Confession: Every year, I treat myself to a very special gift. Even though I am so grown-up and supposedly wise, I give myself a brand new Christmas/winter picture book. This started when I was a small child and it was my parents giving me the book. But it was a gift-giving tradition I choose to keep, now giving on behalf of my Mom and Daddy (who are long gone from the world.) And of course I share this gift-giving with my own children and grandchildren, but doing it for myself maintains a certain magical element of the season like no other act.
Which book to choose, however, causes a great dilemma. There are so many beautiful, enchanting picture books that the decision-making process is not easy. From the stacks of picture books published for the 2019 Christmas/winter season, here are a few of my favourites:

author/illustrator: Matt Tavares
Walker Books (3 October 2019)
ISBN: 9781406387704
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, Santa's sleigh was pulled by one beautiful, magical horse named Silverbell. At that time, there weren't as many children for Santa to visit and Silverbell was more than enough for the job. But time passed and the number of children grew and dear Silverbell was going to need help. One fateful night, the sleigh was so heavy and there were so many children and Silverbell was worried. One that night, they came across a very special reindeer. Dasher was brave and fast and taken by a dream of following the North Star to find the true home of the reindeer. And the rest is the stuff of legend....
Matt Tavares won my heart a number of years ago, when he illustrated (in black and white) what I consider to be the quintessential edition of  'Twas The Night Before Christmas. In Dasher, he has created another classic. The story is enthralling, building a new aspect of the Santa story with sensitivity and wonder. The illustrations are rendered with naturalistic detail and beautiful use of colour. The depictions, in both word and picture of a variety of landscapes, the atmosphere and shifting mood of the tale are subtle, yet incisive. The drama, longing, compassion and triumph shines through. A perfect story to share, it is, in a word, exquisite...and definitely on my Christmas list.

REINDEER DOWN! : An Irish Christmas Tale
author: Natasha Mac a'Bháird
illustrator: Audrey Dowling
O'Brien Press (14 October 2019)
ISBN: 9781788490993
As Santa's sleigh is flying over Ireland on his annual rounds, everything seems to be going to plan. But a crash landing on a roof causes real problem. The sleigh has landed right on Dancer and injured her leg! There's still quite a journey ahead of them and she won't be able to make it, in spite of how brave she's being. Whatever will they do? Rory, the smallest reindeer has a brilliant idea! They aren't far from Phoenix Park. As they make a gentle landing, Santa and his sleigh are immediately surrounded by a herd of fallow deer. Santa explains the situation, but will the fallow deer be able to help? Of course they will!
This gentle, fun Christmas story really warmed my heart. With it's easy-to-read, lyrical language and imaginative, cheerful illustrations filled with character, it takes the reader along on the magical sleigh-ride, building the story with strong pace and great interest. Prepare yourselves to read this wonderful tale over and over and over... it's one that will be in demand. Utterly enchanting, warm and glowing!

author/illustrator: Shirley Hughes
Walker Books (3 October 2019)
ISBN: 9781406379648
Young Lewis Brown is spending his day as he usually does; looking out of his window wishing someone would notice him. Then he spots a golden feather floating gently down from the rooftop of No. 32, Paradise Street. No one seems to have noticed that, either. As he carefully climbs the stairs and makes his way onto the roof, Lewis discovers an angel on the roof. And so begins an extraordinary friendship. As the angel takes Lewis under his wings and on an adventure, everything in Lewis' life changes.The angels' presence brings acts of kindness and compassion, and lights up the lives of everyone. And the world as Lewis has known it; his family and friends will never be the same again
Not a Christmas book, per se; but a beautiful gift of a book that tells a story we all need to be reminded of, especially at this time of year.  With its' lovely story accented by the lyrical line-drawings rendered in navy blue on each page tell a story of simple joy, acts of kindness and senseless beauty. It is filled with understanding, compassion and hope. From a master-storyteller, a magical story that is a real treasure.

author: Sam McBratney
illustrator: Sam Usher
Macmillan Childrens Books (17 October 2019)
ISBN: 9781509854301
Growly Bear and Mary Rose are the best of friends. They go everywhere and do everything together. But then, Growly gets left behind on a train. He's not worried. He's sure Mary Rose will come back for him soon. But time passes. Days become weeks, weeks become months. Growly Bears' fur becomes dirty and worn, one of his eye comes loose and Growly Bear starts to fade. Quite unexpectedly one day, a young child picks him up. But it isn't the child Growly Bear has been waiting for.
This is such a touching tribute to the love and meaning that lives between a child and their favourite stuffed toy. As we follow the story of Growly Bear, we see how he is treated in the world by a succession of new owners. His beauty fades and we actually feel his growing anxiety about finding a new, kind owner that will value him again. The range of emotion that carries through the story is powerful, yet simple. Rhythmic text (from the author of Guess How Much I Love You) and delightful, atmospheric, child-friendly illustrations create a story that is heartwarming; one that will be cherished for a long time...like a favourite, most-loved bear.


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