Friday, December 31, 2010

Delivery Day at Fairview Elementary!

For five weeks beginning Oct. 25, I held a giveaway to help a Denver area elementary school in need that I called, The Great Library Giveaway.

I'd set aside 300 books from reviewing for the contest, knowing that many schools in the area were facing budget cuts and could use books to fill a shelf or two in their libraries.

In my heart, I imagined the winning school being a place where the books would mean the most, where resources are sparse, life doesn't come easily and books are treasured.

But after the contest began, I realized that the giveaway might not reach the very people I'd most wanted to help.

Less affluent communities wouldn't have easy access to computers and the Internet, and thus could be at a significant disadvantage entering the contest.

What I didn't anticipate was the tenacity and spirit of Fairview Elementary School, a fiercely proud little school in Denver's most impoverished neighborhood.

In a week's time, Fairview came up from behind and not only won the contest, but by more than 50 votes.

So worried they'd lose their lead against the other 13 schools that entered, the staff, volunteers, families and friends at the school kept voting even after their win seemed secure.

And as I discovered while delivering the books a week after Thanksgiving, this is a school that doesn't take anything for granted.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What a Marvelous Book! Holiday Gift Guide 2010

A book may not zip when it moves, bop when it stops or whir when it stands still, like the whatsit in Tom Paxton's song The Marvelous Toy, but it can be just as wondrous.

Every year, as I prepare this list, I am amazed by how many wonderful books came out that year, and it's always hard to pick favorites. I pile up the books I'm especially fond of, then send each through a filter of sorts in my head.

I try to imagine myself as a child, picking each one up for the first time and reading it through, and I ask myself whether, like a marvelous toy, it could become my heart's delight, the kind of book I'd never forget.

In some cases, a book sneaks up on me and only after letting it sit do I realize how much I loved reading it, and in other cases, it's like the marvelous toy in the song and it pops the first time I read it.

1. A General and His Wish for Peace

The General: Anniversary Edition 50 Years, by Janet Charters, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Templar Books, $16.99, ages 4-8, 48 pages. On his quest for glory, a general is sidetracked by the beauty of nature, and comes to realize he'd rather bring peace to the world than tower above it. In this splendid reissue, General Jodhpur dreams of two things: to be the most famous general in the world and have his army admired by generals from other countries. Everyday from sun up to sun down, he orders his troops to polish everything he can think of, from their drills to their boots and weapons. Then one Sunday while riding in the country, an accident changes everything he thought he wanted. A fox crossing his path spooks his horse and the general is thrown to the ground. Landing on a soft patch of grass, he is unharmed but discovers he's lost all desire to get up. The grass is lovely and he lays on his back, nibbling on a blade as the sun's heat blankets his body. Finally, after a long time, the general decides he'd better head back to camp and begins to follow the familiar path home. Without his horse, it is slower going and he notices creatures he never appreciated before.

2. A Book to Sing!

The Twelve Bots of Christmas, written and illustrated by Nathan Hale, Walker Books, $14.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages. Stand to the side, true love. Robo Santa's got his own gifts for The Twelve Days of Christmas. In this clever techno-twist on the classic English Christmas carol, gizmos fly, roll, swim and snooze before being packed into a sack for Robo Santa and his eight super-charged reindeer to deliver to little boys and girls. You'll be sold from the first verse, A "Cartridge in a Gear Tree," and by the time you belt out "Five Bot-to-Ries," the rest of the family will be chiming in too. "Four Calling Borgs, Three Wrench Hens, Two Turbo-Doves, and a Catridge in a Gear Tree..." My favorite image: The Three Wrench Hens bobbing their hook jaws as they roll through the snow.

3. Up, Up and Away!

DC Super Heroes: The Ultimate Pop-Up Book, engineered by Matthew Reinhart, Little, Brown and Company, $29.99, ages 4-8, 12 pages. Earth's mightiest superhuman heroes leap, pounce and lasso off the folds of this fantastic tribute to the DC comic universe. Reinhart, one of today's most celebrated paper engineers, captures the larger-than-life personas of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others doing what they're famous for: Superman leaps off tall buildings with his fists raised, Batman soars off the ledge of a skyscraper in Gotham, the warrior goddess Wonder Woman flies through the clouds lashing her golden whip and the four Green lanterns shoot toward us from a massive battery as their power rings illuminate the page in green light. Of course, a hero would be nothing without his nemesis, and in one mighty leap, the Dread Lord Darkseid, reaches up out of a fiery pit on another spread to try to grab us.

4. Read it Again! Two Worthy of Awards.

The Legend of the Golden Snail, written and illustrated by Graeme Base, Abrams Books, $19.95, ages 4-8, 48 pages.  A plucky lad named Wilbur sets sail on a wooden chair to find a giant snail from his favorite bedtime story in this grand and wondrous tale. According to the legend, a Grand Enchanter once cast a spell on a giant Golden Snail that turned it into a ship and forced it to take him wherever he wanted to go. But when the enchanter tired of life, he banished the Golden Snail to the Ends of the Earth so no one else could ride in it. Now, whoever finds the golden galleon must utter a magic verse if he wishes to master over it too. Wilbur can think of nothing more exciting than to be the next Grand Enchanter, so he sets off, with his tabby as his mate, to fulfill his dream. As Wilbur pretends to turn his boat to the wind in his living room, his chair becomes a skiff and the room around him, wide-open seas. Fitted with a captain's hat his mother sewed, Wilbur recites the spell and bravely heads off into the unknown, equipped only with a watering can, a broom, scissors and a corkscrew.

