There's a sparkling array of holiday books for kids this year:
-- Shirley Hughes is one of the most distinguished -- and beloved -- picture-book creators today. If your family has never read her classic book "Dogger," you've missed a rare treat, and her "Alfie" books should be on every preschooler's bookshelf.
Now, in her newest book, "The Christmas Eve Ghost" (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 4-8), Hughes reaches back into memories of her childhood in Liverpool to tell the heartwarming story of a Protestant widow and her two young children who make some surprising discoveries about their Catholic next-door neighbors. As always, Hughes' artwork is brimming with color and emotion.
-- In "Christmas Is Here" (Simon & Schuster, $12.99, ages 3-7), artist Lauren Castillo brings a fresh perspective to the Christmas story. Castillo's book opens with wordless illustrations of a family enjoying a modern-day outdoor nativity scene. Turn the page, and readers are transported back to the time of Jesus' actual birth, with a text taken from the King James Bible. Castillo's illustrations are masterful as she melds the present and the past, showing how a birth long ago still resonates today.
-- When Jackie Robinson moved to a Brooklyn neighborhood in 1948, many neighbors were unhappy to have a black man -- even such a famous baseball player -- living in their midst. But one family -- the Satlows -- welcomed the Robinsons. In "Jackie's Gift" (Viking, $16.99, ages 4-7), author Sharon Robinson explains how her father tried to repay the Satlows' kindness one holiday season by bringing them a Christmas tree -- not knowing they were Jewish. Fortunately, the Satlows decided to welcome the gift in the spirit in which it was given, and the families remain close to this day. The illustrations by E.B. Lewis highlight the drama and humor of this true story.
-- Author/artist Rachel Isadora offers a spectacularly new look at a favorite carol in "12 Days of Christmas" (Putnam, $16.99, ages 3 up). Setting her book in Africa, Isadora uses a combination of oil paints and collage to create illustrations that seem to bounce off the page with energy and brilliant color. Each two-page spread is devoted to a verse of the cumulative song, and includes tiny pictures reminding readers of the previous verses. Readers will particularly enjoy how different this book is from traditional illustrated versions of this song; for example, for "5 Gold Rings," Isadora shows a South African woman wearing gold rings around her neck.
-- The incorrigible David, star of "No, David!," returns to wreak holiday havoc in "It's Christmas, David!" (Blue Sky/Scholastic, $16.99, ages 2-5). Once again, author/artist David Shannon shows how David just can't seem to do the right thing -- and this time it may get him a lump of coal instead of the Christmas presents he wants. Shannon's deceptively simple artwork will charm kids as they laugh at David's antics.
-- In "Eight Winter Nights" (Chronicle Books, $16.99, ages 3-7), author Laura Krauss Melmed takes readers through Hanukkah with a series of brief rhyming poems, each spotlighting an element of the holiday. The soft-focus illustrations by Elisabeth Schlossberg nicely evoke a family's pleasure in celebrating Hanukkah.
-- Tomie dePaola gathers three of his best-known Christmas stories with several gorgeously illustrated holiday carols in "Joy to the World" (Putnam, $24.99, ages 3 up). Perfect for family holiday read-alouds, dePaola's wonderful treasury is filled with the joy of the season, reflected especially in his artwork, done in his trademark bright colors and simple shapes.
-- Humphrey, a giant, and Leetree, an elf, are thrilled when Santa asks them to grow the holiday tree. But then disaster strikes. In "The Christmas Giant" (Candlewick, Press, $15.99, ages 3-6), author/illustrator Steve Light shows how Humphrey and Leetree work together to craft a truly different kind of Christmas tree. Light's story is an entertaining new take on Christmas, highlighted by his quirky ink-and-pastel illustrations.
-- One Christmas morning, a boy named Jack opens a package and meets Captain Sky Blue, a toy pilot who quickly becomes his best pal. All is well until one day Captain Sky Blue's plane is hit by lightning and he's plunged into the ocean. In "Captain Sky Blue" (MDC Books/Scholastic, $17.95, ages 3-6), Caldecott Medalist Richard Egielski details the captain's many adventures before he is finally reunited -- via Santa's sleigh -- with Jack. Egielski's fantastical story and art-deco illustrations offer lots of action for young readers, who also will get all "spooled up" (excited) by the "Pilot Talk" glossary included in the book.
-- Richard Scarry's books are classics that continue to be enjoyed by young readers years after they first were published. Now kids can enjoy a newly republished version of "Richard Scarry's Best Christmas Book Ever!" (Sterling, $12.95, ages 3-6), which features several stories teeming with Scarry's busy animal