11-28-11: Best Children’s Books of the Season
Shopping for the 18 and under crowd this holiday season? Baltimore County librarian and book critic Paula Willey has gathered her recommendations — she talks them over with Tom. You can also read her longer reviews at her blog, Pink Me.
Gifts for babies and toddlers:
Press Here by Herve Tullet (Chronicle Books, $15). Wildly simple and inventive interactive book that will bring a smile to the face of readers of literally all ages.
Taro Gomi Board Book Boxed Set (Chronicle, $20). Three sturdy books featuring Taro Gomi’s bright simple illustrations.
Oh, David! by David Shannon board book box set (Blue Sky Press, $10). Toddler David is always getting into trouble, but you just gotta love him. This slipcased set includes Oops! David Smells, and Oh, David!.
Bumble-Ardy by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, $17.95). The master’s first picture book in decades is just as subversive and lovable as his classics, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen.
Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan (Viking, $16.99). Austin-based illustrator Srinivasan has made kind of a lot of videos for indie band They Might be Giants – her own book has the same quirkiness but is sweet and quiet too.
Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five by Valorie Fisher (Schwartz & Wade, $17.00). Little kids get a real sense of accomplishment naming all the letters and numbers, weather, shapes, and colors in this extremely appealing book. All the illustrations are composed of brightly colored toys and objects put together in witty ways.
How Do You Feed a Hungry Giant? by Caitlin Friedman, illustrated by Shaw Nielsen (Workman, $18.95). This is a delightful story with kicky, modern cartoon illustrations and a big heart. A little boy encounters a hungry giant in his backyard and empties the kitchen trying to feed him. The subtle emphasis on sharing and hospitality is perfect for the holiday season. Slides and doors offer lots of surprises, but there are no pop-ups to break or tear.
And this year’s extravagant, fragile pop-up book has to be the pop-up Little Prince (Houghton, $35), with the original text and illustrations by Antoine de Saint-Exupery engineered into flaps, letters, and a pop-up planet, all executed on creamy thick paper in an oversized format.
Ivy and Bean Super-Duper Collection: Books 1-8 by Annie Barrows (Chronicle, $100). Best friends who are total opposites, illustrated by the marvelous Sophie Blackall. Book 8 has just come out, so this will include brand-new material.
The Judy Moody Uber-Awesome Collection: Books 1-9 (Candlewick, $48) or Stink: The Super-Incredible Collection: Books 1-3 (Candlewick, $15) by Megan McDonald. Judy is a little obnoxious, but has a style all her own – her little brother Stink is sweeter, but no less endearing.
Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, $30). Six adventures of the plucky pig heroine beloved of early readers. These books are cute and gentle, with lively, pretty full-color illustrations.
Box sets and one-offs for avid middle grade readers:
Chronicles of Harris Burdick (Houghton, $24.99). Celebrated illustrator Chris Van Allsburgh published a book of enigmatic, intriguing, unexplained pictures some years ago. Since then, legions of kids and adults have used those illustrations as jumping-off-places for their own fantastic fiction. The current book takes the original illustrations and pairs them with custom-written stories by people as talented and diverse as Stephen King and Sherman Alexie. Neato.
WONDERSTRUCK, by Brian Selznick. (Scholastic, $29.99.) From the talented pencil of the man who brought us the Caldecott-Award-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this is another big thick breathtakingly illustrated novel about a boy and a girl and their journeys of discovery.
Inheritance Cycle 4-Book Hard Cover Boxed Set (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, Inheritance) by Christopher Paolini. Boys (and girls) who love fantasy may want their very own slipcased copies of these adored books about a boy and his dragon.
Name of this Book is Secret box set (Knopf, $95.44). Mysterious author Pseudonymous Bosch puts his or her pair of youthful detectives through all sorts of shenanigans in this five-book series. Kids who love puzzles and brain teasers will be particularly enamored of these books.
Old fashioned books are also good holiday reads: recent editions of the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright, and Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking feature new illustrations. Also look for My Father’s Dragon, The All-of-a-Kind Family, the Chronicles of Narnia, and of course Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.
Big beautiful nonfiction for years of browsing:
This is probably the type of book that is the most pleasurable to give. Books like almanacs and weird-but-true books rebound upon the giver for years to come, when the kid steps up with an unexpected fact or snippet of trivia that she or he learned from the book you may not even remember giving her.
The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick (Three Rivers Press, $22.95). This has been out for ages, but it’s worth tracking down for your middle-grade graphic novel enthusiast. The drawing style is reminiscent of Bone, the humor is broad, and the history is for real. Larry Gonick is a staff cartoonist for Muse magazine, and has written more than a dozen cartoon guides to subjects like statistics, genetics and sex.
Sports Illustrated Kids 1st and 10: Top 10 Lists of Everything In Football (Sports Illustrated, $19.95). 96 pages of facts, trivia, and SI’s amazing photographs.
Feel the Force! and How the Weather Works, both from Candlewick. Sliders, doors, pop-ups, and windows help illustrate principles of physics and meteorology. These are fun to read, dense with facts, and sturdy enough to last a long time in the hands of a middle grade kid.
National Geographic Almanac of World History, 2nd Edition (National Geographic, $24.95). In an age of Google, kids still enjoy sitting down with a book of fascinating facts and beautiful pictures. It’s the difference between going out and looking for specific information and allowing information to reach out to us. And a bargain at 25 bucks.
How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by local hero Kevin O’Malley (Walker Children’s, $17.99). Lasciviously gory tales of the processes, diseases, and wounds that helped people like George Washington shuffle off this mortal coil.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson (Balzer and Bray, 19.99). American history told from the point of view of a old woman loosely based on Nelson’s own grandmother – a witness to history, but not a major participant. Every time Kadir Nelson comes out with a new book, I think, “This is his masterpiece,” but then he just outdoes himself with the next book. Beautiful, meaningful, inspiring, but also totally readable.
The LEGO Ideas Book, by Daniel Lipkowitz. (DK, $24.99.) This book addresses a concern lots of parents have begun to voice about LEGO – that the sets have become too specific. In some houses, the kids follow the instructions to build a set once, and then take it apart or lose the pieces and ignore it until they’re given another set. The LEGO Ideas Book is a recipe book for bridges, cars, spaceships, animals, etc. that kids can make with bricks they already have.
The Williams Sonoma cookbooks for kids. They are spiral bound and lie flat, and the recipes are at an appropriate difficulty level, and appeal to kids.
For the kid who doesn’t like to read
If you celebrate Christmas, and hang stockings, I personally feel that no stocking can be called truly stuffed unless it includes a pad of Mad Libs. Not only are Mad Libs excellent for practicing parts of speech, they are also a fun activity that the whole family can share even if they’re semi-comatose from overdoing it at dinner.
Don’t forget to give to others this holiday season.
Studies show that owning books is one of the most significant predictors of success in school. FirstBook is a DC-based charity that distributes books and educational materials to children in need – 85 million books so far. A ten-dollar donation sends four new books to schools or programs that serve children from low-income families. You can donate online at FirstBook.org.