Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stars

Written by Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
$16.99, ages 2-6, 40 pages

An acclaimed author contemplates what stars are for, in a picture book reminiscent of Ruth Kraus' A Hole is to Dig.

"A star is how you know it's almost night," Mary Lyn Ray writes, as a boy walks his dog and gazes at the darkening sky.

Ray, the author of Basket Moon, describes stars as reassuring lights that never go away and shares other stars that are close enough to touch.

When day ends, the stars in the heavens click on like strings of white lights, and "the dark that comes doesn't feel so dark."

If only they weren't so far away, never to be held or carried. But suppose you could have a star of your own, one that fit right in your hand.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things...

1. The Flint Heart

Written by Katherine & John Paterson
Illustrated by John Rocco
Candlewick, 2011
$19.99, ages 7 and up, 304 pages
Twelve-year-old Charles and little sister Unity try to stop an ancient rock from turning men into brutes, in Katherine and John Paterson's droll, magical remake of Eden Phillpott's 1910 story.

The rock, a heart-shaped charm chipped from flint, gives anyone who wears it a hard heart, no matter how kind they once were.

It was uncovered by a mystery man in the Stone Age, and created such terror back then that it was buried deep in a grave under a pile of rocks for five thousand years.

Then about 100 years ago, Charles' father Billy Jago made the mistake of unearthing it near his farm in Merripit, and he was turned into a nasty wretch of a man.

Unaware that the Flint Heart had caused his father's drastic behavior, Charles and five-year-old Unity set off with their dog Ship to ask the pixies for a gift to soften his temper. 

2. The Conductor

By Laetitia Devernay
Chronicle, 2011
$18.95, ages 5-8, 72 pages
A maestro stands on the top of a tree and conducts the leaves into a melody of flying birds, in this wordless masterpiece by an award-winning French artist.

One day, a conductor dressed in black tails and striped pants walks through a beautiful wood where delicate leaves are balled up on lollipop-shaped trees.

Holding his baton at the ready, he searches for music he can shape, then glances skyward and decides to climb one of the many stilt-like trunks.

Reaching the top, the conductor stands perfectly still. His dark bangs swoop off to one side with a flourish and he lifts his baton from the side of his leg.

Stretching his arms outward, the conductor signals to the leaves of all of the trees that the music is about to begin.

Then he delicately cues one cluster of leaves to fly out of the canopy into a bird, leaving a cookie-cutter shape of the flying bird behind.

3. Fly Trap

By Frances Haringe
$16.99, ages 10 and up, 592 pages

Orphan Mosca Mye once more uses her fly-like cunning to evade ruffians, but this time will this little pebble of a girl be able to exact revenge?

In this delicious followup to Hardinge's Fly by Night, 12-year-old Mye again finds herself in a sticky mess that only a mistrustful mind could scheme a way out of.

Having barely escaped with their lives from the rebel city of Mandelion, Mye and her traveling companions, Eponymous Clent and her ornery goose Soren, are now on the run to Toll, a peculiar city split in two.

Toll, as they see it, is their only chance to start anew, as it give access across a gorge that belongs to the River Langfeather and to "fairer counties."

The three agree that they cannot return to places they've been before, as they've left behind a path of thefts, frauds, and "goose-related blasphemies."

The last to-do was in Mandelion, where they accidentally fired up a revolution and in doing so, thwarted plans by a band of Locksmiths to take over the city.

Locksmith agent Aramai Goshawk warned the three never to return to Mandelion. So they fled to the little sheep-farming town of Grabely -- only to get into another mess of trouble.

4. Grandpa Green

Written & illustrated by Lane Smith
$16.99, ages 5 and up, 32 pages

A boy clomps happily through a topiary garden, reflecting on all of the great moments of his great-grandpa's life, in this magical picture book.

Acclaimed author-illustrator Lane Smith celebrates the love between grandparents and grandchildren as leafy tendrils twine about the pages.

Though some of Grandpa Green's memories have begun to fade, he has preserved the most meaningful ones in meticulously clipped topiaries around his garden.

His grandson roams the garden in mud boots with a wagon in tow, and passes bushes shaped to represent each stage of his great-grandpa's life, beginning with Grandpa Green's birth.

This first bush is clipped to suggest that his great-grandpa burst into the world, wanting to be noticed all those years ago.

