Madame Esmé's 2005 Recommendations for
New and Exciting Children's Literature!

Click on images or links in red for further reviews and information.
All books are kid-tested, teacher approved. Please e-mail your read-aloud success stories!

Check out Esme's latest must-read title, Dy of a Fairy Godmother!
Picture Books / Fiction / Non-Fiction / Reissues
Easy-to-Print List of 2004 Don't Miss Titles
Easy-to-Print List of 2003 Don't Miss Titles
Easy-to-Print List of 2002 Don't Miss Titles
Seasonal Archive
Super Archive of the Best Books since 1999

A Few Words About Age Recommendations

This may take a moment to load. Why not fix yourself some milk and cookies in the meantime? Then you can settle in and peruse some of the best children's books available.

Picture Books

Show Way
Show Way
by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott
published by Putnam

When Soonie's Great-Grandma was seven, she was sold away from her Ma and Pa with nothing but a piece of muslin, two needles, and thread dyed bright red with berries from the Chokeberry tree. These steps taken away from her parents are the first in a long path through the author's ancestry; a path of women who through their sewing and quilting can create a "Show Way," or map to freedom, a quilted code carrying them through slavery and the civil rights era, along to the present day where the author has learned to use words to create a "Show Way" to a better day. The introduction to each grandmother when she was seven serves as a refrain and gives the young reader an immediate and sympathetic point of reference. Talbott's rich and evocative illustrations create a visual line like a seam through the story, a path of quilt squares carrying each grandmother through time and through the constellations that guide them and promise a better future. Surely one of the most hopeful and affecting books on black history, this tour de force promises all children a powerful Show Way, using whatever it is that they can do. (6 and up)

Miss Suzy
by Miriam Young, illustrated by Arnold Lobel
published by Purple House Press

Dear Miss Suzy Squirrel is displaced when her drey is invaded by a band of baddies, forcing her to take up residence in an attic dollhouse. A troop of toy soldiers come to her rescue, with love and valor rescinding what is hers. Unassuming at first glance, drama, emotional depth and one heck of a good plot is packed into one of the most stirring children's books ever, now reissued in time for a 40th anniversary. I still remember my grandmother reading this one aloud to me, and now its your turn to read it aloud to your goggle-eyed crowd. In squirrel-talk: you'd have to be nuts not to have this in your collection. (5 and up)

Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies
by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by John Manders
published by Candlewick

Barnacle Black Ear, the baddest bunny brute of all time, has a son who, disappointingly, is a bookworm and not a buccaneer. More interested in books than timber-shivering or plank-walking, Henry is the laughingstock of the swarthy crew. But when no one heeds his red-sky-at-morning warning and the ship is lost, it is Henry's book-smarts that save the day. Part of the author's strength is that her subtle turn of phrase and gentle punnery never sacrifices her story for a laugh, and as a result, she makes anyone who reads her titles aloud come off as a natural comic genius. Her trademark humor is perfectly matched by Mander's visual jokes (note Calico Jack Rabbit's cabbage tattoo marked with the name "Beatrix") and broad, bouncy line. But besides being a wildly funny book with plenty of occasion to utilize a pirate voice, this is a tribute to the worth of books and the people who read them, clearly every bit as valuable as pieces of eight. (6 and up)

Fancy Nancy
byJane O'Connor, Robin Preiss Glasser
published by HarperCollins

Nancy loves the color fuschia, lace-trimmed socks, tiaras, French accents and frilly toothpicks. In short, this little sister is f-a-n-c-y FANCY, and she's generously willing to share her expertise in private lessons. After a creative makeover that does Queer Eye proud, her blasé family's looking better by the minute! But when an embarassing mishap occurs involving spilled parfaits in a restaurant, Fancy Nancy may need some plain old love. Strong character voice puts Nancy at the tea-party table with characters like Eloise and Olivia. Sporting a cover appropriately bedeckled in pink glitter and curly-swirly illustrations brimming with accessories (of course), this book is as delightful as a cupcake with extra sprinkles and a must-must-must for your favorite fancy girl, dahhhling! (5 and up)

And Tango Makes Three
by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole
published by Simon and Schuster

Roy and Silo walked together. And sang to each other. And built a nest together. And wound their necks around each other. But there was one thing Roy and Silo couldn't do together. With the help of a sympathetic zookeeper, these penguin partners were able to become a family, hatching Tango (because, after all, it takes two to tango!). Based on the true story of the first penguin in the Central Park Zoo to have two daddies, this refreshing celebration of the diversity of families in nature is a perfect blend of storytelling, science and sentimentality. Expressive, understated illustrations clearly done from real-life sketches capture the penguins' frustrations and joys. An outstanding read-aloud which every teacher can feel comfortable in sharing to cultivate tolerance, and through which alternative families will feel affirmed. Nice in combination with Todd Parr's The Family Book. (5 and up)

Bad Kitty
byNick Bruel
published by Roaring Brook

Oh dear, did Mommy forget to buy food for the kitty? No worries, there should be plenty of things in the cupboard for kitty to eat. asparagus, perhaps? Fennel? Rhubarb? An alphabet of food that sends kitty gagging on hairballs also sends him into an alphabet of bad behavior involving curtains, neckties and a vet's arm. Don't worry, a trip to the store for more suitable cuisine, worthy of Wacky Packages and a child's taste (lizard lasagne or turtle turnovers, anyone?) should send kitty into a redemptive fervor. That's four, count 'em, four hilarious alphabets in one book. Zany, never dull, and full of a suprising amount of fresh vocabulary and a chance for letter recognition, this book is a hoot for lively, irreverent preschoolers and their older siblings. It reads like catnip for fans of all things feline, but cat-haters can enjoy it, too, as kitty's true nature is revealed. (4 and up)

Traction Man is Here!
byMini Grey
published by Knopf

Traction man dons his super Sub-Aqua suit, Flourescent Flippers and Infra-Red Mask to do some deeps-ea diving in the kithen sink! Traction Mans sports his Latex Space Suit and Crash Helmet and zooms in his Jet-Powered Sneaker to rescue the farm animals being attacked by the Evil Pillows! Traction Man wears his Deep-Sea Diving Suit, Brass Helmet and Metal Shoes to save his companion Scrubbing Brush from the Mysterious Toes at the bottom of the tub! But when well-meaning Granny knits Traction Man a knitted green romper and matching bonnet, is there any adventure he can possibly accomplish wearing such style-cramping couture? This beautifully illustrated and nuanced book is pitch-perfect at capturing both the energy and imagination of a child at play. Traction Man! Our hero! (4 and up)

Little Pea
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace
published by Chronicle

"If you want to grow up and be a big, strong pea, you have to eat your candy," Papa Pea would say. "If you don't finish your candy then you can't have dessert," Mama Pea would say. But yuck! Little Pea doesn't like candy! Can he make it through dinner to dessert…and a surprise ending? The simplest illustrations against a white backdrop manage brilliantly to convey color, movement and family coziness, and you don't have to be a mealtime fussbudget to appreciate the clever reversals in this, one of the dearest, darlingest books of the season. Peas have never looked so appetizing. (3 and up)
Also of interest:
Eat Your Peas, Ivy Louise! by Leo Landry (Houghton Mifflin)
The Pea Blossom retold by Amy Lowry Poole (Holiday House)
These three together make for a wonderful thematic storytime.

Carolinda Clatter
by Mordicai Gerstein
published by Roaring Brook

A giant's unrequited love with the moon causes him to cry himself to sleep. "After a hundred years, grass grew all over him. After a thousand years, his eyes became two ponds. His tears became two waterfalls. His beard and the hair on his head became forests." The town of Pupickton is built on the mountain that looks like a giant, right on his belly, and through the years, the townspeople whisper "Shhhh! You'll wake the giant." This is too tall an order for Carolinda Clatter, who is born noisy and whose clamor ultimately rouses the giant from his sleep. Can this boisterous girl find the song to soothe his broken heart? This book is a delight to read aloud (if you can manage the catch in your throat on the last few pages) with an original plot and pictures that capture all the colors and moods of this magical man and mountain. As always, Gerstein's work captures something deep; not just the lightning bug, but the glow of the lightning bug, not just the tear, but the salt, and in this noisy book is the whisper of things universal: the need to be loved, the need to be ourselves, the need for peace. In the body of work of this gentle giant called Gerstein, this title is one of the great romances of children's literature and is not to be overlooked. (6 and up)

Tiny Tortilla
by Arlene Williams, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
published by Dutton

Juan Carlos is so hungry, but the only thing the old tortilla maker in the plaza has left is a tiny scrap of dough, but she assures him, he shouldnÕt worry. Simply pat the dough and sing, "palma-palma-palmadita," and when the dough on it is light and thin, give it three pats, uno, dos, tres. DonÕt take a bite until it is done! If Juan Carlos can follow this advice, he will have the most unusual day of his life. This book is a storytime treasure, with plenty of opportunities for audience participation and magical results with each repetition of the old tortilla ladyÕs spell. The sketchy, sunburned illustrations are just right for the Southwestern setting, and just like the tiny tortilla, your affection for this folkloric telling will grow and grow by the storyÕs end. Be sure to have some tortillas on hand for a storytime snack to follow, and see if the spell really works! (5 and up)

The Gift of Nothing
by Patrick McDonnell
published by Little, Brown

What do you get a friend who has everything? Nothing, of course. But when Mooch tries to shop for it, he finds it surprisingly difficult. And when, after careful thought, he manages to package it, will Earl receive it in the spirit in which it was given? Spare, sketchy cartoons perfectly complement the theme of sufficiency of the gifts we have in each other, and the deep idea at the heart of this book is told simply enough that it will help children see that whatever they have to give really is enough. With Zen undertones and comic overtones, this endearing, provocative tale about a dog, a cat and a whole lot of everything worth having will make you add Nothing to the very top of your wish list. (All ages)

The Wheels on the Race Car
by Alexander Zane, illustrated by James Warhola
published by Orchard

Finally, a perfect song to go along with little boys lining up and racing their toy matchbox cars. To be sung to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus," wild animals careen around the track in some sort of Wild-Kingdom-meets-Nascar event that will leave an enthiusiastic audience crowing for their car of choice, when they aren't busy singing along and acting out the accompanying hand-motions for each verse cleverly depicted on the endpapers. Vroom-vroom-vroom to the boostore to get this great car book with zero percent financing. (4 and up)

Beetle McGrady Eats Bugs!
by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Jane Manning
published by Greenwillow

Beetle McGrady dreams of being a real explorer, a true pioneer, but where to begin? When an ant wanders across the food pyramid that Table 6 is working on, Beetle is inspired to break new ground by creating a brand new food group, but shsÕs not quite sure if her appetite for adventure matches her appetite for bugs. Thanks to a creative culinary class visitor, the opportunity presents itself for crunching on a creepy crawly, and maybe even connecting with the wider world. This much more modern picture book addendum to Thomas Rockwell's classic novel How to Eat Fried Worms is drawn in stylized, angular spreads. The text is especially well-written, fun to read aloud and features a heroine with a special fearlessness that marks a new breed of little girl. Be sure to check out Beetle's "Tips for Eating Bugs" on the endpapers. (6 and up)

Hurry and the Monarch
by Antoine O Flatharta, illustratred by Meilo So
published by Knopf

In the course of a migration down to Mexico, a monarch butterfly lights in a garden where a meandering tortoise wonders at his new friendÕs flighty pace. When the monarch makes her return trip, she inadvertently leaves a great gift behind. "What do you think [the world] is like?" asks the butterfly. "I imagine," says Hurry slowly, "I imagine that its like my garden. A place full of astonishing things." The story of the mighty monarch migration and the life cycle is told with remarkable delicacy, and the juxtaposition of the ephemeral timetable of the butterfly to the long lifeline of the tortoise is powerful and profound. The storytelling is symphonic in its grace, and the lines of So's watercolors are breathtaking, truly the embodiment of the potential of her medium; you can see each delicate step of the butterfly's nimble foot and the wrinkle beneath the tortoise's wise eye. No one who reads this book will doubt that the world does indeed seem a place full of astonishing things. A must for fans of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. ThatÕs everybody, isn't it? (5 and up)

Bubba and Beau, Best Friends
by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Arthur Howard
published by Harcourt

Human baby Bubba and and hound dog puppy Beau share a lot of things. They share the same birthday. They share the same dislike of baths. And they share a love of the pink blankie with the cottony-soft touch and snappity snap sound and smelly smell. But most of all, they share a friendship. If you have never heard of Bubba and Beau, sister, this is your lucky day. When it comes to books about friendship, strong characterizations and a slight southern twang (check out the Texas flag on Big Bubba's pick-up truck) help these sunny episodes to truly stand out. The loose illustrations are adorable with an attitude. Older children too will be asking for more; luckily, there are several in the series, so your whole family can plan a nice long trip to Bubbaville. Pack your funny bone. (4 and up)