5. Two Feisty Gals: Lulu & Olivia the Pig

Lulu and the Brontosaurus, written by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith, Atheneum Books, $15.99, ages 4-10, 128 pages. A little smarty named Lulu finally asks her parents for something they won't give her, then storms off to get it for herself in this wry book about the follies of being high and mighty. Up until now, Lulu has gotten whatever she's wanted (tons of toys and cartoon-viewing time). Even on those rare occasions when Mom and Dad have said no, she's worn them down with her screeching. (After a good lung blast, then flopping onto the floor and flailing around her limbs, one or the other parent always caved in, saying, "Well, just this once.") But this time, Lulu's request, an enormous dinosaur for her b-day gift, is going nowhere. Fighting mad, she says, "Foo on you," to her parents and runs off to the forest to track one down for herself. Along the way, she sings a brontosaurus song at the top of her lungs and startles awake three creatures who are now so grumpy they try to do her in. But being such a pain, Lulu knows how to hurt them worse.

6. What a Scamp! Two Adorable Tales.

The Chicken Thief, written & illustrated by Beatrice Rodriguez, Enchanted Lion Books, $14.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages. A red fox bounds out from a bush and sweeps a hen off her bony feet in this adorable wordless book that has fun with us as it goes. One lovely day, Hen is pecking about in the back of Bear, Rabbit and Rooster's cottage when a crafty fox plucks her off the ground as brazenly as if raiding a chicken coop. As the fox takes off into the woods with the white hen pressed to his chest, the Bear, Rabbit and Rooster charge after him, one piled on top of another (Rabbit riding Bear's shoulders and Rooster standing on Rabbit's head). At first, the fox holds the chicken's beak closed to calm her squawking, but as night falls and all of the parties tire, he releases his paw, and her chin falls sleepily onto his shoulder.

7. Bye, Bye Knuffle Bunny

Knuffle Bunny FreeAn Unexpected Diversion, written & illustrated by Mo Willems, HarperCollins, ages 4-8, 52 pages. Letting go of a pal who's been in your arm as long as you can remember is tough. But maybe, after awhile without him, moving on isn't so impossible after all. In this final, heart-melting book in Willems's epic, Caldecott-winning love story, Trixie takes Knuffle Bunny on a trip to Holland with her parents and loses him like she's never lost him before. This time, her parents can't go back to a laundromat or call up a classmate's parents to get him. In her excitement to leave the airport and see her grandparent's, "Oma" and "Opa," Trixie forgets Knuffle Bunny on the plane, but not just any plane, a plane that's only half-way to somewhere else. At first Trixie is so distracted by all that's new that she doesn't realize that she's left him behind. Then, sitting in a yard chair at her grandparent's home with a glass of chocolate milk, she notices that something doesn't feel right. That part of her that's always snuggled up close to a pal is empty, and it hits her. Knuffle Bunny is gone.

8. Do This! Two Craft Books.

Candy Construction: Edible Crafts, by Sharon Bowers, Storey Publishing, $14.95, all ages, 144 pages. One peek inside this book and your kiddos will be chanting:  "Give us candy and we will build." In this splendid ode to all things sugary, Bowers gives adults and kids step-by-step directions for turning leftover candy, and store-bought cookies and cakes into Willie Wonka-like wonders, ranging from a choo-choo train with a Swiss Roll cab and peppermint wheels to a bi-plane with wafer cookie wings and a body cut from a Charleston Chew. But before you dump out Halloween leftovers onto the table and cut open bags of gummy this or rock-hard that, consider adopting three ground rules that Bowers uses on her own pint-size construction workers. 1) No eating on the job  2) Pick one candy or construction to set aside and gobble up after cleanup and  3) Always brush teeth after excavating delights. Bowers, a producer for the Food Network's website, covers all facets of construction, from gathering candy (her top tip: shop at the dollar store) to preparing the mortar (icing) and building blocks (from Rice Krispies treats or edible play dough). Then, to our little workers' delight, she launches without further a-do into how-tos for making almost every concoction a child could want, from vehicles to aliens to princess castles and board games, all entirely out of sweets. Probably the best reward: kids see what is possible then can't wait to invent a candy creation for themselves.

