Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer Reading List 2011

A great book + sunshine = reading in the open air.

Now, if we can just convince the kids of that.

How do we get kids to put down their soakers long enough to crack a book?

First things first, we need titles that are fun, quick to read and if your kids are like ours, summery.

Our boys want books about stuff that happens when it's warm (or that they could imagine doing right now).

And, above all, they want books that are far off the topic of school. No workbooks, please.

For this year's list, I've selected books that are so good they're distracting and a few that even sneak in a lesson or two.

1. Fairytale Magic

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Ana Juan (Feiwel and Friends, $16.99, ages 10-14, 256 pages, 2011) A girl is whisked away from her bedroom at night by a westerly wind in a quest to save Fairyland in one of the most enchanting books of the year. The girl, 12-year-old September, is quite happy to go with the Green Wind, even though she's missing a shoe. She's tired of home and having to wash sinks full of teacups and gravy boats. She also doesn't like that her mother is always bent over fixing engines at work and her dad is always away at war (and so, to her, quite unreliable.) But why would the Green Wind call on September for such an adventure -- a girl from Omaha, Nebraska, who is only just clever enough to swim, read books, and "fix boilers if only a little"?

2. Three Amazing Adventures

The Door in the Forest, by Roderick Townley (Knopf, $16.99, ages 9-12, 245 pages) Daniel has long hunted for a way through the thorny thickets and quicksand that guard a forbidden island near his home in Everwood, but it isn't until he befriends a mysterious orphan named Emily Byrdsong that he discovers how important the island really is. Emily, as it turns out, is the granddaughter of a strangely lovable witch-woman named Bridey, part of a long line of Byrdsongs who've guarded the island's secrets. Until now, no one has gotten passed the creeks of poisonous snakes that encircle it. But now a crazed commander named Sloper has stormed into town and is accusing the villagers of a hiding weapons on the island, and suddenly Bridey has disappeared. Could Sloper be behind her disappearance and why is he firing rounds into the forest? It's up to Daniel and his brother Wesley to help Emily find Bridey and save the island, but first they'll have to outwit Sloper and decode an ancient map. Will Daniel's habit of blurting out the truth make things worse? It may take a lesson in "Lefty Lucy, Righty Tighty" and literally the freckles on Emily's back to get them safely across the creeks of poisonous snakes and find a hidden door to the island. But why would any place be so isolated and if they can get there, could the commander too? It isn't called the Impossible Island for nothing. Townley's writing is filled with descriptive gems (trees "tall and thin, like tuning forks") and so imaginative I was halfway done before I looked up.

A World Without Heroes (Beyonders Book 1), by Brandon Mull (Simon & Schuster, $19.99, ages 8-12, 464 pages, 2011). While cleaning the hippo tank at the zoo where he volunteers, Jason Walker falls through a portal into a strange and troubled world ruled by a malicious wizard emperor. Lyrian is like nowhere on Earth. As he searches for a way to get back home, he stumbles upon a hidden repository in the woods, where a forbidden tome is preserved in a scribe's flesh. Though cautioned by the repository's loremaster (librarian) not to open the book, Jason cannot resist the temptation and upon reading it, is unwittingly nominated to depose the emperor, Maldor. Unless Jason, with the help of his new ally Rachel, can uncover all of the syllables of a magical word that can destroy Maldor, he'll be executed. First he'll have to find the Blind King and outsmart brave resisters who've been bought off or broken by Maldor. From the author of the best-selling Fablehaven series comes the first book in a fantastic new adventure that reads like a great movie.

