Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Novels of 2012

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, Margaret K. McElderry Books, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 240 pages. Orphan Rownie escapes a witch's home for stray children to look for his missing brother and falls in with a theatrical troupe of goblins that teaches him the craft of masking.

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, Greenwillow, $16.99, ages 9 and up, 384 pages. Bartholmew Kettle joins forces with a bumbling member of Parliament to recover his kidnapped sister and stop a creepy lord from kidnapping changelings from the slums of Bath.

The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis, Wendy Lamb Books, $15.99, ages 9 and up, 320 pages. A spunky, courageous 12-year-old named Deza refuses to give up on her family's motto -- "We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful" -- in Depression-era Hooverville.

The Great Unexpected, by Sharon Creech, HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 240 pages. Two orphan girls, Naomi and best friend Lizzie, think they know all the peculiar people in Blackbird Tree until one day a boy drops out of a tree and the Dingle Dangle man appears.

Starry River of the Sky, by Grace Lin, Little Brown, $17.99, ages 8-12, 304 pages. In this magical companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, runaway Rendi is left stranded in a remote Village of Clear Sky where the sky moans in pain and a mysterious storyteller helps Rendi work through his past.

Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 12 and up, 272 pages. When violent rebels attack her mother's wildlife sanctuary in the Congo, 14-year-old Sophie flees with orphan bonobo Otto and sacrifices everything to protect her endangered apes.

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, Harcourt, $16.99, ages 10 and up,  256 pages. Sixteen-year-old foundling Jennifer is left in charge of Kazam, a temp agency for wizards, and tries to save the last dragon from being killed in an alternate United Kingdom.

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, Knopf, $15.99, ages 8 and up, 320 pages. Born with a facial deformity, 10-year-old August longs to be treated as an ordinary kid, but as he enters mainstream school for the first time, his classmates can't look beyond his extraordinary face.

Shadows on the Moon, by Zoe Marriott, Candlewick, $17.99, ages 14 and up, 464 pages. When soldiers massacre her father and cousin, 16-year-old Suzume survives by making herself invisible through the magic of shadow weaving, then sets off to seek revenge.

Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, Dial, $16.99, ages 10 and up, 256 pages. Orphan Mo Lo Beau tries to solve the biggest crime to come to Tupelo Landing while she searches to solve her own mystery: how she came to be washed ashore in a hurricane when she was a baby.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion, $16.99, ages 14 and up, 352 pages. When her plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, young British spy Verity is arrested by the Gestapo and faces a harrowing decision: to reveal her mission or face execution.

The One and  Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao, HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 320 pages. A gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade meets a baby elephant who transforms his sad and solitary world.

Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead, Wendy Lamb, $15.99, ages 9 and up, 192 pages. Seventh-grader Georges is recruited by his 12-year-old neighbor Safer to track a mysterious man in an upstairs apartment, but as Safer becomes more demanding Georges wonders what is a lie and what is a game.

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, Candlewick, $17.99, ages 9 and up, 400 pages. Three children fall prey to a ruthless magician and must break free of a witch's paralyzing hold in order to find the happiness that's eluded in them.

Every Day, by David Levithan, Alfred A. Knopf, $17.99. Body jumping is a way of life for 16-year-old A -- every day he wakes up in a different body, in a different person's life. But then one day he assumes the body of Justin and forms an attachment he can't shake.

Rootless, by Chris Howard, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 14 and up, 336 pages. In a brutal post-Apocalypic world, 17-year-old tree builder Banyan meets a woman with a strange tattoo and sets off across a wasteland in search of his missing father and the last living trees.

The Secret Tree, by Natalie Standiford, Scholastic, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 256 pages. When Minty sees a flash in the woods, she chases after it and discovers a tree with a hollow trunk that contains the secrets of everyone in her neighborhood.

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, Little Brown, $16.99, 432 pages. When a cheeky princess named Violet and her kind-hearted friend Demetrius stumble upon a hidden room, they discover a forbidden book that threatens their mirrored world.