The topiary is sheared into a bawling baby and a waterfall of tears arcs down from his eyes. A stray vine twirls out from the top of the baby's head like a newborn curl.

5. Wonderstruck

Written & illustrated by Brian Selznick
Scholastic, 2011
$29.99, ages 9 and up, 608 pages
A book, a locket and a dream about wolves leads a deaf boy to a wondrous discovery, in this tour-de-force by a Caldecott Award winner.

Brian Selznick, the creator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, astounds us again with a novel that feels at times like a silent movie reel, as the written story shifts between pencil drawings that go on for several pages.

In the story, two deaf children living 50 years apart in time run away from home in search of things to fill an emptiness in their lives, not yet knowing they're lives will become entwined.

Selznick choreographs two lives separated by time and place, and so adeptly that we become absorbed in the story instantly.

Our reading pace is driven by the drama that unfolds in each frame, and as the children race to discover truths they so desperately need to find, Selznick pans in on faces and scenes, and heightens our sense of urgency.

Along the way, Selznick beautifully illuminates the experience of being deaf, recently and in a more distant past. Readers see how isolated deaf people once were, often at the hands of well-intentioned, but misguided adults.

6. Bumble-Ardy

Written & illustrated by Maurice Sendak
$17.95, ages 1 and up, 40 pages

Here's a book that feels like a reissued classic, when all the while, we muse with delight, that it's wonderfully, completely new.

Returning to picture books at age 83, Sendak writes with the same rhythm and panache we've long adored.

This time he offers a whimsical rhyme about a pig who never had a birthday party until he turned nine.

All of Bumble's life, his family neglected to celebrate the day. Then when he turned eight, his mom and dad "gorged and gained weight / and got ate."

Oh my, so drolly grim. But then, just like that, Bumble's world flips back around, and he's taken in by an aunt divine, Adeline.

With Adeline, Bumble turns nine. And dear she is. Adeline agrees to celebrate his day for the very first time.

But when nothing happens the morning of his birthday, Bumble fears that she's forgotten.

So after his aunt heads off to work, Bumble throws a bash for himself and in Sendak fashion, lets the rumpus begin.

7. The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant

Written by Michelle Cuevas
Illustrated by Ed Young
$15.99, ages 6 and up, 144 pages

In this quirky, wonderful little novel, an abandoned baby crawls off into the night and into the heart of lonely ex-circus elephant.

Along the way, the baby grows into a boy and helps the elephant find a beautiful thing with feathers that stole the elephant's heart years ago.

And the boy, who wonders what happened to his parents, discovers what it truly means to give his heart to another.

Birch, the elephant, feels that something is missing from his life, and is sad that his trunk is used for menial things.

He's been put to work hosing off cars at a car wash since the circus shut down. Yet it is not what trunks are for, he tells himself.

They're for touching, lifting, greeting, caressing, making things of beauty.

Ever since he almost saw a painting of a phoenix, he's daydreamed of using his trunk to paint.

Yet Birch doesn't quite now how to get out from under his situation.

Then one day he finds a baby boy in a pile of leaves and his world changes.

8. The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories

By Dr. Seuss
Assembled by Charles D. Cohen
$15, ages 6 and up, 72 pages

"Think left and think right and think low and think high!" Oh the thinks, Charles D. Cohen thought up, because he searched and he tried!

Cohen, the world's foremost Seuss scholar and collector, used his noggin just right when he followed a hunch that there was more to Seuss than many of us had read.

He burrowed into library collections and hunted the Internet to recover seven magazine stories written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss between 1948 and 1959  -- a challenge given that magazines then, as now, were routinely tossed out when the next month's issue arrived.

This amazing selection, culled from Redbook magazine, includes a few stories that may be familiar, like "The Bear, the Rabbit and the Zinniga-Zanniga," recorded by Marvin Miller in a Dr. Seuss Presents album.

In that story, a rabbit outwits a bear with a single eyelash.

But many of the stories will be delightfully, novelly new.

9. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales

Created by Chris van Allsburg
Introduced by Lemony Snicket
$24.99, ages 10 and up, 208 pages
Fourteen celebrated authors sort out the mysteries of one of the most beloved literary ruses of all time, in this wonderfully eerie story collection.
Authors from Jules Feiffer to Kate DiCamillo hone their imaginations on pictures from Chris van Allsburg’s acclaimed The Mysteries of Harris Burdick to create their own incredible tales.
The result is a captivating collection that leaves readers imagining that the authors, by some magical turn, tapped into Burdick’s imagination and unearthed what he was thinking.
The collection is introduced by Lemony Snicket and comprises 14 stories, including one by Allsburg, in which he offers a magical twist on his picture, “Oscar and Alphonse.”