Big Sister, Little Sister
by LeUyen Pham
published by Hyperion

Big sister likes to try on lipstick and act older. Little sister canÕt wear lipstick and will never be older. Big sister tells all the good stories, but little sister gets to listen! The pros and cons of family placement is played out in a most intimate and loving way, with just the right amount of sisterly sass. PhamÕs lively line, strong characterizations and the limited palette are all done with all the panache of Ian Falconer (Olivia) or Hilary Knight (Eloise), but when it comes to charm, thatÕs all her own. What started out as a gift to Pham's real sister has resulted in a fine example of what a great picture book should look like, and a gift to us all. (5 and up)

by Marc Tauss
published by Scholastic

Maleek, like every good superhero, keeps his identity a secret, but when the town is in trouble, he springs into action! With the help of robot assistant Marvyn, Maleek manages to reclaim his city's lost parks. Endpapers reveal the inner fantasies of an inventive young comic book readerÉis the story true, or was it all in his imagination? There is no shortage of imagination in Marc Tauss, who is sure to inspire the same in his young readers through detailed, cinematic, black-and-white scenes that include homemade gadgets and robots created in 3D by the artist. Original in technique, mind-blowing in execution, it is safe to call him the Chris Van Allsburg of Photoshop. Boys will flock to this one faster than a speeding bullet. (6 and up)

Bess and Bella
byIrene Haas
published by McElderberry Books

The timeless talent that brought us The Maggie B. shares the wintry tale of a little girl delivered from loneliness from a funny little bird who falls from the sky, bearing a suitcase full of magical things. Though we are never quite sure if Bella is real or imaginary, she sure knows how to liven up the long winter days, and readers will be warmed by her adventures of banjo-playing hounds, firefighters, and magic hats. When the ice melts, though, a new friend awaits Bess, and Bella is ready to take flight. Haas has tuned in pitch-perfectly to a child's sense of rescue and possibility, and the smallish, square frames of snowy illustrations can only be described as precious. Finding this book was like finding the soft and flawless feather of a sparrow…Bella, perhaps? (4 and up)

Chicks and Salsa
by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Paulette Bogan
published by Bloomsbury

Fans of Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type will find a new cock of the walk in this story of a farmyard looking for a little culinary variety, and finding it through Mexican cuisine. Now, where the ducks got the guacamole, the chickens got the tortilla chips and the bull snared the the sombrero remains a mystery, but you'll be glad they did! When the cuisine proves irresistable, the farmer and his wife may have to get in on the fiesta. This slightly irreverant book about eating outside the box (or the henhouse or pen, whatever the case may be) has pictures as colorful as a broken pinata, and will whet many young readers' appetites for trying new cuisines. Recipes included, but you may want to have many more international cookbooks on hand! (5 and up)

Papa, Do You Love Me?
by Barbara M. Joose, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
published by Chronicle

This much-awaited companion to the bestselling Mama, Do You Love Me? takes place on the Serengeti Plains in the land of the Maasai, where a compassionate father reassures his little boy that he loves his son like the elder loves his stories, he will love him as long as the hippopotamus wallows in the mud, and that he loves him so unconditionally that even if the birthright cow was lost on his little boy's watch, he would still find a place in his father's heart. This story is built on these tender, demonstrative exchanges between the father and son, and is told with a special reverence for its setting and culture (and includes helpful notes about the Maasai in the back). What sets this book apart from the sea of other "mommy-daddy-love-me" books is the global perspective, that even though people may be far away and live very differently than we do here in the United States, a parentÕs love for a child is universal and precious and respecting that is part of creating peace. (4 and up)

Jitterbug Jam
by Barbara Jean Hicks, illustrated by Alexis Deacon
published by Farrar Straus Giroux

The frontpiece illustration of a little monster curled in a bedtime fetal position, clutching a precious dinosaur toy, is absolutely haunting. In page after page, laid out in a sophisticated, varied format clearly informed by the graphic novel genre, the characters seem truly alive, the nuances of the figures at once so familiar and so strange that the artist has successfully accomplished what is the goal of a fantastic fantasy: to create a believable world full of unbelievable things. But no child need fear the monsters in this book, as this horned tyke is terrified of the boy he is convinced lives under his bed, despite the assurances given to him by his loving grandpa, Boo-dad. The writing of this offbeat family story is unusual, suggesting a very colloquial African-American dialect. Fearlessly original, and a work of art from the from bug-covered end-paper to end-paper. Would I be overstating the case if I were to say Deacon may be our next Sendak? I don't think so. (5 and up)

Also of interest is Leonardo the Terrible Monster by the one-in-a-million Mo Willems (Hyperion), who weaves the sad tale of a Leonardo who is frustrated by his monster failures, among them not having 1642 teeth like Tony ("not all teeth shown," Willems points out in fairness). When Leonardo finally locates the biggest scaredy cat in the world, he can't wait to "scare the tuna salad out of him," but the confrontation is met with mixed results, leading Leonardo to decide that instead of being a terrible monster, he would become a wonderful friend. Likewise, Willem's wit makes him a friend to young readers everywhere; he is a reliable picture book entertainer with an inimitable sense of humor. His sparse, deceptively simple style continues to show a mastery of mood, space and color and an appreciation for the modern child's taste for mix of vintage classic snappiness and contemporary savvy. A worthy cousin of Mayer's classic There's a Nightmare in My Closet. (4 and up)

Carmine: A Little More Red
by Melissa Sweet
published by Houghton Mifflin

Carmine has a special relationship with her granny (who taught her to read using alphabet soup) so dashes away at once when invited to her house for lunch, pausing only to paint a picture ("It may seem farfetched to think that any painting can be improved by adding a little more red, but Carmine believes it to be true"). Meanwhile, a wolf gets wind of Granny's menu made more succulent by the addition of bones. A subtext of Carmine's dog facing his fears about confronting his crass canine cousin adds suspense, and through it all is a sophisticated alphabet book highlighting vocabulary from context in alphabetical order (knoll, lurking and mimic comprising the list for k, l and m, and quiver, reckoned, surreal provide for q, r and s). Bright, loose watercolors by this up and coming talent make every page feel like it might have fallen out of Carmine's own sketchbook. This smart, creative, multilayered story will satisfy the parents who bemoan the oversimplification of picture books from their primary prodigies, and will also delight and inspire teachers of language arts. There is even a recipe for Granny's alphabet soup (bones are optional). When it comes to fairy tale re-tellings, this one is definitely a standout lady in red. (6 and up)

Dougal the Garbage Dump Bear
by Matt Dray
published by Kane Miller

A bear named Dougal ends up at the dump, but is soon rescued by the sympathetic "dragon driver," the man who runs the bulldozer. Soon Dougal runs into other stuffed toys who share the same fate, and a very motley circle begins to grow. When the boss finds out that the men have collected a menagerie, it is time for the driver to find a permanent home for them, and its better than they could have imagined. This book, written by an Australian man who really did work at the dump, employs a very engaging scrapbook style of real snapshot photos that tell the story of Dougal and his friends that is sure to inspire a similar storytelling technique for its more creative readers. Though the writing veers from its path in places and the story's summation might be considered pat, the high note that is plucked throughout these pages calls to children again and again. I imagine that if Corduroy and The Velveteen Rabbit had a book club, this would be on the list. (5 and up)(6 and up)

Zen Shorts
by John Muth
published by Scholastic

One day, a generously-sized panda named Stillwater speaking in a "slight Panda accent" shows up at the door of three children, befriending them and sharing with them stories passed along to him from his "Uncle Ry." In fact, the Panda is sharing with them three zen koans, which are simple fables or parables that in fact have been rooted in Chinese and Japanese culture for centuries. Like a mellow, behemoth Cat in the Hat, children will hope that someday they will open their door to such a guest. The retellings are illustrated using a sort of opposite Wizard of Oz technique: when he shares a tale, they become a sketchy brush-painted blue, black and white, and when it is the children's everyday life, we return to realistic full-spectrum watercolors. "Uncle Ry" is inspired by the poet Ryokan Taigu, one of JapanÕs most popular poets, and the Panda is named for the great teacher Sengai Gibbon. The stories are a bit watered down from their original sources (children eight and up will be able to enjoy a broader array in their more original forms in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones), but this book definitely serves as a valuable introduction for the youngest reflective reader. Muth, always a gifted artist, is at the top of his form and will surely give award committees plenty to meditate over. (5 and up)

Mocking Birdies
by Annette Simon
published by Simply Read Books

A red bird and a blue bird sharing the same telephone lines seek to find harmony in this clever poetic piece. "Be a good egg." "Be a good egg." "Stop copying me!" "Stop copying me!" When they find the way out of their cacophonous chatter, are they able to pick up the melody when joined by a purple bird and two cats? Striking geometric designs against a white background boldly accent the plucky plot. Pick red lines or blue lines to read aloud, and you can take turns with your own emergent reader (great for big kids to read to little kids, too); even if you canÕt sing, the writing will sound like jazzy skit-skatting. These little song birds hit a picture book high-note on every page, and is sure to have your own chickadees calling out, "Read it again! Read it again!" (3 and up)

School Lunch
byTrue Kelley
published by Holiday House

When the health-conscious school lunch lady Harriet takes a much-needed vacation, its mighty hard to fill her shoes, or her kitchen. Told mostly in letters between the suffering school and Harriet swinging in her tropical hammock, we see the fry cook who douses everything in salt and grease, the French chef whose flambés set off fire alarms, a summer camp counselor who serves up a few too many s'mores, a witch with culinary mischief brewing, and finally, the principal must resort to Chinese take-out. Wish you were here, Harriet! Accented with explosive cartoon illustrations, this-laugh-out-loud story is a delicious tribute to one of school's unsung heros. (6 and up)

Author Day for Room 3T
by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Chuck Richards
published by Clarion

Room 3T is all a-bubble over the arrival of a real live author, Harry Bookman. They have read all of his books, play-acted his scenes, thought out serious questions and even made a welcome banner. The expectations of the glamorous author lifestyle are high. "If you see someone who looks new and different, you can be sure its the author," the children are advised. The author exceeds all expectations…exceot for a bad case of laryngitis, which the author compensates for through some beastly behavior. But is it the author, or an escaped chimpanzee filling the role? When the real author arrives, it will be a tough act to follow. The tips for hosting a successful author visit on the last page are some serious help, containing need-to-know info for every teacher, but the rest of the story is unbridled silliness. The illustrations are as colorful, slick and shiny as a bouquet of balloons, and action-packed on every page, matching the madcap tomfoolery of the text. (6 and up)

Also of interest is Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis (Harcourt). Dexter can't wait for kindergarten! He's practically an expert; after all, his big sister told him all about it. So Dexter doesn't need any comfort and consolation. Nope. Not one bit. His stuffed dog Rufus, on the other hand…bouyant pictures belies the bravado of the text in this perfect pick for first-time school-goers that hones in on their very real concerns. This book uses humor and sensitivity to reassure children that school is a place that has many wonderful surprises waiting for them, as well as many grown-ups waiting to lend a hand. There will be no doubt upon the closing of this book that kindergarten really does rock! (See, Rufus? There was nothing to worry about). Also be sure to check out the author's incredible website which includes great tips for the author-initiated "Get Ready for Kindergarten Month" that are handy all year 'round. (4 and up)

Kibitzers and Fools: Tales my Zayda Told Me
bySimms Taback
published by Viking

So, you want a little Jewish wisdom? A little Yiddish wit? A little company, maybe? Well, you've come to the right place. From the colorful, cartoonish stylings of a Caldecott winner, we've got the whole mishpokhe here, kibbitzing in the German dialect of our great grandparents via a baker's dozen of tales, endpapers featuring idiomatic expressions and a whole glossary at the end (what, you don't want to be a cheapskate, do you?). Here we have poor Rabinovitz trying to make a sign with too many editors, a couple of shmendricks having a lively philisophical discussion about the buttering of bread, and little Yankel trying to field the question of "what is life?" If life by any chance is a good book, you're in luck, because this one is nothing you should sneeze at. (6 and up)

Ready or Not, Dawdle Duckling
by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Margaret Spengler
published by Dial

Can any child turn down a spirited game of hide-and-seek? Mama Duck is willing to play, and one-two-three little ducklings know what to do…but the fourth little duckling needs the help of some friends. Spare, well chosen text and sparkling, sunny-day artwork make this a particularly winning preschool pick, though all of the winsome "Dawdle" stories have a finger on the pulse of preschool energy and fun. Fans of Jane Simmons' Come Along Daisy will find a new feathered friend in Buzzeo's book, and children will chuckle at Dawdle's choices for perfect hiding places. Parents will recognize their own little dawdlers endearingly portrayed in these pages, and will be glad to take the time to read this again and again. (3 and up)

Momma, Will You?
by Dori Chaconas, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
published by Viking

"Momma, will you milk the cow? Yes or no or maybe? We would like some sweet milk now. Milk for me and baby." All around the farmhouse, this helpful little boy has lots of suggestions of what to do for the new arrival, each answered in the same lilting rhythm by an attentive mother. Each facing page has an animal silhouette against a bold colored background, which young children can use for cues to join in or for guessing what animals come next. Altogether cozy from cover to cover, the gentle winding-down of the story will make it a perennial bedtime favorite for both parents and children. (5 and up)
Other delightful mommy-loves-baby books:
Angel Coming by Heather Henson, illustrated by Susan Gaber (Atheneum) (An "angel" comes down from the hills of Kentucky in the form of a new baby delivered by a home birth. You can practically smell that mountain air in these flowing, blowing pictures!)
Home to Me, Home to You by Jennifer Ericsson, illustrated by Ashley Wolff (Little, Brown) (A child is remembered along every step of a mother's business trip; realistic, warm and reassuring.)
Because of You by B.G. Hennessy, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata (Candlewick) (Reads like a love letter from parent to child, containing all the ways the world is better because of that child is in it.)