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 256 pages. When spiderlike creatures steal her brother's soul, Liza ventures into an underground world of talking rats, greedy trologods and an evil queen to rescue him.

Best Companion Books of 2012

Fourteen reasons to read the entire series.
The Drowned Cities (companion to Ship Breaker), by Paolo Bacigalupi, Little Brown, ages 12 and up, 448 pages. After fleeing the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities, refugees Mahlia and Mouse come across a wounded half-man and Mouse is forcibly recruited by the United Patriot Front.

Scrivener's Moon: Fever Crumb trilogy (Book 3), by Philip Reeve, Scholastic, ages 12 and up, 352 pages. Fever Crumb begins a hunt for ancient technology in the icy strongholds of the north and discovers a pyramid of secrets that will change her world for ever.

A Hero for Wondla: Search for Wondla trilogy (Book 2), by Tony DiTerlizzi, Simon & Schuster, $17.99, ages 10 and up, 464 pages. Rescued by Hailey, the first human boy she's ever seen, Eva Nine travels with Rovender to a utopian human colony New Attica, only to discover Attica's ruler hides sinister secrets.

Son: The Giver Quartet (Book 4), by Lois Lowry, Houghton Mifflin, $17.99, 400 pages.  A 14-year-old birthmother escapes the rigidly controlled Community to search for her son, in the gripping finale to the break-away dystopian series that began with the 1993 Newbery Medal winner The Giver.

The Drowned Vault: Ashtown Burials (Book 2) by N.D. Wilson, Random House, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 464 pages. Almost a year into earning their places in the ancient order of explorers, Cyrus and Antigone Smith are on the run to locate the evil Dr. Phoenix and regain the Dragon's Tooth.
The Far West: Frontier Magic trilogy (Book 3), by Patricia C. Wrede, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 12 and up, 384 pages. "Unlucky" thirteenth child Eff joins twin Ian and best friend William on a dangerous expedition to the Far West, where they encounter strange creatures and try to save the Great Barrier Spell.
The Broken Lands (prequel to The Boneshaker) by Kate Milford, Clarion, $16.99, ages 12 and up, 464 pages. Teenagers Sam, a card shark, and Jin, a fireworks expert in a traveling show, try to protect the five guardians of New York City from evil henchmen.
Under Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles (Book 2) by Colin Meloy, Balzer & Bray, illustrated by Carson Ellis, ages 8 and up, 576 pages. Prue is drawn back into Wildwood, where she and her friend Curtis, now in bandit training, go under the magical world to resurrect a ruler and save the Wood.
Shadow Spell: Seven Sorcerers, (Book 2), by Caro King, Simon & Schuster, $15.99, ages 8 and up, 320 pages. As evil Mr. Strood prepares to destroy the Drift, Nin and her friends race to find shape-shifter Simeon Dark, the most powerful sorcerer in the Drift, to stop Strood.
Froi of the Exiles: The Lumatere Chronicles (Book 2), by Melina Marchetta, Candlewick, $18.99, ages 14 and up, 400 pages. Froi is sent to Charyn on a secret mission to assassinate an evil king, and meets a half-mad princess and confronts the truth about his own past.

One Year in Coal Harbor, by Polly Horvath, Schwartz & Wade, $16.99, ages 9 and up, 224 pages. Primrose Squarp, the plucky heroine from the Newbery Honor Book Everything on a Waffle, tries to save what matters to her most, in this charming sequel.