Troubletwisters, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 9-12, 304 pages, 2011) When a magical force blows up their house and nearly snatches them away, twins Jaide and Jack Shield are hurried off to live with their peculiar Grandma X in a small seaside town. But little do they know, the danger has only begun. Strange, unsettling things are going on around grandmother's house, though she won't give a straight answer about any of them: a blue door to the cellar disappears and reappears, a weather vane on her roof twirls opposite to prevailing winds, grandmother talks to her cat as if he understands every word and when the twins drink her hot cocoa, they forget what they've been talking about. Could she be a witch? And why does she tells them never to go out of the sight of the lighthouse? All I can say is, watch out for those fuzzy little hailstones. They bite. And never go near rats with milky eyes. This first book in a trilogy was a blast from beginning to end: a great easy read with a dash of creepy crawly. Perfect for fans of Ingrid Law's Savvy and Scumble.

3. Books to Make Hearts Soar

Wild Wings, by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Yuta Onoda (Atheneum, $15.99, ages 8-12, 304 pages, 2011). A girl no one cared to know works her way into a boy's heart and inspires him to watch over a magnificent bird they both loved and an injured girl half-way around the world.  When Iona McNair arrives in town, 11-year-old Callum doesn't know what to think of her. His friend Rob calls her a thief for fishing in Callum's family's creek and blames her for something her mother may have stolen years ago. But Callum is drawn to Iona and the secret she wants to share, something no one has seen on his Scottish farm for a hundred years. Iona has spotted an osprey building an aerie in the farm's woods and soon he has attracted a mate. Knowing osprey are vulnerable, Callum keeps the secret from his friends Rob and Euan. But when the osprey's mate, Iris, gets tangled in fishing line, Iona and Callum can no longer keep the secret to themselves. Callum's father calls a biologist for help and after rescuing Iris, he cautions them about poachers. He also tags Iris with satellite telemetry so they can watch over her as she migrates back to Africa. But then one day Iona doesn't show up to meet Callum at their tree house and Callum's life is turned upside down. Iona has made Callum promise to look after Iris, but can he trust Rob and Euan to help him? In this wonderful story, a boy makes a pact that will change his life, the lives of his friends, a small fishing village in The Gambia and a 10-year-old girl who's hospitalized there. Tender and beautiful, this is a story to make eyes misty, but only briefly, before sweeping readers hearts back into the clouds.

Junonia, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, $15.99, ages 10-14, 192 pages, 2011) When Alice Rice arrives at Florida's Sanibel Island on a family vacation, she wants to do everything at once and can't decide where to start. Should she unpack or comb the beach for shells? (After all, this is the year she's determined to find a rare Junonia.) But the only place her legs want to go is to the cottages. She has to know who's there. For nine years, the same neighbors have returned to the island and celebrated her birthday. This is her 10th -- and she's hoping it will be special.  But when she finds old Mr. and Mrs. Wishmeier, who've always been like grandparents, she begins to discover that things won't be quite the same. The Wishmeier's grandchildren (the older siblings Alice never had) can't make it, neither can artist Helen Blair (who always had the most wonderful gifts to give Alice) and her mother's friend Kate (Aunt Kate to Alice) isn't coming alone. She has a new boyfriend with a snippy daughter Mallory and now Alice's friend, ancient Mr. Barden, has hurt Alice's feelings. He's told her that Mallory's the prettiest little girl he's ever seen even though she's a screamer. Suddenly Alice, an only child, is working harder than ever to rub off the mole on her face and her big day has become engulfed in uncertainty. This is the last time she'll be able to count how old she is on her fingers -- it should be the best day yet. But it seems like it's become a big deal in a bad way. Could it be that, even when things are mixed-up, they get better? A charming, coming-of-age story from an author-illustrator with the heart of a child. If a book could smell of summer, this would.

One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, by Joanne Rocklin (Amulet, $16.95, ages 8-12, 224 pages, 2011).  The kids on Orange Street always felt the vacant lot with the big orange tree belonged to them, but then one day a Day-Glo orange cone appears in front of the tree, followed by a mysterious stranger. Could this man be planning to cut it down? And why is he so familiar to Mrs. Snoops, an elderly lady who grew up near the tree? In this sweet story, three girls and boy realize their beloved old tree has affected too many lives to belong to just one person and in one glowing moment, do something brave, formidable and amazing.