9. Gifts from the Heart. Two Books.

Immi's Gift, written and illustrated by Karin Littlewood, Peachtree, $15.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages. In a frozen white world, an Inuit girl casts her fishing pole into an icy hole and pulls out magical treasures tossed into the surf by a boy faraway. First, she lands a wooden bird, then a red flower, orange starfish and green leaf, and soon her igloo is trimmed with tropical wonders every color of the rainbow. Polar bears, Arctic foxes and hares, a seal, a wolf, a walrus and magpies flock to her happy home and share stories, making Immi's world a brighter, more joyful place. Then as spring comes and the igloo melts, Immi drops her polar bear necklace into the hole as a thank you to the boy she never met. Touching and spare, Immi's Gift is a gift in itself, and makes you want to craft a garland of your own from nature's flotsam.

10. A Great Adventure

The Search for Wondla, written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, Simon & Schuster, $17.99, ages 10 and up, 496 pages. In her 12 years, Eva Nine has never seen sunlight or even stepped above ground. As far back as she can remember, a robot guardian named Muthr has been caring for her and training her, so that one day, if she has to, she can leave their Sanctuary, a high-tech home underground, and defend herself against danger. All Eva knows is that there are bad people who would hurt her if they could and that the truth of her past has something to do with four letters "W-o-n-d," which she found on scraps of panel left in a secret tunnel in the Sanctuary. When glued together, the scraps show an image of a little girl holding hands with a robot and an adult, as if they're heading off to explore. To Eva, it's a strange yet happy thought, as she's never even been allowed to explore underground, even though other sanctuaries connect to their own. Instead, Muthr simulates what the real world might be like through Holograms and other devices. Then one day, everything Eva knows changes forever.

11. Clement C. Moore's Classic Retold

The Night Before Christmas, performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, written by Clement C. Moore, paintings by Eric Puybaret, Peter Yarrow Books, $19.95, ages 4-8, 26 pages. Enchanting to look at and joyous to listen to, this stunning remake of Moore's classic poem brings together the magical art of Puybaret and the stirring voice of the late Mary Travers, reading the poem aloud on CD. Performed at Travers's house just before her death in 2009, the reading is the singer's last recording and is sure to leave you tingly inside. As the lead singer of the 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, Mary got the nickname, "One take Mary," and befitting that, the trio agreed that her first run-through was her best, and chose that one for the CD. In this wondrous adaptation, Santa is an elegant, bell-shaped fellow with a long tapering hat that flows behind him like a wisp of smoke and his reindeer are dashingly draped in green cloaks with top-hats balanced on their heads. Scenes have a clean, bright Scandinavian feel, and sparkle with spare, whimsical details that hint at the magic unfolding.

12. Let it Snow!

Snowflake: A Pop-Up Book, written by Jennifer Preston Chushcoff, illustrated and engineered by Yevgeniya Yeretskaya, Jumping Jack, $24.99, ages 3 and up, 14 pages. Snowflakes spin and do loopy-de-loops on the page of this magical tribute to one of nature's most dazzling creations and the photographer who first captured them on film. Wilson A. Bentley, also known as "The Snowflake Man," discovered that no two snowflakes look exactly the same, and just as in real life, every snowflake in the book looks unique -- and as sparkly and perfect as you'd hope for. Dusted with glitter, the snowflakes fall against backgrounds of cool-weather blues and grays, as Chushcoff describes their playful descent. "They look like lace and fine cut jewels falling. They tickle your tongue and land on the snowman's nose," she writes, as images of red mittens and a snowman appear off to the side. Then, just as quickly, the air can warm and the tiny masses of ice crystals disappear. "Watch the miracle before they melt," she urges from the page.

13. Happy to Be Me!

What Color is Caesar?, written by Maxine Kumin, illustrated by Alison Friend, Candlewick, $16.99, ages 4-8, 56 pages. A gangly Dalmatian with big, melty eyes tries to figure out if he's white with a great many black spots or all black with even more white ones in this darling book about learning to love who you are. None of the humans in Caesar's house seem to care what color he is. Petunia, the family cat, who is all black with four white feet, tells Caesar that it shouldn't matter, and his doctor, a black-and-white woodpecker, says Caesar's basically the color he thinks he is. But Caesar can't stop worrying about what he looks like and the next morning, leaves home to find the answer. As he patters along, he questions every animal he meets with similar patterns to see what color they think they are. Each is quite self-assured and tells him something different. A cow says that deep down, she's the color of milk, a pony says that he's basically green because everything he knows and eats is green, and a zebra says that he's yellow, like the sun of Africa that shines down on his native land. But Caesar doesn't understand how they can see themselves so differently and sets off to ask a circus guru if he can divine Caesar's true color.

14. How to Be an Elf

The Toymaker's Christmas: Paper Toys You Can Make Yourself, by Marilyn Scott-Waters, Sterling, $7.95, ages 9-12, 48 pages. Being a toy maker is often one a child's greatest fantasies and now thanks to this all-inclusive craft kit, yours can be an elf at home. In this utterly charming paperback, Scott-Waters shares 11 of her whimsically painted paper toys for children to punch out, fold and glue together, culminating with a magical display of Santa on his sleigh pulled by one of his reindeer. Among her designs, the "Happy Snowman," a 3-D fellow with stick arms and a blue felt hat, "The Nutcracker" with curving body parts and a jaw attached with a spindle, and "Star Elves" you stack by connecting slots on their heads, hands and feet. One of my favorites is a decorative card with a built-in wheel to count down the days to Christmas. Each day, turn the card over to read a new, Christmasy thought, like "Do Good" or "Be Happy." I've been a Scott-Waters fan every since our boys were wee. Her website,, is one of the best kept secrets in cyberspace, with oodles of paper toy patterns designed for children to print out and make for just about any holiday. And every one is free! (Look there for a sweet selection of Chanukah, Kwanzaa and New Year's projects.) To go there now, click here. (You might just think you've been transported into Santa's workshop.)

