? The idea arises to fetch wood in the northern forest. They could dry it, sell it from door to door and earn some money to buy food.

Frede knows that his parents are doing their best, but is it enough to withstand the most barren period of the year? Together with his brothers, Rhune and Folke, he wants to visit Santa and ask him for help. But, first they must travel through that extensive forest where the evil Elf King lurks.

One bad harvest can seriously hurt anyone who makes their living through farming. Only time will tell if Frede and his family will have enough food to get through the winter.

Frede was such a brave boy. He faced all kinds of dangers while he was trying to travel to Santa’s house, yet he never gave up no matter how difficult his journey became. He kept pushing on even when it looked like there was no way to win. I especially enjoyed seeing how he reacted to the elves he met on the way. Not all of them were friendly, but he didn’t let that stop him.

There were a few editing issues. I noticed multiple run-on sentences and punctuation errors. Some of them took a minute for me to figure out because they could be interpreted in more than one way. A couple of sentences also seemed to be missing important words. If not for these errors, I would have chosen a much higher rating as the storytelling itself was creative and beautiful.

This book was full of magic that refused to be tamed. Everything from the elves to the forest itself was so wildly different from how humans behave that I didn’t know what to expect from them next. This is exactly the kind of storytelling I always hope to find in fairy tales, so I was quite happy with how unpredictable these scenes were. They made my heart beat faster in a good way.

Frede and Santa should be read by anyone who loves Christmas.

The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan


The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (112 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Experience the magic of authentic giving in this holiday classic from the Newbery Award–winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall.

All year long Lily and Liam look forward to the holidays at their grandparents’ farm. It’s always the perfect trip: walking to the lilac library, trimming the tree, giving gifts. But this year, thanks to a white cow alone in the meadow, things will be different. This holiday, Lily and Liam will find out the meaning of a special gift.

This holiday classic from a beloved author rings in the season by celebrating the joys of family, community, and true giving.

No one should be lonely over Christmas, not even a cow!

Lily was a kind and compassionate girl who obviously loved her younger brother a lot. It was heartwarming to see how hard she worked to make him feel better about White Cow being all alone in the barn, especially once she realized that he wasn’t going to give up until he figured out how to find a friend for that lonely cow. Some of the most memorable scenes showed what happened after she decided to help him track down another cow before Christmas arrived.

I would have liked to see more time developing Lily and Liam’s characters. There were a few times in the plot when I wondered if Liam was supposed to be written as a kid who was living with an invisible disability because of how difficult it was for him to accept change and how determined he was to follow the same routine every day. Lily’s strong urge to protect her brother was also something that caught my attention. While all of these things could have simply been normal parts of their personalities and not hints about how a family dealing with special needs might experience the world, it would have been nice to know for sure how I should be reading that.

One of the nice things about living in a small town is how people in rural areas can look out for each other. I really liked seeing how the adults in that community quietly looked out for Lily and Liam. These kids were obviously known to be the visiting grandkids of a certain couple, and I enjoyed seeing how they tried to reach their goal while being surrounded by adults who were keeping a friendly eye on the situation.

The True Gift is something I’d recommend to anyone who loves animals.

Bear’s First Christmas by Robert Kinerk


Bear’s First Christmas by Robert Kinerk
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In the dark of winter, deep in the woods, a lone bear is awakened from his winter sleep by a soft and mysterious sound. Under the stars the bear finds his way step by step through the snowy forest, making friends along his route. Then the bear discovers a place in the woods that glows magically with something he and his friends could never have imagined — their first Christmas.

Robert Kinerk’s inspired story and Jim LaMarche’s glimmering illustrations combine in a picture book that captures the joy and spirit of Christmas. Come along with bear and his friends and see the magical light of Bear’s First Christmas.

Christmas isn’t only for people. Sometimes animals can enjoy it, too.