Island of Silence: The Unwanteds (Book 2), by Lisa McMann, Aladdin, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 416 pages. As Artime and Quill enter an uneasy truce, Alex advances his magical talents, his brother plans revenge and two children wash ashore with magical thorns around their throats.
Path of Beasts: Keepers trilogy (Book 3), by Lian Tanner, Delacorte, $17.99, ages 9 and up, 352 pages. Desperate to save the city of Jewel from the Blessed Guardians, Toadspit fights the Fugelman in a duel to the death and Goldie walks the mysterious Beast Road.
Seeds of Rebellion: Beyonders trilogy (Book 2), by Brandon Mull, Aladdin, $19.99, ages 8 and up, 512 pages. As Jason returns to the imperiled world of Lyrian, he and his band of heroes try to rally the last remaining free people to join a revolt against the evil wizard Maldor.

Best Debut Novels of 2012

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, Greenwillow, $16.99, ages 9 and up, 384 pages. Bartholmew Kettle tries to save his kidnapped sister from a creepy lord who's kidnapping changelings from the slums of Bath in this standout book begun when Bachmann was 16.

The Star Shard, by Frederic S. Durbin, Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, ages 10 and up, 320 pages. Twelve-year-old slave girl Cymbril joins forces with Loric, a kidnapped boy of the fairy race, to plan their escape from the wheeled fortress of Thunder Rake.

The Power of Poppy Pendle, by Natasha Lowe, Simon & Schuster, $15.99, ages 8-12, 276 pages. Ten-year-old Poppy inherits her famous Great Aunt Mabel's magical powers, but she'd rather be a baker, so she sets off to convince her parents she should run a patisserie instead.

Child of the Mountains, by Marilyn Sue Shank, Delacorte $16.99, ages 9 and up, 272 pages. When her brother BJ dies and her widowed mama is unjustly jailed, Lydia is sent away from her Appalachian home in West Virginia to live with her uncle and aunt in a coal camp.

The Dark Unwinding, by Sharon Cameron, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 12 and up, 336 pages. When Katherine is told that her eccentric uncle is squandering her inheritance, she's sent to his estate to have him committed, only to discover he's a genius inventor who's employed 900 people from London workhouses.

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, Random House, $17.99, ages 12 and up, 480 pages. In a world where dragons and humans coexist in an uneasy truce, half-dragon Seraphina struggles with her identity amid magical secrets and royal scandals.

Freakling: PSI Chronicles, by Lana Krumwiede, Candlewick, $15.99, ages 10 and up, 320 pages. When 12-year-old Taemon loses his power to control objects with his mind, he's exiled to a "dud farm," where he discovers secrets that would give telekinetic people unchecked power.

Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg (Book 1), by Geoff Rodkey, G. P. Putnam's Sons, $16.99, ages 10 and up,  Thirteen-year-old "Egg" Masterson runs for his life on an island of cut-throat pirates, villainous businessmen and strange Native legends.

Rootless, by Chris Howard, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 14 and up, 336 pages. In a brutal and barren post-Apocalyptic world, 17-year-old tree builder Banyan meets a woman with a strange tattoo and sets off across a wasteland in search of his missing father and the last living trees.

The Immortal Lycanthropes, by Hal Johnson, illustrated by Teagan White, Clarion, $16.99, ages 12 and up, 304 pages. When a fight with a bully leaves him unconscious, disfigured 13-year-old Myron discovers he's a were-mammal who can transform from human to animal.

Keeper of Lost Cities (Book 1), by Shannon Messenger, Aladdin, $16.99, ages 496 pages. Telepathic 12-year-old Sophie struggles to find a place to belong until she runs into a mysterious boy Fitz, who shows her a hidden world that she's truly a part of.

Wrap This! Holiday Gift Guide 2012.

from the Christmas Quiet Book

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea #8: Wings to Fly

Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind, by Gary Ross, illustrated by Matthew Myers, Candlewick, $17.99, ages 6 and up, 96 pages, 2012.

A boy flies away from home to escape his ordinary life, only to discover that he misses his parents, his tasks and routines.

In this exhilarating poem by film director Gary Ross, Bartholomew Biddle straps on a bedsheet and soars out of his window at night to see what the world has to offer.

"'Why, that looks like fun! / Just look at those trees! They're bending in half -- yeah, that's quite a breeze,'" he says, as a wind blows in to carry him away.

