Amid the glittering array of electronic toys and games this season, a book is a treasure that lasts a lifetime. Exceptional children s books provide warmth and comfort, an intriguing story, and memorable characters.
They make great Christmas presents, too, which is why The Blade asked the following juvenile literature specialists for their recommendations for excellent 2005 children s books: 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.
The first book in each category is considered particularly noteworthy.
(Birth to 4 years)
WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY. Written by George Shannon. Illustrated by Laura Drouzek. Greenwillow. $16.89. This unexpected color book makes readers think: Pink is for crow. How can that be? When it has just hatched. Once they understand the trick, preschoolers should enjoy guessing what the next color will represent. Primitive-style acrylic paintings of objects from the natural world perfectly complement the text, helping young children focus on the colors. MAC
ROBERT S SNOWFLAKES. Compiled by Grace Lin and Robert Mercer. Viking. $10.99. When Grace Lin s husband needed treatment for bone cancer, her friends rallied to help her. Last year 190 children s book illustrators decorated wooden snowflakes which were sold on eBay. The proceeds $100,000 were donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Pictures of all the snowflakes are gathered in this amazing book. BSJ
A GRAND OLD TREE. Written and illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma. Arthur Levine Books. $16.99. Once there was a grand old tree. Thus begins this poetic tale of the life cycle of a tree, home to a myriad of creatures. Ultimately, the tree dies, no longer flowering, bearing fruit or sowing seeds, but remaining home to many creatures. The circle of life is clearly and delightfully explored in this text for young readers. ALS
TALL. Written and illustrated by Jez Alborough. Candlewick Press. $15.99. Bobo, the baby chimp, is thrilled to be tall as one jungle animal after another gives him a higher lift until Bobo falls from the giraffe s head. His mother catches him and he is happy to be small in her arms. Only a few rhyming words and lively illustrations make this a perfect lap book. A height chart is included. BB
RUSSELL THE SHEEP. Written and illustrated by Rob Scotton. Harper Collins. $16.89. Poor Russell the sheep! What is he to do? He tries everything from using a frog for a pillow to curling up in a rusty car trunk. Nothing works, not even counting six hundred million billion and ten stars. Children should enjoy following quirky Russell in his long blue-and-white striped stocking cap on his quest for sleep. MAC
ONE RED DOT. Written and illustrated by David A. Carter. Simon & Schuster. $19.95. From the bug books creator comes an amazing pop-up for counting and investigation. Each number, from one to ten has a creatively engineered pop-up double-page spread with alliterative text, such as, six fluttering flicker clickers or nine nimble nines in a towering tree. One red dot for each display is sometimes hiding, sometimes obvious. An absolute delight. BB
HAPPY FEET: THE SAVOY BALLROOM LINDY HOPPERS AND ME. Written by Richard Michelson. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Harcourt. $16. Happy Feet loves to dance. He also loves to hear his father tell of the night he was born, the same night the famous Savoy ballroom opened; he dreams of being a headliner there. Lewis captures the excitement of this historic place that brought blacks and whites, rich and poor together. Author s notes provide additional information about the Savoy and some of its most famous dancers. BSJ
ZEN SHORTS. Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth. Scholastic. $16.95. Stillwater, a giant panda, befriends three siblings, sharing a story with each. These Zen shorts or short meditations offer ideas to contemplate. One promotes sharing all that one has, another that perceiving luck as good or bad is relative, and, finally, revealing the power of forgiveness. Muth s ink drawings of the shorts contrast beautifully with the watercolors of the storyline. ALS
THE SEVEN WONDERS OF SASSAFRAS SPRINGS. Written by Betty G. Birney. Illustrated by Matt Phelan. Atheneum. $16.95. After Eben extols the virtues of the Seven Wonders of the World, he accepts his father s challenge to find Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs within a week so that he ll receive a train ticket to visit family and see the mountains in Colorado. His father explains, I just think there s no use searching the world for Wonders when you can t see the marvels right under your own nose. This charming novel suggests what should be valuable in life. ALS
THE BROTHER S WAR. By Patricia Hermes. Kingfisher. $6.95. Two sides of the Civil War are presented in this book. Melody and her cousin, Marshall, have grown up together. However, as feelings related to the war develop, these two find themselves on different sides. The Battle of Bull Run is described first through Melody s eyes, then through Marshall s. Who is right? Can friendship survive? This is an unusual series the focus is more on action than description. BSJ
THE SECRET BLOG OF RAISIN RODRIGUEZ. By Judy Goldschmidt. Razorbill/Penguin. $12.99. This short novel is a modern take on Judy Blume s classic, Are You There God, It s Me Margaret? When her mother remarries, unhappy Raisin moves across the country. She communicates with her old friends, the kitties, by posting her funny new girl blunders and gripes about her new life on an Internet web log. Disaster strikes when her blog goes public. MAC
KITTY AND MR. KIPLING. Written by Lenore Blegvad. Illustrated by Eric Blegvad. Simon & Schuster. $16.95. True events are the basis for this charming short novel about Rudyard Kipling s stay in Dummerston, Vermont in 1892. Eight-year-old Kitty, his neighbor, is enchanted by stories of Mowgli, the jungle boy as they take shape. She, in turn, shows Mr. Kipling how Vermonters live. A fine story of an unlikely friendship, with an informative author s note and bibliography. BB
(Ages 12 and up)
HIGH RHULAIN. By Brian Jacques. Philomel. $23.99. From the beginning of this story, the reader knows that Tiria Wildlough is destined for greatness. In this 18th entry in the Redwall series, most of the adventures take place far from the Abbey. Green Isle has always been home to otter tribes, but now is overrun by an evil group of wildcats. Prophecies of the chosen one the High Rhulain are fulfilled after dangerous journeys, riddles, battles, and, of course, feasting. A grand adventure. BB
WHERE THE GREAT HAWK FLIES. By Lisa Ketchum. Clarion. $16. Shortly after the Revolutionary War, two Vermont teenagers meet when their families become neighbors. Daniel tries to balance his Pequot mother s beliefs with those of his English father. Hiram is haunted by the Indians raid he survived. Grudgingly, the boys become involved in one another s lives and realize how much they have in common. Based on a story told by the author s family, extensively researched. BSJ
13 BLUE ENVELOPES. By Maureen Johnson. HarperCollins. $15.99. Seventeen-year-old Ginny embarks on a journey of a lifetime after her Aunt Peg passes away and leaves her 13 little blue envelopes, beginning with a ticket to London. One-by-one, Ginny accomplishes each challenge given to her by her aunt, learning more about her aunt and herself. Adventuring through Europe, Ginny s self-discovery takes shape, including a bit of romance. ALS
MIRRORMASK. Written by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Dave McKean. HarperCollins. $17.89. This small square book is uniquely designed, similar to a graphic novel. The text, in varying fonts and sizes, sweeps across the pages, balanced with drawings and images from the film version. The story is a sophisticated fantasy through which Helena, raised in a family of circus performers but longing for a normal life, deals with her mother s medical crisis. MAC