10. Squish Rabbit

Written & illustrated by Katherine Battersby
Viking, 2011
$12.99, ages 2 and up, 40 pages

A little bunny struggles to be heard in a world much bigger than him, in this tender, debut by Australia's Battersby.

Squish Rabbit, a floppy fellow with a saggy bottom and mismatched eyes, is so tiny that sometimes he isn't even noticed.

In fact, that's how he got his name.

One day he was bending over to marvel at a tiny red flower and a scaly-legged giant stepped on him.

Being wee, his body bounces back. But his heart? Well, the hurt of being overlooked doesn't go away.

11. The Midnight Zoo

By Sonya Hartnett
Illustrated by Andrea Offermann
Candlewick, 2011
$16.99, ages 10 and up, 208 pages

Two brothers on the run from Nazi Germans stumble upon an abandoned zoo where they struggle to make sense of a terrifying world, in this deeply moving novel by the author of Thursday's Child.

When Germans invade their clan's camp, killing their uncle and taking their gypsy parents captive, 12-year-old Andrej and 9-year-old Tomas flee for their lives to an empty village crushed by Nazi bombs.

The village is like a ghost town, eerie and dangerous. They forage in the rubble for scraps of food, guarding a secret bundle in their knapsack. Then one night, they let loose and run through the streets.

Their arms stretch out like wings of airplanes and their hands jounce along the iron bars of a fence. They're imagining, if only for a few moment, that they don't know the horrors of war.

Then all of a sudden a low, gravely noise stirs them from their play, the growl of a rangy wolf. Its footfalls threaten from behind and they flee for shelter. Then just as quickly the wolf stops in its tracks, and they realize it cannot get to them.

The wolf is behind the fence that they ran their fingers over, in a small zoo, a circuit of cages laid out like a garden.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

12. Every Thing On It

Written & illustrated by Shel Silverstein
$19.99, ages 1 and up, 208 pages
Everything on it. That's how you order a serving of Shel Silverstein.

You pile on all the poems and drawings of his that you can get.

In the title poem of this fantastic collection, a boy piles on crazy things on his hotdog -- a snake, a hat, you name it.

But unlike his hotdog with everything on it, with Silverstein, there's nothing you'd want to leave out.

And luckily we don't have to!

In this volume, fans get to devour 145 poems by the late great Silverstein that were edited out of earlier books.

Edited out, not because he thought them lesser, but because they didn't fit the organization of a particular book.

13. The Unwanteds

By Lisa McMann
Aladdin, 2011
$16.99, ages 10-14, 400 pages

Teens condemned to death for having creative thoughts are spirited away to safety, in this first book of a wondrous new series by the author of the Wake trilogy.

At the age of 13, the creative children of Quill are weeded out by their cold, oppressive leaders and put to death, for fear they will think for themselves and mobilize an uprising.

During the day of Purge, Alex Stowe, along with Lani, Meghan and Samheed, are marked as "Unwanteds," useless and dangerous members of society, and sent by bus to The Great Lake of Boiling Oil to be killed.

Just as guards known as Eliminators prepare to toss the kids in, a magician named Mr. Today secretly transports the teens into Artime, a magical realm he created within Quill.

For the first time in their lives, the teens are allowed to think for themselves and express their creative sides, as Mr. Today sets them on a path to become magical warriors.

14. Neville

Written by Norman Juster
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
$17.99, ages 4 and up, 32 pages

A boy is uprooted from all that he knows and sets off in search of himself, in this brilliant picture book by the author of The Hello, Goodbye Window.

No one ever asked the boy about moving to a new house. His folks just told him it would happen and he'd love his new home.

"That's what they always said when they knew he wouldn't love something," the boy tells himself.

The boy is certain he'll never feel at home in the new neighborhood and what's worse, he doesn't have any friends waiting for him.

Feeling very glum, he shuffles off for a walk from his new house and a block later, stops in his tracks, cups his hands around his mouth and yells, "NEVILLE!"

15. A House in the Woods

Written & illustrated by Inga Moore
Candlewick, 2011
$ 16.99, ages 3 and up, 48 pages

Two pigs return home to find their sweet but clumsy friends have moved in and wrecked their delicate shelters, in this adorable picture book by Inga Moore.