This book was beautifully written. It included poetry that told the audience what happened to the bear after he woke up early from his winter hibernation. I was impressed by how nicely the word flowed together and how much care was put into making the perfect rhymes. While this is technically meant for young children, I’d recommend it just as highly to adults because of how much care the author put into choosing exactly the right words to paint vivid pictures of the bear’s adventures.

Bear and his friends spent most of the plot acting pretty closely to how you’d expect wild animals to actually behave. I really liked that about them. It came as a surprise to me, then, to see them break this pattern at the end of the plot. While I can’t say much more about that part of the storyline without giving away spoilers, I was surprised by this change. This was a minor criticism of a story I otherwise enjoyed a lot. Had a little more been done to explain why they suddenly changed so much, I would have given it a higher rating.

I loved the fact that bear and the other creatures in the woods weren’t at all concerned with receiving a big pile of presents. They weren’t human, after all, and had no use for such things. The glow of Christmas had nothing at all to do with what they owned or could find. The meaning of the holiday was explained in ways that a bear and his buddies could understand. I appreciated the creativity that went into translating a human holiday into something animals would enjoy as well.

Bear’s First Christmas was a truly heartwarming tale that made me smile. It should be read by anyone who is in the market for a Christmas story that has nothing at all to do with opening presents.

The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett

The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When Big Snowshoe tells Little Snow that the animals’ Santa is coming with presents for everyone, Little Snow wants to know who he is. The animals say they have never seen him. Maybe he’s a badger, a moose, a polar bear, or a wolf, they tell him. But this spunky little rabbit thinks they are just fooling him.

On Christmas Eve, Big Snowshoe finds a way to see the animals’ Santa when a Snowy Owl in a red cap swoops down with a pack full of presents. Never again will an excited Little Snow doubt that there is an animals’ Santa.

It’s hard to prove that someone exists or what they might look like if no one has ever seen them.

The characters spent the perfect amount of time thinking critically about what kind of animal Santa would be. They had a few important clues to work with, and they made sure to examine them from every angle to figure out who he really was. I enjoyed watching them work so hard to solve this riddle. It was especially interesting to see how they reacted to the fact that no one had ever seen what kinds of tracks Santa leaves in the snow.

There were way more characters than I’d typically find in a short story. While I soon figured out who everyone was, it did feel a little odd to keep switching perspectives as the animals debated the topic of which species Santa came from. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a tale that I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit. It was an adorable read, and I do plan to go back and experience it again before the Christmas season ends.

The ending fit the tone of this tale very nicely. I especially liked the fact that it could be interpreted in more than one way. This was something the characters had been doing for the entire storyline, so it made a great deal of sense for the readers to be given our own chance to decide if we agreed with the characters’ theories about what Santa might look like or not.

The Animals’ Santa is a wonderful choice for any child who enjoys solving riddles.

Tractor Mac Saves Christmas by Billy Steers


Tractor Mac Saves Christmas by Billy Steers
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Every year, the whole town looks forward to the Christmas tree lighting, but this year, a blizzard has struck. The snow starts to fall more and more heavily, and soon, Tractor Mac and his pals are snowed in at the barn. Farmer Bill and Sibley the horse are supposed to be on their way to the center of town with the tree, but when they get stuck in the blizzard and it looks like the ceremony will have to be called off, Tractor Mac saves them and the whole holiday celebration.

A little bit of snow can be festive over the holidays, but a full blizzard might be able to stop Christmas celebrations altogether.

The animals that lived on Farmer Bill’s farm made me giggle. They were very good at starting entertaining conversations and keeping Tractor Mac focused on doing his job by explaining what could go wrong if they didn’t start plowing right away. My favorite scenes were the ones that showed how Tractor Mac responded to them and what happened when the snow began to fall even faster. The more worried these animals became, the more amusing they were as well.

There was a plot hole that had to do with how the town filled up with people so quickly on such a snowy day. I would have liked to see explained better as it didn’t quite make sense when compared with what was happening in the earlier scenes. Had Tractor Mac or one of his friends told the audience how everyone ended up in town so quickly, I would have given this book a much higher rating as it was otherwise very well done.