In bare feet and pajamas, Bart paraglides out over houses and cars, and fancies himself the "World's Best Bedsheet flier."

"'Wow, this isn't bad!' / he said, swooping and soaring, / buzzing the rooftops while / people were snoring."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide #7: Things That Pop

Book meets toy: the novelty book. Here are some of my favorites.

Pop-Up London, by Jennie Maizels, paper engineering by Richard Ferguson, Candlewick, $19.99, ages 5-9, 2012. Baroque architecture rises from the pages of this entrancing book, and tempts readers to go in close and peak around building corners. Gorgeously rendered in pen-and-ink, each spread leads readers from one famous part of London to the next. A small booklet at the top of each spread describes what it's like to enter a particular district or landmark, then summaries it's significance, shares secrets about it and asks questions that readers must then search to answer (on the ground and behind buildings). Diminutive flaps, hidden pictures and pop-ups turn this book into an adventure. Among the many delights: two sculls that race on the river Thames along slits, and a scene inside Buckingham Palace that shows royals gathered at a banquet and dancing. The palace's interior walls are detailed like a finely furnished doll house: a two-story scene of butlers rushing about and the king and queen waving from a balcony. Another page features a pop-up of the London Eye, which readers erect by folding back a tab.

Any child who loves cities, architecture or miniatures will be dazzled -- and, chances are, they'll soon be begging for a trip to London. This isn't just a pop-up; it's an experience. The book transports readers into the city on a scavenger hunt down the Thames, in and out of lanes and even across a 3-D Tower Bridge, the grand finale. Best parts: Every little detail. This is one of the best pop-ups I've seen. Readers will want to lay it open on the dresser and imagine they're tiny enough to walk around the page. The only hard part will be deciding which district to display. 

Popposites: The Pop-Up Opposites Book!, by Mike Haines and Keith Finch, Kingfisher, $16.99, ages 3 and up, 2012. Few books of opposites can match this one. The creators of Wild Alphabet return with a clever spin on opposites. Every page has unique tabs that when rotated or pulled transform one scene into its opposite. The authors begin by contrasting old things with new, and as readers turn a tab, an ancient pyramid rises into the sky and becomes the roof of a modern skyscraper.  Every layout is unique and whimsical. On one page, readers look into an empty portal, then turn a tab and six faces slide out from the edges looking back at them. On another, readers learn about the extremes of sound: an elephant stands quietly with his trunk down, then with the pull of a tab, he raises his trunk and opens his mouth to suggest he's trumpeting. Another favorite shows a flying arrow (the past) transforming into a soaring rocket ship (the present). My only caution is that pull tabs can be stiff at first -- I found this particularly true of a zipper used to show "together" and "apart" -- so it's good for parents to loosen the tabs up a little before passing it on to a small child.  Best parts: A lesson about up and down: as readers pull a tab, a dapper man climbs a staircase and a boy slides down on a railing. And a page about big and little: readers see Earth floating in a circle of stars and as they pull a tab, a hand closes around it, making our planet look suddenly tiny, which when compared to the universe, it truly is! To read my 2010 review of Wild Alphabet click here.

