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Stories of the season to share

Merry Un-Christmas by Mike Reiss (HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 3 to 7) is one of the freshest Christmas books in a while. Noelle, who lives in Christmas City where it's Christmas 364 days of the year, is sick of new bikes, new ponies, turkey and lights. She eagerly counts the days until Un-Christmas when she'll go to school, see the mail carrier instead of Santa and watch shows like Oprah and Gilligan's Island instead of holiday specials. (Her friends Holly, Carol, Claus, Kris and Chrissy love Un-Christmas, too.) Reiss is a former head writer for The Simpsons.

The Tall Book of Christmas (Gramercy $9.99; all ages) is a re-release of a classic collection of 29 poems, songs and stories by various artists. Originally released in the '50s, the book features such works as I Saw Three Ships (an Old English carol); O Little Town of Bethlehem; and, of course, The Night Before Christmas.

Christmas Eve Magic by Lucie Papineau and Stephane Poulin (Kids Can Press, $16.95, ages 4 to 8) is loosely based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It tells the story of a young pig who hates Christmas but comes around to the meaning of the day after some strange dreams. He invites the town orphans to his no-longer lonely mansion for a great feast. It teaches a good lesson to children, but may also depress and scare them when the pig looks back on a happy Christmas with his parents then sees a cold, lonely one after they were "lost forever at sea.''

National Geographic has a Holidays Around the World collection of books featuring the magazine's trademark sharp, bright color photos that capture the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of various cultures celebrating special days. Though most of the traditions are quite different, these books illustrate that no matter what country, what religion or what holiday it is, all children get a thrill from special foods, music, pageantry and a day off from the ordinary. Four books in the series are recent releases: Celebrate Diwali with Sweets, Lights and Fireworks; Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes and Dreidels; Celebrate Ramadan & Eid Al-Fitr with Praying, Fasting and Charity; and Celebrate Thanksgiving with Turkey, Family and Counting Blessings. Each book is written by Deborah Heiligman and costs $15.95.

The First Christmas Stocking by Elizabeth Winthrop (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $15.95; ages 4 to 8) tells the story of Claire, who learned to knit by watching her mother, who made clothes for wealthy people in their town. Claire was asked to knit stockings for those same people. As she prepares to make a delivery one night that will pay her enough to help her poor family, she decides, instead, to help someone who truly needs help.

A Merry Little Christmas by Mary Engelbreit (HarperCollins, $16.99; ages 3 to 8) is an ABC book with a page and poem for each letter of the alphabet that tells how a village of mice celebrates Christmas.

The Legend Of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan (HarperCollins $7.99; ages 9 and up) is a mythical story of Santa Claus, king of Forever, land of the immortals. Through a miracle, he and Mrs. Claus end up with a daughter, Holly. But an evil soul emerges and it is up to Holly, who grows into a young woman, to break the spell over Forever. With four magical animal friends, she escapes to Victorian New York for more danger, adventures and another miracle.

The Night Before Christmas has been reprinted hundreds of times since the poem Clement Clarke Moore originally wrote for his children appeared in New York's Troy Sentinel in 1823. One of the latest versions is illustrated by Gennady Spirin (Marshall Cavendish, $16.99; all ages),S who was born on Christmas Day near Moscow but now lives in Princeton, N.J. His book depicts a very old-fashioned Christmas with an ornate sleigh, mythical-looking reindeer and a peaceful, silent blanket of snow over stone and brick homes.

Christmas Pop-up by Robert Sabuda (Orchard Books, $9.99; all ages) features the beautiful pop-ups we have come to know and love from Sabuda. This time they form the word "Christmas.'' The book is small enough to fit in a stocking and easy for little hands to hold when cuddling to read it at night.

Angels and Other Strangers by Katherine Paterson (HarperCollins $9.99; ages 8 to 13) is a collection of stories of people who put aside their loneliness and end up learning about certain joys of life. A minister tries to help a boy find his father. A mother copes with the death of her baby. A father searches for his runaway son. A widower takes in a challenging foster child. Paterson also wrote two Newbery Medal winners, Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved.

Christmas USA by Mary D. Lankford (HarperCollins $15.99; ages 8 and up) is another book that shows the differences and similarities of the holiday in different regions of the country and traces the history of traditional foods, ornaments, sleigh rides, tree lightings and more. There's an interesting section on White House traditions and history and a chapter on the Post Office includes trivia. A timeline of toys traces the emergence of must-have toys from cap guns, Teddy Bears and Howdy Doody marionettes to Silly Putty, Trivial Pursuit, Cabbage Patch Kids and Beanie Babies.

Just A Snowy Day (HarperCollins, $10; ages 4 to 8) features Mercer Mayer's popular "little critters" playing in the snow. It is full of touch-and-feel components with tabs to pull, flaps to lift and scratch-and-sniff patches. This book is for all cultures to get in the spirit of the season; it's about winter fun, not a specific holiday.

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. She can be reached at