All of the characters understood how important it was to work together to solve a problem. I enjoyed watching them figure out how to free Sibley the horse and what the best way was to get the tree to town before the big party started. Cooperation isn’t an easy skill to learn, but it is an important one for kids, adults, and tractors alike to master.

This is part of a series. It can be read on its own or out of order.

Tractor Mac Saves Christmas was a humorous holiday tale that I’d recommend to anyone who likes tractors and other farm equipment.

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean


Big Snow by Jonathan Bean
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

While “helping” his mother with holiday housecleaning, a boy keeps a watchful eye on the progress of a winter storm. He’s hoping for a big snow. A really big snow. Inside, he is underfoot, turning sheet-changing and tub-scrubbing into imaginary whiteouts. Outside, flakes are flying. But over the course of a long day (for Mom) the clouds seem slow on delivering a serious snowfall. Then comes a dreamy naptime adventure, marking just the beginning of high hopes coming true in this irresistible seasonal story.

What could be more exciting than getting a snowstorm at the beginning of a major holiday?

I appreciated the fact that the specific holiday that David and his family were celebrating was never mentioned. Many of the preparations are the same no matter which winter holiday a family is getting ready to observe, so this detail really didn’t matter in the end. Writing it so open-endedly also meant that this tale could be read by people from many different faiths and backgrounds. I really enjoyed the inclusiveness of that.

The only thing I didn’t like about this story was that it included scenes where the main character disobeyed his mother. She’d ask him to do something to help her, but he’d stop halfway through that chore to go do something else. While some of this was due to the fact that David was very young and had a short attention span, I’d still be cautious about reading it to any child who has the same habit.

With that being said, David had a warm and happy relationship with his parents in general. I enjoyed watching them distract him when he became restless as much as I did seeing how patiently they answered his newest questions about when it might snow even when he’d asked the same exact question multiple times that day. They clearly cared a lot about their son and it showed.

I’d recommend Big Snow to anyone who is impatiently waiting for the first snowstorm of the year.

A Christmas Spider’s Miracle by Trinka Hakes Nobel


A Christmas Spider’s Miracle by Trinka Hakes Nobel
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Long ago in a faraway place there lived two mothers. One, a humble peasant woman who struggled daily to provide for her children. And the other, a mother spider who also worked hard to care for her family. And although it would appear they were as different as night and day, these two mothers had more in common than would first seem. As the only holiday gift she can give her children, one cold Christmas Eve the peasant woman goes to the forest to get a tree, never noticing that someone has made a home among its branches. During the night, the mother spider spins webs decorating the tree, resulting in a Christmas that neither mother will ever forget. Based on an old Ukrainian story, Trinka Hakes Noble (The Orange Shoes) crafts an original heartwarming tale of the grace that can be found in the true spirit of Christmas.

Kindness can repay itself in all sorts of lovely ways.

Nothing on Earth can compare to the love of a parent for their children. I enjoyed seeing how the spider and the peasant woman did everything they possibly could to keep their babies safe, warm, fed, and happy. They were both dedicated mothers who took wonderful care of their families. The scenes that showed just how far they went to do that were the best ones in this tale.

There were pacing issues. The plot sped up and then slowed down again at various points of the story. Due to this, the quieter sections didn’t have enough going on in them while the busier scenes were a little overwhelming because so many different things were happening in them at once. It would have been nice to have one consistent speed from the beginning to the end.

The fantasy elements of this book didn’t show up right away, but they were definitely worth the wait once they did appear. I was curious to see how a spider could be connected to the fantasy genre and what either of them would have to do with the Christmas season since I don’t automatically think of spiders when I think of either one of these topics. Finding out what that connection was only made me want to know more. It was all tied together quite nicely.

A Christmas Spider’s Miracle should be read by anyone who is in the mood for new twist to a classic legend.