3 Holiday Picture Books With a Touch of Magical Realism

A runaway dreidel, parading yokai, and dancing ornaments make these holiday picture books that much more magical.

Marshall, Linda Elovitz & Ilan Stavans. The Mexican Dreidel. illus. by Maria Mola. 24p. Kar-Ben. Oct. 2023. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781728449289; pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781728449296.
PreS-Gr 2–This Mexican Janucá (Hanukkah) book, imbued with magical realism, tells a sweet story while introducing Mexican Jewish and non-Jewish holiday traditions, as well as Spanish words. Danelito is visiting Bobe (his grandmother) for Janucá, but he doesn’t know any of the neighborhood kids and has no trompo (spinning top). Bobe provides him with a dreidel, and he spins with the other children. The trompos fall, but his dreidel keeps spinning, and when it touches the fallen trompos, they straighten and follow it. The children follow the runaway tops until one of them, hearing Danielito’s distress, offers to help catch the dreidel. The tops slow and finally fall, and Danelito invites his new friends to celebrate the first night of Janucá with him. The text is concise without feeling stilted and includes Spanish terms organically within the story. The magical realism fits naturally. The art has the feel of being painted on wood, with visible brush strokes. Most of the children have brown skin and dark hair; Danielito is slightly paler, with medium brown hair. The town has cobblestone streets and brightly painted, flat-topped, stucco buildings all attached to one another. Children have large eyes, brightly colored clothes, and simple noses and mouths. An author’s note tells the story of Hanukkah, as well as the history of Jews in Mexico. VERDICT This lovely friendship story does an excellent job portraying a lesser-known Jewish community and their traditions. An excellent choice for libraries wanting to expand their Hanukkah collections.–Amy Lilien-Harper

Takahashi, J.P. Tokyo Night Parade. illus. by Minako Tomigahara. 40p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. Oct. 2023. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063224964.
PreS-Gr 4–In Japanese folklore, the Hyakkiyagy, or Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, takes place when the human and supernatural worlds overlap. Eka, a Black and Japanese girl growing up in Tokyo and New York City, relishes tales of ykai, or supernatural creatures. On the eve of her return to the U.S., she imagines taking part in a glorious night parade through the streets of Tokyo. Accompanied by her faithful dog and friendly kappa, a froglike spirit, she dons her kitsune, or fox-spirit costume, and joins the singing, prancing yokai parading through the moonlit streets. Digital illustrations in gorgeous hues of lavender, mauve, and turquoise animate the hordes of fierce and endearing creatures. Based on Takahashi’s own experience of growing up amid two cultures, this lively tale grows pensive as Eka wistfully thinks of the distance between her two homes, family, and friends. For more magical realism, pair this title with Sunny Seki’s The Last Kappa of Old Japan and Sanae Ishida’s Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet. VERDICT Offering a glimpse of modern and traditional Japanese culture, this tale will charm a wide audience, including readers unfamiliar with and those enamored of its folklore, fiction, and manga.–Marilyn Taniguchi

Valenti, Karla Arenas. Esperanza Caramelo, the Star of Nochebuena. illus. by Elisa Chavarri. 40p. Knopf. Sept. 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593488676.
K-Gr 3–In a magical kitchen full of bakery and pastry tools, a cake ornament comes to life. Esperanza Caramelo dances through the pages, bringing the other ornaments to life. Soon, it will be a celebration with cookie cutters, an abuelita, hot chocolate, dancing figures, and a Christmas tree that sits atop the cake. Nobody notices at first when a kitchen cat perks up and wants to play. In their dash to escape the cat, the cake and all the ornaments are overturned. It is up to the ornaments to make sure that the cake is presentable for Nochebuena. The next morning, the baker walks in with the cat on her shoulder. At this point, the narration breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience in the second person, bringing readers into the story: “the baker knew what you and I have all along—her pastelería had been gifted with a touch of magic.” Atop and around the cake, mariachis, abuelas, dancing partners, children and sparklers, and family pets are featured as a celebration within a celebration. The last page displays a family’s Christmas joy, paralleling the celebration that Esperanza Caramelo and the other figurines had the night before. Each page is a feast for the eyes. Back matter includes the author’s photos of her own abuela’s pastry creations. VERDICT Richly illustrated with vibrant colors, this picture book is sure to please.–Stephanie Creamer

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