The Art of Gift Giving
Giving the right book to a child at the right time can convert him or her into a lifelong reader. We put together a list of what we believe could well be those books. For families with a preschooler, Maisy is a household name. This year, Create with Maisy: A Maisy Arts-and-Crafts Book by Lucy Cousins (reviewed below) presents safe, age-appropriate project ideas just right for youngest children to make and give to others.
We sat down with Lucy Cousins when she visited the U.S. recently from her home in Britain. How does she hit her target time after time, yet keep her Maisy books so fresh? For one thing, she explained, she works out the colors and where things will be on the page ahead of time, so that when she draws, it looks and feels spontaneous. She believes this approach apes the attitude of her young audience: "The way children think and do things are spontaneous," Cousins said. She uses pure Pantone colors (straight out of the tube) for her artwork: "The simplicity of those colors and their combinations work," she explained. "It's not about subtlety--it's about immediacy." Cousins also worked on the storyboards and scripts for the Maisy TV series and noted that they did all 104 episodes "in one shot." It takes 7,000-8,000 drawings to make just five minutes of animation.
Cousins studied graphic design in college, and her background has served her well. In addition to writing and illustrating her books, she also designs the type and the pages. "I love being able to do a whole book. It's really satisfying," said the author-artist. For Create with Maisy, Cousins tried to make the crafts look as if Maisy had done them. "I want people to feel like, 'I could do that!' " --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Children's Book-a-Day Almanac
by Anita Silvey
This almanac makes the ideal gift for any book-loving parent, teacher or librarian.
Anita Silvey, former publisher of The Horn Book and of Houghton Mifflin Children's Books, chooses a book a day to focus on and shares meaty anecdotes about each, ranging from picture books for youngest book lovers to novels and nonfiction for young adults. Sidebars provide author birthdays, historic events such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire (March 25, 1911), and wacky celebrations such as National Popcorn Day (January 19). To get a preview, check out the Web site that served as the laboratory for the printed book. Indexes of books by their creators, by age range and by genre make this a go-to resource for all children's book fans.
A deep and thoughtful way into a lesson plan or storytelling session, and for parents, it brims with ideas for books as gifts or fun adjunct stories for family read-aloud time. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A go-to resource for any parent, teacher or librarian with young readers in their lives.
National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry
by J. Patrick Lewis, editor
Poet laureate J. Patrick Lewis contributes poems and curates this collection of 200 poems, with stunning photos sure to convert young readers into new poetry fans.
A close-up of a monarch caterpillar appears alongside a transparent chrysalis through which children can identify a monarch's wings. "What's a caterpillar?/ Little/ but a fly/ in waiting," reads Graham Denton's poem. Sometimes the poem prompts readers to look more closely at a creature featured in the photo, as with Valerie Worth's "Cow"; other times, the photo pulls readers in, such as "The Eagle" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson ("He watches from his mountain walls,/ And like a thunderbolt he falls"). A barrel jellyfish seems to filter the sunlight breaking through the ocean's surface in the photo alongside Kelly Ramsdell Fineman's lines, "It's not made of jelly; it isn't a fish./ Mostly it drifts, but can move with a swish." Which came first, the poem or the picture? Either way, readers are the winners. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A breathtaking collection of poems both new and tried-and-true alongside equally astonishing photographs.
National Geographic Society,
hardcover, 192p., ages 7-up, 9781426310096
Leave Your Sleep: A Collection of Classic Children's Poetry
by Natalie Merchant, illus. by Barbara McClintock
Families will return to this beautiful package again and again. Nineteen poems, from Robert Louis Stevenson to Jack Prelutsky, selected by Natalie Merchant, inspired the arrangements for her 2010 CD (of the same name, tucked into the back cover).
Artist Barbara McClintock gets the beats just right, as with "Equestrienne" by Rachel Field: her vignettes show the "girl in pink" balancing on one foot atop her "milk-white horse," while Merchant's instrumental coda invites children to imagine the performer's routine. In a more comic vein, the scenes for "Adventures of Isabel" by Ogden Nash feature a resourceful girl who can stand up to witches and giants. One of the most moving images, to accompany "If No One Ever Marries Me" by Laurence Alma-Tadema, depicts an elegant woman leading a girl on a pony through town; McClintock leaves it to children to decide which of them narrates. Children will gain more meaning with each rereading. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A poetry collection and musical accompaniment to be savored by the entire family again and again.
hardcover & CD, 48p., 9780374343682
Children's & Young Adult
by Stephen Savage
Few author-artists use bold graphic shapes for youngest book lovers as engagingly as Stephen Savage (Where's Walrus?) does. Here he creates a paper-over-board adventure story starring a little tugboat with a mighty sense of purpose, which doubles as a bedtime tale.
