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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

31 Days, 31 Lists: 2019 Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

This was new. For the first time, when I announced that I’d be doing my usual 31 Days, 31 Lists schtick I received a request from some readers wondering if I could post this particular list earlier in the month. Typically I post it on December 25th, but this does folks little good if they want to buy stuff for that day in particular. As such, voila! A new timing for an old list.

Not that these are all Christmas books. We’ve got some Thanksgiving, some Valentine’s Day, some Halloween, and even a collection of different Jewish holidays all together. Some are books that were intended for a certain holiday. Others will simply fit in well when you do your holiday displays.


2019 Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

The Great Santa Stakeout by Betsy Bird, ill. Dan Santat

[Holiday – Christmas]

Huh. Darndest thing. How’d that get on here?

*checks list*

What whaddayaknow? Seems like this book came out in 2019 AND it’s a holiday title AND Booklist gave it a star. Welp, no help for it then. My hands are tied.

In all seriousness, let me let you in on a little secret with this book. You know how Dan Santat is the artist? Well, there’s a problem with that. Apparently, when you hire Dan to do the art on your book his illustrations will end up funnier than the stuff you yourself wrote. The back endpapers of this particular book, for example, are my favorite part to read aloud to groups. But, honestly, I’m a bit fond of the whole darn thing. Can you blame me?

Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey, ill. Geneviève Godbout

[Holiday – Thanksgiving]

Here’s another trend I’ve spotted in 2019. More and more we’re seeing Thanksgiving-related picture books that eschew any mention of the Thanksgiving myth. People are now preferring to concentrate on values like gratitude and family and peace. This book slots neatly into the gratitude category and features art from Godbout, who illustrated one of my other favorite holiday books, When Santa Was a Baby. It’s rather delicious from start to the finish. So much so that I’ll forgive it for trying to get me to make flour out of hazelnuts in the recipe at the back. What am I, a superhero or something?

Around the Table That Grandad Built by Melanie Heuiser Hill, ill. Jaime Kim

[Holiday – Thanksgiving]

Of course sometimes I can feel a little burnt out over Thanksgiving. Last year my 2nd grader brought home what I can only describe as the most offensive American Indian worksheets I have EVER had the misfortune to see. This year my Kindergartner brought home a history of Squanto and the pilgrims that dated to 1996 and was, let us say, less than entirely accurate in its information. Ugh. I think I have good reason to say that as Thanksgiving approaches every year I groan internally. How does a 21st century author or illustrator celebrate that day? As with the aforementioned Apple Cake, the solution seems to be to just concentrate on the good aspects. Family coming together. The mix of different cultures and different types of food. Using the old cumulative tale model found in poems like “The House That Jack Built”, I like what this book is laying down. Kim’s got a great style, so it’s nice to see her come out with another picture book. My one objection? Where are the recipes? One of those, please.

The Bear and the Star by Lola M. Schaefer, ill. Bethanne Andersen

[Holiday – Christmas]

It’s not a particularly imposing little book. No doubt it might slip through the cracks this holiday season, but I just so enjoyed what Schaefer and Andersen created here. If you had to slot this one into a category then I’d say, “May contain mild Christianity”. I mean, there’s a star, and a tree, but nothing particularly overt. Even so, I appreciated the fact that the last part of this book is a call for peace. Heaven knows we need it.

Chelm for the Holidays by Valerie Estelle Frankel

[Holiday – Various Jewish Holidays]

The book that belies the description of this post. All right, fine, it’s not a picture book but a collection of short tales, but I don’t care. I had to include it. It is, you see, a rather clever idea for a book, if I do say so myself. Ten different Jewish holidays are elegantly paired with ten different Chelm tales of utter foolishness. If you know me then you know I like a good fool tale. The more foolish the better! I wish there was a little more supplemental explanation here of whether or not Frankel made these up or based them off of existing tales. They sure didn’t sound familiar to me (I particularly liked the one about skating in the barn with soap). A lot of fun.

Christmas Train by David Miles

[Holiday – Christmas]

Please imagine me, a grown woman in her forties, unfolding this massive board book into a long train (20 cars in all) on the Reader’s Advisory Desk in the adult section of my library so that I can best determine how well a kid could pull it around the house. As it happens, this puppy is VERY sturdy. It’s a counting book at heart, with some early rhymes that scan just fine. Very colorful and it has some killer velcro to keep it all together at the front. I actually wonder if little kids will be strong enough to rip it open or not. Bash it all you want. This board book is built for abuse.

Dasher by Matt Tavares

[Holiday – Christmas]

Credit where credit is due, this new book by Tavares is a hit. A New York Times picture book bestselling hit, no less. Now Tavares already planted his flag firmly in the holiday of Christmas with his incredibly lovely 2017 title Red & Lulu. Did it show up on my Transcendent Holiday Picture Book List that year? It most certainly did. Now he’s back with a story about a little reindeer that essentially leads her people to freedom. I appreciated the fact that the Dasher in this book was a girl. Did you know that only female reindeer retain their antlers in the winter while the males lose them at that time? The more you know.