Lizzie Nonsense
by Jan Ormerod
published by Clarion

A little girl in the isolation of the Australian bush must entertain herself while waiting for her father to return. She does so with aplomb thanks to what her pragmatic mother calls "Lizzie Nonsense," or her ability to see things through her imagination, whether a bathing baby is afloat on a boat in a big wide sea, a bending branch serves as gallant steed worthy of a queen, or turnips are turned into peaches and teacakes. When father's team of horses breaks through the woods, though, the reality is every bit as beautiful as Lizzie's sweetest nonsense. The paintings throughout are breathtaking, capturing very intimate family moments in dappled light and varied texture to the point that it is truly like looking through a window of time at the romance of a family. With more than fifty books published, this one in particular is a hallmark in the career of a remarkable talent. Any study of pioneer history should include this title, so children may see that there were frontier experiences in other countries as well; be sure to point out the animals and details throughout that are uniquely Australian. (5 and up)

Baby Brains
by Simon James
published by Candlewick

Even before Baby Brains was born, his parents were on the ball, reading aloud and playing music for the tyke in utero. Was it any surprise that within a few days, Baby Brains is reading the newspaper, fixing the car, and working as a doctor in a local hospital. It is not until Baby Brains is sent on a mission into outer space and ground control asks him how he feels on this special occasion, he breaks down and blubbers, "I want my mommy!" DonÕt worry, Baby Brains, youÕll soon be back to earth for a warm bath, a tickle and a cuddle, loved for exactly who you are instead of all you do. Besides being a bouncing bundle of laughter, this book is a laudable commentary on the overachieving culture we risk imposing on children. DonÕt waste this wry and wise fable on wee ones alone; share it in a gift basket at a baby shower, and teachers in push-push districts should not hesitate to read it aloud at parent Open House. Don't miss the sequel, Baby Brains Superstar, in which it takes more than a little stage fright to squelch baby's musical talent. (4 and up)

Kamishibai Man
by Allen Say
published by Houghton Mifflin

Kamishibai, or "paper theater," is an art form popularized during an economic depression in Japan during the 1930's. The kamishibai storyteller would be surrounded by children, eager to hear his tales and see the hand-painted illustrations, and buy the candies from his cart. But with the advent of the television, the unique form of street performance loses its audience. What's an old kamishibai man to do? This touching story chronicles what happens when an artist once celebrated ventures out into a modern, urban world, filled with traffic and television, for a final performance. Will he find his audience once more? Sophisticated ideas of aging and cultural change make this ideal for discussion with older children, and young artists may also enjoy trying to create their own kamishibai.

by Norman Messenger
published by Candlewick

Can you imagine a clock without hands? A horse with tiger stripes? A camel made of clouds? A door that leads to anywhere? It's easy to imagine with this book full of flaps and fold-outs, turning wheels, and pictures that require you to turn the book upside-down. Novel and imaginative and oh-so-surreal, choose this one for your young Salvador Dali. (5 and up)
Also of interest for imaginative minds:
Imagine a Day and Imagine a Night , both by Sarah Thompson, illustrated by Rob Gonsalves (Atheneum) (Great new choice for fans of Chris Van Allsburg's classic the Mysteries of Harris Burdick)
Once Upon a Cloud by Rob D. Walker, illustrated by Matt Mahurin (Scholastic).

by Mary Jane and Herm Auch
published by Holiday House

Chickerella is delighted when her father decides to remarry, but the stepmotherturns out ton be a bad egg and Chickerella's dressmaking skills are used and abused by her new family Luckily, her Fairy Goosemother steps in when she needs help getting to the Fowl Ball, and when Chickerella lays a glass egg at the steps of the castle, the prince beats a fast path to the coop of our feathered friend. With the support of rooster royalty, she is able to starts her own fashion line as a finale, and wait until you see these gowns! This fine feathered story is full of punny fun, and the illustrations, photographs of posed dolls superimposed on digital backgrounds, verge on the psychedelic and will rate an eye-popping "wow" with your favorite chick. (4 and up)
Also of interest on the more traditional end of happily-ever-after: the pink pop-up perfection that is Matthew Reinhart's Cinderella (published by Little Simon, 4 and up, wait until you see the coach and dress come off the page as if a magic wand really was waved!) and the Louis XIV elegance of Barbara McClintock's Cinderella (Scholastic, 6 and up) looks engraved and gold-gilded. Both end cheerfully; if you want the stepsister's heels cut off or eyes poked out, you'll have to go in for the original.

Mama Goose : A Latino Nursery Treasury
by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Maribel Suarez
published by Hyperion

Mostly Mexican, this compendium of bilingually-presented birthday songs, riddle, tall-tales, finger plays, jump-rope rhymes, songs and nursery rhymes will add fresh material to both laptimes and storytimes. While the content of the Spanish-language originals are sometimes sacrificed in translation in order to keep the rhythm and rhyme, what results is a treasury of pleasant pieces that stand on their own in each language. Generous, brightly-colored illustrations make page-turning a delight. A wonderful choice for a new baby gift, this book will be enjoyed throughout a child's primary years.(birth and up)

Mercy Watson to the Rescue
by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
published by Candlewick

Mercy Watson Mercy Watson is no ordinary pig. She is a porcine wonder, and if you don't believe it, just read the harrowing adventure in which Mercy manages to get the fire department to rescue her doting owners who are nearly falling through the floor while still in bed. Never mind that their precarious predicament was a result of Mercy jumping in between them as they slept. Never mind that Mercy was really in search of her favorite treat, buttered toast, and in this quest caused a diversion that brought the fire department around. All's well that ends well, even the prickly pork-prejudiced neighbor Eugenia will have to agree…or will she? First in a series, this book is arranged in chapters probably to encourage independent reading confidence, but keep in mind it can be read aloud in one storytime sitting. Famous for her award-winning novels, DiCamillo's tight prose and hilarious characterizations transfer to this shorter piece. Van Dusen's shiny, stylized illustrations are plenty pink and possibly perfect. You, too, will toast Mercy Watson at the close of this high-spirited book. (5 and up)

The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story
by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran
published by Lee and Low

Nerves are getting the better of Meena as she prepares for her part in a class production of Little Red Riding Hood. Will she be too clumsy to convincingly play the part of a tree? Luckily, a few yoga classes get her limbs in good order. Cheerfully illustrated, this is a strong story about performance anxiety, and its clever and helpful integration of yoga into the plot is sure to put a new interest center stage. Also, be sure to check out the author's informative web page about Southeast Asia in Children's Literature. Also of interest to young thespians: A Play's the Thing by Aliki (HarperCollins), a classroom drama about the production of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," told in comic-book form. You will want Miss Brilliant for your teacher! (5 and up)

Before You Were Born
retold by by Howard Schwartz, illustrated by Kristina Swarner
published by Roaring Brook

Long ago, the angel Lailah shared all of her secrets with you; as you rested in your mother's womb, she read to you from the book of secrets, and revelaed to you all the beauties of the world, and told you the most marvelous of stories. When the time came for you to be born, Lailah led you out into the world, and she put her finger to your lips, reminding you to keep everything she had taught you a secret. How did you think you got that indentation in your upper lip? A profoundly gentle "pourquoi" legend based in Jewish folklore is lit by art so luminous that light seems to shine off of every page. This slice of picture book paradise is an exceptional new baby gift that will be enjoyed by everyone in the family for years. (birth and up)

Other excellent picture books:

Yum! Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Julia Durango (Charlesbridge) (How do people sneeze, laugh, cry, shout hooray all over the world? Darling illustrations punctuate the onomatopoeia that brings cultures together.) (4 and up)
Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Leon and Diane Dillon (Walker) (Man, Frog and Mosquito have a lot of complaints, but Earth Mother understands the balance of nature better than they do and chuckles away. Great for integrating into science lessons!) (4 and up)
The Neat Line Scribbling Through Mother Goose by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Diana Cain Blumenthal (HarperCollins) (In the spirit of Harold and the Purple Crayon,a renegade line travels through the land of nursery rhymes, making itself useful.) (4 and up)
Looking After Little Ellie by Dosh and Mike Archer (Bloomsbury) (Six mice must babysit a darling little elephant.) (3 and up)
I'll See You in the Morning by Mike Jolley and Mique Moriuchi (Chronicle) (This reassuring little bedtime wish reads like a hug and a kiss.) (3 and up)
The Last Badge by George McClements (Hyperion) (A boy scout must decide if he's up to the challenge of earning the coveted Moon Frog Badge. Lively and funny with a twist, this is also a cunning title about conservation.) (5 and up)
Cornelius P. Mud, Are You Ready for Bed? by Barney Saltzberg (Candlewick) (Fans of David Shannon's naughty No David will appreciate thislittle piggy who accomodates his mother in his own special way.) (3 and up)
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Hyperion) (Join in this cozy visit to grandparents' house. A breakthrough effort by the author of the classic novel The Phantom Tollbooth). (4 and up)
The Magic Rabbit by Richard Jesse Watson (Scholastic, Blue Sky Press) (Will it take a magic trick for the rabbit in the hat to make a friend?) (4 and up)
Monster Pet by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Charlotte Middleton (McElderberry) (Oooo, things go awry when we don't take care of our animals.) (5 and up)
Under My Hood, I Have a Hat byKarla Kuskin, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka (HarperCollins) (Charming getting-dressed rhyme for winter, with crisp, bold illustrations.) (3 and up)
Lights Out by Arthur Geisert (Houghton Mifflin) (Rube Goldberg would be proud of this little piggy, who invents the best hand-free way to turn off the lights since "The Clapper." Largely wordless, but the pictures are worth at least a thousand!) (5 and up)

Goha, The Wise Fool by Denys Johnson-Davies, illustrated by Hag Hamdy and Hany (Philomel) (Fetching picture book collection of noodlehead folktales based on the popular Middle Eastern hero. Tentmakers sewed these unique illustrations!) (5 and up)
Nacho and Lolita by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Claudia Rueda (Scholastic) (Love story between a lone pitacoche and a migrating swallow.) (6 and up)
The Magic Rabbit by Richard Jesse Watson (Scholastic) (Can the rabbit pull a friend out of that hat? Vibrant, oversized illustrations make this an especially magical storytime choice.) (3 and up)
Shlemiel Crooks by Anna Olswanger, illustrated by Paula Goodman Koz (Junebug) (Magical realism is the storytelling device here, and it's just what is needed to foil the plot of two nogoodniks out to spoil Passover celebrations.) (6 and up)
A Grand Old Tree by Mary Newell DePalma (Scholastic) (The life cycle of a tree gets a stylized treatment.) (6 and up)
If You Give a Pig a Party by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond (HarperCollins) (Latest in the popular series of cause-and-effect stories.) (3 and up)
The Baby on the Way by Karen English, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Farrar Straus and Giroux) (A grandmother prepares her grandson for the new arrival using her own recollections of her girlhood in a sharecropping family. Stunning folk art is museum quality.) (5 and up)
What's Going On In There? by Geoffery Grahn (Orchard) (Ever wonder what goes on behind the windows of apartment buildings? This guessing book will keep pages turning. Imagination: top floor!) (4 and up)
A New House for Mouse by Petr Horacek (Candlewick) (It's fun helping mouse find his new house through these vibrant die-cut pages. ) (3 and up)
Blueberries for the Queen by John and Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (HarperCollins) (Based on the author's experience of meeting the Netherlands' Queen Wilhelmina in 1942 on a New England farm.) (3 and up)
So Happy! by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Anita Lobel (Greenwillow) (Two giants of children's lit team up to create three simultaneous stories that converge to create a happy ending.) (4 and up)
No Haircut Today! by Elivia Savadier (Roaring Brook) (An especially sensitive portrayal of this rite of passage. Mothers who give in to their children's complaints will especially enjoy this book! Realistic, empathetic, and full of love.) (3 and up)
Flusi the Sock Monster by Bine Brandle (Kane/Miller) (The little sock monster doesn't appreciate being trated like a toy. Expressive illustrations really bring this flight of fancy to life.) (4 and up)
Ther Bora-Bora Dress by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Catherine Stock (Candlewick) (For every little girl who has had trouble picking out what to wear to a party, this one's for you.) (5 and up)
The Have a Good Day Cafe by Frances and Ginger Park, illustrated by Katherine Potter (Lee & Low) (Mike makes a clever culinary choice in order to solve the problem of his parent's failing food cart and his grandmother's homesickness. This story featuring immigrants from Korea has a lot of meat to it!) (6 and up)
Stop This Birthday! by Rowan Cutler, illustrated by Elizabeth McClellan (Chronicle) (The birthday fairy grants Zephyr's wish of a birthday every day,with wild results.) (5 and up)

For more great picture books, check out the archives.


The Giants and the Joneses
by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Greg Swearingen
published by Henry Holt

Jumbeelia and Colette have a lot in common: they are both avid collectors, and they both tire of their collections fairly quickly. The big difference between them is just that: Jumbeelia is a giant, and she has finally found a magic bimplestock to climb down and collect some adorable igglyplops, or human beings…namely, Colette and her siblings! In this time of crisis the brother and sisters slowly begin to cooperate, but will it be in time to escape the dangerous clutches of callous brother Zab, the sharp claws of the spratchkin, or Jumbeelia's thoughtless neglect? Language arts teachers can luxuriate in the linguistic learning opportunities that this charming tale affords; invented Groilish vocabulary abounds and is the most fun since Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. With the help of a glossary, children will soon be bilingual in Giantese, and read-aloud has never felt so fresh and funny. Full of page-turning suspense, interesting problem-solving, themes of empathy and responsibility and distended spot illustrations that deliver us even further into fantasy, this reverse Jack and the Beanstalk has the makings of a classic in its own right, and is one of the most delightful of the year.

