Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea #3: Stocking Stuffers

Books that are small enough to slip into stockings and charming enough to belong there! (See Note for Santa at the end of each review.)

Bear Despair (Stories Without Words), by Gaetan Doremus, Enchanted Lion, $14.95, ages 4 and up, 32 pages, 2012. Never play keep-away from a bear. But if you dare, just beware. He has a big belly and he might stuff you in there -- until he's good and ready to let you out. In this hilarious sixth title in the wordless series, a bear chases down animals who've taken his teddy bear, then swallow them whole when they decide to be mean and toss the toy away.

One night, Bear wakes up to find that Wolf has snatched Teddy right from under his arm.  In despair, Bear gives chase, but just as he catches up to Wolf, Wolf snickers and flings poor Teddy up and over the trees. Bear is furious, goes in for a tackle and stuffs Wolf into his mouth. As Wolf howls from inside Bear's belly, Bear races off to find Teddy. There! Teddy's on the ground. Up ahead! But why is Lion grabbing him? Jeering at Bear? Holding Teddy out his reach? Now Lion is running away and Bear is after him. But as Lion reaches a cliff, he hurls Teddy into the air. Bear can't believe his eyes and in a rage, gobbles down Lion. Now, Wolf and Lion are hunkered in Bear's belly, heads in hands, bored stiff.

And Bear? Well, he's spotted Teddy again -- this time, in a mountain-top nest. Hey, what's Bird doing flying away with Teddy? Bear's heart feels like it'll explode and with a roar, he gets back at Bird and swallows her eggs. But revenge isn't sweet for long and with heavy paws, Bear trudges up a hill, plunks down under a rain cloud, and lets out a mournful roar. It helps, though, to vent and soon Bear has perked up, and with arms swaying, resumes his search. As you might guess, Bear doesn't  like what he finds: this time it's Elephant who has absconded with Teddy. As Bear tries to tug Teddy free of Elephant's trunk, Elephant growls and tosses Teddy up once more. So of course, Bear eats Elephant. And since he has, Bear's body stretches into an enormous pear shape.  But now, Wolf, Lion and Elephant have had time to think and, as it so happens, learn about loving something: As Wolf and Lion kneel on Elephant's back (it's pretty crowded inside Bear's belly), they watch two little birds hatch from the eggs and begin to coo. But will Bear ever recover Teddy? And if he does, will these silly animals ever be free again? A delight from start to finish. Doremus' premise is hysterical and his cross hatch-style illustrations are so expressive, readers may forget there aren't words to go with them. A gem for any a child whose ever loved a stuffed toy. Best Part: A drawing of Bear pull out all of the animal from his stomach, with each linked to the others by tails, arms or a trunk. Note for Santa:  This book measures 10 1/4 inches by 6 1/8 inches. Pair it with a little purple teddy bear.

Twelve Kinds of Ice, by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrations by Barbara McClintock, Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, ages 7 and up, 64 pages.  As the air grows crisp and hats and mittens go on, a girl savors each stage of ice that comes to her family's farm and the promise it brings, in this toasty, magical tale. With spare, sweet prose, Obed reminisces about playing on ice as a child and dreaming of it when it was gone.

Obed, who grew up on a six-acre farm in Maine, goes chapter by chapter through each phase of ice that she and her brothers and sister would watch for and describes each of them so tenderly that readers will wish for those memories too. Every stage of ice feels more grand than the last and ultimately leads Obed's family to transform their vegetable garden (with "boards and snow, a garden hose, and hours of work") into a neighborhood skating rink. The book begins with the children watching ice thicken in pails -- from "a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it" to an unbreakable ice that brought them what they were waiting for -- an ice hard enough to skate on. Their first skating ice was always field ice, a short-lived strip of frozen water in a hay field. Then came stream ice, a frozen meander of ice "where the stream smalled to a brook of bent alders." After that was black ice, when their pond was "shocked still by the cold" and for a brief time, the children skated to the middle of it, carved out circles and listened to ice "cracking and groaning as it stretched itself in the cold." Then, it was time to prepare their rink for ice, a cozy family affair of nailing in boards, packing in snow with feet, skis and a toboggan, then spraying the snow with layers of water.  When they were done, word would spread through the neighborhood that "Bryan Gardens" was open and boys would leap onto the ice "like steers out of a pen" and girls would glide out and carve figure eights.

