The abundance of new books with a Christmas theme includes several lovely ones by authors and illustrators who already have plenty of fans in the 4-8 age group.
* Tomie dePaola, with more than 200 titles to his credit, is best known for "Strega Nona." But "The Legend of the Bluebonnet" and "The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush" have quite a following, and now he has illustrated "The Legend of the Poinsettia" (Putnam, $15.95, 32 pages).
In Mr. dePaola's retelling, the star of the story is Lucida, who lives in a mountain village in Mexico. Every Christmas Eve there's a procession to church, and the villagers carry gifts to place at the nativity scene.
Lucida and her mother are weaving a blanket for the manger. But Lucida's mother becomes ill, and Lucida can't finish the blanket herself. The night of the procession, Lucida is watching from the shadows when an old woman appears before her.
"Your mama is going to be fine," the woman tells her, and then urges her to join the others in church.
"I can't," Lucida says. "I don't have a gift for the Baby Jesus."
The old woman tells her that "any gift is beautiful because it's given." So Lucida gathers an armful of tall, green weeds and carries them into the church. When Lucida places the weeds in front of the manger, they burst into poinsettias -- each "tipped with a flaming red star."
In the author's note, Mr. dePaola explains how the Mexican wildflower came to be named after Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, the U.S. minister to Mexico from 1825 to 1830. This book is available in Spanish, as are "The Legend of the Bluebonnet" and "The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush."
* Christopher Manson's handsome woodcuts graced "The Tree in the Wood" and "Over the River and Through the Wood." This year he has come out with "Good King Wenceslas" (North-South Books, $14.95, 32 pages).
The words to the popular 19th-century carol by John Mason Neale are hand-lettered and cut in wood, complementing the woodcut illustrations painted in watercolor. All the verses are here -- a revelation if you usually start humming after the part about the snow being deep and crisp and even. And there's a biographical note on Wenceslas, who was Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century.
* Ulises Wensell has illustrated more than 90 children's books, almost all of them better known in Europe than here. His paintings are warm with magic and light, and he fills pages with entrancing landscapes in "They Followed a Bright Star," based on a poem by Joan Alavedra (G. P. Putnam's Sons, $15.95, 40 pages).
The poem, which was set to music by cellist Pablo Casals, follows the shepherds as they follow the star to Bethlehem. Along the way the shepherds meet several folks -- a boy at a well, a fisherman, a farmer, a couple working in a vineyard.
The shepherds urge each of them to join the journey to the Christ child. But they've all been told by an angel to stay behind and do what they do best, because one day the child will need the water and the fish and the bread from the farmer's harvest and the wine. It's a fine twist to the traditional Christmas Eve story, foreshadowing other miracles to come.
* "The Christmas Tree Ship" by Jeanette Winter (Philomel, $14.95, 32 pages) is based on a true story. Every winter from 1887 until 1912, Herman Schuenemann loaded his fishing schooner with spruce trees and sailed from Manistique, Mich., down Lake Michigan into Chicago to deliver them in time for Christmas.
In 1912, the ship was lost at sea during a winter storm. And for the next 22 years, Herman Schuenemann's widow and three daughters hired a crew and delivered the trees themselves. The story is beautifully illustrated by Ms. Winter, whose folk-art style will be familiar to fans of her "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Diego" and "Sleepy River."
* Jane Yolen is as prolific as they come, with 150 titles published and another 40 books under contract. One of her latest is "Good Griselle," illustrated by David Christiana (Harcourt Brace, $14.95, pages).
Griselle is a sweet woman, a lace maker who lives in the shadow of a Paris cathedral. She is too kind and unselfish to be true, say the gargoyles who watch her from their perch on the church. They make a Christmas Eve bet with their neighboring stone angels, wagering that they can put Griselle to a test that will prove no one can be that good.
The angels, who smile down on Griselle's charitable deeds, take the gargoyles up on it. The gargoyles send an ugly, mean, troublesome brat to live with Griselle. She finds it in her heart to love him. Even when the gargoyles try to fool Griselle with a spirit masquerading as the young husband she lost to the war, her love for the ugly child carries the day. Griselle is too good to be true.
The Waldenbooks store in Towson Town Center has three authors coming in to autograph books on the next couple of weekends. The schedule:
* Today from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Patricia Mills ("On an Island in the Bay," "When the Cows Come Home").
* Tomorrow from noon to 2 p.m.: Richard Stack and Josh the Wonder Dog ("Doggonest Christmas," "Dog- gonest Vacation," "Doggonest Puppy Love" and "Josh: The Story of Wonder Dog").
* Next Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Isabelle Wilner ("B is for Bethlehem" and "A Garden Alphabet").