Project Mulberry
byLinda Sue Park
published by Clarion

Patrick is psyched to start the project for the Work-Grow-Give-Live Club ("Wiggle" for short) and is eager to come up with something worthy of the state fair. His best friend Julia Song's mother suggests they work together to raise silkworms, but secretly, Julia is writhing: why can't that do something that's not so…Korean? Themes of honesty, prejudice and ethics permeate this story that takes on some heavy topics with a light and readable touch. Nearly every chapter is alternated with a short dialogue between the main character and the author, a kind of interior monologue that gives the reader insight into the writing process, giving this diamond yet another facet to be used in the classroom.

by David Ives
published by HarperCollins

The year is 1863, and thirteen year old Billy Christmas decides to run away from his overbearing mother in St. Louis. "Please do not come east trying to find me as you never will," he warns, and sure enough he heads west, hard-scrabbling out his living as a scribe, taking dictation for illiterate lovelorn cowboys, wistful western wives, disgruntled Indians and customers with complaints. With his trusty stationery and pen, he manages to create a postal circuit for himself, but a dangerous cowpoke is trying like gangbusters to write our hero off and take his turf. The voice throughout this book is charming and original, from clever descriptions ("when I was done reading, Romulus sighed like a man who just et a steak," "Jenny Sneed is a full-uptuous woman") to its protagonist's earnest literary aspirations (with chapter titles such as "Having Been Robbed Again, I Prepare to Live a Moral Civilized Life"). Ives commands his language as one would a good horse along the cliffs and valleys of his exhilarating plot. Besides being one of the funniest books of the season with some of the most endearing characters, the dialect makes for an especially lively read-aloud; let children follow along in their own copies to see with their own eyes what good writing looks like. A bit saucy in parts, but what do you expect? It's the wild, wild west! You will love the adventures of this true man of letters. Yee-hah!

Beany and the Meany
by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by Susanna Natti
published by Candlewick

Beany and the Meany When Beany's best friend is usurped for the upcoming science fair by a new student, she is stuck with chip-on-the-shoulder Kevin. Her teacher assures her that the duo can make do, and in fact, Kevin is good at science; but it is a bit hard for Beany to see past her partner's accusations that she has cooties and suggestions that they experiment to find out what forms boogers. The writing offers a high-success experience for new chapter book readers and contains subtle and sensitive observations, from the strained sleepover as Beany tries not to feel like three is a crowd, to Kevin's defensive responses to any questions that make reference to his overworked mother and strained family life. The story is without the cynicism and sardonic tone of many book being produced these days; even the understated spot illustrations are observant and match the author's genuine affection for the everyday crises that mark the days of grade school. Many girls (and fans of Beverly Cleary) will be charmed to discover this cheerful fictional friend whose heart beats with a familiar rhythm. (7 and up)

The Old Country
by Mordicai Gerstein
published by Roaring Brook

Well, thanks to Mordicai Gerstein's Caldecott-winner The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, we knew could draw, but this proves him to be a double-threat! This ambitious, mysterious novel intoned from the half-warm, half-warning tones of a grandmother who has seen much, young Giselle stares too long into the eyes of a fox and finds she has exchanged shape with the beast. Set in an unspecific "Old Country" during a time of war, the girl-fox struggles to survive and to reunite with her family. Will the fox and the perpetrators of this terrible war ever come to justice? Told with special sympathies toward the most vulnerable, this book has a special potency as a parable for peace. Folkloric and mystifying, this is one memorable trip into the woods. (9 and up)

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid
by Megan Mcdonald, Peter Reynolds
published by Candlewick

"I have to drink at the baby water fountain. And stand in the front row for class pictures. And I always have to be a mouse in school plays…Just once, I'd like a speaking part, not a squeaking part." Such is the voice of Stink, intrepid little brother of the wildly popular Judy Moody, who suffers from the challenges of his size but works it out through a series of hilarious comic strips (both Underdog and Captain Underpants would be proud) and unsuccessful attempts at rushing nature's course. Finding a hero who stands tall in the halls of history helps Stink cope with his short shrift. Zany chapter titles like "Stinkerbell, Shrinkerbell," abundant spot illustrations and witty, irreverent repartee will help reluctant boy readers reach page-turning heights, especially the ones for whom the day when they can slam dunk a basketball wonÕt come soon enough. (7 and up)

Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth
by J. V. Hart, illustrated by Brett Helquist
published by HarperCollins

In order to become such a terrible villain as to be the pirate enemy of Peter Pan, one must have had a rather troubled childhood. And sure enough, we have here the moody and textured character study of Hook, who at one point worked under the terrible captain of a slaveship and sided with the slaves, endured a romantic rivalry with Arthur Darling (someday father of Wendy) and undergoes brutality and estrangement within his family and at his boarding school. Dark and complex, this story is for those brave enough to go to sea, and to watch a brave young heart have shadows cast upon it. Avast, read alongside Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's Peter and the Starcatchers for the full Peter Pan prequel effect. (11 and up)

BabyMouse: Our Hero
by Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm
published by Random House

What little girl doesn't long for glamour, excitement, adventure, being queen of the world? Babymouse is a true new heroine on the pages of children's literature, embodying girl power all the way to the tips of her little curly mousie whiskers. With Walter-Mitty-like aplomb and a surprising amount of attitude, she uses her imagination and the help of her dedicated friend Wilson Weasel to solve monumental problems, like not being invited to Felicia Furrypants's exclusive slumber party. Babymouse's perfectly understandable motivations and perfectly imperfect choices make her sympathetic and recognizable, regardless of her long tail. Fashionable pink-tinted illustrations on every page are eye-candy, especially to the long overlooked population of female reluctant readers. Like candy, it's hard to stop after just one. This fresh and energetic series of graphic novels by a brother-sister team will be snapped up faster than you can set the reading trap. (7 and up)

Each Little Bird That Sings
by Deborah Wiles
published by Harcourt

Declaration is just starting to realize that maybe having a best friend whose family runs a funeral home is not as cool as it once might have been, and the timing couldnÕt be worse. Comfort's own great aunt Florentine has kicked the bucket in her flowerbed, and her emotionally needy and clinically embarrassing cousin Peach has come to stay and harangue her just when she is in the depths of despair. Who could blame Comfort for wanting to hide in her closet with only her dog for company? But this plucky heroine steps up and steps out when the floodwaters come, forcing her to face her feelings about loss and life, maybe even learning enough to write an obituary for her beloved aunt fit to print in the prestigious Aurora County News. A satisfying read for fans of Kate DiCamillo's tear-jerker Because of Winn Dixie, this book wins for best first line ("I come from a family with a lot of dead people") and may win more than that before the year is through. (10 and up)

My Big Sister is So Bossy She Says You Can't Read This Book
by Mary Hershey
published by Harcourt

This is the kind of book that is the reason little girls like to read. When Effie is strong-armed into absconding the key to the St. Dominic Angel Scout treasury by her persuasive sibling, big bucks come up missing. Effie is desperate to replace the money before anyone finds out so she can rescue her family's borderline reputation; however, the stunt she pulls to earn the cash is nothing short of shocking. Realistically resolved and full of recognizable family banter, this book has both heart and humor, a bit of mystery and all of the high spirit that the title suggests. Big sister Maxie is sure to live on in kiddie-lit infamy… be sure to read this saucy book, no matter what she says. (10 and up)

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs
by Betty G. Birney, illustrated by Matt Phelan
published by Atheneum

Sassafras Springs sure seems like small potatoes to Eben McAllister after her reads about the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, but Pa's not shaken. He offers Eben a challenge: find seven bona fide wonders here in his own town, and he'll win a trip to visit relatives in Colorado, where he can see real mountains. Easier said than done! Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Eben learns "thereÕs no place like home" with the help of the inventive narratives of his neighbors. Full of memorable stories within the story, from the mysterious doll that saved Miss Zeldy's life as a child to the ghost story about the "four-legged haint," this book is sure to inspire a closer inspection of one's own backyard. Evocative line drawings and beautiful packaging make this book a pleasure to hold in your hands, and the words inside are just as warm and comfortable on the tongue. This is a perfect classroom read-aloud with all sorts of possibility for integrating into other subjects and projects such as journaling, ancient history, or interviewing one's elders. Wonderful. (9 and up)

You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah!
byFiona Rosenbloom
published by Hyperion

Stacy Friedman is preparing for one of the most important cornerstones of her young life, the coming-of-age celebration in which she will show her knowledge of the Torah, or Jewish holy book. But her concerns are less spiritual and painfully pedestrian as she is sidetracked by a sidewinding friend stealing the object of her affections, and her mother thwarts her best-laid (if expensive) fashion plans. How is a person supposed to succed socially under such conditions? Sassy and outlandish, though not always pretty, this is a telling tidbit about a certain type of girl, and you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy…fans of Judy Blume and suburban stressors especially will fancy this funny cavalcade of pre-adolescent angst and the crushing materialistic concerns of our heroine. If you don't want to laugh, you SO shouldn't read this book. (12 and up) Also of interest: My Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A Memory and Keepsake Journal, which children can personalize themselves.

The Chronicles of Narnia
byC.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes
published by HarperCollins

With the release of the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe comes renewed fervor for the classic fantasy series, released in a variety of formats this season. Favorites are the single volume collection, which contains all seven books unabridged in one handsome volume. The Full-Color Gift Edition Set is a nice introudction to the land of Narnia, containing the first two volumes in oversized but still unabridged editions, with the illustrations given the Ted Turner colorization treatment. The larger type and heavy-duty binding make it a very good choice for slightly younger Narnia enthusiasts, or for teachers reading aloud to a class. Lastly, the Companion to Narnia is a meticulous guidebook to all the little animals, gnomes, fauns and royalty that will be encountered by those who embark upon the seven volume journey. Have a nice trip, and try to resist the Turkish delight. (9 and up)

Guys Write for Guys Read
by Jon Scieszka
published by Viking

Touch´, Mother-Daughter Book Clubs! The boys have arrived, and its time to get the party started. This clever collection is a great springboard into Sceizka's Guys Read initiative, which is popping up all over the country as boys and teens gather to exchange words. This anthology designed to accompany the initiative reads like a who's who of great guys in children's literature: Avi, Louis Sachar, Eoin Colfer, Jack Gantos, Brian Jacques, Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paolini, Mo Willemns, Jerry Spinelli, Dav Pilkey, Richard Peck and many many more all come together to share memoirs, short stories, comic books, drawings and all things testosterone in the name of reading. Besides content filled with page-turning humor, good-hearted mischief, heartbreak and action, there are biographical stats on each "player" as if they were weilding baseball bats instead of pens and brushes, and bibliographies following each passage, as if to say "there's more where that came from!". A good ploy for your good boy,and a great way to get dads involved, too. (10 and up)

Makeovers by Marcia
by Claudia Mills
published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Marcia is less than thrilled when she discovers her eighth grade community service project will entail visits to the local nursing home. Distracted by pre-teen concerns like her perceived weight gain, difficulties in art class and the upcoming dance, working with a bunch of old people is last on her list. When her savvy sister suggests she combine her talent and interest in makeup with her requisite visits, it sets off a series of connections that, in the end, help Marcia get her priorities straight. Mills is a too-often overlooked talent when it comes to the delicate art of capturing the voice of the 'tweenager: "Of course, it was only the second week of school, and Marcia knew that no boy was even thinking of asking a girl to the dance yet. It would take some serious, but subtle, manipulating by the girls to plant the seed of that thought in the dry, stony soil of an eighth grade boy's brain." Marcia's magazine-inspired machinations backfire hilariously, and her relationships with the elderly blossom in a way that is both believable and uncontrived. A nice balance is achieved between who Marcia is trying to be and who she really is, and make her a character that many girls will look upon with both sympathy and empathy. Emotional depth, laugh-out-loud humor and a rhythm that matches the heartbeat of its intended audience mark this well-written story that will inspire community service, self-esteem and an appetite for more books by the author. (11 and up)

The Day It Snowed Tortillas / El Dia Que Nevaron Tortillas: Folktales told in Spanish and English
by Joe Hayes
published by Cinco Puntos Press

Ten folktales from the New Mexican tradition are deftly told in language that makes the tongue itch with a yearning to pass them along. With perfect pacing, it seems one story is better than the next, though I suppose my personal favorite is "Good Advice," in which a poor boy pays good coin in exchange for a little knowledge and puts it to good use. Or perhaps it is "The Cricket," in which a big talker gets himself into a lot of trouble when he insists he is an adivino, a seer who can find lost articles. But what could be funnier than the misunderstood conversation in a graveyard of "Pedro and Diablo," charming as the cumulative tale "The Little Ant," classic as the Cinderella spin-off "Little Gold Star," heartbreaking as the ghost story "La Llorona," or clever as the title story, "The Day It Snowed Tortillas," in which a fast-thinking wife protects her hard-working but careless husband? YouÕll have a good time deciding which one is your favorite, and intermediate-aged children will have an even better time listening to them and trying to retell them. This truly remarkable read-aloud collection has alternating pages in Spanish and English, to insure bilingual storytelling success. (8 and up)

The Legend of the Wandering King
by Laura Gallego Garcia
published by Scholastic

Prince Walid is good-looking, intelligent and talented. But when he meets a poet who can best him, it brings out the worst in His Highness; he forces the poor man to create a carpet showing the history of the entire human race. The poet dies before the project's completion, but what he manages to create is still enough to create madness in men who look upon it. When the carpet is stolen, Walid must go on a journey in order to find the carpet and redeem himself. Based on a real-life story of a king in pre-Muslim Arabia, this unpredictable adventure over the changing sands of both the desert and of fate is sure to set readers' hearts pounding. (11 and up)

Horse Stories
edited by June Crebbin, illustrated by Inga Moore
published by Candlewick

I was never one of those "horsey girls," but even so, I could not resist this handsome volume of fourteen stories divided under such enticing headings as "Difficult Horses," "Dream Horses," "From the Horse's Mouth," "Horses in Danger" and "Horses to the Rescue." It includes selections from such classics as Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague and Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, as well as tales that gallop through history and geography, like the moving Native American legend of the Mud Pony, the Horse of Milk White Jade of fourteenth century Mongolia, the legend of the steed chosen to carry Alexander the Great and the loyal gray palfrey that serves a knight of Medieval times. The equestrian backgrounds of both author and illustrator are evident in the loving care of the selections and the elegant full color plates capturing every flick of tail and toss of mane. Prepare for adventure and romance as you gallop through the pages of this gorgeous gift book. (8 and up)

Postmark Paris: A Story in Stamps
by Leslie Jonath
published by Chronicle

Thanks to her father's temporary position at a university, a nine year old girl finds herself in the city of lights. Working on adding stamps to her collection, she adjusts to her new surroundings and sees the beauty and excitement of the city mirrored on these tiny squares. Even when the girl returns home to the states, she finds in her collection the remembrances of this special time in her life. Told in first person, each page is illustrated with a stamp, and in the end, the reader holds her treasured collection in hand. Like a postage stamp, this book is a small gem, and like the letter it is pasted upon, the story is about finding one's place in the world without forgetting the journey. Delicate, unique, understated and delightful, this book may inspire a new hobby as well as a new outlook for many readers.

