Christmas Eve Blizzard - September 20, 2006

There are certain books that evoke emotion in us. Usually, it's because of nostalgia. We associate certain things with various times in our lives. When I happened to stumble upon Christmas Eve Blizzard, by Andrea Vlahakis, I felt a surge of nostalgia, for my own childhood, my own discoveries, and my own relationships with nature and with my grandparents.

Christmas Eve Blizzard is a beautifully written book. The messages in the book are appropriate for all ages. The illustrations, by Emanuel Schongut, delicately portray the harsh conditions of the storm and tell the tale in pictures as effectively as it is told in words.

Additionally, this book contains various phrases in Spanish. Nicholas refers to his grandpa as "abuelo," and they each intermingle a few Spanish words within the text. The words and phrases are identified within the book and are also included in a glossary in the back of the book.

The thing that makes Arbordale books so unique is that they each contain a Creative Minds section in the back of the book. For educators, this information provides a wealth of classroom activity ideas. For moms and dads, this information is a great way to expand your child's knowledge and to learn various crafts you can do at home to teach your child about birds.

Christmas Eve Blizzard was a 2005 finalist for the ASPCAR Henry Bergh Children's Book Award. It makes a heartwarming addition to any library collection and is a perfect read-aloud book during the holidays or any time of year.  -Catherine Ipcizade

Mom Central - Dec 2008

Christmas Eve Blizzard by Andrea Vlahakis tells the story of a little boy and his grandfather getting ready for Christmas. The little boy, Nicholas, finds a hurt cardinal bird when staring after the apple tree he and his grandfather planted. Nicholas learns an important lesson of giving on Christmas Eve. The tenderness he takes with the bird teaches kids the importance of putting others, even animals, before themselves. Christmas stories always touch the heart with messages of kindness and giving. What really makes this story is the wonder of a miracle that Nicholas experiences. Christmas Eve Blizzard is a heart-warming tale with beautiful illustrations by Emanuel Schongut and several entertaining resources at the back of the book. Tips on how to make your backyard bird friendly, how to take care of a hurt bird, and a glossary of Spanish words used in the story offer your child ways to relate to the book and Nicholas.

Armchair Interviews

When a beautiful cardinal falls from a branch of a newly planted apple tree and is trapped in deep snow on Christmas Eve, Nicholas and his grandfather retrieve the cardinal and care for it until it's strong enough to fly. Grandfather Santos is from Mexico and he talks to Nicholas about the cardinals from his home. When Nicholas is an adult and his grandfather is long gone, each Christmas Eve the branches of the apple tree are filled with a grand surprise.

Christmas Eve Blizzard  is a lovely story of a grandfather sharing his past and a child who puts the welfare of a bird before his own. The illustrations are beautiful and children will long to touch the pictures.

At the back of the book is a "Creative Minds" section and it is filled with information about bird trivia, what to do if you find an injured bird, how to make a bird feeder, etc. Recommended for ages 4-8. Armchair Interviews says: Parents--read the book and then pick an activity to do with your children. It will be entertaining and educational. And most importantly, you will be having a great time together. 

Midwest Book Review Small Press Bookwatch - Dec, 2005

Christmas Eve Blizzard is Andrea Vlahakis' charming story of young Nicholas and his grandfather who put all thoughts of Christmas decorating and preparation aside as they lovingly care for a cardinal whom they find stranded in a snowy blizzard. Responding to their kindness, the cardinal quickly regains its strength and flies off to rejoin its family. A sweet and unexpected reward for Nicholas, Grandpa, and their entire village, brings them all a lifetime of Christmas cheer. In addition to Emanuel Schongut's lovely illustrations, Christmas Eve Blizzard is enhanced for young readers with a Spanish/English glossary for the Spanish words that appear in the text of the story, as well as fun facts about birds (and cardinals in particular), information on making a bird-friendly backyard habitat, easy bird feeder crafts for Christmas and year round, information on what to do if the young reader were to find an injured or orphaned baby bird, and even cardinal numbers and math games! With it's timely and timeless Christmas message of caring for animals and other people, and a young boy's relationship with his grandfather, Christmas Eve Blizzard is a very special and highly recommended addition to a child's Christmas reading list and for inclusion into both school and community library picturebook collections.

