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Picture Books for Loved Ones this Holiday Season

Elisabeth Padjen
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Picture books

Elisabeth Padjen from Houston Public Library recommends heartwarming picture books to consider buying for kids this holiday season.

Before my time at HPL I worked at Barnes & Noble and spending the holidays there is one of my favorite memories. Books and the holidays beautifully synchronize. The smell of books and pine waft by as the Christmas carols and hum of the escalator made me feel cozy and snuggly. Snacking on coffee-dunked biscotti as I browsed the new literary novelties, such as candles that are author scented (yes, they are real and highly recommended to any book nerd).

Then the yuletide cheer was ruined when the doors opened, and customers frantically scoured the store desperately trying to remember something their great-aunt or rarely-seen nephew said they had an interest in. Luckily booksellers and library staff like me are here to help guide you through the Christmas chaos!

Picture books have come a long way from the days of Little Golden Books or Dick & Jane stories. More and more picture books celebrate diversity, tackle tough subjects and show kids how to not only speak their voice but not be afraid to shout it. My first picture book made me tear up quietly in my work cubicle; The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerfeld is a minimalist yet warm book featuring a young child named Taylor who builds an impressive castle of blocks only for it to be destroyed by a flock of birds! Taylor curls up with a swirling storm of emotions. The story continues showing a variety of animals offering advice to help get over the destruction, to laugh about it, to talk about it, to go make someone else feel bad. Taylor doesn’t feel like doing any of the suggestions the animals offer, and they leave offended that Taylor rebuffed their help…until the Rabbit comes and listens. Doerrfeld somehow shows very complex emotions in a simple way that children (and adults) can relate to and understand.  

The next picture book had me loudly sobbing in my cubicle (if you do not cry while reading it you have no soul and I recommend you read The Sociopath Next Door). The Rough Patch by Brian Lies is one of the most beautifully illustrated and raw written picture books I have ever read. A blunt synopsis is a story showing the death of a beloved pet. There are several go-to books to cover this subject when parents come in requesting it and this is now my forever go-to. Lies creates total heartbreak but ends with pure happiness and hope. The story follows the anthropomorphic fox Evan who loses his beloved dog and falls into angry despair. The illustrations are reminiscent of Norman Rockwell and the language is simple and touching. I DO NOT recommend reading it in a public place especially if you are an ugly crier but if you or anyone you know has lost a pet this picture book will leave them with a glistening eyed smile. 

My last picture book suggestion is Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. This is Love’s first book and, once you read it, you will realize how astonishing that is! The book starts with a young boy named Julian with his abuela (grandmother) on the subway where they see beautiful vibrant women dressed in shimmery gowns. Julian believes they are mermaids and is mesmerized. When they get home Julian quickly makes an impromptu mermaid outfit just like the women he saw. Love uses unique brown backgrounds to her jubilant and vibrant illustrations adding a unique whimsy. With the subtle but still strong message of individuality and acceptance this should be a staple in everyone’s bookshelf. 

Do not panic this holiday season. Relish the ambiance and make wonderful memories. If you need help finding books or creating a personalized reading list stop by any library and ask for help. One thing about librarians is we love to talk about books. Enjoy the holidays and hopefully enjoy them with a book! 

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