But of course, ice doesn't last forever, and as the weather slowly warms, Obed also describes the phases of thawing and how even after winter was gone, she'd continue to skate (in her dreams). Obed's memories are idyllic, nostalgic and have a comforting familiarity, even if readers have never put on skates -- made all the richer by McClintock's pen-and-ink drawings. Readers will want to linger on the words and pictures, and may even feel tempted, as I did, to carry the book around like a pocket book of poems. Note for Santa: This book measures  5 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches long. Pair it with an ice skating ornament made of felt or one made to look like a little winter coat.

The Game Of board book series, by Herve Tullet, Phaidon, $9.95-$12.95, ages 2 and up, 14 pages, 2012. Known in his native France as the "Prince of Pre-School Books," author-illustrator Tullet is acclaimed for many books that children touch and explore, including last year's gem Press Here. Here are three of his latest game books:

The Game of Red, Yellow and Blue: Little shapes of blended color go searching for their mums and dads, in this joyful exploration of the color wheel. First, a small purple square calls out to three big squares (Red, Yellow and Blue) and asks which of them are his mother and father. Red and Blue reply, "Red and Blue are the Only Parents for You!," then stretch over the fold and overlap onto the little square as if in a hug. Next it's Green Circle's turn, then Orange Triangle's. Finally, all three complementary colors know where they belong. Now it's time to swirl together and create new (tertiary) colors. It's a rainbow carnival and every color is invited. A charming introduction to color that could also be used to celebrate diversity.
The Game in the Dark:  Turn out the lights and follow a rocket ship as it journeys through a glow-in-the-dark galaxy on its way to the moon. For this charming wordless adventure, readers hold their book up to a light to charge up greenish white paint on the cover and pages, then slip into a dark room (or closet) and watch a rocket soar and swerve through space. Little fingers can trace the rocket's path (a dotted line of paint) around planets, through concentric circles of orbiting satellites, past a five-pointed star, and over a giant planet before its makes a lunar landing. A perfect way to help little ones sleep without a light.

The Game of Sculpture: In this tactile delight, readers unfold accordian-like pages, and use notches, slots, holes and shapes to reconstruct a book into 3-D art. Every page is an art panel, and has unique, ready-made slits (at the top, middle and sides of the page) and holes, and is perforated with assorted shapes for readers to punch out. As readers position the pages in different ways, they insert the triangles, ovals or rectangles into slots to hold the sculpture in place and build their designs. Readers are also encouraged to paint their own shapes (such as an empty toilet paper roll) and work them into their design. Every page is painted in shades of a single pigment and looks as if it were glazed with finger paints. The book unfolds into 16 panels (eight on each side), and has seven parallel folds. An exciting way to encourage creativity.
Note for Santa: Each book measures 5 3/4 inches by 8 1/4 inches. Pair these games with tickets to an art museum.

3D Keepsake Cityscapes and Expanding Pocket Guides (London, New York, Paris, Washington, D.C., and The Metropolitan Museum of Art), by Sarah McMenemy, Candlewick, $8.99, ages 5 and up, 30 pages, 2012. Readers go sight seeing right in the palm of their hands, in these charming little guides to the world's greatest cities and museums.  McMenemy's innovative guides are about the size of coasters and open like accordions to reveal about a dozen sights.

The first fold-out gives an overview of the place they're visiting, either a city or museum, while the rest of them feature famous landmarks or exhibits they would see there. Many of these places are architectural -- towers, churches, bridges or sculptures -- and are depicted in water colors in 3-D.  Beside each landmark or exhibit is a short description of the sight and the experience of being there: for instance, in the Paris guide, readers are told they ascend the Eiffel Tower through a glass elevator and see a glorious panorama. When guides are stretched to their maximum size, five feet, readers flip them over and continue the tour on the opposite side, with the last two pages reserved for a map of all the places they saw.

Then when not in use, the book is folded up and stored in an illustrated cardboard sleeve. The books have the feel of miniature maps, but are much easier to fold and far more charming. Diminutive, painterly scenes and hand-lettering make them feel artsy and handmade, and give readers a lovely taste for what the world has to offer. Learn more about McMenemy here. Note for Santa: Each measures almost 4 inches by 4 inches. Pair a guide with a favorite children's novel set in the same location for a fun gift.

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