Whales on Stilts
by M.T. Anderson
published by Harcourt

Better bring a parachute for this one, readers, because this book goes way over the top! Alpha-nerds rejoice, the techno-hero has arrived in spades as three sharp kids conspire to stand in the way of a mad scientist who plans to take over the world using remote-controlled whales on stilts with laser-beam eyeballs and the ability to control our thoughts. Yes, he probably should be stopped, but the page-turning never does. Though this may be a bit wild for some tastes, there's no denying that Anderson is a daring and inventive writer with the finger on the thumping pulse of the child-as-hero. And while the snarky tone in this first in a series might appeal to Snicket fans, fear not, the endings are sunny in spite of some very unfortunate events. (9 and up)

by Renée Goscinny, Jean-Jacques Sempé
published by Phaidon

After half a century as a French favorite, at last this charming collection of stories about a schoolboy are available to us in English translation, prettily illustrated with spot illustrations by the New Yorker cover giant Sempé. First off, the packaging of this book is pure genius: bound in a material that verges on tight tweed, with the character depicted in gold cloisonné, carrying this book around is as much of a fashion statement as it is a literary statement. The episodic nature of these stories make for marvelous read-aloud, though some of the motifs may be dated (pipe-smoking dad and a doctor who makes a house call are some examples). Good-intentioned mischief prevails, and the great strength of this book is in the voice: pitch-perfect notes of annoyance, outspokenness, distraction, and a generous helping of affection…what are little boys made of?

The Book Without Words : A Fable of Medieval Magic
by Avi
published by Hyperion

Thirteen-year-old Sybil is the servant of Alchemist Thorston, who dies trying to steal her life's breath, but, for better or worse, simply won't stay dead. Thorston's pet raven helps convince Sybil to learn the secrets of alchemy held in the book that only she with the green eyes can read. Avi has a special gift for evoking a setting of tangible Gothic gloom, and infuses his fable with plenty of characters with which to ally oneself or to despise. The cynical cawing companion serves well as a counter to sweet Sybil, and despite all of the dark shadows, this book concocts an ending in which the light of goodness shines. (11 and up)

The Naked Mole-Rat Letters
by Mary Amato
published by Holiday House

Frankie is still grieving the loss of her mother and is none too keen on her father's blooming long-distance romance with a zookeeper in Washington D.C. named Ayanna. When Frankie sends e-mails in an effort to sabotage the relationship, the woman responds wisely with e-mails referring to the small mammals in her charge in reference to the struggles that Frankie is experiencing, ultimately helping her to weather the difficult times she brings upon herself by acting out. The e-mail exchanges are full of candor and humor that are a voyeuristic pleasure to read, and Frankie's spiraling path befits a young girl trying to get to the other side of both pedestrian disappointments (like not getting the lead in the school play) and struggling with larger, more painful issues. Treated with great humanity, this honest portrait of a girl on the edge of crisis and a parent trying to move forward will be recognizable relief to many readers.(11 and up)

More noteworthy fiction:
Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming (Atheneum) (An episodic portrait of a boy who moves from Bombay, India to Hamlin, Illinois.) (9 and up)
The Wedding Planner's Daughter by Coleen Murtagh Paratore (Simon and Schuster) (Stella, glammy single mom and wedding planner, is unaware that her twelve year old daughter Willa sews cherry pits into the hems of her client's gowns. What other secrets and wishes does she have to learn about her quirky kid? Plan on keeping an eye on this new and talented author.) (12 and up)
The Shadows of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz (Delacorte) (In Libya at the end of the 19th century, women are confined to their homes and their rooftops. Malika dreams of more.) (12 and up)
Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami (Delacorte) (Hot new series features three sisters, who have to contend with their Auntie trying to marry off their widowed father. A comic look at the rift between generations and cultures.) (11 and up)
The Crow Girl by Bodil Bredsdorff (Farrar Straus and Giroux) (Translated from the Danish, this story with folkloric tones focuses on a girl searching to find a home after the loss of her grandmother.) (11 and up)
King in the Window by Adam Gopnik (Candlewick), (Francophiles will find a reading fete in this literary fantasy about a boy in Paris who meets a mysterious king with news that he is next in line to wear the crown.) (11 and up)
Rosa, Sola by Carmela A. Martino (Candlewick), (An only child's wish for a baby brother has heart-rending results when her mother's pregnancy doesn't go as planned. A sensitively written novel with strong characterization.) (11 and up)
May Bird and the Happily Ever After: Book One by Jodi Lynn Anderson, illustrated by Leonid Gore (Atheneum), ("Go jump in the lake" takes on new meaning when a dip takes misfit May to the ghostly land of Ever After. Imaginative, spine-tingling storytelling.) (10 and up)
The Magic Nation Thing by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Delacorte), (Abby O'Malley has been trying to ignore the psychic gifts that are part and parcel to being descended from a long line of witches, but the day is coming when she can ignore her talents no longer. A compelling read about fitting in and adjusting to changes as much as it is about magic, by a three-time Newbery honor winner. ) (10 and up)
Drift House by Dale Peck (Bloomsbury), (Take a trip on a house boat…literally… accidentally adrift on the Sea of Time. Bits of metaphysics pepper this perilous adventure.) (11 and up)
Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher (Knopf), (Beautifully written book about a little girl who is born into a family of criminals, but finds her own character through books. ) (10 and up)
The Girl with the Broken Wing by Heather Dyer, illustrated by Peter Bailey (Scholastic), (Who is that fluttering at the window? Is it Peter Pan? No, it's an angel, but by the way she behaves, her halo seems to be on a little crooked. Fans of Dick King-Smith will enjoy this funny little flight. ) (8 and up)
The Top 10 Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade by Ken Derby (Holiday House), (Fifth-grade funnyman Anthony Madison is bent on making an appearance on the David Letterman show, but his attempts may not be halping his schoolwork or his social life. Put this high on your list for reluctant readers…and attention-seekers.) (top-10 and up)
Double Crossing by Eve Tal (Cinco Puntos), (Raizel and her Papa come to America to escape Czarist Russia, but don't anticipate all that they have to give up from their Jewish culture in order to assimilate. An unusual, provocative immigrant story. ) (10 and up)
Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee (Scholastic), (In this companion to the laugh-out-loud Millicent Min, Girl Genius , the stereotype of the over-achieving Asian is smashed in these humorous misadventures of a likable boy who has to miss baksetball camp in order to go to summer school. Yee is one of the funniest writers for children today.) (10 and up)
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick (Scholastic) (Steven will never forget his eighth grade year; it's the year his little brother is diagnosed with leukemia. Told with honesty and a healthy, surprisingly realistic dose of humor, this one is a stand-out on a shelf of issue-driven books.) (12 and up)
Flush by Carl Hiassen (Knopf), (In this companion to the Newbery-honor winning Hoot , Noah tries to stop a casino boat operator from using the ocean as his personal privy. Themes of Conservation and corporate greed continue to get their due on pages penned by Hiassen, so polluters, beware!) (9 and up)
The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney (Greenwillow), (Thomas Ward is going to have to learn the difference between a good witch and a malevolent one if he is going to fill the shoes of the town's Spook, a kind of policeman for local magic. With evil Mother Malkin on the top of the "wanted" list, Thomas has his work cut out for him! A thrilling, chilling debut that is casting a wide spell among readers.) (11 and up)
Magic by the Book by Nina Bernstein(Farrar Straus Giroux), (A shabby, unassuming tome from the library actually transports its readers to another place and time. Fun fantasy for booklovers, and an homage to E. Nesbit! ) (9 and up)
Leon and the Champion Chip by Allen Kurzweil, illustrated by Bret Bertholf (Greenwillow), (Magical realism is the device du jour in this way-out book about a science project gone awry. Companion to the quirky classroom tale Leon and the Spitting Image .) (10 and up)
Absolutely, Positively Not by David LaRochelle (Scholastic), (A lighthearted look at one boy's struggle with sexual identity. Strong characterization and sensitive portayal of the effects of gay-bashing make this book absolutely, positively fresh.) (12 and up)
Deliver Us from Normal by Kate Klise (Scholastic) (Neurotic and sure he knows what people are thinking, Charles is having a really hard time fitting in. After a few twists of fate that send his family packing, our hero is left to wonder: What is normal anyway? ) 1(12 and up)
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf) (Mannered telling shares a summer of old-fashioned fun. Winner of the National Book Award!) (10 and up)
Friends: Stories About New Friends, Old Friends, And Unexpectedly True Friends edited by by Ann Martin and David Levithan (Scholastic) (What could be more fun than a collection of stories about friends from favortite authors such as Meg Cabot, Jennifer Holm, Pam Munoz Ryan and more?) (11 and up)
Who Am I Without Him? : Short Stories About Girls and the Boys in Their Lives by Sharon Flake (Hyperion) (Highly charged first-person vignettes from an African-American female perspective explore the many relationships we can have with the men and boys in our lives.) (12 and up)

Some more favorite fiction may be found under Girl Power or Reading Resuscitation, or in the fiction archives. These recommendations were made with grade-schoolers in mind; please look to Richie's Picks for more young adult literature recommendations!


Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up
by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart
published by Candlewick

Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! Inside this unassuming little brown book are DINOSAURS, people, dinosaurs who bang their tales, battle, take flight, can-can from the sidelines, reach into the treetops, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Tyrannosaurus Rex actually chomps. With the help of genius engineering, hand-assemblage and sturdy full-color paper, Sabuda and Reinhert have managed the miracle of bringing these beasts back to life, though they can be safely laid to rest between the bindings. Lest we forget, there are words in this book, too, informational and conversational and clear. So, if you happen to know any little boy who likes dinosaurs (?!?!), you may want to give this to him, but make sure there are smelling salts handy. (All ages) Also of interest: Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin) , paper collage art by an award-winning non-fiction author, with stunning fold-out pages. (6 and up)

If You Decide To Go To The Moon
by Faith Mcnulty, illustrated by Steven Kellogg
published by Scholastic

"If you decide to go to the moon in your own rocket ship, read this book before you start." In an engaging second person voice, this book prepares the hopeful space explorer for the trip of a lifetime, from measuring deistance to the exciting countdown, to the feelings you will have as you shoot through the void, to the wightlessness in the cabin of your ship to the crater-filled landscape you will encounter upon landing. Kellogg is in the top of his form, his illustrations that make knowing use of poistive and negative space, sometimes busy and other times conveying the stillness and vastness of space. This book also subtly conveys the grace, fragility and richness of earth, our home, as seen from a distance. besides being a great non-fiction read-aloud, the reason you must have this book in your collection is because any child who reads it will feel as close as they can come to visiting the moon…at least, for a few years. (6 and up) Also of interest: Space Station Mars by Daniel Sans Souci (Tricycle), a warm and funny picture book inspired by the author's boyhood attempts with his friends to contact aliens and the scientific explanation of the contact they do manage to make. Sure to inspire an industrious attempt from young readers.