4. Picture This!

Picture books that have you after one glance.

Pig Kahuna, written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler (Bloomsbury, $14.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages, 2011). While scouring the beach for treasures, Fergus the pig and his baby brother Dink spot a surfboard being washed in by the tide. So they pull it on the beach, climb on top and pretend to carve waves in the sand -- they definitely don't want to surf in the ocean. There's a lurking, murky ickiness out there: fish with jagged teeth and lots of pokies. As they play with the surfboard, their attachment grows. They give it a kelp toupee and a seaweed bulb eye and name it Dave. Such a loyal board, Dave never gets washed away. Then one day as Fergus is dashing back from getting ice cream cones, he sees Dink setting Dave free. Panicked, Fergus jumps into the ocean and wildly paddles out to save Dave. But no sooner has he rested his belly on the surfboard and let out a big sigh, Fergus feels water rising up beneath him. Oh no, is it one of those lurking terrible things? Will he get pitched? Adorable from cover to cover, this is a must for any child heading to a beach or or just dreaming of one.

Blackout, written and illustrated by John Rocco (Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages, 2011) It's a ho-hum night in a boy's city apartment. Windows are open and the air is sticky, and try as he might, he can't coax anyone in his family to play a board game with him. His sister snaps at him for interrupting her on the phone, his dad is too busy cooking something steamy and Mom waves him off as she types on the computer. So the boy plunks down in a chair and starts to play a video game by himself and a moment later, the screen goes out -- and with it, every light in the house. Suddenly the family has nothing to do but be together. They huddle with flashlights playing shadow puppets, then climb to the roof and discover a magical show of lights. Stars no longer masked by city lights glisten like Van Gogh's Starry Night. Neighbors are there having a block party and down on the street, a crowd is playing, singing and jumping through water. But what will happen when the lights go back on? Will things return just as they were?  Rocco, author-illustrator of the enchanting Moonpowder, envelops readers in the cozy bond of a blackout, and that familiar yearning for it to continue just a little longer. This is just the book to jump-start family time -- maybe even turning out lights for one memorable night.

Friends, True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships, written by Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, 2011, ages 4-8, 32 pages, 2011) Yes, I know what you're wondering: is the rest of the book as sweet as the cover? Absolutely. Just wait until you look inside. In the next picture, an abandoned baby macaque rests his head on the back of a white pigeon as one arm gentle wraps around its back. His eyes glance sidelong like a child who's content exactly where he is. Through this extraordinary book, Thimmesh captures affectionate exchanges between unlikely animal friends as she travels with photographers from an animal rescue hospital on Neilingding Island in China to the Cincinnatti Zoo. Every picture accompanies a sweet, spare poem that celebrates the wonder of what we're seeing. "A friend connects…" Thimmish writes on one page as we see a Vietnamese miniature pig reaching up to nuzzle a camel, "A stretch, / a slight strain, / a balancing feat; / friends go to great lengths / in order to meet." This is a book with sound effects, oohs and ahhs. All from you.

5. Charming Animal Heroes

These stories will leave kids feeling great and ready to take on the world.

Young Fredle, by Cynthia Voigt, illustrated by Louise Yates (Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99, ages 9-12, 240 pages, 2011) A brave kitchen mouse breaks the the most important rule of mice, to keep safe, and is tossed out of his nest behind a pantry wall and into the dangerous world outside. Living behind the lattice of a porch, he faces unthinkable perils: raptors that nose-dive from the sky, snakes that lurk in barns and a rowdy band of raccoons that take him captive. But he also makes delightful discoveries -- a world of colors never afforded him by the dim pantry, twinkling lights in the night sky, the taste of dew on a blade of grass and one morning, a bright peel of orange left as a gift. Newbery Medalist Voigt weaves a wondrous tale of a mouse who dares to do things differently. The great message here: you might be surprised at what you can accomplish when you need to do something or really want to. This is a book that leaves you wanting to yell out "Woo-Hah."