Oh dear, Moose and Bear really meant no harm. They just thought they'd stay a bit.

But as they squeezed into one little pig's den and another's hut, the roofs tumbled in over their heads.

Now Moose, Bear and the little pigs don't have a place in the woods to call their own.

But not to worry, because Moose has a brilliant idea:

The four friends will hire the beavers to build them a big house of logs where they can all live together.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: Day 2

If you play with a book, is it also a toy?

Suppose a book could be a little of both, something to read and something to do.

Now wouldn't that be grand!

For this holiday gift list, I've pulled together 23 books that look or feel like toys.

Some of them move about or pop up, or have soft things to pet.

Others invite readers to play: make up a story, color a page or build a Lego.

A couple are stories about toys who want a child to love.

Below are live links to the titles of each post. Click the link to go directly to a review or scroll down the page.

To see Day 1 of my Holiday Gift Guide, click here.

1. It's a Book! It's a Card!

Send-A-Story Holiday Books
$4.99 each, ages 3 and up, 32-48 pages.

Send the joy of reading right to a child's mailbox!

And all it takes are three first-class stamps.

In this clever spin on giving, holiday classics are shrunk down to the size of a card so they can be popped in the mail and delivered as swiftly as holiday cards.

This is pure genius -- no matter how electronic we get, children still love to receive mail. And what better way to encourage them to read than to make their letter a book?

And they're so easy to send: the books are pre-weighed for postage, so all you do is sign, seal, stick on the stamps and leave it in the mailbox for pickup.

There's even a place inside to leave a personalized message.

Among the pint-size classics:

Marla Frazee's Santa Claus The World's Number One Toy Expert, Clement C. Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith), Jan Brett's Annie and the Wild Animals and Naomi Howland's Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat.

For more titles you can send year-round, click here.

2. Dot vs. App

Press Here
By Herve Tullet
$14.99, ages 4-8, 56 pages.

Apps might be cool, but then again, have you seen Tullet's dot?

The next time a child asks to play games on your iPod, hand him this gem, and watch him jiggle and slide the book around.

On the cover, Tullet asks readers to press a yellow dot with one finger, then inside they take a delightful journey of discovery.

Each page instructs readers to rub dots, shake pages or tilt the book, as dots multiply, change in direction and grow in size.

The biggest surprise is that our imaginations play along: though nothing really moves, we think it does.

All on a simple, printed page.

3. Once Upon a Holiday...

Storyworld: Christmas Tales
By John & Caitlin Matthews
Templar, 2011
$9.99, ages 9-12, 28 cards.

Pass out the cards of this kit and listen to the storytelling begin.

Here's just a sample of the fun adventures children will come up with:

Santa never saw the frost sprite sneaking around the chimney.

Oh no! The little hob has turned Santa into ice.

Hurry little birds. Go get Frosty the snowman.

Maybe Frosty can find Uncle Jolly and use that magic box to free Santa.

I just hope the Frost King hasn't taken him off to his castle!

With this enchanting tool kit, children are empowered to write a holiday story purely for joy and their delight.

They are presented with 28 illustrated cards to mold their ideas and it's up to them to piece them together however they wish.

Each card features a different character, from a frost king peering into a children's window to a pudding cookie running away with a fork and spoon.

4. The Gift of Happy

Razzle-Dazzle Ruby
By Masha D'yans
Scholastic, 2011
$17.99, ages 4-7, 20 pages.

A little girl wakes up with a gleam in her eye and a step as springy as her ringlets of hair, in this adorable novelty book.

Greeting card illustrator Dyans makes a joyful splash into books with this story of a girl embarking on a day of play in the snow.

All it takes is one look at the cover and readers know they're in for a lovely time. There, the girl, Ruby, greets them in red-and-white striped stockings with open arms, as if to say, "Come with me!"

As the story begins, Ruby has just woken up and raced to her bedroom window to see that it's snowing.

Reflecting the rainbow colors of her room, her mood is "razzle-dazzle" and in no time at all (by the next page), she's out in the sparkly snow with her scruffy dog Rocket, jumping through the snow to catch up.

As flower-like crystals of snow collect on tree branches, Ruby imagines she's in a fairy tale -- she's a "gleaming-beaming snow queen" and Rocket is her knight.