Delivering Justice : W.W. Law and the Fight for Civil Rights
by Jim Haskins, illustrated by Benny Andrews
published by Candlewick

Martin Luther King once said: "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well." On that note, Westley Wallace Law was called to be a mail carrier, and let us say, here lived a great mail carrier who used his connection with his community to foster communication between the races, and who led the Great Savannah Boycott of 1961, which desegregated the city, the first in all of the South. Let us say, here is a great and beautiful book about this great and beautiful man, an admirable, stirring story that too few people know, and that belongs in every collection. (7 and up)

Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask (A Bilingual Cuento)
by Xavier Garza
published by Cinco Puntos Press

Readers get a ringside seat alongside Carlitos, who has been taken to the lucha libre wrestling match by his papa Lupe and Tio Vincente. But where is Tio Vincente? He is missing all of the action: the entrance of the villainous rudos, and the heroic tecnicos who will battle them, all of the characters wearing colorful and dramatic masks and costumes. Best of all is Carlitos' hero, the mysterious Man in the Silver Mask, and it turns out that Tio Vincente might have been closer to the action than Carlitos could ever guess. Garcia does an impressive job of capturing the excitement of a sporting event, but even more so, there is a lot of affection and respect for this high drama of the wrestling matchlucha libre, emblematic of the battle between good and evil and containing a history as colorful as the masks. The narrative is told in English on one page with the Spanish translation on the other. The life of Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez, the book's inspiration, is shared briefly in an author's note at the end, and will have you believing in superheroes. Check out the photographs of real lucha libre stars on the endpapers! Even folks who are not fans of professional wrestling will be drawn into this mysterious world. Believe me, you will have a hard time wrestling this picture book out of the hands of an active little boy. (6 and up)

Sunny Boy: The Life and Times of a Tortoise
by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
published by Farrar Straus Giroux

When you live as long as a tortoise lives, you can expect a few owners. Sunny Boy lived as the pet of several agreeable, docile domesticators: a horticulturalist, a philatelist and a scholar, but ultimately falls into the hands of a daredevil bent on taking Sunny Boy with him on a descent over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Will he ever survive to live out his days in the lap of the little girl in the museum library to whom he feels more suitably matched? Based on actual, if unfortunate events (articulated beautifully in "The Truth Behind the Tale," an authorÕs note at the storyÕs finale), this genial and surprising story demonstrates a love of life, even with all its unexpected twists, turns, losses and leaks. (7 and up) Also out this season by the same author isOur Eleanor : A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life (Atheneum). This attractive volume brings into focus one of the most influential, powerful and inspiring women of this or any time in American history through a rich collection of photographs, anecdotes and well-reserached history. Like her earlier biography Ben Franklin's Almanac : Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman's Life, the information-packed text is hard to read-aloud from start to finish, but since you can pretty much thow a dart on any page and come up with something interesting, it is perfect for pulling out in pieces. The author's ability to translate her own fascination into such detailed and deep-digging tomes really sets her apart as an author of biography, creating portraits that are pleasures for both young and old and offer up historical figures as mentors for a new generation.

Sholom's Treasure: How Sholom Aleichem Became a Writer
by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
published by Farrar Straus Giroux

Little Sholom's life is no picnic, shivering while he studies in the crowded, icy kheyder, abandoning plans of lucrative treasure-hunting when his best friend moves away, and the slings and arrows of a short-tempered, sharp-tongued stepmother are almost more than the unfortunate fellow can bear. Luckily, his ability to notice and imitate the idiosynchrocies of those around him is a source of laughter and light, and allows Sholom to stand out first in his home, and then for the whole wide world to see. This realistic and compelling story of the boyhood of the author of the short stories that would someday inspire Fiddler on the Roof does a dandy job of recreating the life and struggles of the shtetl, and GersteinÕs busy frames further bring the vignettes into focus. Literary legacy aside, though, this biography successfully brings to life a very real little boy who likes to make people laugh and maybe gets into a little bit of trouble here and there. Know any little boys like that? (7 and up)

Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin
published by Candlewick

Oh, to be a child again and pore over the pages in the mystical series of Egyptology, Dragonology, and now, the latest, Wizardology. Those who fear and loathe the occultism of Harry Potter would do well to be wary of this book, but for most, it is like leafing through the crisp and yellowing pages of a real magic tome. Merlin has been most generous with his information: spells, familiars, a chapter on magical flight, on potions and healing transformations, amulets and divination, astrology, and a history of wizardry are just a few of the choice bits of wizard wisdom shared within. A "real" fairy flag, phoenix feather, "beast locator" pendant and tiny set of tarot cards are included. Any aspiring wizard will be glad to be apprised of how to make a wand, what items are necessary for a master wizard's workshop, and what headwear for wizards is in fashion. Bejeweled, bordered and beautiful, this is overall a worthy vessel of the secrets of history's most celebrated wizard, and, as the back cover suggests, is the next best thing to an apprenticeship. It will grant its young recipient with great and onerous powers…of reading, if nothing else. (10 and up)

In the same vein (and the same format) we have the elegant Fairyopolis, Published by Warne Books, allegedly the secret fairy journal of Cicely Mary Barker. Protected and hidden by a society of fairy enthusiasts for over 80 years, and is full of maps, fun facts for young naturalists, little booklets, envelopes, samples of fairy dust and a paper viewer to see fairies yourself. This book was clearly done with a great deal of affection for its subject, and perhaps the great strength of ithe book is its celebration of the journaling form (done largely in a sometimes hard-to-decipher calligraphic font, be forewarned that it is a trial for some). It is important that readers remember that Cicely Mary Barker was a real woman, however real the fairies may or may not be, and her beloved "Flower Fairy" verse and illustration can be further enjoyed in the equally fetching volume, The Deluxe Book of Flower Fairies. (8 and up)

Strong Stuff: Herakles And His Labors
by John Harris, illustrated by Gary Baseman
published by the J. Paul Getty Museum

The Augean Stables. Assignment: Clean them out. Ick. The Girdle of the Amazons. Assignment: Bring it back. The Nemean Lion. Assignment: Kill it. Herakles' twelve "super-difficult jobs" (or labors, as they are more comnmonly known) have never received such hilarious, colloquial and accessible treatment. Difficult or unfamiliar vocabulary are addressed in a "how's that again?" sideline at the bottom of each page. The celebrated cartoonist/animator of "Teacher's Pet" fame brings to life his blow-up-toy muscular version of our hero in a way that will appeal to fans of action figures as well as mythology. Even the most reluctant by reader will revel in literary allusion after delving into these brief and gorey accounts. (7 and up)

Alone in the World : Orphans and Orphanages in America
by Catherine Reef
published by Clarion

With the abundance of popular fiction focusing on the plight of the "orphan," it is a welcome addition to have this comprehensive non-fictional history of real children available to the readers of such romanticized books. Stirring photographs and archival prints deliver us from the filthy almshouses of the early nineteenth century to the conflicted care in the childrenÕs homes formed after the Civil War to the efforts to rescue children suffering from neglect and abuse in our present day. This meticulously researched account will have many readers counting their blessings. (11 and up)

One Red Dot
by David A. Carter
published by Simon and Schuster

Children themselves are often wonderful abstract artists, but it is hard to find books that help children explore abstract art. What could be a more fun way to explore than through a pop-up book? One of the great paper engineers of the book world has created sculptures within these pages, three dimensional pieces and moving parts that helps the imagination spring forth as readily as the folded cardboard. Looking for the red dot on every page is just a bonus bit of fun in this amazing, exuberant book. (4 and up)

And for another fine art book, its two trunks up for Elephants Can Paint, Too by Katya Arnold (Atheneum). From the fascinating point of view of a teacher who teaches sometimes in the city and sometimes in the jungle, we meet a new breed of artist: Asian elephants! Photographs and straightforward text tell the story of how they hold a brush using a trunk ("if an elephant throws the brush away or eats it, he probably won't become an artist") , paint using their own style and even clean up. The results are phenomenal and surprising, and have to be seen to be believed! Additional facts are offset in frames. Anyone who reads this book will come away with a new connection to the animal world, and an appreciation of the plight of the modern-day pachyderm. A rare informational read-aloud, this book also succeeds as a powerful segue into classroom discussions of endangered species. Portions of the profits of this book will go towards conservation projects. (6 and up)

Other Great New Art Books:
Look! by Kyra Teis (This unique and vibrant board book for the youngest reader uses bold multimedia collages and fun, exploratory questions to get babies tuned in to line, color and space. )(birth and up)
I Spy Shapes in Artby Lucy Micklethwait (Children will become familiar with the styles of masters like Magritte, Escher and Kandinsky as they search for geometric shapes in their paintings. ) (4 and up)
Cave Paintings to Picasso: The Inside Scoop on 50 Art Masterpeicesby Henry Sayre (Comprehensive art history introduction for middle schoolers). (11 and up)
Can You Find It, Too? : Search and Discover More Than 150 Details in 20 Works of Art by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (A "Where's Waldo" approach encourages looking in detail at some sophisticated paintings.) (9 and up)

Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable
by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton
published by Candlewick

There has been a growing pile of complaints regarding the unwarranted toilet talk that has permeated children's literature of late, and so it is with great delight to discover a book that does the subject justice. Every page flows over with absolutely fascinating fecal facts, from the double-dose of digesting power that pellets afford to rabbits or the tell-tale dumps of sloths, otters and hippos that speak (or stink) louder than words. The necessity of the dung beetle in the cycle is honored here in a sculpture in South Australia and within these pages, as is the ski-worthy mountains of guano built by bats in Bracken Cave. Earthy, unpretentious illustrations accentuate the vocabulary- and fertilizer-rich content. Overall, a remarkably engaging and informative science book that rises far above its genre's foul beginnings, and will make a novice scientist out of your favorite fart-joke-teller. A must for any bathroom bookshelf, this winner of the BCCB Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book Award also makes for a poop-ular classroom read-aloud. (7 and up)

I Could Do That! : Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote
by Linda Arms White, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
published by Farrar Straus Giroux

From an early age, independent and confident Esther McQuigg has been saying "I can do that." When her mother dies and the family is left to take care of one another, she says "I can do that." When she turns nineteen and it occurs to her to run her own millinery shop, she thinks, "I can do that." She can attend an abolitionist church, she can try to claim land in Illinois, she can raise her son Archy on her own, and she can move to the wild, wild western Wyoming territory. And finally, when it is time to vote in the first territorial elections, why, Esther takes out her trusty teapot and uses her influence to finagle a way she can do that, too. This picture book biography voices tells the true story of a spunky suffragette who became the first female judge, and the first woman in the United States to hold a political office, and the woman who influenced legislature that allowed women in her territory to be able to vote. Homey, wry colored-chalk illustrations are a perfect match to the text; the montage of women receiving the news of their hard-won right springs off of the page. This book is a jubilant celebration of what a can-do attitude can achieve. Tea-pot endpapers also serve as a timeline of the achievement of women's rights throughout the frontier territories. "There are still some countries where womenÕs voices are not heard," the author's note points out. Can this be fixed? I have a feeling some little girl will read those words and think, "I can do that." (7 and up)
Also of interest:
Mama Went to Jail for the Vote by Kathleen Karr, illustrated by Malene Laugesen (Hyperion)
With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman's Right to Vote byAnn Bausum (National Geographic)

The Greatest Potatoes

by Penelope Stowell, illustrated by Sharon Watts
published by Hyperion

Understandably, fry cook George Crum gets frazzled when a famous food critic keeps sending back his potatoes. As a practical joke, he prepares a potato in a way that is unprecendented, cut paper-thin and fried to a crisp, then salted until they sparkle, and serves it up to his nemesis. Is this the death of Crum's carreer, or the birth of the potato chip? Besides being a tasty read-aloud treat, this slice of American culinary historical fiction offers up a side of African-American accomplishment as well. Recipe included, but be very careful when frying food around children; you may just want to by a big bag and pig out in Crum's honor. (6 and up)

Saint Francis Sings to Brother Sun : A Celebration of His Kinship with Nature

byKaren Pandell, illustrated by Bijou Le Tord
published by Candlewick

The life of Saint Francis of Assisi is celebrated using phrasing from his joyful Canticles, and descriptions of the delight and inspiration he found in everyday things. Whether rescuing a village from a ravenous wolf, enlisting the musical aid of a cicada or preaching to a flock of birds, these stories stand on their own in the canon of legend. Named Patron Saint of Ecology by Pope John Paul II, such a life of peace and gratitude deserves to be celebrated by people of all faiths. Well researched, clearly organized, this book also has the secret ingredient of real affection for the subject; this gorgeous, illuminated volume brimming with cheerful, naive art will lift your spirit up and up. (6 and up)
Also of interest:
The Song Of Francis And The Animals byPat Mora, illustrated by David Frampton (Eerdmans) (4 and up)
Saint Francis of Assisi : A Life of Joy byRobert F. Kennedy, illustrated by Dennis Nolan (Hyperion) (8 and up)

Children of the Great Depression
by Russell Freedman
published by Clarion

This Newberywinning author presents a well-organized and moving account of the desperate period in American history, using interviews and other accounts by real people. Black-and-white photographs by great talents of the time such as Dorthea Lange and Russell Evans bring the period into even clearer and more poignant focus. Though at first children may be intimidated by the length of the text, it covers a lot of territory reads in a manner that will prove very accessible and interesting to intermediate readers. (10 and up)

Younger and more reluctant readers will enjoy Welcome to Kit's World: Growing Up During American's Great Depression, part of the handsome American Girl's Collection of non-fiction hardcover history books from a variety of time periods and perspectives (including titles like Welcome to Felicity's World, 1774: Growing Up in Colonial America and Welcome to Kaya's World 1764: Growing Up in a Native American Homeland), a truly vibrant and enticing history series that deserves a place in every classroom and home and, despite the title, will appeal to both genders. The series features full-color as well as black and white historical photos, artist illustrations, paper ephemera, tons of sidelines, with the focus of thecontent always, always geared toward the children of the time, laid out in away that will speak to children of today. An outstanding museum exhibit-like collection that could really go far to creating an enthusiasm for knowing the past, and this is an outstanding volume with which to begin. (8 and up) (12 and up)

Where Willy Went: The Big Story of a Little Sperm
by Nicholas Allan
published by Knopf