"Meet Little Tug," the book begins, as the fire engine‑red tugboat motors into a city harbor at daybreak. He travels under a drawbridge next to a still sleeping schooner. Gentle repetitive phrases point out that Little Tug is "not the tallest boat in the harbor," nor the fastest or biggest. But when the time comes, Little Tug helps all the other boats in the course of his day, pulling and pushing them to safety. As the sun sets and the sky darkens, Stephen Savage brings the action full circle in a comforting ending: the taller, faster, bigger boats that Little Tug has aided throughout the day repay the tuckered-out fellow in kind. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A small tugboat with a big purpose takes youngest book lovers through a day in a city harbor.
hardcover, 32p., ages 2-up, 9781596436480
It's a Little Book
by Lane Smith
Lane Smith's clever board book adaptation converts the text of his It's a Book into a series of discoveries for a donkey in diapers and his similarly attired but more knowledgeable monkey buddy.
The Caldecott Honor artist of Grandpa Green exploits a toddler's intuitive need to investigate all new objects. With his same earth-toned palette, Smith keeps the focus on the friends' expressions and body language. "What is that?" the donkey asks the monkey, who's holding a book. "Is it for chewing?" continues the donkey as he mouths the book's rounded corners. "No," says the monkey. And on it goes: opened like a laptop ("Is it for e-mailing?") and hurled through the air ("flying?"). Finally, the monkey explains: "It's for reading...." In the last image, the two read together ("It's a book, silly"). A book to be shared with the entire family, from smallest hands to biggest hands. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Lane Smith's refashioning of It's a Book! for toddlers on the brink of exploring a board book's full potential.
board book, 22p., ages 1-up, 9781596437586
Create with Maisy: A Maisy Arts-and-Crafts Book
by Lucy Cousins
Who better to guide children on a creative adventure than Maisy, early childhood's most colorful mouse?
Cousins pulls off something that is very difficult--presenting enticing projects in a way that appeals both to pre-reading browsers (bright colors, great photography, bold graphics) and to the adults that have to pull the project together (clear directions, simple tools, not too messy, stuff we have at home). After an opening note to parents, the book invites young readers right in. "Maisy loves making things... You can make things too." With a range of traditional art activities, nature crafts, construction, pretend play and a mix of projects sure to appeal to both girls and boys, this book will supplant many fancier books for its sheer flexibility and dependable content.
From the first ("Beady Butterfly") to the last ("Colorful Cookies"), every one of this book's 17 projects pops with age-appropriate possibility. --Kristen McLean, former head of the Association of Booksellers for Children, founder & CEO of Bookigee
Discover: A first book of crafts tailor-made for preschoolers, with clear instructions and photos, using stuff you already have.
hardcover, 48p., ages 2-up, 9780763661229
by Rose Fyleman, illus. by Lois Ehlert
Mice begins with a simple, if debatable, statement--"I think mice/ are rather nice"--and goes on to contradict that by describing all the trouble they cause. It isn't until the end that we meet the speaker--a cat with a wide, toothy grin--and figure out the true motives behind his repeated assertion: "But I think mice/ are nice."
Children will be delighted by this revelation, as well as Lois Ehlert's vibrant collages, which identify household items, some instantly recognizable (comb, cracker), and others unusual (geranium plant, popcorn ball), as the nice mice make the rounds of a house. Rose Fyleman's rhyme can be appreciated as a read-aloud by toddlers, yet fun enough for emerging readers and parents. It's easy to imagine young readers asking for this one on a regular basis--though adding it to your shelves may make it hard to convince them that the kitchen needs a mousetrap. --Stephanie Anderson, head of readers' advisory at Darien Library and blogger
Discover: A visual, rhyming delight for all ages, be the reader human, cat or mouse.
hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781442456846
Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy
by Jan Thomas
Jan Thomas (Is Everyone Ready for Fun?) creates the perfect bedtime setup: a "brave cowboy" out to yodel his cows to sleep with a little bedtime melody under the stars.
