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Published: Sunday, 12/13/2009

Kids books: Magic for the holidays and everyday

These reviews were written by four professors of children's literature: Barbara Britsch (BB), professor emerita of Lourdes College; Melissa Cain (MC) of the University of Findlay, Barbara St. John (BSJ), professor emerita of Bowling Green State University, and Alexa Sandmann (AS) of Kent State University.

Count on these books to be welcome holiday gifts that will last long past their giving. Memorable characters, original plots, and vivid settings make these books fine choices.

Preschool (Ages birth to 5)

WADDLE. By Rufus Butler Seder. Workman. $12.95.

This is a sturdy book for young hands presents a collection of creatures domestic and wild (elephant, dolphin, pig, hummingbird, and more). The photographic art of scanimation shows each creature vigorously scampering, waddling, or stomping in a frame with an accompanying question: "Can you leap like a dolphin?" Hours of fascination for the youngest readers. (BB)

THE FROGS AND TOADS ALL SANG. Written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. HarperCollins. $16.99.

Arnold Lobel is the creator of the beloved Frog and Toad books. After his death, his daughter Adrianne discovered some books he had made for friends. This is one of them. As a loving tribute to her father, Adrianne painted his original pencil sketches in watercolor. This collection of sweet and funny poems preceded Frog and Toad and may have inspired their creation. (MAC)

OTIS. Written and illustrated by Loren Long. Philomel. $17.99.

Otis, the little red tractor, loved helping the farmer with chores. At night he slept in the barn next to his friend, the smallest calf. Then one day the farmer brought home a big new yellow tractor and Otis was banished behind the barn. Otis missed his work and his friends. The little calf was to be shown at the fair, but she became stuck in the pond mud. Of course, Otis saves the day. Preschoolers will enjoy Otis' adventures. (BSJ)

DINOTRUX. Written and illustrated by Chris Gall. Little, Brown Books. $16.99.

Millions of years ago, dinotrux ruled the world! The Craneosaurus lunched on birds; the Dumploducus was a litterbug. What happened? Well, rain and trucks don't mix well .. Good behavior ultimately rules. Vibrant, oversized pictures make for a most engaging book for the preschool set, the perfect book for dinosaur and truck fans. (ALS)

Primary (Ages 6 to 8)

THE SECRET WORLD OF WALTER ANDERSON. Written by Hester Bass. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Candlewick Press. $17.99.

Lewis' luminous watercolor art perfectly presents Walter Anderson's world of the Mississippi delta's wildlife and natural expanses. This lonely artist, living in a cottage at the river's edge, ". may be the most famous American artist you've never heard of." He spent great chunks of time on primitive Horn island, 12 miles offshore, painting birds, fish, and other creatures. In the cottage, he left an entire room, every inch of walls and ceiling painted with the wildlife he loved. What a magnificent legacy. (BB)

PAULA BUNYAN. Written by Phyllis Root. Illustrated by Kevin O'Malley. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $16.95.

Using outrageous exaggeration characteristic of American tall tales, Root describes Paula, Paul Bunyan's little sister, as "so fast she can run back to yesterday." Paula breaks things when she sings, so she goes to the North Woods to sing in peace with her new wolf friends. When she finds loggers cutting trees, she uses her ingenuity to chase them off. (MAC)

BUT WHO WILL BELL THE CATS? Written and illustrated by Cynthia von Buhler. Houghton Mifflin. $16.

The story is based on Aesop's familiar fable: who will bell the cats? The illustrations, however, are unique. In the dark basement of the castle, Mouse and his friend Brown Bat exist on leftover crumbs. Upstairs the Princess and her cats enjoy lavish meals. Mouse is convinced that the roles would be reversed if only the cats had bells on their collars. Finally he comes up with the perfect solution. The illustrations were constructed by hand as theater sets. Cynthia von Buhler's work has been displayed in several museums. Her use of detail is amazing. A delightful experience! (BSJ)

S IS FOR SAVE THE PLANET. Written by Brad Herzog. Illustrated by Linda Holt Ayriss. Sleeping Bear Press. $17.95

"A How-to-be Green Alphabet" subtitle captures the essence of this text. Beginning with "Appreciation" for "A," and describing Earth Day, the book proceeds through the alphabet in paired rhymed stanzas, along with more detailed sidebars that provide substantial information about the status of Planet Earth. Both entertaining and enlightening. (ALS)

Intermediate (Ages 9 to 12)

A SEASON OF GIFTS. Written by Richard Peck. Dial Press. $16.99.