15. Movie Magic. Three Books.

Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book Based on the Film Phenomenon, illustrated by Andrew Williamson, paper engineering by Bruce Foster, Insight Editions, $34.95, all ages, 12 pages. Flying off shelves since its November release, this lush pop-up puts the drama of Harry Potter films into 3-D scenes you'll want to get lost in. Illustrated by the lead concept artist on all eight Harry Potter films and engineered by the creator of this year's A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Edition, the book feels not only wonderfully familiar -- matching up with film footage we've grown to love -- but has a cinematic quality that doesn't often appear into pop-ups. Warm, glowing colors and deep shadows replicate the lighting effects around Diagon Alley and Hogwarts (one of the most dramatic pop-ups, towering above the book with spires and minarets). You feel instantly swept into the drama and want to stick your head down into the locations of Hagrid's Hut and the Forbidden Forest, as if somehow you could shrink to fit inside.

16. Newbery Bound?

The Memory Bank, written by Carolyn Coman, illustrated by Rob Shepperson, Arthur A. Levine, $16.99, ages 9-12, 288 pages. A brave girl named Hope scours her dreams for her lost sister Honey in this heart-swelling tale by Newbery Honor-winner Coman. If Hope Scroggins weren't so aptly named, she might never have trusted that she'd find little Honey again or trusted anyone for that matter after their parents did the unthinkable. They pushed Honey out of the family car onto the roadside and drove away, all because Honey broke a family rule against laughing, then they tried to make Hope forget Honey ever existed. Unable to speak or fathom what just happened, Hope slips into despair. She quits her life and tries to sleep away her sadness in their garage, where her deadbeat parents now make her sleep on a cot. But there in her sleep, Hope's life takes an extraordinary turn: she finds a reason to believe she'll see Honey again.

17. Wonder-full. Two Delights.

Mud Pies and Other Recipes, by Marjorie Winslow, with illustrations by Erik Begvad, The New York Review Children's Collection, $14.95, ages 4-8, 56 pages. Two little hands sift, sort and pat a buffet of make-believe dishes that any doll would love in this charming little cookbook, originally published in 1961 and now reissued. Narrated as if by a girl who is perfectly sure of herself, the book happily skips along from one adorable recipe to the next, rounding out with my favorite, Dollypops. "Pick a dandelion from the lawn carefully, so as not to disturb the fluff," Winslow instructs. "Hand it to your doll and tell her to lick." Organized by course, the cookbook goes from appetizers to menu lists, and also includes baking tips. In the foreword, you'll find advice about utensils and pans (empty egg cartons make handy muffin tins), clean-up (a puddle makes a nice sink) and cooking times: "Doll cookery is not a very exacting art," Winslow explains -- as you imagine a twinkle in her eye. "The time it takes to cook a casserole depends upon how long your dolls are able to sit at a table without falling over. And if a recipe calls for a cupful of something, you can use a measuring cup or a teacup or a buttercup."

18. Animals in Motion. Two Pop-Ups.

Wild Alphabet: An A to Zoo Pop-Up Book, by Mike Haines and Julia Frohlich, Kingfisher, $19.99, ages 3 and up, 52 pages. Twenty-five animals and one little insect play peek-a-boo with readers in this delightful alphabet pop-up that's small enough for a child to hold. Every letter is paired with a creature whose name starts with the same letter. On the right of each spread is an image of the letter and the creature popping up or sliding around each other, and to the left is a photograph of the same creature and a brief write-up about its behavior. Each description is written to sound like it's coming from the animal itself and highlights a word in playful type that epitomizes what this animal does best. For Hippopotamus, the word is "wallowing," and the type waves about on the page. Every page brings a fun and unexpected surprise sure to widen eyes, beginning with A for Antelope. As you open this spread, a bold letter A splits opens from its center like a door and the head of this long-legged beauty rises to you.

19. Silly Rabbits

The Rabbit Problem, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett, Simon & Schuster, $17.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Here's a problem that will overflow your kids' minds and have them imploring, "Please, please, please, can I have that problem too?" Standing before a blackboard that fills out the cover of Gravett's hilarious book, a rabbit with chalk in his paw ponders the greatest question known to rabbits:  How many of us can we get from just two of us in a calendar year? I.e. The Rabbit Problem. "If a pair of baby rabbits are put into a field, how many pairs will there be: 1) At the end of each month? b) After one year?" Gravett elaborates inside the cover. Well, let's see. First we'll have to jump into the rabbit hole that Gravett has thoughtfully cut into the back of the first page. And then, we'll have to watch the months roll by. In this charming ode to rabbit fertility, whimsically set up like a calendar (with actual holes for hanging the book right through its hard covers), Gravett takes us through each of the 12 calendar months to find the answers.