Bless This Mouse, written by Lois Lowry and illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Houghton Mifflin, $15.99, ages 9-12, 160 pages, 2011) A pile of pink mouselets nesting in a mop in the sexton's closet?! This just won't do. With the annual Blessing of the Animals fast approaching, Hildegarde, the mouse mistress at St. Bartholomew's, is frantic. Father Murphy has been tolerant of mouse droppings in the past, but he won't think twice about calling the Great X, the exterminator, if parishioners spot mice scurrying by the pews. The last time the Great X came, half of Hildegarde's colony was wiped out. But try as she might to clamp down on reproduction and visibility, the worst happens: the Altar Guild sees the mouselets playing hide-and-seek. Now the colony's only hope is to flee to the graveyard and hunker down until the poison has passed. But will they find safety in the church after fumigation? And is it fair that other animals get to be blessed on the feast day of St. Francis and not mice? A sweet and wonderful tale from a Newbery Medalist.

6. I Need the Next One!

Series older kids will be clamoring for.
The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid andThe Throne of Fire, by Rick Riordan. (Disney-Hyperion, $18.99 each, ages 9-12, 528-464 pages, 2011) When siblings Carter, 14, and Sadie, 12, unite after years of living apart, they seem to have nothing in common until their archaeologist father, Dr. Julius Kane, disappears inside the British Museum and the siblings are thrust headlong into an epic adventure. While taking the siblings on a private tour of the museum, Dr. Kane blows up the Rosetta Stone and releases a vengeful Egyptian god who entombs him. Carter and Sadie barely escape and as they set off to rescue their father, they discover secrets of their family heritage. The siblings learn they are descendants of the pharaohs and have magical powers that could stop the gods of chaos and save humanity. This fast-paced, often funny new adventure trilogy by the author of the blockbuster Percy Jackson and the Olympians books is an easy read that they won't want to put down.
Pathfinder, by Orson Scott Card (Simon Pulse, $18.99, ages 12 and up, 672 pages, 2010). From the best-selling author of Ender's Game comes a fascinating series that moves between two complex story lines: one about 13-year-old Rigg, who has a special ability to see the paths of people's pasts, and Ram Odin, a human pilot of a colony ship from Earth. Reader's are first introduced to Rigg, while trapping with his father, a stern taskmaster who grills his son on questions of logic and the unforeseen. His father wants Rigg to be prepared for anything, though Rigg doesn't know why, and he has warned Rigg never to tell anyone about his gift as a pathfinder. But then his father suddenly dies and Rigg discovers he has a sister that his father never told him about. He sets off with a childhood friend Umbo, who has a special ability to bend time, to find her and uncover his past. Along the way they meet characters who aren't always who they seem and Rig becomes caught between a faction that wants him crowned and another that wants him dead.  In alternating chapters, Card follows Ram's voyage into the unknown with a robot trained in space-folding technology. Thought-provoking, just the thing for teens looking for a smart read.

7. Sneak in a Lesson

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet, written and illustrated by Leslie McGuirk (Tricycle Press, $15.99, all ages, 48 pages, 2011). If rocks could sing? I think this proves they already do. Not only that, they play, swim and haunt about. An adorable thing to behold, McGuirk's clever book shows rocks shaped like every letter of the alphabet and some of the sweet things those words represent. On one page, two big-nosed rocks sit on a seesaw for U is for Up and on another, blobs of rock with hollow eyes and mouths fly against a black backdrop for G is Ghosts. Collected on a stretch of Florida coastline over more than 10 years, the rocks are so graphic you'd think McGuirk altered them in Photoshop, but you'll have to take her word for it: these are nature-made. Readers will be so smitten by the pictures in this book, they'll want to hunt for their own rock creatures and may even beg you to let them sleep with them at night.