The only problem is that he keeps interrupting his own song with not-so-brave exclamations about all the things he sees in the dark. "Eeeeek! Is that a huge hairy spider over there?" The level-headed cows come to the rescue: "It's just a flower, cowboy." Of course, those mysterious shapes and shadows are not what they seem--until they are. But even the wolf in this book wants a lullaby. Thomas's signature bold outlines and blocks of saturated color will appeal to even youngest readers, and the typography--which gets larger and smaller in its speech-bubbles as the action requires--gets the emotions across. This book's great structure, friendly artwork and potential for read-aloud silliness are sure to make this a favorite far beyond bedtime. --Kristen McLean, former head of the Association of Booksellers for Children, founder & CEO of Bookigee
Discover: A sure-fire read-aloud that will quickly become a favorite far beyond bedtime.
hardcover, 40p., ages 3-up, 9781442442764
The Amazing Hamweenie
by Patty Bowman
Has any being ever suffered more injustice or misunderstanding than the domesticated house cat? Surely not, and nobody knows this better than Hamweenie, the star of this charming picture book from a first-time author and artist. The Amazing Hamweenie knows he is meant for great things as a world-famous magician, but his human has made his life too cushy and, thus, his escape and life of fame and fortune impossible. It is hard to see how he will escape his dreadful fate.
Whether they have a cat at home or not, children will gravitate to the woes of Hamweenie, captured in perfectly-detailed pen-and-ink and watercolor drawings, even as they identify with the girl's love for her kitty. Patty Bowman creates a series of visual vignettes of Hamweenie (being pushed in a perambulator and taking tea) with a sense of irony that even youngest readers can appreciate. --Stephanie Anderson, head of readers' advisory at Darien Library and blogger
Discover: A great readaloud that may well inspire a few budding actors to dream big.
hardcover, 32p., ages 3-up, 9780399256882
by Barbara DaCosta, illus. by Ed Young
First-time author Barbara DaCosta's short, descriptive phrases build suspense and grab readers' attention as a small ninja-robed figure goes on an adventure in the night.
When the clock strikes midnight, the ninja climbs and creeps his way through a home where everyone sleeps. He reaches his destination, removes his tools and begins his work. Undetected, someone flips on the lights! Towering over this nighttime ninja, in a floral patterned robe and arms akimbo, is... his mother. Young's textured collages move from dark and mysterious to brightly lit, as the authority captures the kitchen culprit and calls for him to hand over his treasure (a bowl of ice cream). Once portrayed as a mighty ninja, the child now looks up with pleading eyes. With stuffed panda in hand, the boy and his mother embark on a "getting-back-to-bed mission."
This inventive blending of imagination and the age-old routine of evading bedtime will speak to children and parents alike. --Mollie Welsh Kruger, instructor, Bank Street College of Education
Discover: A patterned feast for the eyes that takes readers on a bedtime journey--or rather, detour.
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780316203845
You Are Stardust
by Elin Kelsey, illus. by Soyeon Kim
This poetic picture book celebrates the interconnectedness of all living things.
Debut artist Soyeon Kim creates glorious three-dimensional artwork for this tour of the universe. "You are stardust," the book begins. Kite-like pieces of a star sculpture seem to shoot out from the star's center. One child each appears inside two of these structures, as if to demonstrate the text, "Every tiny atom in your body came from a star that exploded long before you were born." One especially arresting image depicts the intervening stages of three discrete cells that become a bird, a child and a whale. The author draws parallels between seemingly incredible facts ("you grow entirely new skeletons throughout your life") to events familiar to children ("just as forests grow new trees in place of old ones"). Like the child pictured, who turns cartwheels on an overturned tree, readers, too, will join in this joyful ceremony of the cycle of life. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A picture-book invitation to explore and celebrate how humans fit into the interconnected web of all living things.
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-up, 9781926973357
Starry River of the Sky
by Grace Lin
Grace Lin weaves a story-within-a-story around the boy Rendi, the residents of the Village of Clear Sky and the mystery of the missing moon in this captivating companion to her Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.
Once again, Lin intertwines classic Chinese folklore with her own inventions. Rendi, a frustrated runaway, finds work at the Inn of Clear Sky. Encouraged by guest Madame Chang, Rendi discovers that he, like her, has stories to tell. Each story provides insight into the characters, and allows them to grow and to resolve their differences. As Rendi tells "The Story of the Dancing Fish," he reveals something of his own identity. The author revisits several characters, symbolism and imagery from the first book, but readers need no prior knowledge to enjoy this volume.