5. Pick Me! Pick Me!

Clink
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Matthew Myers
$16.99, ages 4-7, 32 pages.

A run-down robot named Clink dreams of belonging to a child, but none of the children who come to the toy shop seem to want a toy like him.

He's got loose springs, and his selling points seem to be duds. All he can do is play music and pop out burned toast from the toaster that's his noggin.

Children nowadays want robots with zing -- which is what every other robot in the shop seems to have.

Clink's robot friend Zippy has retractable arms that twirl out and grab things, and Penny, wow.

She can bake cookies with one arm and do math homework with the other. What child wouldn't want that?

Poor Clink, all he does is "Plink! Plop!" and fizzle.

6. Bugs for a True Love

The 12 Bugs of Christmas
Created by David A. Carter
$12.99, ages 3-6, 12 pages.

Tinsel-tailed bugs, bugs with antlers and cuckoo bugs pop out of wrapped boxes in this silly twist on the beloved carol, The 12 Days of Christmas.

This latest book in Carter's wildly popular Bugs pop-up books begins with a fruitcake bug in a pear tree folding out of a polka-dot box and ends with 12 angel bugs in mismatched socks and red button noses hanging from a striped pop-up tree.

Every pop-up opens with a feeling of "Ta-da!" as eager bugs with big saucer eyes jump out to greet readers.

Some slip out from behind bows. Others spin candle light from a pivoting wheel. In that one, a moire pattern of red and yellow stripes turns behind five candle bugs to suggest glowing light.

The 12 Bugs of Christmas is a charmer, and will be read forwards, backwards and everything in between through Christmas and beyond.

No "bugs" about it.

7. Super Size It!

Piggies Big Book
By Audrey Wood and Don Wood
16 3/8 inches x 18 inches
$26.99, 32 pages.

This little piggie has gotten a whole lot bigger.

Scaled up to fill out a lap, the Wood's 1991 ode to the English finger-play and nursery rhyme, "This Little Piggy," is even cuter than it was in picture book format.

Each roly-poly pig dances across hands bigger than the readers' (perhaps even than their heads!), allowing readers to be closer to these jolly bovines than ever before.

Children get to zoom in on their outfits, expressions and mischief, and imagine they're climbing on the hand too and cavorting about on finger tips.

Better get a second copy. You'll be itching to frame every page on a child's wall.
The Circus Ship Big Book
By Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick, 2011
17 3/16 inches x 17 15/16 inches.
$24.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

Chris Van Dusen makes you happy every time you look at his work. So, scaling up one of his classics only heightens that feeling.

Here, the pictures are so big that it feels like they're opening up around readers and the story is playing out before them.

In this 2009 gem, a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, and the cruel circus owner saves himself, but leaves the animals to fend for themselves.

After paddling all night, the bedraggled animals find themselves on an idyllic island. At first the people there are wary of the animals, but soon the animals win them over: the tiger runs into a burning shed to save a girl.

Overnight, the villagers learn to treasure the animals, and they live together side by side. Then one day, the circus owner storms in to take his animals back, and the villagers help hide the animals and lead him astray.

Dusen's search-and-finds are a delight scaled up. Readers feel pulled into scenes to figure out where each animal is hidden.

Pass this one on to a reluctant reader and he'll be laying on his tummy on the floor soaking up every page.

8. Build This!

The Lego Ideas Book
By Daniel Lipkowitz
$24.99, ages 7-15, 200 pages.

Lego fans will be spilling their buckets of bricks to build, build, build after flipping through this amazing book of Lego building projects.

The idea behind the "ideas book" is to take what kids already have, all those buckets of bricks and Lego sets, and turn them into something their directions never showed them.

Assembled by Lego Group Senior Writer Lipkowitz with the help of six Lego fan builders from around the world, the ideas book shows hundreds of models readers can recreate, as well as tips, techniques and alternative designs.

This is a book meant to inspire rather than instruct, so in lieu of page-consuming building steps and long lists of bricks, readers are shown close-ups of completed designs to spur variations of their own.

9. Maxims That Pop

Aesop's Fables
Paper engineering by Kees Moerbeek
Pictures by Chris Beatrice & Bruce Whatley
$27.99, ages 4 and up, 14 pages.

Ten classic tales from the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop come to life in this lush, beautifully illustrated pop-up.

On the first spread, a sly-glancing Goose flutters its wings to reveal the golden egg that tempted a greedy couple in "The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg."

