Books are gifts to be enjoyed over and over again. Here are some to consider for the children on your list, with reviews written by two area teachers of children’s literature: Melissa Cain (MAC) of the University of Findlay and Alexa Sandmann (ALS) of Kent State University.
ALPHABET TRUCKS. By Samantha R. Vamos. Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke. Charlesbridge. $14.95.
For truck enthusiasts of all ages, the illustrations reinforce not only upper and lower-case versions of each letter, but also expand understandings of all the different kinds of trucks. Who knew there was a “grapple truck, and its grabby, massive claw,” a “lowboy truck, with its drop in deck height,” or a “quint truck: hose, tank, ladders, and pump”? This is a great book for sharing together. (ALS)
THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. Written and illustrated by Jane Cabrera. Holiday House. $16.95.
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a party in a pear tree.” Thus begins Cabrera’s new take on the old Christmas song. Verses include the animals many children enjoy most — mice, dogs, cats, foxes, squirrels, bears, reindeer, and penguins, as well as elves and snowmen. Childlike paintings with bold brushstrokes show the charming animals doing winter activities. (MAC)
THE CAT WITH SEVEN NAMES. By Tony Johnston. Illustrated by Christine Davenier. Charlesbridge. $16.95.
Seven neighbors are charmed by the tubby cat that seems to adopt each of them. Their names for him range from Stuart Little to Placido to Mooch. He adds comfort to each person’s life, including that of his original owner who finds him after he has gone astray. Wonderfully, his many families come together to create a community all their own, celebrating their connection with Regis — his original name — in this charming tale. (ALS)
THE CHRISTMAS COAT: MEMORIES OF MY SIOUX CHILDHOOD. By Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Illustrated by Ellen Beier. Holiday House. $16.95.
The South Dakota winter is hard to endure when you’ve outgrown your coat. Young Virginia looks forward to getting a new one when the charity boxes arrive, knowing that, as the daughter of the Episcopalian minister, her parents will allow the other parishioners to choose first. When another girl selects the coat Virginia wanted, she is devastated. Then, she receives a Christmas miracle — a perfect coat just for her. (MAC)
TREASURE HUNTERS. By James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein. Illustrated by Juliana Neufeld. Little, Brown and Company. $14.99.
Designed for middle school readers, Treasure Hunters is the first in a new series by Patterson. Four siblings, after first losing their mother in Cyprus and then their father during a wicked storm in the Caribbean, work diligently to continue the work begun by their parents. Literally, they were treasure hunters! Full of adventure, humor, and thoughtful moments, the short chapters and liberally interspersed illustrations of this swashbuckling tale will quickly engage any reader.(ALS)
NOBODY ASKED THE PEA. By John Warren Stewig. Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright. Holiday House. $16.95.
Despite its picture book format, this book should appeal to middle graders. It is the old Princess and the Pea story told from the perspective of 10 unique voices, including pushy Queen Mildred, recalcitrant Prince Harold, various complaining servants, a hopeful princess, a muddy one, a family of watchful mice, and the proud pea itself! Van Wright’s lively facial expressions perfectly capture the gossipy tone of the story. (MAC)
WILL & WHIT. By Laura Lee Gulledge. Amulet Books. $12.95.
Meet Willhemina, “Will,” who when confronted by a hurricane called Whitney, “Whit,” has the chance to face her fear of the dark, as well as the sadness she feels about her family. Will is content to live with her Aunt Ella and help run the family business, an antiques shop. Still, artistic Will has yet to re-embrace life until she and her friends have the chance to help with an arts carnival. A graphic novel, the illustrations are integral to the narrative and stylistically quite engaging, enhancing a sweet, thought-provoking, affirming read. (ALS)
FAR FAR AWAY. By Tom McNeal. Knoff. $17.99.
The ancient ghost of Jacob Grimm narrates this unique and complex novel. Jacob watches over neglected teenager Jeremy, who takes comfort in his companionship. In a Hansel and Gretel-like twist, the village baker is a dangerous predator who manipulates the town to turn against Jeremy and his friend Ginger and then holds them captive. Only Jacob knows where they are and, frustratingly, only Jeremy can hear him. (MAC)
POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART. Compiled by Caroline Kennedy. Illustrated by Jon J. Muth. Hyperion. $19.99.
In this stunning collection of poems grouped by theme, Kennedy has showcased some of the world’s favorite poets. Classic favorites Frost, Hughes, and Kipling join Elizabeth Browning, Dickinson, and Rosetti. The contemporary and diverse voices of Nikki Grimes, Janet Wong, Gary Soto, and Yusef Komunyakaa provide further balance. Muth’s watercolor illustrations resonate with color and add greatly to the enjoyment of each poem. Truly, this is an anthology sure to be an instant family favorite and a tome to treasure for years to come. (ALS)
MICHAEL HAGUE’S READ-TO-ME BOOK OF FAIRY TALES RETOLD BY ALLISON GRACE MACDONALD. Illustrated by Michael Hague. Harper. $19.99.
MacDonald retells favorite classic fairy tales to read aloud to children aged 4-8. While some of the gorier details were left out, these versions are, happily, closer to their original sources than to the Disney versions. Hague’s illustrations have a swirly, art nouveau quality. Images of forests of twisted trees, richly colored and textured settings, scary monsters, lively facial expressions, and multiethnic characters should stay with children for life. (MAC)