Christmas roundup of books for young children
In the introducton to the familiar tale Miracle on 34th Street (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $15.95), Valentine Davies's wife, Elizabeth Davies, writes: ''(During the war years) . . . the sight of the glaring commercialism surrounding the Christmas season struck my husband. He turned to me and asked, 'What would Santa say if he could see this?' ''
''Miracle on 34th Street,'' a story about a little girl who absolutely refuses to believe in anything make-believe, and her friendship with a man named Kris Kringle, is Valentine Davies' answer to that question. Tomie dePaola's full-page, blocklike illustrations seem to capture slices of the story.
In Apple Tree Christmas (Dial Books, $10.95) Trinka Hakes Noble has drawn on her own childhood to write this tender, quaint Christmas story based on times past. The Ansterburgs live an idyllic country life with their animals, Mrs. Wooly and her lambs, Old Dan the horse, and Sweet Clover the cow. The family harvests apples from an old tree, which provides fruit to eat, a place for Katrina to draw, and a place for her sister Josie to swing. When a severe ice storm hits just before Christmas, the old apple tree is destroyed. Katrina's papa saves Christmas day when he unveils his presents.
Author/ illustrator Charles Mikolaycak has captured the haunting, ethereal qualities of Babushka (Holiday House, $14.95), a classic Russian Christmas tale about Babushka's endless search for the child who was born a King. The muted, yet colorful illustrations seem to radiate with warmth - the warmth of Babushka's love for her tiny home, which she is so busy cleaning, that she refuses to leave it to search for the king.
When Babushka does decide to follow the procession of men in their search, it is too late. ''So on and on, day after day, today and forever, Babushka continues her search,'' Mikolaycak relates. ''A baby laughs, the smell of cinnamon fills the air, and a tiny gift appears. We know, and we will always know, Babushka has been there, Babushka who is still seeking the child who was born a King.''
Spirit Child: A Story of the Nativity (Morrow Junior Books, $12.) is an ancient Aztec tale. Originally accompanied by music, it combines stories from the Bible, medieval legends, and traditional Aztec lore. Translator John Bierhorst recently discovered the tale, and his English translation is the first into any modern language. Barbara Cooney's glowing illustrations illuminate the splendor and poignancy of this tale.
The story begins 5,000 years after the world began, and the devil is king. The devil is proud and mean, and no one on earth can defeat him. But Jesus, whose name had already existed before the world began, comes to earth. He saves the people from the devil because Jesus' name means savior of people.
Susan Jeffers has captured the wonder and love of one of the most popular Christmas carols in her captivating book Silent Night (E. P. Dutton, $12.95). The large illustrations, in muted colors, portray the quiet loveliness of the birth of Jesus. This book will help children, especially younger children, visually interpret this carol. The words and music are included at the end of the book.
The Christmas Train (Little, Brown and Co., $12.95) is another Christmas tale that draws on a family story for inspiration. Ivan Gantschev's aunt was the little girl who saved a train from a collision in the mountains on Christmas Eve.
In this simple, yet unforgettable story, Mr. Gantschev tells how Malina, whose father is a stationmaster, hears a terrible crash outside - a rockslide on the track! Malina remembers what her father says: ''if there is ever an obstruction on the tracks, build a warning fire four hundred yards ahead of it and wave a lantern.'' Mr. Gantschev's opalescent paintings in soft shades of gray and blue provide a beautiful backdrop for this exciting and heartwarming tale.
Although most illustrators set the classic The Night Before Christmas (Alfred A. Knopf, $9.95) in the countryside, it was originally written in New York City. Anita Lobel, inspired by a Victorian town-house she lived in in Brooklyn, has brought the poem back to the city. Ms. Lobel's illustrations show the reader a late 19th-century New York that is beautiful, ornate, and peaceful.
The delightful duo of Ernest, a bear, and Celestine, a mouse, have done it again! In Gabrielle Vincent's Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine (Greenwillow Books, $12.), Ernest has promised Celestine a Christmas Party and has gone back on his promise because they don't have any money. But Celestine patiently and quietly refutes every argument Ernest presents as a reason for not having a party. This is a tender book, and Ernest and Celestine not only give a party, but it is such a success that everyone wants to come back next Christmas.