This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by teachers of children’s literature. Today's reviews are by Melissa Cain, professor at the University of Findlay, and Alexa Sandmann, professor of literacy at Kent State University.
Here are some suggestions of gift books for children of all ages this holiday season. The holidays are about heart. These books show heart in a variety of ways: caring about animals, ideas, and the environment; nurturing and appreciating people’s talents; and displaying compassion, even to those who might not be easy to love.
BABY LOVES AEROSPACE ENGINEERING! and BABY LOVES QUARKS! By Ruth Spiro. Illustrated by Irene Chan. Charlesbridge. $8.95 each.
Part of the Baby Loves Science series, these are “little books about big ideas.” In Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, Baby learns the dynamics of flight by watching a bird fly, and discovers how engines and fuel make flight possible for planes and rockets. In Baby Loves Quarks, Baby learns that quarks are the building blocks of nature, that atoms and molecules compose the world, including Baby! These colorful board books are an inviting introduction to all things science and math. (ALS)
THE MOST PERFECT SNOWMAN. Written by Chris Britt. Illustrated by the author. Balzer + Bray. $17.99.
Poor Drift is a lonely snowman. He was made in a hurry and only has two stick arms and eyes and a mouth made out of coal. The other snowmen are fancier than Drift with their carrot noses, hats, scarfs, and mittens. Then some children find him and give him everything he needs to be perfect. After a wonderful day of play, a blizzard comes and blows everything away except his carrot nose and scarf. These he offers to a little rabbit he finds lost and trembling in the snow. Charming illustrations depict the snowy landscape and Drift’s range of emotions. (MAC)
WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES. By Julie Fogliano. Pictures by Julie Morstad. Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press. $18.99.
Subtitled, Poems for all Seasons, the book begins with free verse celebrating spring “from a snow-covered tree.” Children of all hues populate the scenes throughout the year, enjoying the pleasures each season brings — a blooming crocus, a day “that drips/ hot and thick like honey,” leaves that “fade and fall/ then blow away,” and snowflakes (more drift and swirl/ than tumble thump …).” The journal-like entries, softly illustrated, document well details of each chosen day, especially as many include an animal or insect of some kind. Charming. (ALS)
ANTSY ANSEL: ANSEL ADAMS, A LIFE IN NATURE. Written by Cindy Jensen-Elliott. Illustrated by Christy Hale. Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt). $17.99.
Young Ansel Adams was antsy. Growing up in San Francisco, he preferred the nature at Golden Gate Beach and Lobos Creek to the schoolroom. When he was 13, his father took him out of school and created a special curriculum for him. It included plenty of outdoor exploration and piano lessons to keep his mind focused and his hands busy. Then his parents gave him a camera. Capturing and promoting the beauty of Yosemite National Park lead Ansel to become a famous nature photographer for Life magazine. Hale’s art is exceptionally striking with its collage style, inclusion of real Ansel Adams photos, and focus on light. (MAC)
RED. By Liesl Shurtliff. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. $16.99.
Fans of Shurtliff’s Rump, the true story or Rumpelstiltskin, and Jack, the true story of Jack and the Beanstalk, will eagerly embrace this “true story of Red Riding Hood.” Shurtliff’s spellbinding journey of Red, with her new best friend Goldie — of three bears’ fame — is searching for ingredients for her grandmother who is ill so that she can make a potion to cure herself. Red, who fears the magical powers within herself, comes to appreciate her gifts — and the power of living each day to its fullest. Enchanting. (ALS)
MOO. Written by Sharon Creech. Joanna Colter Books (Harper). $16.99.
Reena is a city girl — until her parents move to Maine. There, she and her brother Luke help a crotchety old woman, Mrs. Falala, with the motley group of animals on her farm: Paulie, a run-amok pig; Crockett, a parrot; China, a golden cat; Edna, a black snake, and Zora, an ornery black-and-white Belted Galloway cow. Creech wrote the story in prose and free verse, playing with the typeface and placement of words on the page. In a fast and heartwarming read, Reena transforms into a country girl capable of showing Zora at the fair, Luke overcomes his fear of Mrs. Falala and teaches her to draw, and Mrs. Falala softens to her two young friends. (MAC)
GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT. By Monica Hesse. Little, Brown, and Co. $17.99. Ages 12 and up.
This intriguing novel of the persecution of the Jews during World War II, is also a mystery. Set in Amsterdam in 1943, it is the story of Hanneke who finds herself at the center of locating “the girl in the blue coat” — a Jewish teenager before the Nazis do. She has to do so while balancing the safety of her parents, her friends in the resistance, and her work in the black market — while mourning her boyfriend. Memorable. (ALS)
SAVING RED. Written by Sonya Sones. Harper Teen. Ages 12 and up. $17.99.
This novel, written in verse, is fast-moving and gripping. When 14-year-old Molly Rosenberg decides to do her required community service counting homeless people in her hometown of Santa Monica, Calif., she runs across a vivacious red-haired girl, Red. Molly becomes obsessed with helping reunite Red with her family in time for Christmas. As Molly witnesses her volatile side, she realizes that Red is mentally ill and hearing voices. However, she still relates to many of Red’s insights and begins to examine difficult events in her own life during the past year. Molly’s new friend Christo provides a love interest as well. (MAC)
PLAYING FROM THE HEART. By Peter H. Reynolds. Candlewick Press. $15. All ages.
Reynolds’s illustrations, in pen, ink, watercolor, gouache, and tea invite readers of all ages into an equally delightful text. A piano stands silent for years until young Raj discovers it, fascinated by the music he can create. His father, noticing “dreamy music floating through the house” wonders how lessons might support his son’s already amazing talent. Raj became “better and better” but became “more and more tired” until the day he played no more. For years, the piano was again silent — until his father was ill and asked his son to play again “from the heart.” A timeless tribute to joy. (ALS)
THE CASTLE OF LLYR: BOOK 3 OF THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN, 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION. Written by Lloyd Alexander. Ages 8-12. Henry Holt. $25.99.
This 50th anniversary edition has a lovely purple and gold cloth cover. The book follows The Book of Three and the Newbery Honor Book, The Black Cauldron. Taran, the assistant pig keeper, and Princess Eilonwy continue their tale. Eilonwy is growing older and is sent to the Isle of Mona to learn how to act like a proper lady. But her emerging magical powers bring her to the attention of an evil enchantress. Taran and his companions, the memorable characters Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi, must rescue her from a deep spell. The Chronicles of Prydain are a great introduction to high fantasy for middle graders. (MAC)