This Plus That, Life's Little Equations, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace (Harper, $16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages, 2011) What happens when readers add two things together? Amazing compromises that delight and sometimes a few mistakes, but always something they can learn from. In this charming book by the creators Little Pea, Little Hoot and Little OInk, readers discover the possibilities of combining things and how, good or bad, equations make life what it is. Sometimes life is wondrous: when they add one somersault to another and get dizzy or add a smile to a hand wave and make a new friend. And sometimes it can be icky. When they make mistakes, like adding mumbling to toe staring and get the opposite of polite. But even then, there's always a way to make it better: handshake + "how are you" = polite. But sometimes sad stuff just happens: like when something strong takes something they love away: balloon + wind = lost. This clever, gentle book helps kids appreciate -- and accept -- the consequences of actions, and life's twists and turns.

Apple Pie ABC, written and illustrated by Alison Murray (Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, ages 2-6, 32 pages, 2011) Here's a book that feels as fresh and cozy as the apple pie it begins with. Debut writer-illustrator Murray takes readers on a walk from A to Z with the tale of a girl and her dog and the pie both want a piece of. While the girl sits in her big red chair eating a slice of pie as her legs dangle, her dog nudges his empty bowl toward her for E is for Eager. Lucky for him, F is for Crumb on the next page. The dog smiles at a glistening speck on the floor. Then he licks his chops, for G is for Get a Taste for It. But couldn't he have more that just a taste? Uh oh, there he goes. H is for Have to Get a Lick of It. But even he knows dogs shouldn't put their legs up on the table and on the next page, I is for In Trouble. But what if the dog J for Jumps Up for It? O for Ogles It? or P for Pines for It? This dog is Q for Quietly Determined, that's for sure. Will he outsmart his girl in R, S and T? Guess you'll have to look to find out. How does one sum up a book that turns an alphabet lesson into a sweet story? B for Brilliant.

8. Stir Their Imagination

Storyworld: Create-A-Story Kits, created by John and Caitlin Matthews (Templar, $12.99, ages 9-12, 24 cards, 2011) Just the thing to help imaginations take flight, these clever kits immerse young writers in a make-believe place with a supply of ideas. Each kits contains 28 cards with prompts and pictures to create their own story. One side of a card gives a description of people, places, creatures or special objects that might inhabit that particular make-believe world, and the other provides a detailed picture of things they might find. Since its debut in 2010, four more kits have come out, each a delight and available for a bit less, $9.99 each. In Legends of the Sea, readers are asked to imagine what happened to a haunted wreck with a ghostly crew and to think about what adventures await a lucky sea horse who loves to play jokes. All of the kits come with a booklet detailing various games kids can play by themselves, with friends or parents. Also part of the series, Fairy Magic, Tales from the Haunted House and Christmas Tales.

Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets, published in conjunction with The Academy of American Poets and selected by Bruno Navasky (Amulet Books, $12.95, ages 9-12, 232 pages, 2011) This charming little book by poetry teacher Navasky invites young writers to carry poems wherever they go. A poem, Navasky writes, is like "a little bird safe in its nest, it needs to stick its head up, needs a breath of fresh air now and then. It needs to play." So, he suggests, "carry it with you," but keep it safe in a pocket and once in a while "let it fly." Inside readers find a tablet of 100 removable poems by classic and contemporary poets, from Emily Dickinson to Naomi Shihab Nye. At their whim, readers can tear out any poem to read to themselves or share with others. The tablet is organized by 10 themes, each with inviting titles. Among them: "The Sweet Earth" about nature, "Where You Never Were" about the imagination, "There is Rain in Me" about the imagination and "They Loved Paperclips" about everyday things.

