(Area juvenile literature specialists Barbara Britsch (BB) of Lourdes College, Melissa A. Cain (MAC) of the University of Findlay, Alexa L. Sandman (ALS) of the University of Toledo, and Barbara St. John (BSJ) a retired Bowling Green State University educator, describe their holiday 2004 children's book selections.)
This season's offerings in children's books are notable for particularly fine art by distinguished illustrators as well as newer artists, and for intriguing stories from both new and familiar authors.
PRESCHOOL (Ages 3-5)
Wild About Books. Written by Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Marc Brown. Knopf. $16.95.
By mistake, librarian Molly McGrew drives her bookmobile into the zoo. Seemingly oblivious to the location, she gets organized and begins reading aloud "the good Dr. Seuss," quickly drawing an audience. The animals go "wild, simply wild, about wonderful books" and soon the entire zoo is learning "all about this new something called reading." The joyful expressions on Brown's animals add to the satisfying experience of this book: reading is one of life's great pleasures. ALS
A Firefly In A Fir Tree: A Carol For Mice. Written and illustrated by Hilary Knight. HarperCollins. $15.89.
First published in 1963 as part of the Christmas Nutshell Library, this parody of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is still sure to delight. Knight's lively illustrations are full of charming detail, from bottle-cap stools to a chandelier made of a cork. Children should enjoy looking in on the joyous Christmas celebration of a mouse and her "true love." MAC
The Best Bottom. Written by Briggitte Minne. Illustrated by Marjolein Pottie. Milk and Cookies Press. $15.95.
Peacock was certain that his was the best tail, but Pig thought hers was, and donkey assured everyone his was. Each animal joined the chorus. Cow suggested a contest and the preparations began. Bottoms were fluffed, puffed, and curled. Then frog asked to enter the contest. The animals laughed, but frog's creativity won the day Bright illustrations enhance the fun. BSJ
Peedie and Boo Boo. Both books written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin. $9.95 each.
Two small goslings, Boo Boo, a blue girl gosling, and Peedie, a yellow boy gosling, are perfect friends for the younger set. Boo Boo, who loves to eat, samples food throughout the barnyard until bubbles from the pond set her to burping. Peedie, the forgetful one, hunts for his lucky red baseball cap Their serio-comic adventures told in simple words and charming illustrations will endear them to both readers and listeners. Welcome them! BB
PRIMARY (Ages 6-9)
You Read To Me, I'll Read To You. Written by Mary Ann Hoberman. Illustrated by Michael Emberley. Little, Brown. $16.95.
Subtitled, "Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together," this companion to the New York Times bestseller of the same title provides the opportunity for two people to read each story together, one reading one side, another reading the opposite side, and both reading the middle. Based on eight traditional fairy tales, these are delightful revised versions that encourage young readers to read the originals at each version's end, as revealed in the refrain, "You'll read to me! I'll read to you." ALS
Potatoes, Potatoes. Written and illustrated by Anita Lobel. Geenwillow. $15.99.
First published in 1967 and now redone in full color, this ranks with Dr. Seuss's Butter Battle Book as a classic children's peace book. A woman keeps her sons safe from war by walling in her potato farm, but one son joins the red army and the other joins the blue army. A pitched battle for her potatoes brings both sides to their senses. MAC
I Took the Moon For A Walk. Written by Carolyn Curtis. Illustrated by Alison Jay. Barefoot Books. $16.99.
"I took the Moon for a walk last night, It followed behind like a still summer kite " So begins a lovely, mystical nighttime adventure. A young boy walks the Moon through woods, past sleeping and wakeful animals, carefully above a church spire, past the park, over a stream to his home, where the Moon "shar[ed] its sweet sleepy light." Jay's gently flowing illustrations, full of detail, perfectly complement Curtis' lyrical verse. Two end pages provide information about both the moon and nighttime creatures. BB
Lost In The Woods. Written and illustrated by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick. Carl R. Sams II Photography, Inc. $19.95.