Children's Literature Comprehensive Database

 Nicholas and his Grandpa Santos plant an apple tree. During a blizzard on Christmas Eve, Nicholas looks out the window to check on the tree when he notices a red bird fall from a branch. He rescues the cardinal, a bird he had never seen before in his part of the country. It is given tender care given by Nicholas and his grandfather. The next day Nicholas takes it back outside and sets it free. As each year passes, more and more people come on Christmas Eve to see the tree full of red cardinals.

The text is peppered with a few Spanish words which help to create the setting and give personality to the characters. The illustrations follow the story and convey the action. The back matter contains information that is useful all year long: a short Spanish/English glossary, bird trivia, how to create a backyard habitat, how to make simple birdfeeders, and what to do if you find an injured or orphaned baby bird. The very last page makes a connection between "Cardinal Numbers and Math Games." While this story takes place on Christmas Eve and there are references to the Christmas tree in the living room, the focus of the story is the bird rescue. The religious symbolism of Christmas is not presented in this story, which may make it accessible to more classrooms.  - Sharon Salluzzo

Heartland Reviews

This picture book uses a bilingual (Spanish) story and excellent illustrations to teach about how to help birds survive the winter. Nicholas goes out in a dangerous blizzard to rescue a Cardinal bird when he sees the bird fall off a new apple tree Nicholas and his grandfather planted. He releases the bird once it has warmed and regained its ability to fly. In following years people come from miles around to se an apple tree in the snow that has so many Cardinals perched on it, they look like living apples from a distance.

In the back of the book, there are many activities for feeding birds in the winter, as well as a small Spanish glossary. This was a particularly well done book and we rated it five hearts. - Bob Spear, Publisher and Chief Reviewer.

JoAn W. Martin, Educational Consultant, The Baytown Sun - Dec. 4, 2005

Nick and his grandfather are concerned about a young apple tree they planted only seven months ago. can it survive the blizzard? As Nick watches the snow swirling furiously, he bundles up and goes out to rescue a brilliant red bird that has tumbled out of the tree into a snow drift. Grandpa recognizes the cardinal, but says it is rarely seen in his area, especially at this time of year. Grandfather and grandson work together to build a cage. When the cardinal recovers, they set it free. All winter, Nick watches for the cardinal, but it does not return. After Nick grows up, a strange incident occurs. People from all around come to see the apple tree that is filled with apples in the winter. As they come closer, they realize it's not apples. Every Christmas, the apple tree is filled with cardinals. At the end of Christmas Eve Blizzard are five pages for teaching children.

In a section titled, "For Creative Minds", environmental information abounds. Included are "Teaching Trivia", making bird feeders, even how to care for an injured bird. An especially easy, but interesting project is peanut butter on pine cones hung in trees to feed birds in the winter. This is Andrea's first picture book. Most of her work is about nature. As a child, she rescued a bird during a blizzard. Scchongut is a prolific illustrator of all levels of books and has illustrated for many publishing houses. He taught art at Pratt Institute in New York for several years.

National Center for the Study of Children's Literature, SDSU

This book has a lot to recommend it; it's the story of a young boy saving a cardinal from frost and hunger, with his grandfather's help, just at Christmastime. The boy's good deed is rewarded in a most colorful, unique way. Vlahakis' prose is straightforward, yet even the undertone expresses the excitement of the rare event of caring for a cardinal miles away from where it should be. The story is inherently warm, yet Schongut manages to convey graphically the cold season of the cardinal's desperate situation along with the expressiveness of the main characters and, of course, the beautiful red of the cardinal. The ending, sort of magic realistic, adds a dimension of amazement. A good story for reading aloud. -A. Allison.

Children's Literature Comprehensive Database

When a cardinal perched in a tree flutters to the ground during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, Nicholas heads out to help.  He takes a beating from the wind, but manages to rescue the cold bird.  Grandpa Santos then helps him fashion a cage where the cardinal can rest.  The cardinal, one of a species not usually found in the area, is warmed and gets better.  On Christmas day he is well enough to be released.  From that time on, the tree gets covered with cardinals every Christmas and many people visit to see it.  This myth is well told and is easily understandable.  The author’s strong verbs and illustrator’s artwork combine to create a poignant story.  Added strength comes from end material.  A Spanish/English glossary, some bits of teaching trivia and ideas on how to make a “bird-happy” backyard are included.  Other pages present ways to make four bird feeders, what to do with an orphaned bird, and how to play a math game with “cardinal” numbers.  This book offers a comprehensive package that should be added to elementary rooms with children ages 5 to 9, as well as school libraries.  It can easily supplement math and science lessons.-Nancy Garhan Attebury.