The Wizard of Oz: A Classic Story Pop-Up Book With Sounds, by L. Frank Baum & Paul Hess, design and paper-engineering by Andy Mansfield, retold by Libby Hamilton, Silver Dolphin, $18.95. ages 4 and up, 2010. A twister as tall as a ruler pops up from the fold and triggers blustery sounds that transport readers into the action of L. Frank Baum's classic novel. In this atmospheric remake of The Wizard of Oz, readers see five scenes from the story rise from the page as they read an abridged narrative of the classic. When each pop-up opens, a tab slides at the fold to turn on sound effects, ranging from the cackling of flying monkeys to a crescendo of orchestral music at the gates of Oz. In the first pop-up, Toto barks frantically, a cow bellows and the wind rattles about, sucking up everything in its path. Auntie Em and Uncle Henry's farmhouse spins at the top of vortex, with a shocked Dorothy staring out the window. Opposite is a giant uprooted tree flipped upside down, while below, a tractor whirls around with a cow rising from below. Under that, they see the narrowing tail of the tornado cutting a path across a swath of checkerboard farmland. The perspective is fantastic as it gives readers the feeling they're hovering in the sky nearby. It is the most stunning of the pop-ups and is the one readers are likely to open over and over. Soon Dorothy has landed in Oz and in the next pop-up she helps grease the Tin Man back to life as readers listen to his gears creak and jaunty orchestral music. Other pop-ups show the Emerald City rising like a palace, the flying monkeys carrying Dorothy and Toto away and the great head of Oz: a colorful mask-like visage. This pop-up is far less intricate than Robert Sabuda's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but that also makes it more accessible for small children. I missed not seeing a pop-up of the Wicked Witch under the house, yet I was pleased that the illustrations were playful and not scary. Overall, this is a charming way to introduce young children to a classic. Best part: The perspective of looking down at the tornado, sensing the sheer height of it, while listening to the sounds of livestock and branches getting pitched into the air. Watch a trailer here!

For more pop-up fun, check out these other great titles:

Hide and Seek, by David A. Carter, Tate Publishing (Abrams), $24.95, ages 3 and up, 2012.

One Spotted Giraffe: A Counting Pop-Up Book, by Petr Horacek, Candlewick, $15.99, ages 3 and up, 2012.

The Wizard of Oz trailer

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Jolly Young Soul

Santa from Cincinnati, by Judi Barrett, pictures by Kevin Hawkes, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 4-8, 48 pages, 2012.

With that big belly that shakes like jelly, it's hard to believe Santa was ever a tyke. But indeed he was -- just ask Judy Barrett and Kevin Hawkes.

The book-making dynamos come together for the first time to share the wonder years of dear old Claus -- and wondrous they were.

Even as a newborn, Santa had cheeks like roses and a nose like a cherry. As other babies wailed their way into the world, he turned his mouth up like a bow.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wishing from Afar

Ever wonder what clever new books are springing up overseas? Here's a picture book I can't wait for.

The Paper Dolls, by Julia Donaldson, Pan Macmillan, 32 pages, 2012. A little girl takes her paper dolls on a fantastical adventure through the house and into the garden. First they escape the clutches of a toy dinosaur, then an oven-glove crocodile and finally a real pair of scissors. A charming picture book by UK's Children's Laureate and debut illustrator Rebecca Cobb. Donaldson is the author of the wildly popular The Gruffalo and my all-time favorite Room on a Broom.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gift Idea # 6: A Bit of Magic

Here are two picture books that make anything seem possible.

Little Elephants, by Graeme Base, Abrams, $16.95, ages 4 and up, 40 pages, 2012. When locusts threaten a boy's farm, a stranger appears with a magical horn that brings a herd of tiny elephants to the rescue. In this enchanting picture book, Jim and his mother are nearly out of luck -- their harvester is broken and a swarm of locusts is headed their way. But then something incredible happens. Jim sees a mysterious vagabond wading through the wheat stalks. Though the man cannot stay to help, he tells Jim the wind will bring good luck. That afternoon, Jim discovers a bullhorn left on the gate and as he blows into it, clouds of dust waft out and set off a wondrous chain of events. First, a wild mouse that Jim had let loose the day before returns to his bedroom with a surprise: A herd of toy-sized elephants scuffling under his bed. They're frisky and mischievous, and Jim tries to hide them because his mom doesn't want animals in the house. But then the locusts descend, and the elephants break cover and come charging out. They sprout wings and with trunks swinging, launch themselves at the locusts and drive them away. At last, the wheat is safe. But how will Jim and his mother ever harvest it? Base once again dips his pen into a magical place and gives readers something to dream about. Best parts: Nighttime scenes of the elephants racing around Jim's room on toy cars and frolicking in the yard with egg beaters and spoons -- and later, flying off with the stranger into the sunset.