Jewel-like, full-page artwork resembling silk tapestries illustrates chapters filled with humor, drama and wisdom. A timeless treasure. --JoAnn Jonas, public librarian and blogger
Discover: Beautiful Chinese folklore and art weave an enchanting tale of discovery.
hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9780316125956
Let's Go for a Drive!
by Mo Willems
This story isn't about the journey or the destination... it's about giddy anticipation.
Let's Go for a Drive!--the latest in Mo Willems's cartoonishly illustrated, Geisel Award–winning Elephant & Piggie series for beginning readers--exuberantly chronicles the slapstick antics of Gerald the elephant and his dear friend Piggie. Here they pack what they need for a nice long drive, frequently dancing and shouting "Drive! Drive! Drivey-drive-drive!" for the sheer joy of it. As in Willems's other deceptively simple, dialogue-driven books, Gerald speaks in gray cartoon bubbles, and Piggie's are piggy-pink. The playful refrains (reminiscent of An Edward Lear Alphabet) are tailor-made for read-aloud hams, erupting with every new item packed, from map ("Map! Map! Mappy-map-map!") to sunglasses ("Sunny-sunglasses!"), umbrellas and suitcases.
In the end, they're missing just one crucial thing (hint: as Piggie points out, "A pig with a car would be silly"). --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and children's book editor
Discover: A Mo Willems comedy in which Elephant & Piggie need just one essential ingredient to go for a "drivey-drive-drive!"
hardcover, 58p., ages 3-8, 9781423164821
Jet Plane: How It Works
by David Macaulay
With this launch to his beginning reader series (along with Castle: How It Works, $3.99 paper), David Macaulay once again proves that he never loses sight of a child's sense of curiosity or perspective.
"A jet plane stands at the gate. Baggage rides up the belt. Isn't that your suitcase? This must be your plane." Macaulay places readers in the window seat and, in clear, brief sentences, takes them from takeoff to touchdown. He explains the cockpit, instruments and screens, which tell the pilots "How fast. How far. How high. How heavy.... How about that?!" In addition to humor, the author anticipates causes for anxiety ("Did you hear something go clunk? That is the landing gear folding up into the hold"). Cutaway views explain more technical matters, such as how the plane turns.
Children about to take their first flight as well as those interested in technology will find answers to any questions here. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: An insider's look ideal for first-time fliers or those curious about how jets fly.
David Macaulay Studio/Macmillan,
paperback, 32p., ages 7-up, 9781596437678
Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot
by Anna Branford, illus. by Elanna Allen
Large type on roomy pages ushers newly minted chapter book readers into the world of charming and resourceful Violet Mackerel.
Violet believes that if she gets a brilliant idea, the world confirms it by leaving "something small and special" on the ground for her to discover. It's her "Theory of Finding Small Things." And sometimes, in the throes of the brilliant plot, things turn out even better than planned. On her way to earning enough to buy a blue china bird from a man at the market stall near where Violet's mother sells her knitted garments, Violet brings about all sorts of happy endings. Generous artwork--sometimes cameo-size, other times anchoring a two-page spread--provides a window into Violet's daily life.
Violet gives girls what Captain Awesome gives boys: a strong character, a large dose of comedy and a sense of adventure. Stay tuned for Violet Mackerel's Remarkable Recovery, due in February 2013. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: The kickoff to an early chapter book series starring a charming and resourceful heroine with a clever plan.
hardcover, 112p., ages 6-10, 9781442435858
The Seven Tales of Trinket
by Shelley Moore Thomas
With a storyteller's cadence, Shelley Moore Thomas (Good Night, Good Knight) introduces Trinket, who has always loved stories.
Trinket's father, James the Bard, made a living traveling, "story-collecting" and storytelling. One day, when Trinket was six, her father set off and failed to return. Upon her mother's death years later, Trinket sets out to discover what became of him, her only companions an old map of her father's and Thomas the Pig Boy, her closest friend. Thomas divides Trinket's journey into seven tales, each involving a different fantastical creature. Will they find James the Bard? Will Trinket ever work up the courage to become a storyteller in her own right?