The Greatest Table by Michael J. Rosen, ill. Becca Stadtlander

[Holiday – Thanksgiving]

What do we like about Thanksgiving again? Well, we like the food and the family and friends. We like the essential idea of giving thanks for the people around us. And The Greatest Table by Rosen embodies this idea fully. Based on one of his poems (which appears in the back) the greatest table consists of all the tables where food is shared. Where no one is turned away and where “there’s always someone we can toast.” Not sentimental, but I like the sentiment.

My Baby Loves Christmas by Jabari Asim, ill. Tara Nicole Whitaker

[Holiday – Christmas]

This book was sitting on my desk when a co-worker, who had recently gave birth, spotted it. “Jabari Asim! That’s the same person who did Whose Knees Are These? and Whose Toes Are Those?” I performed that guilty little blink that happens when you feel you’ve just been schooled on an important subject. Doggone it if she wasn’t right too. That IS the same Jabari Asim who created those two board book classics. Turns out, he’s been keeping incredibly busy. Not only does he produce beautiful little board book Christmas classics like this one, but he also writes adult titles you might have heard of like, We Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival to say nothing of his picture book biographies of Booker T. Washington and John Lewis. Looks like he’s been in the children’s book game since 2004 at least. This guy’s in it for the long haul. Let us hope he keeps on churning out the books.

My Fourth of July by Jerry Spinelli, ill. Larry Day

[Holiday – 4th of July]

The saddest displays I’d ever make when I worked in the children’s room of my library were the 4th of July displays, no question. You’d pull out your Apple Pie 4th of July and your Fourth of July Mice and then scramble to find any books in stock about the Statue of Liberty. That’s it. Here’s a question for you. Nostalgia’s been getting some pretty hard knocks as of late. With that in mind, is it still okay to write books for kids that are seeped in the stuff? Lord knows there aren’t a lot of Fourth of July children’s books to put on display (as I mentioned). Spinelli aims to make this book the standard bearer for the day, and he makes a pretty strong case. In an average anytown, a kid and what appears to be his entire town go out for some pretty keen Independence Day festivities. The genius in all of this is getting Larry Day to do the art. Day keeps the crowds pretty ethnically diverse, though the text of the book could have been published in 1955 and no one would have batted an eye. It works in a weird way. Worth considering.

Over the River and Through the Wood: A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child, ill. Christopher Manson

[Holiday: Thanksgiving]

Yep, it appeared on the reprinted board book list already, but that’s no reason to keep it off of this one as well. I pretty much pull the full picture book version of this out every year and subject my children to my overly enthusiastic rendering of the song. What I like so much about this version (aside from the art) is that it doesn’t skimp on the verses. One of the problems with adapting a picture book to a children’s book format is that there aren’t enough words to justify the 32 pages. This song, however, has all sorts of stuff going on. And, as Manson figured out, you can basically fill the pages with what the sleigh is seeing and passing as it winds its way to grandma’s.

Pick a Pumpkin by Patricia Toht, ill. Jarvis

[Holiday – Halloween]

Well THAT was a pleasant surprise! I’ve always enjoyed the art of Jarvis, but had no idea he could whip up such an evocative Halloween piece. You open this book and the first thing you see are these marvelous endpapers of geese flying against a rising moon. I’m no book defacer, but it is might hard for me not to just rip that page and front cover right out and frame them in some way, I love ‘em so much. Even better, they’re replicated at the back of the book, but in such a way where you can see that time has passed, the geese are now bats, and there’s a witch. Inside, the story just covers the usual Halloween high points, but you can feel the snap in the air! Arg! So good!

The Tree That’s Meant to Be by Yuval Zommer

[Holiday – Christmas]

A nice twist on a familiar tale. In this book a tree that’s grown stumpy and underdeveloped (thanks in large part to the larger trees sapping up the resources) ends up being the one not picked by the humans for their Christmas festivities. Sad? Hardly. The animals of the woods make it their own AND it gets to keep on living year after year, enjoying its status as a perpetual Christmas tree. There’s a lesson there, of course. Just gotta unearth it.

What Is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack, ill. April Harrison

[Holiday – Valentine’s Day]

It’s awfully nice to see a new McKissack out, particularly when it’s as good as this. After her death last year I was worried we might never hear her voice again. This book is paired beautifully with the art of April Harrison and turns out to be a more thoughtful and interesting Valentine’s Day story than we usually see. There’s a whiff of The Gift of the Magi to it, but only a whiff. Altogether, it’s a smart original tale of kindness that really holds up under scrutiny.

Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!

December 1 – Great Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Funny Picture Books

December 7 – CaldeNotts

December 8 – Picture Book Reprints

December 9 – Math Books for Kids

December 10 – Bilingual Books

December 11 – Books with a Message

December 12 – Fabulous Photography

December 13 – Translated Picture Books

December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

December 15 – Wordless Picture Books

December 16 – Poetry Books

December 17 – Easy Books

December 18 – Early Chapter Books

December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels

December 20 – Older Funny Books

December 21 – Science Fiction Books

December 22 – Informational Fiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Unconventional Children’s Books

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers

December 29 – Older Reprints

December 30 – Middle Grade Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Thanks for doing this! I’m off to the store now.

  2. Cecilia Horn says

    The Greatest Table by Michael J. Rosen was originally published in 1994 in a slipcase that included a twelve-foot-long accordion book illustrated by top artists of that time. Proceeds aided a leading hunger-relief organization.