The Man from the Land of Fandango, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar, Clarion, $16.99, ages 4 and up, 32 pages, 2012. A jolly man in a tricolor jacket leaps off a painting on a magical journey into make-believe, in this sparkly treasure by the late Mahy and her long-time illustrating partner Dunbar. After a girl and boy dab the last paint onto the man's portrait, he "bingles and bangles and bounces" off the picture and takes them on a musical romp with instrument-tooting animals. By the end of the picture book, the showman has danced on ceilings and walls, and taken the children bouncing on kangaroos and sliding down a wave of dreams. Mahy's rhymes skip and somersault across the page, while Dunbar's watercolors shout with glee. Characters smile with half-moon eyes and take trampoline leaps as stars and bubbles float about them. Every character in the story looks dizzily happy and that makes readers want to feel that way too. A wonderful farewell from one of the world's most beloved writers. Favorite part: Watching the man from Fandango leap into life and show us all that you're never too old to be playful  -- "He comes in at the door like a somersault star" and dances around as merrily as chimney sweep Bert from Mary Poppins before popping back into his portrait. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gift Idea #5: Books Teachers Would Love

Give the gift that gives all year. An enchanting read-aloud, an illustrated moment in history, a story about a teacher who changed a child's world.

Here are six ideas -- for more gift ideas and close-ups of these covers, scroll down for a slide show or click here.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams, illustrated by Aldo Galli, Atheneum, $29.99, ages 10 and up, 496 pages. A band of rabbits flees its comfy warren to live in the Berkshire Downs after a psychic buck named Fiver predicts danger, in this first-ever illustrated version of the 1972 classic. Luminous pictures capture the magic of Adam's heroic tale -- originally told to his children over a long car journey.

Because You Are My Teacher, by Sherry North, illustrated by Marcellus Hall, Abrams, $16.95, ages 4 and up, 32 pages. A teacher takes her class on an imaginary journey to seven continents (by schooner, camels, helicopter and skis), in this beautiful, rhyming picture book by the creators of Because You Are My Baby. "If we had a schooner, we would have our class at sea / And study the Atlantic, where the great blue whales roam free," the book begins.

Books for Every Teacher

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea #4: A Charming Import

There's something magical about books from faraway places. Perspectives on life are just a bit different and lend a whimsical touch to familiar subjects -- and to unusual ones. Here are seven gems that travelled this year across the pond from England and France and into U.S. bookstores.

From England:

Dick Bruna's I Can Count, Round, Square, Triangle and My Vest is White , by Dick Bruna, Tate Publishing (Abrams), $7.95 each, ages 2 and up, 28 pages, 2012. Bold, crisp colors and clean, simple lines make learning to count, and identifying basic colors and shapes a snap -- in this compact trio by a renowned Dutch author.

Bruna's graphics are warm and welcoming, and unclutter the mind to learn. Bruna's work, by way of an earlier series, has a tender spot in my heart. When I was 2, my grandmother gave me Dick Bruna's The Sailor (A Toy Box Tale) about a sailor boy who sailed his toy ship to a land of ice and snow. To this day, when I think of books that made me feel cozy and secure as a small child, Bruna's pops into memory. Best part: The clarity of the message, owed to Bruna's smart use of primary colors and thick, black lines.

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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Charming Holiday App

Peter, Paul and Mary's 'The Night Before Christmas' App for iPhone & iPad. (First released in 2011 & updated in 2012 to enable users to draw on snow and send a holiday card.) (By Touchoo, iTunes, $1.99)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea #2: Unleash the Force

A trio of Star Wars books: A pop-up, paper craft book and Yoda-inspired series. (Save you, they can!)

Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure, by Matthew Reinhart, Orchard, $36.99, ages 7 & up, 10 pages, 2012. A skeletal General Grievous lunges out with sabers swinging, in one of the most exciting pop ups in this 3-D sequel. Engineering wizard Reinhart follows up his best-selling Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy with painterly pop-ups that are so intricate, it's hard to believe they could be mass produced. Readers will want to gingerly move from one scene to another, with parents helping kids (even as kids bounce around, wanting to rush to see it all). Devious separatists and fanged monsters lurk under folds, then swivel in attack, and in one, a bounty hunter's head transforms into a mercenary's. Smaller pop-ups near page corners are often nested three folds deep and can be viewed at least two at a time (with care). Reinhart packs in so many plot elements, every section bulges like a scrapbook. The book spans three prequel movies and the Clone Wars, from when Anakin is recruited as a Jedi through his transformation into Darth Vader. The grand finale is equipped with an LED and shows the fallen Jedi swiping the air with a saber that turns blue to red, as he passes to the Dark Side. Reinhart's book is a jaw-dropping marvel -- haunting and perilous like George Lucas's epic movies, and layered with complexity. Once more, Reinhart stretches the bounds of 3-D paper art and leaves even his youngest fan speechless. Best part: The gulp factor. One of my favorites is an eerie little pop-up at the end of the book. The head of Darth Sidious slips out of Palpatine's cloak, transforming the chancellor into the evil lord, with a deranged grin and raised claw-like hand. Click here to watch the trailer or scroll down to the next post!

Star Wars Origami, 36 Amazing Paper-folding Projects from a Galaxy Far, Far Away, by Chris Alexander, foreword by Tom Angleberger, Workman, $16.95, ages 9 an up, 272 pages. From the creator of comes an irresistible tome of paper-folding projects. Alexander -- who Angleberger (author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda) aptly calls the "Jedi Master" of origami  -- has designed 36 models representing iconic creatures, characters, weapons and battleships from the Star Wars epic. Alexander begins with a training chapter -- a short lesson in basic folds -- then dives into projects of varying difficulty, beginning at a Youngling level (easy), and on to Padawan (medium), Jedi Knight (difficult) and Jedi Master (tricky). Alexander takes readers step-by-step through the folds, giving pictures as he goes, and supplies 72 sheets of artfully designed paper. In between projects, fans take a breather and test their memories with trivia quizzes. Among the highlights, a death star for beginners that blows up into a small paper pillow and a self-standing C-350 made from two pieces of golden paper detailed with joints, eyes, even shadows (medium). Origami, in general, is challenging and Alexander's projects -- though well-explained -- are no different. So, plan on making this a joint activity for parents and child to avoid needless frustration. But be ready. Young fans will want to fold them all!  Best part: An elaborately folded Taun We -- long-necked and as elegant as a preying mantis.

Origami Yoda Book series (The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, The Secret of Fortune Wookie), by Tom Angleberger, Amulet, $12.95 each, 8 and up, 160-176 pages, 2010-2012.  In this hilarious series, a sixth-grade misfit shows up at school with an origami Yoda on his fingers and the puppet begins doling out advice that suggests the puppet is wise beyond the boy's years. Is this just the boy, Dwight, throwing his voice or could this "green paper wad" have mystical powers? Written like case files, this fun, fast-paced series explores the social dynamics and fads of sixth grade, and what it means to rise to greatness. Could it be that greatness lies in...weirdness?  Best parts: When Dwight's cootie-catcher takes on a life on its own and inspires the arrival of paper puppet Chewbacca, a Fortune Wookie, and folded Han Solo, alias Han Foldo. Also, every book includes instructions to recreate one of these sage little puppets. (Watch for Art2-D2's Guide to Folding and Doodling: An Origami Yoda Activity book, due out in March!)