In a smaller pop-up to left corner of the goose, the wife's face transforms from a scowl to a look of glee as she finds her first golden egg.

But as greed gets the better of her in the last pop-up in the lower right corner, and she and her husband are left with nothing, she bemoans all that she's lost.

In the "Lion and the Mouse," the lion jumps frantically off the fold, his jaw open wide, as he tries to escape a hunter's thick. tangled ropes.

Behind small pop-up doors on either side of the main design, readers see the brave little mouse who chewed through his ropes to save him.

Other spreads tell the stories of the tortoise and the hare, the fox and crow, the wind and sun, the ants and grasshoppers and more.

Hidden in each spread is the moral of its story, written on a tiny banner resembling fortune cookie paper.

Readers have a few moments to guess the lesson before finding it tucked under an animal or behind a fold.

10. Pencil, Paper, Scissors!

Let's Make Some Great Art
Created by Marion Deuchars
$19.95, all ages, 224 pages

Have you ever taken a pencil for a walk?

Without lifting your pencil off of paper, draw a picture that someone would recognize.

Not easy, is it?

That's how Swiss artist Paul Klee used to warm up his drawing students.

In this eclectic book of drawing lessons and doodle prompts, Deuchar challenges readers to look beyond what they expect to see.

On one page, readers blow ink through a straw and try to relate the shape to something they know.

On another they draw an upside-down sketch of Michaelangelo's David without turning the sketch around.

As if whispering over readers' shoulders, Deuchars instructs artists to focus on the lines and shapes of the famous sculpture, and not think about what the picture represents.

11. It's a Stamperpiece!

Stamp Art
Created by Kaitlyn Nichols
Klutz, 2011
$21.99, ages 8 and up.

Stamp up a menagerie of animals and plants in this fun twist on shape drawing.

Using 64 stamps in assorted shapes (from tear drops to crescent moons), kids piece together the body parts of the favorite creatures.

Half-circles become the fins of fish or elephants ears, and dew drops become octopus tentacles or a lion's face.

A must for fans of Ed Emberley's drawing books, the kit takes the worry out of getting shapes just right.

As with Emberley's books, it builds on familiar shapes, such as triangles and almonds, to create birds, aliens and more.

12. Sing Yourself Silly

Lisa Loeb's Silly Sing-Along and CD
Written and recorded by Lisa Loeb
Illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke
Sterling, 2011
$14.95, ages 5-7, 24 pages.

Get ready not to sit still.

Here are 10 sing-alongs that will have your children skipping and twirling through the house.

Pop singer Lisa Loeb sings from a CD, as children follow the lyrics, which get sillier by the line.

In The Disappointing Pancake,  a dry, overcooked pancake rolls off the table and around the world and back, repurposing itself along the way.

In Manhattan, it tries being a manhole cover and in Spain, a sombrero, before floating down from the heavens to a girl's bed and giving her "sweet pancake dreams."

13. Calling All Mechanics

Under the Hood
By Albin Michel Jeunesse
Candlewick, 2011
$14.99. ages 3 and up, 14 pages.

Readers open flaps within flaps to help Mr. Bear figure out what's gone awry with his sporty red convertible, in this stylish gem.

Walking up to his garage in blue coveralls, Mr. Bear calls for his friends to help him figure out why his car's engine has spluttered to a stop.

First, readers must open the garage doors and lift off the car's cloth cover. As they flip to the next page and peel back the car's vinyl top, Bear is in the driver's seat revving the engine.

But what's that funny sound?

Looks like Mr. Bear's friend Mouse needs to open the back hatch.

14. It's a Good Life, Cupcake

Bake Sale
Written and illustrated by Sara Varon
$16.99, ages 9-12, 160 pages.

Cupcake, a pink confection with a cherry hat, has a sweet life.

He's got his own bakery, lots of customers (Tomato, Can, Pear, they all love his place), his band and his best friend Eggplant.

Lately, though, Cupcake's been in a baking rut.

So, when Eggplant tells him about a dreamy pastry chef overseas named Turkish Delight, Cupcake thinks his baking woes are over.

He quits his band and puts all of his time into bake sales so he can pay his way to Turkey and learn her baking secrets.

But could Cupcake be looking for help in the wrong place?

From the creator of the break-out gem, Robot Dreams, comes an adorable graphic novel-cookbook about true friendship.