20. Three Guides to Play

Play All Day: A Really Giant Book of Punch-Out-and-Play Games, Toys, Finger Puppets, Boxes and More!, by Taro Gomi, Chronicle Books, $19.99, all ages, 116 pages. Opening this book is like entering a wonderland of possibility, but where does a child ever begin? Watching your child figure that out is part of the magic of Gomi's clever new book of toys. Every folded page is so packed with playthings waiting to be made, little eyes will be darting about just trying to take it all in. Then once they land on the thing they just have to do first, clear the table and stand back. Will it be a garland strung with monkeys and a few long-tailed friends? Or a game of ring toss made from a Parisian themed punch-out -- three hot pink rings and a fold-together black cone? Or maybe a troupe of finger puppets that are sure to inspire a bigger project, such as a cardboard stage? By day's end, don't be surprised if Play All Day is all punched out, though with more than 60 playthings that slide together, fold and/or hang, your child is sure to be amused for days time to come.

21. A Magical Debut

The Clockwork Three, by Matthew J. Kirby, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 9-12, 400 pages. Three children desperate for a better life are mysteriously drawn together and, in a frantic quest to help one another, bring a clockwork man to life and save a great woodland hall. In this wondrous debut, an orphaned 11-year-old busker, Giuseppe, sets in motion a mystery adventure that will require all three of them to put their trust in each other. One day after a ship is lost at sea, Giuseppe finds an enchanted green violin that's washed into the harbor. He begins playing it on the streets behind his padrone's back so he can put away money to buy passage home to Italy. Knowing his padrone would put him in a rat cellar or beat him if he found out, Giuseppe hides the violin and the money in a cemetery crypt. One day after leaving the crypt, he sees a strange sight at the docks, a rope holding a crate breaks and a round bronze head rolls out. Little does he know, it's the head of a legendary automaton, and the magician who made it claimed the head could talk.

22. A Giant Problem

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton, art by Brett Helquist, Dial Books, ages 9-11, 336 pages. Feisty 10-year-old Persimmony Smudge dreams of being heroic but to everyone else on the Island at the Center of Everything, she's just a poor, forgettable girl. Then one dark and stormy night, Persimmony strays from a path in the Willow Woods to chase her hat and is pulled into a fantastical adventure to save her island home and find her missing father. That night, after running after the hat, Persimmony discovers she's lost her way and starts to dance off her frustration in the pouring rain. While wildly twirling about, she falls into a willow tree, the home of poison-tongued tortoise, and is chased by the tortoise into the hollow of a log. While inside, Persimmony overhears two Leafeaters plotting to get back at the king for cutting down their woods. They will dig out the king's gold from under the mountain and hold it hostage until the king does what they say. The next day, after crawling out of the log, Persimmony meets a forlorn potato-faced man named Worvil and runs into an elderly potter friend Theodore, and together they agree that the king must be warned. But what's all this talk at the castle of a giant belt buckle being uncovered under the castle?

23. Mother Goose Returns! Two Books.

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, arranged and illustrated with needlework by Salley Mavor, Houghton Mifflin, $21.99, ages 4-8, 72 pages. With needle and thread, snippets of felt, and objects from the craft drawer, Mavor sews to life the enchanting world of nursery rhymes. Embroidered scenes illustrate 65 poems, from the familiar, "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe," to the lesser known "Rain on the Green Grass." Designed like intricate folktale art, every scene leads the eye around the page to find little treasures, a bean stalk twirling up from the grass around a roof awning or a wheel barrow that rolls on a button and is brimming with tiny felt pies. In many scenes, felt dolls with wooden bead heads are laid down and placed just-so, making pages look like something a child would arrange in casual play. (Readers may even be tempted to try to lift one off the page.) At times the scenes are almost painterly, as in a poem about a wise old owl who lived in an oak. An owl sits perched on a sprawling oak, its plumage sewn in Vs of tans, purples and blues. On every branch hangs a tiny acorn or two, as leaves in greens and blue appear to flutter in a breeze.

24. Pack Your Suitcase!

Emma's Journey, written & illustrated by Claire Frossard, photographs by Etienne Frossard, Enchanted Lion Books, $17.95, ages 4-8, 56 pages. Little Emma may not have the wing strength to fly long distances, but every time she rides Duckyduck's back in New York City's Central Park, she hankers to hoist a sail and see how far a boat would take her. Now Duckyduck, her best friend, is about to migrate for the first time, and as Emma watches Duckyduck flap her wings in anticipation of resting down on warmer waters, the little sparrow begins to feel left out. "What about me?" she harrumphs. To get Emma's mind on other things, her mother sends her to see old Uncle Bob, who chirps about ancestors who crossed the Atlantic from France to Central Park, and before long Emma can think of nothing else than to journey to Paris. With a beret on her head, polka-dot boots on her feet and a supply of seafaring supplies, including a fisherman's sweater and a jar of worm jam, she hugs her parents good-bye and goes in search of her Uncle Bob's rat cousin Old Joe to take her there. But getting to his home under the Brooklyn Bridge is an adventure in itself, and will require Emma to slosh through snowy streets in Manhattan passed Radio City Music Hall, fly this way and that, and be wary of cats in between.