A Galactic Pop-Up Trailer

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Snowman Bookmark How-To

Click Read more below for patterns and directions. (Shown above marking my page in Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed and illustrated by Barbara McClintock, Houghton Mifflin, $16.99,  2012.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Magical Tidings: a 2011 Classic

Holiday Gift Idea #1: For a Little Princess

A trio of picture books about feisty gals who aren't afraid to get their slippers wet.

Princess in Training, by Tammi Sauer, pictures by Joe Berger, Harcourt, 2012, $16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Princess Viola throws herself into life like a comic book hero.  But is that any way for a princess to behave? Her parents, the king and queen, think not and send her off to princess camp to make her prim and proper. But poor Viola only wants to run and leap. Rather than master waving at the wrist, she karate chops the air -- and soon she's dived into a moat in her taffeta gown and skateboarded up a drawbridge. By the end of the day, Viola feels like a total flop. But hey, what's a giant, fire-breathing creature doing at the princess dance? Could all of Viola's wild moves come in handy after all? Sauer's story shouts girl power, while Berger's art bursts on the page. Lichtenstein-style explosions (vibrant colors and Ben-day dots) and bold, superhero sound words (Hi-Ya! and Zip! Zup! Zoom!) convey Viola's unstoppable spirit. Best part: The energy -- it's hypnotic. Words and pictures are equally charged and together, deliver a one-two punch.

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson, pictures by Sue deGennaro, Peachtree, 2012, $16.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages. In this adorable twist on the Princess and the Pea, a woodsy prince finds true love by challenging his best friend to rough it. Prince Henrik could have any gal. Every time he leaves the castle, girls scream, toss him tulips and wilt, "Oh my goodness, it's him!" But how does a prince like Henrik find a real princess? A girl with a nice smile? Who loves camping and playing hockey? Henrik's brother Hans thinks Henrik should use the old pea-in-a-mattress trick. But that's if Henrik wants a wife like Hans's -- one that's fussy and demanding. What Henrik wants is a girl who can take what she gets. So, he comes up with special bed to weed out sensitive gals: an old sleeping bag over a thin camping mattress atop a bag of frozen peas. Though many girls visit his palace, none of them appreciate the accommodations. In fact, most wake up bent out shape and toss frozen peas in his face. Then one day, Henrik's old friend Pippa comes for a stay and after a rough-and-tumble day of play, he's smitten. So he sets her up in the guest room and waits for morning. But why would any girl want to sleep with a freezing bag of vegetables in her bed? Wilson's wry humor makes this a delight, while deGennaro's delicate drawings make it playful. Best part: DeGennaro's depiction of Henrik's groupies: girls with paper-thin bodies and legs jointed like jumping jacks'.

Olivia and the Fairy Princess, by Ian Falconer, Atheneum, 2012, $17.99, ages 3-7, 32 pages. Olivia the pig is in a tizzy over what she should be some day. Her father says she'll always be his little princess -- but come on. A princess? That's what every other girl (and some boys) want to be. And if there's one thing Olivia is, it's authentic, beyond compare -- and befuddling. In this funny sequel to the Olivia books, Olivia spends an entire day getting worked up over why anyone would want to be a princess. She reminds her mother of how bravely she resists the pressures to wear pink and act dainty. When other girls dress in ruffly skirts, Olivia wears a snappy sailor shirt. When other girls twirl like ballerinas, she makes dramatic poses in a black fabric tube (an avant-garde number without sleeves). By the end of the day, Olivia's so fired up that she's indignant. Her mother begins a bedtime story in which a beautiful maiden is rescued by a prince and Olivia can't believe where it's headed. Not another prince making a girl his princess! Her mother swiftly ditches the book and opens The Little Match Girl instead. But being a freezing little match girl doesn't sound like fun either. As Olivia tries to settle down for the night, she imagines doing something valiant with her life… Or should she just find a nice pedestal to put herself on? Witty as ever, Falconer writes to all those girls who'd rather go on an adventure than be rescued. Best part: Olivia's inspiration to ditch the tutu -- a photo over her bed from Martha Graham's "Lamentation."