9. Just for Fun

Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke (First Second, $10.99 pbk, ages 9-12, 192 pages, 2011) In this zany fun graphic novel, a brave girl named Zita launches herself into another dimension to save her pal Joseph after she unwittingly lets a tentacled creature from another world enter Earth and snatch him away. Unless Zita and her band of cohorts (a giant mouse, battle orb, robot and earthling named Piper) can get to Joseph in time, he'll be sacrificed by Scriptorians, a doomsday cult, to save their planet. Great fun and a sure way to keep your child glued to a book all the way to the last page. Hatke is the author-illustrator of the graphic gems the Flight series and Flight Explorer

The Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book (revised and expanded edition), by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books, $12.95, ages 9-12, 224 pages, 2011)  Zoo-Wee-Mama! For fans of The Wimpy Kid who have everything (i.e. all six titles of the phenomenally popular series), this is the book to have: a journal about their own amazing childhood. Inside fans are invited to write down how incredibly smart and witty they are, they get a chance to finish their own Zoo-We-Mama comic strips and make up their own, and they get to pour through more of Rowley's classics in full-color. But just so parents understand, this is NOT a diary. No feelings allowed. Just lots of silly stuff: like the survey of all the nutty things they've ever done, answers to questions only Greg could think of -- like "How many steps does it take you to jump into bed after you turn off the lights?" and our youngest boys' (age 7 and 9) favorite page: an outline of a brain with lobes of varying sizes to write down what's inside. Stuff like soccer, food, sleep and purple?

Star Wars Battles for the Galaxy: Fight for Victory, Become a Hero, written by Daniel Wallace (DK Publishing, $12.99, ages 9-12, 96 pages, 201l) AND Star Wars Character Encyclopedia (DK Publishing, $16.99, ages 9-12, 208 pages, 2011) Is your child deliriously happy reading Star Wars trivia? Does he have imaginary duels with his fingers against droids and clones in bed at night? My Tate does, and these two books had him staying up later than late. Both feed the love of the Force with colorful pictures, graphics and lots of action shots. Star Wars Battles for the Galaxy invites recruits of all ages to save the galaxy one page at a time. Readers receive their mission briefing, then are guided through tactics to stop a droid army and eventually shut down Endor. Star Wars Encyclopedia profiles 200+ heroes, villains and more, and fills readers on all that a fan wants to know -- including who planned the Rebel assault on the first Death Star. Both books are scaled down in size for easy reading.

10. Fun Things to Make

Make It!, created by Jane Bull (DK Publishing, $12.99, ages 4-8, 64 pages, 2011) After one look inside this eye-catching craft book, kids will be rummaging through recycling bins. And just think! You won't have to buy much of anything for them to get started! At the beginning, Bull rallies crafters, "Starve your garbage can!" and collect all those scraps. A spiraling circling shows it all: from bottle tops to junk mail, old baking tins to tights. Even parents will be surprised at how adorable scraps can look when strung, crimped, glued, woven, twisted and sewn in just the right way. Among the highlights: woolly friends from matchless mittens, a robot from a tin pan and foil, and a seat cushion from bubble wrap and candy wrappers. I've never seen our boys jump into projects so fast. (Just a bit of advice: introduce this one early in the week before the recycling truck comes. Or use it as a motivator to clear out scraps from rooms.)

How to Cook: Delicious Dishes Perfect for Teen Cooks  (DK Publishing, $17.99, ages 12 and up, 128 pages, 2011) If I could rename this book, it would be: How to Get Your Kids to Make You Dinner. This hip, fun cookbook delivers all that it promises: step-by-step recipes, great tips and fail-safe techniques, and it speaks to what teens want most in food (while going easy on the grease, sugar and processed ingredients). The first chapter, "Fast Food," gives 15 delish dishes, from hot tortilla soup and Huevos rancheros to potato rosti (crispy patties of grated potatoes). The moment our 12-year-old son glanced inside this section, he was jotting down a shopping list of ingredients. That night we dined on falafel and even our grade school boys cleaned their plates.  Now my husband keeps asking our oldest son, "Could you make that again?" Our son is not only anxious to do just that, but he's already adjusted the recipe. A nice chutney, he says, would taste great on top. Yum. I know my husband and I are ready. But from the looks of the next recipes, my husband and I might have to duke it out for the menu. I say, cannelloni; my husband's set on lamb kabobs. Oh, please, choose mine! Teens don't have to be Food Network fans to love this book; all it takes is opening the book and having a salivary gland. The biggest selling points, according to my son? The variety of dishes, the gourmet taste  and the fact he didn't have start over. It all came together on the first try.