25. Wiesner's New Marvel

Art & Max, written & illustrated by David Wiesner, Clarion, $17.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages. An impetuous young lizard splashes paint on another artist after he misunderstands what it means to paint someone else, then scrambles to try to clean him up with wondrous results.  One day, the young lizard, named Max, races into the artist space of a big, imposing lizard named Arthur in the middle of the desert and begs to paint too. At first Arthur dismisses Max's request, but when he sees how downtrodden Max has become, he reluctantly agrees to let him join in. The only problem is, Max has no idea what to paint, so he asks Arthur for help. "Art," as Max calls him, suggests that Max paint him. But Max, being the hasty fellow he is, takes him literally. Before Arthur can yell, "preposterous," Max has coated him in paint. The once-tan lizard is now blue with yellow and orange splotches and is so outraged that he can barely speak.

26. Three Stunning Redos

Peter Pan and Wendy: Centenary Edition, written by J.M. Barrie, illustrated by Robert Ingpen, foreword by David Barrie, Sterling, $19.95, ages 9-12, 216 pages. Few illustrators draw out the magic of stories like Ingpen and in this lavishly illustrated edition of Barrie's beloved Peter Pan, the acclaimed illustrator once again looks into our dreams of what this adventure would look like. Seventy illustrations, atmospherically painted as if lit with candlelight, are sprinkled through the book every two pages or less. Some are tucked into text to show a telling expression or a stolen moment, or to draw out a whimsical scene, as when the island boys are followed by wolves, and bend over and look through their legs to try to defy them.
Others fill the page with a classic moment from the book, such as when Peter kisses Wendy, and a few span two entire pages to draw out the drama of turning point or particularly poignant scene. In one of the most arresting, Peter stands trapped on a rock in a lagoon after rescuing Wendy (by tying her to the tail of a kite floating by). All around him the air is misty yellow and Peter looks out into the emptiness and sees nothing to save him. He is afraid at last.

27. Two Classics That Pop!

Beauty & the Beast: A Pop-Up Book of the Classic Fairy Tale, engineered by Robert Sabuda, Simon & Schuster$28.99, ages 4-8, 12 pages. Sabuda, one of the great wizards of paper engineering, once again delivers joy into our hands. In this pop-up adaptation, Sabuda stages five elaborate scenes and numerous smaller ones in the fairy tale classic about beautiful Belle and the hideous beast who falls in love with her and is transformed by her tears into a handsome prince. From the first spread, the grandeur of the book sweeps you away. There, you see the beast's dark castle rise up as high as the book is wide when folded out and looking as imposing as Hogwarts. Down below, Belle's father approaches on a horse. On the left side of the spread, narrow pages open to reveal the first chapter of the story, along with two small pop-ups, one showing feathers flying as Belle and her wicked sisters tend to chickens and another showcasing a lush pink rose that Belle modestly requests from her father. Then to the right, three doors appear in a vertical row, each latched with a paper tab. On each tab is a sentence or two that sets up what's behind a door. As you lift the tab, the doors accordion up and you look through a window to see long, colorful hallways with mirrors at the end. By now, you feel completely enveloped in the tale and can't wait to see what pops up next.

28. That's Cool!

Star Wars Millennium Falcon YT-1300: A 3-D Owner's Guide, written by Ryder Windham, illustrated by Chris Trevas and Chris Reiff, Scholastic, $21.99, ages 9-12, 24 pages. An owner's manual might seem like a dud as a gift, but not this one. Readers will be pouring through every note and diagram, trying to decide if they want to upgrade to a Class 0.5 hyperdrive, revamp the cockpit to fly solo or take the ship off of autopilot. In this cleverly designed user's guide to the Millennium Falcon, would-be pilots go to the heart of the starship and peel away 10 cross-sections, beginning with weapons, sensors, defense systems, propulsion units and pilot controls, and moving on to crew quarters, life support systems, cargo holds, the main computer and the hull. Within each cross-section are detailed renderings of everything from a twin-gun laser canon used to track fast-moving objects to a tractor beam that can lift objects weighing 100 metric tons.

