December is well underway and Christmas is almost here. You might like to add these two new books for children to your Christmas shopping list.

Read and Play Christmas was published by Standard Publishing in 2012 and illustrated by Kristina Fenimore. Young children, three- to six-year-olds will be delighted with the sturdy, colorful cardboard figures that accompany this board book. As an adult reads, the child can “play” Christmas by moving the proper cardboard figures of Mary, Joseph and even sheep to the outlined impressions on each page. When the story is finished, the child can tuck them safely back in the cover until the next reading. The text follows the Bible story of Jesus’ birth in an accurate yet, child-friendly way.

The second book I am suggesting is The Sparkle Box: A Gift with the Power to Change Christmas. It was written by Jill Hardie, illustrated by Christine Kornacki and published by Ideal’s Children’s Books (2012). This book can be comfortably read to three- to six-year-olds but it definitely can engage a wider audience. The whole family can share it in preparation for Christmas. Its focus on helping others during the Christmas season is most refreshing. Families will enjoy filling their own “Sparkle Box” that comes with each book.

With Sam and his family the reader travels through the days before Christmas. The book begins with Sam putting a train with a red engine on his Christmas list. After that he helps his mom bring blankets for the homeless. Sam is sad for them and thanks God for his home. Each day he wonders about the “Sparkle Box” on the mantel. He goes with his dad to the office party for the employees’ children and learns the employees have collected enough money to build a well in Africa. At home he sees his dad put something in the Sparkle Box, but his dad says he will have to wait until Christmas to know what it is.

On Christmas morning Sam receives the train with the red engine but he is more pleased to learn that the Sparkle Box is their family’s gift to Jesus. In it are notes telling about the ways they have helped others, including the warm mittens Sam gave to a homeless man. The theme of what we do for people in need, we do for Jesus, is threaded through out the story in a meaningful, yet low-key way.

Each setting is illustrated with artwork that uses natural colors, making it seem like a photograph. This realism fits well with the realistic way Sam’s family helps others at Christmas. May The Sparkle Box spark many new ideas of how your family can help others at Christmas and throughout the coming year.

Carol Green, a graduate of Northwestern, is married and the mother of three adult children. Her five grandchildren affectionately call her “Grams cracker.” She is the published author of many poems for both adults and children; three coloring books: God Gave Me Five, ABC Fun Book, and Color God’s World Bright; and the picture book: My Mom Loves Me.