Dec. 21 2016 11:36 AM

Taking a look at classic holiday books, new and old

“Nutcracker,” a 1984 adaptation of the classic E.T.A. Hoffmann story, features illustrations by beloved children’s author Maurice Sendak.
Courtesy image
“’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house …”

New Yorker Clement Clarke Moore wrote this famous first line in 1823, and the story has since become a favorite tale to read on Christmas Eve. But when it comes to children’s books about the holidays, there are plenty of options out there, and it seems like everyone has a personal favorite for this time of year.

If your family hasn’t started a tradition, here are a few ideas. Let’s start with the classics.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” by Dr. Seuss, is an iconic tale of a creature who descends on the happy residents of Whoville to ruin their holiday. Alas, all ends well when the Grinch discovers the true meaning of Christmas and joins in the festivities. The book is published in several languages, including Spanish.

It seems natural that an Englishman would weigh in with one of the most popular Christmas tales, “A Christmas Carol.” Written as a novella by Charles Dickens in 1843, this thinly veiled lesson on social justice is loosely based on Dickens’ early childhood. It explores how even a stingy, self-absorbed man can have a conversion when confronted by his past, present and future. One can only hope that the three ghosts have an appointment at Trump Tower this Christmas.

And of course there’s “the most famous reindeer of all.” Robert L. May penned “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” for Montgomery Ward, the Chicago-based department store, in 1939. In this sweet tale, a social outcast discovers that his differences are actually an asset, and in the process he saves Christmas. The department store gave away more than 2 million copies of this pamphlet, and in 1948, Detroit’s Jam Handy Corporation produced a cartoon version for theaters. The popular stop-motion animation version was produced in 1964.

“The Nutcracker,” is a staple of ballet stages this time of year. For a literary version, check out the 1984 “Nutcracker”, which dresses up the E.T.A. Hoffmann classic with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. The original book, which celebrates its bicentennial this year, was written by Hoffmann, a German, in 1816. It tells of a toy — the titular Nutcracker — which comes alive to fight the evil Mouse King. The ballet adaptation, which features music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, is one of the most popular ballets in history.

For a contemporary — and hilarious — take on the holidays, look to humorist David Sedaris. His “Holidays on Ice” has become one of the most popular comedic looks at Christmas and its foibles. One uproarious essay in the book, “Santaland Diaries,” describes a season Sedaris spent working as an elf at Macy’s. You never look at mall Santas the same way.

“The Polar Express,” by Michigander Chris Van Allsburg, is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and it is as popular as ever, thanks in no small part to the 2004 Tom Hanks animated adaptation. Michigan State University graduates from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s will likely remember the hulking 1225 steam engine, which sat on campus for decades. The train, which Van Allsburg recalls seeing as a young boy while attending a football game with his father, was the inspiration for “The Polar Express.”

O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” speaks to the unselfishness of Christmas, featuring a couple who sacrifice their most important possessions to make the other happy. “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” by Charles Schultz, is another perennial favorite. Originally a made-for-TV special, the story criticizes the over-commercialization of Christmas. The more traditional “The Bells of Christmas,” by National Book Award winner Virginia Hamilton, takes us back to Ohio in the 1890s, where Hamilton presents a family celebrating traditional Christmas.

If your looking for a book that will entertain both the very young and the discerning oldster, check out the incredible pop-up book “The 12 Days of Christmas,” by former Michiganian Robert Sabuda. It’s a paper engineer’s delight.

For a darker take on the holidays, pick up Tim Burton’s illustrated version of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” “The Little Match Girl,” written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845, is a thoroughly depressing tale of an impoverished young girl selling matches on the street.

For the adults in the family, Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” and Alex Haley’s “A Different Kind of Christmas” tell Christmas stories that are not soon forgotten. Prolific writer Glendon Swarthout, whose books range from John Wayne-esque tough guy stories to groundbreaking pop culture books like “Where the Boys Are,” has written one of the most heart-tugging Christmas books of all time, “The Melodeon.” The book is set in depression-era rural Michigan.