This is a book for all ages, an absolutely delightful fantasy. A fawn is hidden in the woods. The animals are worried. Who is he? Where is his mother? They keep watch over the baby until the mother returns. The photography is spectacular! This book is an amazing accompaniment to their Stranger In The Woods. BSJ
MIDDLE (Ages 9-12)
Technically, It's Not My Fault: Concrete Poems. By John Grandits. Clarion Books. $15.00.
Poetry can be downright funny, as is easily seen in this collection of concrete poems. They do not follow traditional patterns, but are words manipulated into varying shapes in order to fully provide meaning. From a commentary on a roller coaster, "Spew Machine" to his explanation of "Where New Words Come From: Snarpy," narrator Robert is one thoughtful middle-grade student. This collection will engage middle-grade readers, especially those who think they don't like poetry. ALS
Merlin and the Making of the King. Retold by Margaret Hodges. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Holiday House. $16.95.
This slim volume is a perfect introduction to King Arthur, including Merlin's protection of baby Arthur, Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, the gift of Excalibur, his troubles with Mordred and Lancelot, and his return to Avalon. The book is designed to look like a medieval illuminated manuscript, with fancy initial capitals, borders representing the seasons, and touches of gold. MAC
What If You Met A Pirate? Written and illustrated by Jan Adkins. Roaring Book Press. $16.95.
Do you think you would like to be a pirate? This book is filled with detailed information about pirates' daily life: food, clothing, living quarters, and, of course, adventures. Famous pirates are introduced. Colorful illustrations enhance the text, bringing these fascinating buccaneers to life. BSJ
Can You Find It, Too? By Judith Cressy. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. $15.95.
This sequel to the earlier book, Can You Find It?, also asks children to put on their art-detective hats and look closely at famous paintings from both American and European museums. Each carefully reproduced painting has a list of numbered items to find: 5 dogs, 8 birds, 1 pair of red-and-white legs, 1 forehead star, for example. Answers are color-coded at the back of the book. The game will engage "lookers" of a wide age range and should encourage all of us to play the game on our next museum visit. Lots of fun. BB
YOUNG ADULT (Ages 12 and up)
Walt Whitman: Words For America. Written by Barbara Kerley. Illustrated by Brian Selznick. Scholastic. $16.95.
While picture books are rarely a part of the young adult market, this one is perfect. Kerley's lyrical text honors Whitman, the man, and Selznick's art is the ideal way to come to know the heart of this American poetic genius. Whitman's compassion for the soldiers of the Civil War and Lincoln is brilliantly revealed in both text and illustration. The author's and illustrator's notes tell more of Whitman's life, complementing the focused text - a treasure. ALS
Abarat: Days of Magic. By Clive Barker. HarperCollins. $24.99.
Candy Quackenbush continues her adventures in Abarat, a fantastical world of islands, each frozen in an hour of day or night. Keeping one step ahead of evil Christopher Carrion, Candy experiences more of the strange islands and their inhabitants while gradually learning secrets of her past. Culminating in a devastating return to her hometown in Minnesota, Candy's story keeps readers riveted. MAC
Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum Peril and Romance. By Marthe Jocelyn. Candlewick Press. $15.99.
Fourteen-year-old Mable dreams of an exciting life of romance and adventure, but when she joins her sister as an assistant schoolmistress, her new life is still humdrum, until Mable joins the Ladies Reading Society led by Mrs. Rattle, also a newcomer to Perth County, Ontario. The ladies are not reading, but planning women's rights demonstrations that threaten the very fabric of the community. This is a finely detailed account in journal format of both early 20th-century farm life (hard) and women's struggles for equality (even harder). BB
Betsy and the Emperor. Written by Staton Rubin. McElderry Books $16.95.
After Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at Waterloo he became a prisoner of the British and was exiled to the island of St. Helena. For a time he lived with the Balcombe family there and became involved in their daily lives. Betsy, the rebellious teenage daughter, became his friend and confidante. This friendship allows Betsy to be her own person and the emperor to cope with his imprisonment. Betsy's strength and courage make her a fascinating heroine. BSJ
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