After seeing all these yummy characters, readers will be hankering to bake their own.

(Lucky for them, Varon includes recipes for seven in the back, including a cupcake just like Cupcake.)

15. Lumphy, StingRay & Ball are Back!

Toys Come Home
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
$16.99, ages 6 and up, 144 pages.

Learn how Lumphy the stuffed buffalo, StingRay the plush fish and Plastic the bouncy ball came to live with Girl in this charming prequel to the award-winning trilogy about the secret lives of toys.

Told in six interwoven stories, each as adorable as the next, this third book fills in details fans have been clamoring to know: how Sheep became one-eared and why StingRay is afraid of the basement.

The first book Toys Go Out debuted in 2006, followed by Toy Dance Party in 2008.

16. Give Me a Scratch

Moo
Created by Matthew Van Fleet
Photography by Brian Stanton
$16.99, ages 2 and up, 18 pages.

Pat the fur of fluffy creatures without leaving the couch!

From the creator of the wildly popular Heads, Cat and Dog comes a pettable book of farmyard animals.

Like having a petting farm in their hands, readers get to touch the fluffy wool of sheep and silky mane of a horse, and push a tab to help a rooster peck at food.

As author Matthew Van Fleet rhymes the sounds animals make, he also sneaks in a few giggles.

In one spread, readers pull a tab at the front of a cow and a farmer splashes milk into the mouth of house cat crawling between the cow's legs.

Readers meet seven kinds of animals in all, as well as read the sounds they make.

In addition, they learn the terms used for mothers, fathers and babies in each species.

A must for any child with the urge to race over and hug every animal she sees.

17. Doodle All the Days!

Daily Doodle 2012 Daily Calendar
By Taro Gomi
$12.99, 5.1" w x 6.3" h, all ages, 366 pages.

Make every day child's play with this delightful daily calendar that a child helps to illustrate!

Tokyo illustrator Taro Gomi brings his doodling book concept to a tablet box calendar that kids can doodle on every day.

Each page presents a playful prompt and a black marker drawing to finish.

On one day, a child is challenged to draw as many riders as he can on the long narrow back of a horse.

On another, he's given the outline of a pedestal and asked to design the sculpture that goes on it.

My favorite: a dragon's mouth waiting for a pencil to make it breath fire.

Siblings will be racing to the tablet to make their mark. (Keep those drawing straws handy!)

18. Gifts for a Jedi

Lego Star Wars Character Encyclopedia
Dorling Kindersley, 2011
$18.99, ages 7-17, 208 pages.

It's a match made in toy heaven.

Lego Group joins with the Star Wars property to create an illustrated encyclopedia as irresistible as last year's Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary.

An exclusive minifigure of Han Solo tucked into the cover entices readers inside where more than 300 minifigures await, from the rabbit-eared Jar Jar Binks to a sinister looking Shadow Trooper.

Each minifigure is blown up in size to fill out a page, as diagram lines identify key attributes, from Anakin's battle scars to Chewbacca's bandolier loaded up with energy bolts.

Divided into eight Star War sections, the book covers minifigures from Episodes I through VI, the Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe.

Among the highlights, rarely seen minifigures, like a nondescript all-blue Watto from 2001, and multiple versions of key characters, including ten variations of Luke Skywalker.

Lego Star Wars fans will pour through this with the same passion their parents did through the Sears Roebuck's Christmas catalog as kids.

Star Wars Darth Vader
A 3-D Reconstruction Log
Created by Daniel Wallace
Illustrated by Chris Trevas and Chris Reiff
Scholastic, 2011
$19.99, ages 8 and up, 22 pages.

Peel back the layers of Darth Vader to discover the secrets of the Sith Lord in this fascinating 3-D reconstruction.

As readers turn paperboard pages, layers of Vader cut away, showing everything from his scarred face to his circuitry.

Then off to the side, the surgical droids who transformed Anakin Skywalker into Vader explain each component in informational break-outs.

Readers see inside the black knight's chest computer, which regulates his breathing, and learn how his bodysuit self-seals against cuts and punctures.

Nothing, it seems, is left unanswered, though luckily some of Darth's coarser parts are left to the imagination, including an implanted bladder filled with nutrient paste. Yikes.

Coming a year after the popular Star War Millennium Falcon 3-D Reconstruction, this is must for any Star Wars fan who craves to know more, just not every nitty-gritty detail.