Pop-Up: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrated by Frances Castle (Candlewick, $19.99, ages 7 and up, 16 pages, 2010). What child doesn't dream of creating something magical?  Well, this book may not hold the secrets to Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, but if your child loves pop-ups, oh my, this is about as good as it gets. This clever book teaches kids to engineer a pop-up with very little technical know-how. All it takes is one look at the cover and pull of a flap over the "O" in "POP," and kids (and parents) will be giddy to look inside. From there, it only gets better. The book begins with a quick lesson in pop-up techniques (angle folds, parallels folds and extras like noisemakers). Then it jumps head-long into four pop-ups that a child really can do: Press out pre-folded pieces and peel off sticky-back plastic to make a dragon, castle, jungle and Frankenstein monster. (Sound too hard to be true? Don't worry, all the instructions are there and there's nothing fussy about it -- except maybe which child gets to do it first.)

11. Books to Bring on a Trip

National Geographic Kids Almanac 2012, (National Geographic, $13.99, ages 9-12, 342 pages, 2011) For any child who likes to yell, "Guess What?!," then share something cool, this is the book to have. As graphic and entertaining as National Geographic Kids magazine, this hand-size encyclopedia tells kids just about everything they ever wanted to know. Like, for instance, that the smallest bone in their body is smaller than a grain of rice or that in India kids pour dyed water and powder over their bodies to say goodbye to winter. Chapters include Going Green, Amazing Animals, Super Science and Awesome Adventures. There's even a chapter filled with boredom-busting games, jokes, puzzles and more. This isn't just a book of facts, it also encourage kids to get involved. On a page about endangered lions, they scan a digital code with a Smart Phone to learn how to help save lions and on another page, they tour a house dialed out with all the latest eco-technology. Watch the hours slip by, Mom and Dad, but perk up those ears. Something tells me, you'll be hearing it all over the car seat.

The Phenomenal Postcard Book, Where's Waldo, illustrated by Martin Handford. (Candlewick, $9.99, ages 5-9, 30 postcards, 2011). This clever little tablet encourages two things at once: practice with letter writing and a game to pass time while traveling. On each cover is a picture search from one of Waldo's journeys and on the back below where kids write is a checklist with a handful of items to find. But just a tip, before sending any of the cards, have the kids do the stamp search from the back page. Hanford shows nine stamps he's snuck into some of the postcard pictures. Could one be hanging on the museum wall of "The Great Picture Exhibition" or escaping slime-spewing dragons in "Bright Lights and Night Frights"? (both from Where's Waldo? The Wonder Book.) Looks like this might take awhile. Maybe, if we're lucky, just long enough to wait for our connecting flight. Fans will delight in seeing some of their favorite scenes from eight Where's Waldo? books and once again searching out the elusive Waldo in red-and-white striped shirt, bobble hat and glasses.