At school, Willy isn't very good at math. But he's very good at swimming, and he hopes to beat his nemesis Butch in the race for the big prize, a beautiful egg that lives inside of Mrs. Browne. Go, Willy, go! Nine months later, a girl is born…she isn't very good at math, but she's very good at swimming. This down-to-earth, hilarious book features honest but understated cartoon illustrations, and is a perfect way for even the most skittish parent to start the buzz about the birds and the bees with a child. (5 and up)

Beyond the Great Mountains
by Ed Eoung
published by Chronicle

Textured paper collage illustrations highlighted with Chinese characters are used to create this spare visual poem. The idea that symbols may convey more wisdom than particular instances is at the root of this esoteric book. An unusual vertical formatting of pages works well to evoke both high mountains and deep sleeping seeds. A simple but breathtaking bookmaking model, children can use it as a springboard to creating their own visual poem about a place they love. (7 and up)

Another affectionate Asian perspective may be found in the latest from the "Magic School Bus" posse, Imperial China by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen (Scholastic). this latest addition to the "Miss Frizzle Adventures" series, like the others, is consistently rich in detail, history, and field-trip fun. This book uses a lively combination of comic book narrative and scintillating sidelines to follow along as an inspired teacher time-travels in order to fully celebrate the contributions of a great and powerful culture with her class. A rough read-aloud, this book works better for small groups or independent armchair travel. Any child who reads from this series comes away with a surprising amount of knowledge! (7 and up)

Kid Blink Beats the World
by Don Brown
published by Roaring Brook

In 1899, it was not uncommon for boys to work as "newsies," peddling the consignment copies of newspapers published by millionaires Hearst and Pulitzer. When those magnates decided to charge an extra penny against their workers' wages, this was more than the little boys could bear. "I'm trying to figure how ten cents on a hundred papers can mean more to a millionaire than it does to newsboys," Kid Blink tried to figure. "If they can't spare it, how can we?" So begins the war between the newsies and the moguls, and a war it is, complete with protests, battles, leaders and ploys, many led by surprisingly articulate and earnest children. Peppery dialects and sobering history help to bring this early union battle to life in sepia tones. You wouldn't go wrong to share every one of Don Brown's wonderful picture book biographies with children, always affecting, but this one packs a special punch. Youths of our day will surely be inspired by Kid Blink's righteous indignation and awed by his bravery…can you imagine a child speaking his heart to a mob of five thousand? It was done. (6 and up)

From Rags to Riches: A History of Girls' Clothing in America
by Leslie Sills
published by Holiday House

So many times I have asked girls what they like to do in their spare time, looking for a clue to what they might like to read. "Shop for clothes" is a common answer. At last, here is a book to recommend to these aspiring fashionistas! This snazzy, full-color book explains what chic chiquitas from colonial times to the present day did to stay in vogue, whether it was sporting buckskins, Bishop sleeves or crinkly crinolines. Plenty of period paintings and photographs help to accessorize this nifty bit of non-fiction that introduces history much less painfully than being stuck with a whalebone stay. A note from the author encourages readers to become aware and involved in fair labor practices within the garment industry, and a glossary puts fashion vocabulary at the fingertips of aspiring designers. No loose threads here. (9 and up)

Fooled You! Fakes and Hoaxes through the Years
by Elaine Pascoe, illustrated by Laurie Keller
published by Holt

Inspired by the urban legends and various bogus bric-a-brac received via e-mail, the author has collected a wonderful assortment of "fast ones" from history, from fairies in the garden, mysterious ape-men in the woods, to aliens in the wheat field. Not only does the author do a compelling job of describing the hoaxes, each section puts the tricks in historical context, explaining why they were able to go over so successfully. My favorites were the babbling Princess Caraboo, a character invented by clever 19th Century housemaid Mary Willcocks who fooled the English aristocracy into thinking she was real royalty, and the somewhat gory "Fejee Mermaid," an odd surgical concoction by P.T. Barnum. Several of these unusual stories bring forth the idea that sometimes practical jokes can spin out of control, and are also great for discussion about advertising. Pair with a reading of the John Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Brainfor plenty of humbug fun. (8 and up)

The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela : Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century
by Uri Shulevitz
published by Farrar Straus Giroux

Before there was Marco Polo, there was Benjamin of Tudela, who in the year 1159 left his home in Spain and embarked upon a dangerous, difficult and truly adventurous fourteen year journey through what is modern-day France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt. His Book of Travels, written in Hebrew, inspired this jeweled first-person picture book diary of the world's greatest Jewish traveler of medieval times. This Caldecott-winning artist is at the top of his form, and the story is such that it reminds children of the truth we always hope they gather from books: anything is possible. Historical sidelines abound, and a comprehensive author's note and bibliography are also included. (8 and up)

The Great Brain Book : An Inside Look At The Inside Of Your Head
by HP Newquist, Keith Kasnot and Eric Brace
published by Scholastic

The brain will find a new place in your heart, thanks to this slick reference book that includes some heavy-duty but surprisingly accessible science. From the history of the brain, the way it works, how to train it (falling under the heading "The Care and Feeding of Your Brain"), topics like dreaming and fears and memory, and the future of our brain, there is plenty here to interest readers and to get those neurons a-chugging. Ouststanding for research, this book is also just plain cool, even if you're no brain surgeon…though after you read the whole thing, you may be well on your way. (9 and up) Also of interest: You Can't Use Your Brain If you're a Jellyfish: A Book About Animal Brains by Fred Ehrlich, illustrated by Amanded Haley (Blue Apple) (8 and up).

Mice, Morals and Monkey Business: Life's Lessons from Aesop's Fables
by Chris Wormell
published by Running Press Kids

Bold, handsome woodcuts give this scrapbook of twenty-one of Aesop's conclusions new clout. For those classrooms familiar with the fables, this makes a great addition for discussion and wow, is it beautiful! Hold up each of the plates for an ooh-ahhh from your crowd. (7 and up) Also of interest and for the complete fables in a very fine read-aloud format, try: The McElderry Book of Aesop's Fables by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (McElderry) (7 and up).

The Journey That Saved Curious George : The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey
by Louise Borden, illustrated by Allan Drummond
published by Houghton Mifflin

Many people are familiar of the adventures of that "naughty little monkey," but far fewer know the real-life adventure that brought mischievous George and his creators, to the shores of the United States. It was only fitting that the team of Hans Augusto Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein should first find love in Brazil, where monkeys swung in the trees. But life was not so merry when the couple returned to Paris, soon to be occupied by the Nazis. The Reys had to flee by bicycle, carrying with them few precious possessions, among them a manuscript about a prankish primate "Fifi," an early incarnation of our picture-book hero. This play-by-play will likely still necessitate some historical footing for young readers, but children's book aficionados will go bananas to discover the fruits of the author's meticulous research. (8 and up)

One of the bravest books of the year is Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Scholastic). Bartoletti goes where few authors have dared, looking through the eyes of some of the seven million boys and girls who joined the Nazi party and presenting this view appropriately for young people of today. Her narrative line is completely compelling, sensitively examining the historical motives of their compliance by using their real voices to capture the spirit of these lost souls. Unusual documentation is included about how the recruitment was organized, the components of a Nazi education, the role of the children in the war machine and the young people who became disillusioned, some even daring to resist. Chilling photographs, descriptions and a wealth of oral histories and diary entries help young readers vicariously witness the impact of some very terrible choices and broaden their awareness of how a dictatorship can manipulate a people. Important work, and a must-have for any upper-grade study and discussion of the Second World War. (12 and up)

Also of interest:

The Doll With the Yellow Star by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root (Holt) (A girl separated from loved ones in time of war gets an unexpected reunion.) (8 and up)
Anne Frank by Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Knopf) (Gorgeous picture book biography of the famous wartime diarist. ) (8 and up)
A Friend Called Anne by Jacqueline Van Maarsen, retold for children by Carol Ann Lee (Viking) (Reminiscences of friendship and the war by Anne Frank's best friend, whose Jewish-Catholic family endured their own series of horrors. ) (11 and up)

Children's Miscellany: Useless Information That's Essential To Know
by Matthew Morgan, et al
published by Chronicle

What are the ten deadliest snakes? How do you read a palm? How do you make a paper airplane? How do you say "can you help me" in seven languages? How do you arrange an orchestra? Need an excuse for being late for school? Looking for a career in circus performance? On and on it goes, a compulsively readable treasure trove of trivia that will nicely prepare future comics, test-takers and game-show contestants. This petite hodge-podge is perfect size for packing in a purse for your Pee-Wee to peruse while waiting for food at a restaurant or sitting in traffic. (8 and up)

Special Section: Poetry!
Days to Celebrate : A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More
by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
published by Greenwillow

One of the greatest children's poetry anthologist has gifted us with a year's worth of fantastic poetry. Part calendar, part almanac, part celebration, this book makes every day a special day, and a day to fit in some poetry! A sensational end or beginning of school gift for your favorite padagogue. Pair it with Paul Janeczko's clever A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms (illustrated by Chris Raschka, Candlewick) which introduces the poetically curious to everything from tankas to limericks, double-dactyls, acrostics and triolets, and then some! Astonishing in its breadth and its energy, this book will make everyone more expert than they were, and might be just the kick to get some children loving poetry for life. And if you know a child who would like to try their hand (or pen) at writing their own verse, they could do a lot worse than Jack Prelutsky's Read A Rhyme, Write a Rhyme (gorgeously illustrated by Meilo So, published by Knopf), in which a poems are paired with "poemstarts," helpful little springboards into writing exercises.

If you have one shelf of children's books in your home, let it be poetry! Every single one of these books deserve a place on your shelf:

A Maze Me: Poems for Girls by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow) (Award-winning poet lends her eye to the life of girls.)
Omnibeasts by Douglas Florian (Harcourt) (The best of this poet's many poetry collections about the animal kingdom in one marvelous volume.)
Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O'Connell George, illustrated by Lauren Stringer (Harcourt) (Fun mix of poetry and origami, a great teacher gift! Also, be sure to check out the author's lovely poetry website!)
Sketches from a Spy Tree by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion) (A personal favorite…this very rich collection allows the reader to spend a summer looking out from the boughs of a tree with a reflective friend. This volume will inspire journaling as well as poetry writing! An ambitious and effective departure for the artist as well.)
Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Kyle M. Stone (Harcourt) (A must-have for bibliophiles!)
Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disaster Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Wolf Elbruch(HarperCollins) (Hilarious!)
Poems to Dream Together: Poemas Para Sonar Juntos by Francisco X. Alarcon, illustrated by Paula Barragan (Lee and Low) (Strikingly illustrated, offers free verse in both English and Spanish)
The Animal Rescue Store by Anne Wilson, illustrated by Elizabeth Swados (Scholastic) (The author has a poem and a home for every pet in the store in this collection with extra kid-appeal.)
Mural on Second Avenue and Other City Poems by Lilian Moore, illustrated by Roma Karas (Candlewick) (Take a tour of the city streets with every line!) (11 and up)
Hotel Deep: Light Verse from Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus (Harcourt) (Mysterious poems and illustrations take us into the depths.)
Looking for Jaguar and Other Rain Forest Poems by Susan Katz, illustrated by Lee Christiansen (Greenwillow) (Great for school units!)
Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Becky Prange (Houghton Mifflin)
(Gorgeous wildlife woodcuts accent poems that glide on water.)
Mary Middling and Other Silly Folk by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Katja Bandlow (Clarion) (A refreshing departure from Mother Goose.)
Science Verse by Jon Scieszka (Viking) (This zany and irreverent team never disappoints! Be sure to check out the poem about how dinosaurs are overdone in the classroom.)
A Family of Poems by Caroline Kennedy, illustrated by John Muth (Hyperion) (John Kennedy's daughter anthologizes her family's favorite classic poems for other families to enjoy.)
My House is Singing by Betsy R. Rosenthal, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Harcourt) (Look at everyday things in a whole new way! Great for journaling.)

