Kids Books to Spin Holiday Tales

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Byline: lEANNE iTALIE Associated Press

A peg-legged pirate St. Nick with a sleigh pulled by sea horses, and a big-headed flying caribou whos fed up with the cult of Rudolph provide fresh spin for the holidays on a beloved Christmas poem for kids.

Clement Clarke Moores "Twas the Night Before Christmas" has delighted one and all since it first appeared anonymously in a newspaper in 1823. This season, some oldie-but-goodie versions are available, along with a few wacky new ones amid piles of pleasing picture books for Christmas.

"A Pirates Night Before Christmas," ($14.95, ages 4-8, Sterling) by Philip Yates, with illustrations by Sebastia Serra.

This is a bellylaugh of a book for young buccaneers, loaded with jargon that lends itself to amusing readalouds.

Christmas Eve aboard the Black Sark has the pirates "snorin like pigs in thar beds, while visions of treasure chests danced in thar heads." With a shout of "Avast!" from the poop deck, seafaring Santa emerges from the mist with a Captain Hook hand and one good leg, snarling at his harnessed team of giant sea horses from his shell sleigh: "Now, Salty! Now, Scurvy! Now, Sinbad an Mollie!" A couple of women pirates are on board and theres a surprise for the ships hardworking lookout.

"The Dinosaurs Night Before Christmas," ($18.99, ages 4-8, Chronicle) by Anne Muecke, with illustrations by Nathan Hale.

A boy is snug in his New York City apartment bed when a clatter from the American Museum of Natural History across the street awakens him. Racing over snow in barefeet, he walks into a dinosaur holiday party in the fossil room.

Lighting a yule log in the middle of the floor and munching on gingerbread in the shape of Pterosaurs, the boy is hoisted by his new friends to place a star atop their tree, then the booming voice of Santasaurus swells as he calls to his dino-deer Bronto and Maia and Steggie and Packy. Tri-tops and Raptor and Rexxie and Bracki!

Included is a CD of dinosaur-themed holiday songs and a readaloud of the book by Al Roker. A portion of book sales goes to the museum.

"Night Before Christmas" ($17.99, ages 4-8, Putnam), written and illustrated by Jan Brett.

This is the 10th anniversary hardcover of Bretts magical vision that honors the Victorian feel of the poem with Stockbridge, Mass., as the setting. She includes lively margin art thats a story onto itself, lots of animals and a twist all her own: a couple of stowaway elves.

"Alaskan Night Before Christmas" ($15.95, ages 4-8, Pelican) by Tricia Brown and illustrated by Alan Stacy.

The head of Santas team is a self-centered caribou named "Kotz," short for the Alaskan town Kotzebue. With a flashy smile, he hogs the media spotlight and dreams of stardom ala Rudolph, but he ends up down and out in Anchorage instead.

"Racecar Drivers Night Before Christmas" ($15.95, ages 4-8, Pelican) by Una Belle Townsend and illustrated by Rick Anderson.

The book has "old Santy Claus" in a fireproof red suit as a late-starter in a bust-em-up Christmas Eve race dubbed the Jingle Bell Jammer.

"Hawaiian Night Before Christmas" ($15.95, ages 9-12, Pelican), written and illustrated by Carolyn Macy.

Here Santa rides in on the balmy trade breezes aboard an outrigger canoe pulled by sea turtles. The book is filled with Hawaiian words and has bare-chested Santa in a malo (mens cloth wrapped around his hips). After leaving gifts near a trimmed coconut tree, he bids: "Aloha, and Mele Kalikimaka to all!"

"A Flake Like Mike" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 3-8, for sale exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue stores and Saks.com) by Mike Reiss and illustrated by Chris Capuozzo.

A curlecue snowflake named Mike is shunned by the mass of lookalike flakes, but he leads a bloodless revolution against comformity with a smile on his face. …