Judith Nasse

Christmas Eve Blizzardreads like a folktale, which makes one think that this story about Nicholas rescuing a nearly frozen cardinal really happened. The delicate illustrations by Emanuel Schongut are as informative as the text by Andrea Vlahakis. The text and illustrations blend well together, a sign of successful picture books.

In addition the story is multicultural with Spanish words included for bi-lingual families and classrooms. Further information and activities are provided at the end for young readers, teachers, and parents. What a lot of fun families and classes will have making bird feeders and enhancing outdoor environments to make them more bird friendly. Children 5 - 8 years old will delight in this book all winter long, not just at Christmas. -Judith Nasse

What do you do when you discover a fallen bird, baby or adult? What do you do when a winter blizzard creates life-threatening risks for a bright red cardinal?

Disclaimer: This book was written by Andrea Vlahakis and Illustrated by Emanuel Schongut, not Janet Ruth Heller (who is an excellent children's author but not for this book, Christmas Eve Blizzard). At some point the database listing may change but not in the known future.This is the appropriate image for the book.

The extended family bond that forms between a grandparent and a grandchild can have lasting effects. The magic of a bird rescue during a Christmas Eve blizzard created a memory destined to last a lifetime for this child and his grandfather.

Young Nicholas stared out the window and worried about the survival of an apple tree that he planted seven months before with his Grandpa Santos. He worried that the snow would be too stressful on the young tree. Just as he was persuaded to return his attention to the Christmas tree that was being decorated, a flash of red and a flutter of feathers drew his eyes back to the apple tree. Mixed into the furiously flying snow was a bright red cardinal that had fallen out of the apple tree.

Immediately, without considering his own safety, he pulled on his winter clothing and dashed into the storm. Getting to the tree was difficult. Snow was accumulating rapidly, and blowing snow stung his face. Finally reaching the cardinal, he carefully wrapped the bird in a scarf and returned to the warmth and safety of the house.

[At this point many like myself hesitate. The myth’s we’ve often heard have been to leave the bird alone, however, over the years I’ve learned the benefit of rescuing birds. We just need to know how and when. See the link that follows the review.]

With grandfather’s help they created a safe place for the cardinal until it could recover and the storm passed. This was a special moment for Grandpa Santos. Nicholas had never seen a cardinal and grandpa hadn’t seen one since he was a boy living in Mexico. “They don’t usually live in this part of the country.” The next day, on Christmas, before opening presents, Nicholas rushed to check on the cardinal and found him ready to fly. The storm had passed and they released the bird, wishing it a Merry Christmas as it flew away.

This is only part of a caring and affectionate story that invites the reader to consider helping wildlife. Christmas Eve Blizzard, by Andrea Vlahakis and illustrated by Emanuel Schongut, introduces a few words of Spanish into the story. “I should be very angry with you,” said Grandpa Santos, “muy enojado, for going out in this blizzard.” I wouldn’t consider this a bilingual book, however, six words/phrases are integrated into the story. - September 2006

Christmas Eve Blizzard shares a special moment of caring between the boy, his grandpa, and the bird that needed assistance. It introduces the concept of rescuing wildlife and the value of doing a good deed. It also created a modern day folktale that could be shared with young children every year while decorating the Christmas tree. For that fairy tale aspect of this story, you will need to read the book, I won’t tell the tale. The ending is somewhat magical.

Author Vlahakis writes children’s books, although this is her first picture book. She writes about nature, wildlife, and birds. She claims that the inspiration for this book came from her own childhood and times spent watching a birdfeeder and from her own bird rescue. Emanuel Schongut’s illustrations are exquisite, especially his snow. Examples of his talents can be viewed at his website.

Arbordale Publishing books offer more than the story. This 32-page story ended with five pages designed for Creative Minds. It includes a Spanish/English glossary, teaching trivia, making a bird backyard habitat complete with a birdfeeder. There are instructions on what to do if you find an injured or an orphaned baby bird. The accuracy has been confirmed by Ann Shahid, Education Director, Audubon Center at the Beidler Forest (South Carolina) who reviewed the final section. If you think the book ends here, it does but only if you want it to end.

I recommend using this fiction book to teach about animals, birds, and families, but also to introduce folktales. This is appropriate for 6 to 10 year old readers who enjoy protecting and assisting wildlife. I encourage parents or homeschool teachers to share this story and follow the tale with one or two of the activities found at the end of the book. -Carol Knepp, former teacher