The Seven Tales of Trinket makes an ideal book to be read aloud and savored, perhaps one tale a night, the way a bard might deliver a story in exchange for food and a cozy place to rest. --Molly McLeod Magro, middle school librarian
Discover: A brave girl searching for her father, in a world populated by faeries, selkies and other fantastical creatures.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 384p., ages 8-12, 9780374367459
The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Fair Meadow Farm
by Patricia MacLachlan
Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny are known as "The Boxcar Children" to generations of readers. Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall) channels the voice of series creator Gertrude Chandler Warner with ease and charm, filling in the origins of this fiercely loyal band and what transpired before they were orphaned.
We meet the Alden children with their parents on their bucolic farm, Fair Meadow. Yet their father worries: "I'm afraid you'll see hard times soon, Henry." This prescient remark foreshadows not only their eventual orphaning but also the arrival of the Clark family, stranded at the farm due to car trouble in a snowstorm. As the children band together to help run the farm, MacLachlan propels the narrative through dialogue between the siblings and the Clark children. Ideal for series fans and a terrific entry point for those new to the series. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer
Discover: Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan offers a prequel to Gertrude Chandler Warner's time-honored series.
hardcover, 144p., 9780807566169
Will Sparrow's Road
by Karen Cushman
Newbery Medalist Karen Cushman (The Midwife's Apprentice) imbues 12-year-old Will Sparrow with an oversize sense of adventure for a small motherless boy living in Elizabethan England.
Will reaches his limit of abuse from the innkeeper to whom his father sold him for drink, and runs away. "I care for no one but myself and nothing but my belly" is his constant refrain. Yet, solo, even caring for his belly is a challenge. Will lands with a band of travelling freaks managed by the bellicose Master Tidball. He works the crowds with Fitz the dwarf, drumming up paying customers to see the strange beast Greymalkin, in reality a sad girl afflicted with thick hair on her face. Gradually Will opens his heart and discovers the rewards of extending his cares beyond his belly.
Cushman effortlessly conveys a male's perspective while retaining her skill for sneaking in period detail and dialect that enlighten without overwhelming readers. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer
Discover: Will Sparrow's journey of self-discovery, which leads him away from abuse and toward a life rich with friendship--and a full belly.
Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 224p., ages 10-up, 9780547739625
"Who Could That Be at This Hour?"
by Lemony Snicket, illus. by Seth
Fans of Lemony Snicket have often speculated about what could have left the dark and desolate chronicler of the Baudelaire siblings so--well--dark and desolate.
This first book in the new series All the Wrong Questions takes readers down that road. From the first, Snicket, almost 13, plunges readers into an investigation to find a statue in the no-longer-seaside Stain'd-by-the-Sea. With help and hindrance from locals, and asking mostly the wrong questions, he and his useless chaperone find multiple mysteries lurking in the strange town. Fans of Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events will thrill to be immersed in this noir-inflected story, which is just familiar enough, but enjoyable even for readers new to the narrator. Seth's classic illustrations provide an inspired counterpoint--and a few clues of their own. The story ends satisfyingly but will leave readers anticipating the next installment, as well as raring to go back and look for any extra hints. --Stephanie Anderson, head of readers' advisory at Darien Library and blogger
Discover: The triumphant return of one of the finest narrators in children's fiction.
hardcover, 272p., ages 9-up, 9780316123082
Such Wicked Intent
by Kenneth Oppel
Victor Frankenstein has sworn off alchemy. He is determined never again to dabble in the dark arts that led him on the quest that cost him two fingers but failed to save the life of his twin, Konrad, in This Dark Endeavor, the first book of this engaging series.
Victor therefore burns all of the Dark books that tempt him. Except for one book that refuses to burn... and contains the power to help the user enter the Spirit Realm. Forgetting his noble intentions, Victor enlists the help of his friend Henry and his distant cousin (and romantic interest) Elizabeth to journey into the world of the dead. There, the trio hatch a dangerous plan: to resurrect Konrad.
Fans of Kenneth Oppel and This Dark Endeavor will seize upon this tightly written, morbid tale in which the familiar adventurers blossom into more complete, nuanced characters who fight to save themselves from their own worst instincts. --Allie Jane Bruce, children's librarian, Bank Street College of Education
Discover: Victor Frankenstein, the surviving twin from This Dark Endeavor, who struggles to save himself from his own worst instincts.
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9781442403185