29. A Blast to Read

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, by Daniel Pinkwater, Houghton Mifflin, $16, ages 9-12, 288 pages. In this wacky-fun followup to Pinkwater's The Neddiad and The Yggyssey, Big Audrey says good-bye to her L.A. friends Iggy, Neddie and Seamus, and the shaman Crazy Wig, and embarks on a quest of self-discovery that will have you devouring Pinkwater's words as if they were candy. Through a chain of wildly entertaining and serendipitous encounters, Big Audrey, a 14-year-old girl with cat whiskers, gets closer to solving her parents' disappearance -- a mystery she hadn't even thought about solving until a telepathic loony in Poughkeepsie named Molly read her mind and told her she should. With the help of Molly and a sacred stick, Big Audrey finds her true self and dances her way into understanding what she's looking for. Along the way, she jumps into another plane of existence and runs into other colorful characters who reach out to her the moment they meet her. Among them, a loco Marlon Brando who gives her a ride -- as he drums bongos, and downs cakes and carrot juice --, and a Vassar professor who divides his time between teaching classes and going crazy.

30. Christmas Across the World: Two Tales

Nonna Tell Me a Story: Lidia's Christmas Kitchen, by Lidia Bastianich, illustrated by Laura Logan,  Running Press, $15.95, ages 4-8, 56 pages. In this joyful book, beloved TV chef Bastianich draws grandchildren to her lap to hear the story of her childhood Christmases and along the way, becomes the Italian grandma we all wish we had. Simple, unaffected narrative brings out Bastianich's true voice, as she recounts the magic of holidaying with her grandparents in the Italian countryside. Among her memories: the aroma of drying orange peels mingling with the scent of a juniper bush they'd cut for their Christmas tree and afternoons stringing dried figs and bay leaves into wreaths, then hanging them with leafy-stemmed tangerines and cookies looped with ribbon. Everything about this book glows, from the cheeks of the characters to the tender way Bastianich's grandchildren embrace her traditions.

31. What a Pair! Two Books of Friendship.

Up and Down, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, Philomel, $16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages. A boy and a penguin return from the South Pole the best of friends and for a time do everything together until one day the penguin decides he has to do something by himself: fly. Though everyone knows penguins can't fly, the penguin does his best to make it happen. He even climbs onto a chair on top of the boy's dresser and plunges off. (Luckily the boy is waiting below with a pillow.) But nothing seems to work. The boy even offers to take the penguin for a ride in his plane, but the penguin is determined to do this alone. Still, the boy wants to help and together they head to the zoo for answers. But soon after arriving the penguin sees a want ad for a living cannonball and in his excitement, rushes off to apply without telling the boy where he's headed.

32. ABC's and 123's: Two Books

Gyo Fujikawa's A to Z Picture Book, written and illustrated by Gyu Fujikawa, Sterling, ages 4-8, 72 pages. Fujikawa's 1974 classic returns to delight a new generation of learners ready to leap into life and embrace their imagination. A joy to look through, no matter how many times you've seen it, this charming book teaches the alphabet while celebrating the innocence of childhood. Every letter of the alphabet receives a grand, happy welcome -- first, with a softly painted illustration spanning two pages and short sentence or bouncy poem about the letter, then with another spread of delicate ink drawings of dozens of things that start with that letter. Crosshatching and finely drawn lines and dots make every picture in here a delight to look at, though it is the larger-scale illustrations that make your heart soar. One of my favorites is for the letter M. To the left, furry beasts with three-toed claws and snarling mouths reach out to scare a little red-headed boy. To the right, the boy lays on his tummy in the grass with his chin in his hands, staring at his imagined beasts with wonder. "M is for / my mean / and marvelous / monsters," reads a poem above him.

33. That's Amazing!

I Dreamed of Flying Like the Bird, written and photographed by Robert B. Haas, National Geographic, $17.95, ages 9-12, 64 pages. As Haas leans out of the doorless opening of his aircraft with a camera lens to his eye, he snaps wild moments that only a bird flying by would normally see. In this inspiring journey across the surface of wild places, photographer Haas shares pictures of animals in herds and hunting for prey that he took from helicopters and small planes over remote parts of the world. In one outing, the National Geographic photographer captures flamingos on a mystical run across the water. As they prepare to take off like planes, they run faster and faster until their feet seems to barely touch the surface.

34. Stories to Tell: Two Collections

The Teddy Robinson Storybook,written and illustrated by Joan G. Robinson, Kingfisher, $13.99, ages 4-8, 240 pages. First published in 1953, Robinson's delightful stories about a big, comfortable teddy bear and his adoring little girl are as cozy to read aloud as a Winnie the Pooh tale. In this newly published collection, Teddy loves to do anything Deborah positions him to do, whether it's bending over a book pretending to read words or trying to count blossoms on an almond-tree after she lays him on his back for a nap. Being a bear and a stuffed one at that, Teddy can only do what he can and often his thoughts get muddled, such as when he tries to count almond blossoms but can't quite figure out how. "He couldn't count more than four because he only had two arms and two legs to count on, so he counted up to four a great many times over, and then he began counting backwards, and the wrong way round, and any way round that he could think of…"

35. Where Do You Go?

Little Black Crow, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 4-7, 40 pages. A boy in a trapper hat looks up into the winter sky and wonders where the wind will take a little crow, as soft strokes of watercolor paint sweep the story from one page to the next. Caldecott Medalist Raschka's spare, yet exuberant, style is beguiling: it fills us with the same feelings of awe that we hear in the boy's words, as he watches the crow from off of the page. "Little black crow, where will you go?" he asks from the seat we see only at the end, atop a wood rail fence. The black bird sits in a leaf-bare tree, his beak bigger than his head and his ink-drawn body as expressive as a character in calligraphy.