Doodles at Breakfast: 36 Tear-Off Placemats, created by Deborah Zemke (Blue Apple Books, $10.99, ages 4-8, 37 pages, 2011). So you're on the road and pop into a restaurant for breakfast, but of course it's packed, the wait is long and the kids are wiggling in their seats. Whip this tablet out, along with a pack of colored pencils, and see what happens. Who knows? When that stack of pancakes does come, you might just have to coax them away from doodling to eat. One thing's for sure, the kids will be neat and tidy at the table. There's no way they're dripping syrup on this placemat or, forbid, letting a water glass perspire on it. Part of a fantastic new series, this fun tablet teaches kids how to draw everything from aliens with radioactive squiggles to a skateboarder taking flight and a unicorn from a magical forest. Every drawing lesson includes fun facts, questions and tips -- my favorite, how to use the egg shape for heads and bodies. Other books in the series: Doodles to Go, Doodles at Lunch, Doodles at Dinner and Chicken Doodle Soup.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Celebrating Dad

from My Side of the Car
What makes a dad the best ever?

Ask a child and he or she might say:

He listens when I say things.
He helps me do stuff I want to try.
And when I need him?

He's right there, just always.

Here are three books that celebrate all the patience and love that comes wrapped up in a dad.

Roslyn Rutabega and the Biggest Hole on Earth, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay ($16.95, Groundwood Books, 32 pages, 2010). Roslyn wants to dig the biggest hole on Earth, but every time she shovels down, she runs into creatures who scoff at her plan and tell her to go somewhere else. Will anyone believe she can dig all the way to the South Pole? Lucky thing Dad is near. In this sweet tale by the author of Stella, Star of the Sea, a father encourages his little girl to follow her imagination even when obstacles abound.

Mitchell's License, written by Hallie Durand and illustrated by Tony Fucile ($15.99, Candlewick, 32 pages, 2011). Rev up Dad's tummy, check the air in his slippers and climb onto his shoulders, Mitchell is driving him to bed. In this adorable tale, a three-year-old pretends his dad is a car, and Dad happily plays along, allowing him to yank his ears for reverse and squeeze his nose to make the car honk. But when Mitchell swerves over to the cookie jar for gas, he discovers that his car might have a mind of its own. Can it really hairpin turn without him?

My Side of the Car, written by Kate Feiffer and illustrated by Jules Feiffer ($16.99, Candlewick, 40 pages, 2011). Until now, something's always gotten in the way of Sadie and Dad driving to the zoo -- like when Mom broke her foot or the family dog got lost. But today is different. Sadie's just sure of it. Not even an escaped tiger can stop their plans. But what about the rain? Not if it's not raining on Sadie's side of the car. In this funny, endearing tale, a dad is tickled by his daughter's optimism and waits out the rain so she can do the thing she so anxiously wants to do.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet

By Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Bob Shea
$16.99, ages 3-5, 32 pages

Gilbert has almost everything an aquarium fish could want.

A stone castle to swim through, a treasure chest that bubbles, even food flakes that fall from the sky.

Now if he could just have a pet to care for and love, he'd be the happiest little goldfish in a bowl.

The problem is, every creature that peers into his bowl isn't quite right.

A dog comes by and licks his bowl hello and bounds around it in circles. At first it's fun to follow him, but then he barks too much and laps up Gilbert's water.

Next, a small gray mouse sniffs at the glass and Gilbert's heart goes "pitter-patter-swish." Finally. A quiet pet.

But as soon as the mouse realizes Gilbert isn't a chunk of cheese, he scampers away. And Gilbert's heart goes plop.

Hopper and Wilson

Written & illustrated by Maria van Lieshout
Philomel, 2011
 $16.99, ages 3-7, 40 pages

Two stuffed pals set sail in a paper hat to see what's at the end of the world and discover that the best place of all isn't as far as they thought.

As Wilson and Hopper wave goodbye to their potted cactus on the edge of a vast ocean, the wind gently tugs at Hopper's red balloon and anything seems possible.

Wilson, a yellow mouse, imagines they'll find a staircase to the moon while Hopper, a blue elephant, pictures a place with lots of lemonade.

That night Wilson and Hopper fall asleep on the brim of the newspaper-folded boat under a sky of stars without a cloud in sight.

But as morning comes, rain pelts down and the sea grows choppy. Suddenly their boat begins to rise under a giant wave and in a frightening moment, envelops them.