Friday, December 21, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Picture Books - Grace at Christmas by Mary Hoffman

It's Day 9 of our 12 Days of Christmas Picture Books series. Today's choice, like yesterday's, is part of a series. I've written before about the benefits of series books -- they help readers be drawn deeper into the lives of characters, they can be a powerful draw for reluctant readers who want to know more, and they satisfy young children's love for repetition (while providing parents another option rather than rereading the same book every night!). It can be especially hard to find series featuring characters of color, which is why I try to highlight good examples when they come up (see our Pinterest board for some we especially like).

Mary Hoffman's series begins with Amazing Grace, which has been recognized on a number of "best of" lists and has real staying power since it's still popular more than 20 years after its publication. Since then Hoffman has published a number of books in the series, including today's pick, Grace at Christmas. All are beautifully illustrated by husband-and-wife team Corneilus Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu, who capture Grace's humor and spirit in their snapshots of her world. I love that this is not only a multicultural series in terms of characters, but also in terms of contributors!

In this outing, our vivacious heroine is really looking forward to Christmas, and all the traditions that she has with her Ma and Nana. Unfortunately, though, Grace will have to share her holiday with Savannah, the granddaughter of her Nana's friend who isn't able to get home to Trinidad for Christmas. Grace is pretty put out by this, and she lets it be known -- but after reflecting on how much she misses her father, who is spending the holiday in Gambia with his new family, she decides maybe it's worth reaching out to Savannah after all. And in the process, Grace may just have the best Christmas ever (you'll have to read to see why).

Grace is an especially great character because she is *realistic*. In this volume, she's annoyed about sharing her Christmas, and Hoffman allows readers in on this, which makes Grace much more relatable. Instead of being some super-human who welcomes all strangers with an abundance of cheer, Grace learns that it's just as tough for Savannah, who feels like an outsider. And so the spirit of giving, which comes on Grace gradually, seems much more genuine to readers.

This title's a bit long, so best with older preschoolers and elementary ages. Kids who love drama and dress-up, like Grace does, will particularly enjoy this outing, and young ones who have family far away at the holidays will also find a lot to relate to. In Grace at Christmas, as with her other outings, Hoffman's Grace hits all the right notes.

Grace at Christmas by Mary Hoffman, published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Ages 4-8
Source: Library
Sample: "'We can't say "no room" at Christmastime, can we, Grace?' said Ma. / 'Christmas is a time for families,' said Nana. / Grace thought, But they aren't our family! I wish we had a stable for them. But she didn't say it."

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