Other noteworthy nonfiction titles:

Marooned : The Strange but True Adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the Real Robinson Crusoe by Robert Kraske, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Clarion) (No man is an island, but this castaway on Juan Fernandez, 360 miles from Chile, comes close. Read how this man's adventures helped another man pay his debts.) (9 and up)
Good Brother, Bad Brother : The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth by James Cross Giblin (Clarion) (This extremely readable and dramatic biography pulls no punches as it chronicles the rough ride of two actors, one of whom would change history forever by assasinating Abraham Lincoln. ) (10 and up)
Little Bear, You're Star! by Jean Marzollo (Little Brown) (The story of Ursa Major and Minor is the backdrop for a love story between mother and child. Cheerful watercolor illustrations and straightforward storytelling join to make for a perfect introduction to Greek mythology and constellations for the youngest reader or listener.) (5 and up)
Music for the End of Time by Jennifer Bryant, illustrated by Beth Peck (Eerdmanns) (French composer Olivier Messiaen was captured by the Germans during WWII, but while in the camps he was inspired by the song of a nightingale to write his musical composition, "Music for the End of Time," which was played for an appreciative audience of five thousand prisoners. Evocative charcoal and pastel illustrations grace this painful but hopeful true story that is an important addition to Jewish and WWII collections.) (9 and up)
Beyond Jupiter by Dr. Fred Bortz (Franklin Watts) (Would you like to meet one of the most exciting female planetary astronomers of our time? This book reads like a visit with a close friend. Full of color photographs attractively laid out, a timeline, glossary and further resources, this book is out of this world in every sense and a must-have for any girl with her head in the clouds and science in her future. Also, check out the author's website.) (11 and up)
Hot Air : The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie Priceman (Atheneum) (The unlikely flight of a duck, sheep and rooster as the Montgolfiers test their hot-air balloon in 1783 is chornicled in cartoon style. ) (6 and up)
Let Me Play : The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America by Karen Blumenthal (Atheneum) (This detailed account of the battle for giving growing girls an equal opportunity on the athletic field hits it out of the park. ) (11 and up)
Before Hollywood : From Shadow Play to the Silver Screen by Paul Clee (Clarion) (Biography and invention come together in black and white to offer up a must-read history for anyone interested in media literacy, or your favorite hardcore popcorn-crunching. movie-watching preteen. ) (12 and up)
José! Born to Dance by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Raul Colon (Simon and Schuster) (Even as a young immigrant from Mexico, JosÉ find music, dance and dreams in everything he does. An impressionistic tribute to a talented artist. ) (6 and up)
The Great Graph Contest by Loreen Leedy (Holiday House) (A snail's friendly challenge incites his cohorts to start collecting data. Leedy's distinctive collages make math fun! ) (6 and up)
Kitty and Mr. Kipling : Neighbors in Vermont by Lenore Blegvad, illustrated by Erik Blegvad (Margaret McElderry) (A rural town and a little girl get a little shake-up when the eccentric writer and his wife come to town. A real-life story about friendship and acceptance. ) (8 and up)
Hooray for Inventors! by Marcia Williams (Candlewick) (This oversized, colorful, comic-style cataloging of lifestyle-changing catalysts will inspire an afternoon of bellyflopped inspection.) (7 and up)
Wise Guy : The Life and Philosophy of Socrates by M.D. Usher, illustrated by William Bramhall (Farrar Straus Giroux) (A rare and exciting opportunity for modern kids to become acquainted with the life and philosophy of this great ancient Greek thinker in a way that they can absorb. Fictionalized biography stands astride factual sidelines. Great for classroom discussion, and for introducing the idea of "ethics.") (9 and up)
Wild Fibonacci: Nature's Secret Code Revealed by Joy N. Hulme, Carol Schwartz (Tricycle) (This unusual counting book will inspire children to look for patterns both in nature and in math.) (7 and up)
Love That Baby! A Book About Babies for New Brothers, Sisters, Cousins and Friends by Kathryn Lasky,illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (Candlewick) (Once the baby has arrived, young children will appreciate this cheerful owner's guide, which includes what to expect: crying, baby talk, baby games, bathing, and sleeping.) (5 and up)
Dickens: His Work and His World by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Candlewick) (Gorgeous biography, illustrated by the winner of the International Hans Christian Anderson award, offers a very complete overview of Dickens' life and work, including quotes and passages from his masterpieces. Readable for young literary types, it also makes a great gift for upper grade and high school teachers. Also of interest: Shakespeare: His Work and His World ) (7 and up)
How Many Blue Birds Flew Away? : A Counting Book with a Difference by Paul Giganti, illustrated by Donald Crews (Greenwillow) (This bold picture book offers concrete counting challenges that can help prepare children for word problems in math.) (4 and up)
10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War by Philip Caputo (Atheneum) (Direct and immediate text by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist is coupled with full-page photographs, timelines and maps to try to explain all sides of the conflict. Outstanding for both reading and research.) (10 and up)
Ask Albert Einstein by Lynne Barasch (Farrar Straus Giroux) (An unpretentious picture book that answers the following question: what happens when you write a letter to one of the greatest geniuses of the last century to help you with your math homework? Inspired by actual events.) (7 and up)
Hook, Line And Seeker : A Beginners Guide To Fishing, Boating, And Watching Water Wildlife by Jim Arnosky (Scholastic) (Part how-to handbook, part memoir, one of children's literatures great naturalists shares a lifetime of water wisdom in an attractive format of sketches, photographs, and color plates. I don't even like to fish, but I was still hooked.) (9 and up)
To Be Young in America: Growing up with the Country, 1776-1940 by Sheila Cole (Little, Brown) (Packaging with very little kid-appeal hides an amazing book about what life was like for children in times past. Well-reseached, readable and including some of the most appealing historical photographs of any books on the subject, this is one of those exciting titles that suggests you can use trade books instead of text books to teach history. Take children a few steps into this one and they will really enjoy it, cover to cover. ) (10 and up)
Quilt of States by Adrienne Yorinks and Librarians Across the Nation (National Geographic) (An amazing project and resource, as we see the growth of our nation chronologically "pieced" together through Yorkins's artful quilted tributes and historical vignettes contributed by librarians across the land.) (8 and up)
Apple for the Teacher : Thirty Songs for Singing While You Work edited by Jane Yolen (Abrams) (There's precious little on the subject of work for children, and this combination of folk art and folk music arranged by Adam Stemple in full play-it-on-the-piano format is a real find.) (8 and up)

Check out more sensational nonfiction in the Archives!

Special Adult Interest

Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom
by Martha Hamilton, Mitch Weiss
published by Richard C. Owen

This truly generous and invaluable guide written by two seasoned performers is "the" book for creating a new generation of oral storytellers. I discovered the first edition as a teacher, and with a cheerful, can-do voice, it walked me through all the steps of becoming a better storyteller, and sharing that skill with my students. No educator should be without this amazing tool for exploring the power of narrative, and creating an appreciation for the special talent behind the oral tradition. The new edition is an even bigger treasure trove than the first, has a four-week sample timetable for easy use in planning and preparing a storytelling unit (teachers, resist kissing the page, if possible), and includes a DVD that features videos, web links and printable stories. You will be amazed at the stories both you and your students are able to bring to life, the and the confidence and enthusiasm with which you will be able to do it.

32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny : Life Lessons from Teaching
by Phillip Done
published by Touchstone

What can you expect, being a teacher? "When the prince kisses Snow White, someone will say, 'Yuck!' When the princes kisses Cinderella, someone will say, 'Yuck!' When it is time for division, someone will say 'Yuck,' too." You'd need mighty good math skills to count the bits of pithy wisdom, laugh-out-loud anecdotes, and honest answers to such questions as, why would anyone become a teacher, given the challenges that educators face? What six categories does any classroom fall under? And, perhaps most pressing, what do you do when the class pet grows teeth bigger than Bunnicula's? Written in brief vignettes that can fit into a teacherÕs pleasure-reading schedule (a.k.a. a trip to the loo), a bilingual list of the top ten things that teachers say, a hilarious reporting of dinner conversation at a table of teachers and a letter containing a plea to the late great author Roald Dahl are just a few of the seeds of candor and comedy that sweetly wait inside the apple this author has given to every teacher. Phillip Done is the voice of the veteran who knows who he is working for; his love for children shines on every page. If you liked Educating Esmé, you'll really love this book…a great inspiration and pick-me-up for both new and experienced educators.

Last Child in the Woods : Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
by Richard Louv
published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

What an interesting hypothesis: the disconnect modern children have with the natural world allows them fewer developmental opportunities, resulting in cognitive and behavioral disorders. Citing problems such as fewer green spaces, a fear of natural and human dangers, and a growing addiction to television, video games and other "plug-in drugs," modern children miss out on opportunities that are organic to our species, contributing to problems like anxiety, depression, ADHD and obesity. Using well-articulated anecdotal evidence (such as the recent British study suggesting that eight-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name "otter, beetle, and oak tree"), this author compellingly suggests that we turn away from this "denatured childhood" and prioritize nature in the lives of children, because of its restorative quality for children through imaginative play and scientific exploration, and because it will create a generation of reflective environmental stewards who will care for our Earth. Well, it sure couldnÕt hurt.

Books to Grow With : A Guide to Using the Best Childrens Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges
by Cheryl Coon
published by Lutra Press

Though I have long advocated that all good books are character education books, people continue to ask for books that deal directly with issues, making this title one of my most often used and recommended resource of the past year. This extraordinarily comprehensive and approachable guide solves the problem so many teachers and parents face: finding just the right childrenÕs books to address a problems! This author really did her homework in creating this resource of excellent recommendations falling under such clear and helpful headings as sharing, bullies and teasing, feelings, fears, babysitters, stuttering, being gifted, boasting, honesty, sleepovers, self-esteem, adoption, moving, glasses, divorce, strangers, aging, illness, disabilities, death, and many more, making it sure to be dog-eared by booksellers, counselors, physicians, parents and educators. When it comes to prescribing bibliotherapy, Cheryl Coon has the countryÕs best bedside manner, so the next time you have an issue, donÕt reach for a tissue, grab this title instead. And just FYI, this author is a great speaker to boot.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book
by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake
published by Candlewick

When I opened this book, I figured it was just going to be one of those books along the lines of "when mommy goes to work, I'm sad until she gets home" or "I'm sad when I stub my toe," but no, this book isn't about little sad, it's about big, big grown-up sad: the author's exploration of his own grief upon losing his son. When I came to the last wordless page I burst out crying (both times I read it), and initially felt very strongly that this was not a book for children. But on further reflection, this may very well be a book for some children, and more than that it is a great piece of art: honest and beautiful even though it is very painful to read. Really, it is the epitome of a marriage between writer and illustrator…the words tell what the pictures can't always say, and the pictures tell what words can't always express. Anyone who is interested in the power of a book needs to have a look at this one. And thank you to this team for being so brave...I am very sorry for the author's loss, but grateful for this and all the books both he and Quentin Blake have given to the world.
Also of interest: This Book Is for All Kids, but Especially My Sister Libby. Libby Died. by Jack Simon, age 5, As Told to His Mom, Usually at Bedtime (Andrews McMeel Publishers). This is also a brave and powerful book about bereavement which focuses on healing through reflection, and which may renew hope to people with family in hospice.

A Wreath for Emmett Till
by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy
published by Houghton Mifflin

A flawless formalistic testament to the tragic death of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African-American boy who in 1955 was lynched and brutalized after supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. This ambitious poem is a "heroic crown of sonnets," that is, a sequence of interlinked fourteen line-poems written in iambic pentameter, in which the last line becomes the first line of the sonnet that follows, and the fifteenth sonnet is made of the lines of the preceding fourteen. The authorÕs very personal interpretations and reactions to these incidents come together in this format like a miracle. It is shocking to read about something so terrifically ugly and painful in a way that is so inspired and done with such a grace, the words complemented by moody, evocative, abstract tempera paintings. Though the power of this poem will doubtlessly reverberate throughout the ages and is widely advertised and acclaimed throughout the children's book market, its mature content and the many sophisticated literary allusions throughout (includes "sonnet notes" at the back of the book, to explain references) make it more suitable for young adults.

Rebel Bookseller
by Andrew Laties
published by Vox Pop

Oooo, oooo! Here is a dishy little tell-all about the book business that names names and takes no prisoners. Using experiences and insider knowledge garnered over two decades, this legendary, controversial and award-winning bookseller throws it all down. From the philosophy necessary to start an independent store (use "death energy" to move forward in this slightly suicidal aim) to guerilla tactics that bring down the chains (a mildly suggestive section on shoplifting is included), this sometimes funny sometimes alarming memoir-manifesto is going to be a scream for anyone involved in publishing, and is a battle-cry for the next generation of bibliophiles. To be honest, I worked for wild-man Andrew Laties for many years (and am mentioned briefly in these adventures); I can attest to the voice of the man not being far from the voice of this book. A must-read for anyone who has dreampt of owning their own bookstore. The chains will be rattled.

Americans Who Tell the Truth
by Robert Shetterly
published by Dutton

A kind of "coffe table children's book," if there is such a thing, might describe this collection of fifty formal painted portraits of peacemakers, environmentalists, activists, artists and journalists, each accompanied by a quote. The print is in a painfully small font, requiring that the reader have pretty exceptional eyesight, and the quotes are sometimes sophisticated for its intended audience, but the strength of the book is its unusually inclusive and modern cast of movers and shakers (Amy Goodman, Howard Zinn, Muhammad Ali, Samantha Smith and Jonothan Kozol, to name a few), and an exceptional biographical glossary that makes this book a remarkable resource. The format, too, lends itself perfectly to a classroom project: pick a figure from history, choose a quote that exemplifies his or her work, and create a portrait of that person. It is also useful for a discussion on the topic of free speech. Children's literature has had a long history of books that talk about war; it is encouraging to see work that helps children to envision peace, and whose spirits accompany them on this march. A great gift for teachers and a must-have for upper-grade classrooms.

You win! A few words about age recommendations

There has been such an outcry for age recommendations on this "Don't Miss!" page that I am including them, in the hopes you will take them with a grain of salt. The age recommendations are purely based on the earliest point in which I personally would feel comfortable introducing a book to a child showing average development, and I hope you will take the "and up" that follows the recommendations very seriously. Please remember also that children listen at a higher reading level than they may read, so read-aloud offers more versatility. The bottom line in any reading experience should be what the author and artist has to share, and the optimum accessibility may begin at a certain age but does not necessarily end at any age (I'm living proof). Nobody knows your child or student better than you do. Please disregard any and all age recommendations here and anywhere if they inhibit your encouragement of a love of reading, and investigate all books of interest with your unique child or group of children in mind.

For everything you ever wanted to know about choosing books for children, building collections, connecting with authors, reading aloud and any other question you have had about children's literature but were afraid to ask, please consult How to Get Your Child to Love Reading! Have fun!

Can't get enough of that reading stuff?
with more suggestions and links dating from Spring of 1999. Not-very-oldies and still-very-goodies!

Home to Planet Esmé
Links provided for informational purposes and intent.
Please support your local independent bookseller through Booksense.
E-mail with the subject line "join the club" to receive Don't Miss updates!