★★★★ In Gus and the Winter Sprite by J. Steven Young, a diminutive dragon named Gus is lamenting the loneliness that winter brings—after all, his friends are all hibernating for the season and his treasured garden has gone dormant—when a winter sprite comes zooming into his cozy house and interrupts the quiet. Crystal, the sprite, has a problem of her own: she’s not like other sprites, and helping to bring on winter doesn’t make her happy like it does everyone else. Gus swaps a story for a story and tells Crystal that he was once feared by the other inhabitants of the forest, who didn’t understand that Gus is actually harmless. Emboldened, Crystal tells Gus that what she really wants to be is a phoenix, the legendary bird of fire. She uses the power of a wish to transform into her heart’s true desire and helps awaken Gus’s friends so that they can all gather for a festive winter party.
This cheerful children’s book is brimming with earnestness, emotional intelligence, and charm. The story’s main characters, Crystal and Gus, connect by sharing their vulnerabilities with each other and finding that this is the basis of a great friendship. It’s a great demonstrative tool to show kids that feelings aren’t something to shy away from; they can be uncomfortable, but they are vital all the same. Written in verse, the book’s text is accompanied by computer-drawn pictures that have a potent energy to them. The three-dimensional depth of each image is an effective and clever way of capturing the expressiveness of the book’s characters. Ultimately, this book deserves a spot alongside the holiday classics.