36. Two Cautionary Tales

Flora's Very Windy Day, written by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Matt Phelan, Clarion, $16, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Flora is fed up that little brother Crispin' makes a mess of everything that she does and she's the one who's blamed for it. So when Mother sends Flora outside with Crispin' to put an end to another mess, Flora doesn't feel very sisterly. She goes off in a snit and acts like she doesn't care that Crispin's boot aren't as wind-worthy as hers. Flora has super-special heavy-duty red boots and Crispin's are, well, regular old purple boots. Outdoors the wind is howling and as waves of leaves wash into her, Flora laughs at the wind and taunts it to try to lift her up. The wind doesn't like to be scoffed at and triples its strength, and though Flora doesn't budge, Crispin' begins to tumble up into the air. As Flora watches his scared little face drift away, all of her spite washes away. In a flash, she leaps out of her boots, spreads her coat to the wind and is swept up after him.

37. Friends Through and Through

Daydreams of a Solitary Hamster, by Astrid Desbordes, illustrated by Pauline Martin, Enchanted Lion Books, $17.95, ages 4-8, 56 pages. Hamster thinks his friends Mole, Snail, Hedgehog and Rabbit rejoice at the sight of him, when in fact they see Hamster for exactly who he is, a friend who's wrapped up in himself, yet lovable nonetheless. This brilliant, amusing book is told through a series of cartoon panels, broken up into short vignettes, and shows to hilarious effect how oblivious Hamster is to the limits of his significance. In one story, he asks his friends to guess which extraordinary announcement he's going to make (a birthday bash for himself) and they all come up with things that are truly grand but have nothing to do with him: a snowstorm, an eclipse, an aurora borealis. Other chapters look in on his friends and give us a glimpse into things that matter to them. Hedgehog privately wishes he was soft like his friends and ponders whether he should wear a coat of moss over his quills to be more like them. Snail frets about being left out and overlooked because he's so small and slow-moving, and Mole is the comforting friend, who commiserates yet never wallows in her own misfortunes.

38. Animals Big & Small: Three Books

Camille Saint-Saens's The Carnival of the Animals, new verses by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Mary Grand Pre, with a fully orchestrated CD of the Camille Saint-Saens music, Alfred A. Knopf, $19.99, ages 6-12, 40 pages. Playful verses and rollicking pictures bring French composer Saint-Saens's legendary musical suite to life on the page, as the acclaimed Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra accompanies on CD. In this merry march of words and pictures, Prelutsky stays true to the composition, delivering sweet, bouncy verses that are less nonsensical than others he's dreamed up, yet charmingly tied with tempo shifts and instrumentals in the orchestration.

39. Dreaming of Trains

Legendary Journeys: Trains, written by Philip Steele, illustrated by Sebastian Quigley, Kingfisher, $19.99, ages 9-12, 32 pages. Any child who loves to get stuck behind a train crossing and watch it thunder by will adore this gorgeous, interactive tribute to the greatest trains of all time. Bright, crisp images, each with brief descriptions, fill every two-page spread, similar to a scrapbook, and though the book covers a lot, beginning with the first steam engine and ending with the magnetic suspension Maglev train, the text never gets heavy. Readers bounce along, viewing feats of engineering and keepsakes from the past.

40. Christmas Magic: 3 Favorites

A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book, written by Charles Dickens, engineered by Chuck Fischer, Hachette, $30, ages 9 and up, 12 pages.  The stunning novella that made Dickens weep and laugh, and weep again as he wrote it, A Christmas Carol, is faithfully reproduced in all of its Victorian splendor in this lushly painted pop-up. Harking back to vintage pop-up greeting cards, the scenes unfold on cobbled streets lit by gas lamps or in grand rooms in Ebenezer's house, some with ornate swags of holy around the edges, others with dark wood furniture and red velvet curtains. Perhaps best-loved of all Christmas stories, the tale of human redemption begins on the streets of London as a scowling Scrooge steps out of his business into the languishing light of early evening. Each of the next four pop-ups show the miser reacting with fright as the four spirits show him the folly of his ways.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bella and Stella Come Home

Written by Anika Denise
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
Philomel, 2010
$16.99, ages 3-8, 40 pages

A little girl braves the unknown of her new home with the help of her pudgy elephant toy, who grows to life-size when no one else is looking.

In this adorably illustrated book by the creators of Pigs Love Potatoes, a timid girl with pigtails puts on a happy face for her toy so that he doesn't feel as scared as she is.

As Bella leaves her old house with her stuffed elephant, Stella, clutched in her arm, she tries to act strong but inside her head is swirling with worry.

Counting every step leading out of the house, Bella looks back at the porch with sad eyes and assures her toy that everything will be okay.

But it's hard to let go of a house that's a home and through a car window Bella watches her home shrink away until there's nothing left to see.