Grandma Dowdel is back, in spades! The eccentric, open-hearted star of Richard Peck's A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder is now "ministering" to the preacher's family, her new next-door neighbors. Twelve-year-old Bob, the minister's son, narrates this series of highly improbable small-town adventures, featuring his two sisters and himself. Set in the fall, from Halloween through Christmas, this is a perfectly timed holiday book, a completely hilarious read. (BB)

HERBERT'S WORMHOLE: A NOVEL IN CARTOONS. Written and illustrated by Peter Nelson and Rohitash Rao. Harper. $12.99.

Herbert's Wormhole should appeal to middle-grade boys who love video games, comic books, and silly cartoons. When Herbert and his neighbor Alex wear modified 3-D video game suits while sliding down Alex's tube slide, they pop through a "wormhole" 100 years into the future. They have adventures in their hometown of Merwinsville, now a strange place where squid-like G'Daliens coexist with humans and play anti-gravity T-ball. (MAC)

MILLION-DOLLAR THROW. Written by Mike Lupica. Philomel. $17.99.

If you won $1 million, what would you do with the money? Nate Brodie, a 13-year-old star football player, enters a contest to complete a pass during halftime at a New England Patriots' game. At first this sounds like fun but as pressure builds, Nate's life becomes increasingly complicated. Nate's plans for the money make this a very special story. (BSJ)

THE POTATO CHIP PUZZLES. Written by Eric Berlin. Putnam. $16.99.

Potato chip tycoon Dimitri Simon creates a series of puzzles for middle-schooler Winston Breen and his friends to solve - for a $50,000 prize to be given to the school of the winning team. A competitive all-day event, readers have the chance to solve the puzzles (answers included), just as Winston and his team do. Between the puzzles and the mystery of who is trying to sabotage Winston's efforts, this is a page-turner. (ALS)

Young adult (Ages 13 and up)

VIOLA IN REEL LIFE. Written by Adriana Trigiani. HarperTeen. $16.99.

Viola is "dumped" into an Indiana boarding school while her parents are filming in Afghanistan. Far from her beloved Brooklyn, it's the "sherbet-colored sweater capital of the world," she decides. The school year becomes full of her three roommates, a new boyfriend, designing theater sets, and Midwestern food. Her movie camera becomes a new eye on a strange world. Trigiani's first young-adult novel has a perfect edgy teen voice and a memorable character. (BB)

A VOICE OF HER OWN: BECOMING EMILY DICKINSON. Written by Barbara Dana. HarperTeen. $16.99.

After 10 years of research, Dana imagined and reproduced the voice of beloved American poet Emily Dickinson, telling the story of her growing-up years in first person. Her thoughts about religion, death, nature, family, pets, illness, and anxiety, as well as her fierce desire to be a poet, are interwoven with descriptions of her daily life. Dana helps readers understand the context of Emily's work and want to read her poems and letters. (MAC)

BLACK ANGELS. Written by Linda Beatrice Brown. Putnam. $16.99.

With the chaos of the Civil War surrounding them, three children become separated from their families and find each other. Eleven-year-old Luke, a slave, has run away from his master to join the Union Army. He travels north through the woods where he meets 9-year-old Daylily, also a slave; she has witnessed her mother's brutal death. They travel together and encounter Caswell, 7, the son of a white plantation owner. Caswell wants his "mama-dear." The children gradually begin to trust one another. Betty Strong-Foot, an Indian woman, offers shelter and advice. As their bond grows stronger, the children realize they may not be able to stay together. They agree to meet at Betty's cabin in 10 years. As readers witness this reunion they realize the profound effects of this journey and the resulting friendships. Absolutely unforgettable. (BSJ)

WINGS. Written by Aprilynne Pike. HarperCollins. $16.99.

Fifteen-year-old Laurel has always known that she was different from others, but until a lovely flower resembling wings unfolds from her back, she doesn't know she is a faerie, destined to save the world from trolls. In a romantic, unusual, and intriguing tale, Aprilynne Pike has created a story that fans of Twilight will adore. (ALS)



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