Holiday Picks with Lots of Kid Appeal

Two Christmas books and one Hanukkah title are my first picks for holiday titles this year.

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Duck & Goose: It’s Time for Christmas by Tad Hills

Another winner from Duck & Goose, this board book takes a quietly funny approach to the holidays.  Duck is in a hurry to get somewhere, but Goose wants to linger a bit.  Goose wants to catch snowflakes, slide down hills, build a snow fort, and much more.  It isn’t until the very end of the book that readers learn where Duck was headed in such a hurry.  The illustrations are clever and very inviting, especially to fans of other Duck and Goose books.  The gentle humor and great friendship is exactly what we have come to expect from Hills.  With its short text and board pages, this book will appeal most to children aged 1-3.


It’s Christmas David! by David Shannon

Around Christmas time, everyone always said, “No David!” whenever he tried to do anything!  No peeking at presents, no stealing cookies, no playing with ornaments, no opening presents early.  And then he also had to be patient in lines, be polite at the dinner table, and go to sleep on time.  Of course, David does get into some funny trouble in the book with a reprise of one of the most popular scenes from an earlier David book that is sure to delight young readers.  A grand and very funny look at the holidays that children are sure to relate to.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

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Hanukkah: a Counting Book by Emily Sper

This was a favorite picture book of mine a few years ago, and it is a real joy to see it released as a board book.  The thick board pages work beautifully with the cut outs of the candles.  Turning each page leads to another candle being added to the menorah.  Each page features text in English, Yiddish and Hebrew.  Children can count the candles and also another object related to the holiday.  Young listeners will enjoy the bright colors and simplicity of the book.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

All books are reviewed from books received from the publishers.

The Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux


The Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux by Emily Arnold McCully

Jacques Marsal was intrigued with the prehistoric bones and tools that his teacher showed him.  When he got to see the cave paintings at Font de Gaume, he was amazed.  So when he and three other boys discover a cave, they want to explore it.  Following a tunnel into the earth on their hands and knees, they found an enormous cave.  On the cave walls were paintings that looked like they had just been painted.  They explored the cave for several days, finding paintings even down a deep shaft.  Jacques insisted that they show the paintings to his teacher who at first thought they were playing a trick on him.  But when he saw the paintings and an expert confirmed them, they all knew that they had found a treasure on the walls of the cave. 

McCully tells the tale with plenty of details, allowing readers to understand the time period and the length of time the boys explored the cave.  These details make the history come alive.  The boys are depicted as real boys who play war, explore caves without any equipment and are tempted to keep the cave a secret.  They are human rather than heroes.  McCully’s afterword offers some more of the history of Lascaux, explaining what happened after the book ended. 

McCully’s illustrations done in ink and watercolor have a great contrast between daylight and the caves.  In daylight, the colors are light and vibrant.  The underground illustrations have an effective darkness around them, conveying the thickness of the earth around the caves.  McCully moves successfully between her finely detailed illustrations and the more primitive paintings on the cave itself.  The contrast between the two styles makes sure that readers know that these are depictions of the cave paintings.

A book that should delight readers who enjoy history and adventures.  Use this as a great introduction to the caves themselves and expect to have lots of requests for images from the caves themselves.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Also reviewed by 100 Scope Notes.

Rise of the Darklings: Victorian Faerie Delight


Rise of the Darklings (The Invisible Order Book #1) by Paul Crilley

At twelve years old, Emily Snow has been looking after her younger brother since her parents disappeared.  She tries to earn enough money to feed them both by selling watercress on the streets of Victorian London.  One cold morning on her way to the watercress vendor, Emily encounters several strange small people having a battle.  After the battle, two men approach her to ask her what she witnessed.  Emily refuses to tell them, but that is not the last she will hear from them or from the piskies she saw battling.  In fact, Emily has just entered the confusing and amazing world of the sidhe where both sides want her to help them and no one is telling the truth.  Joined by Jack, a thief from the streets, Emily tries to figure out who she can trust and what her role is in the future of both humans and fey.

This book is a pleasure to read.  Crilley has nicely balanced the world of the fey with the real world of London.  Filled with details about the city, this book’s setting is well drawn and delightfully mixed with the magic and wonder of the sidhe world.  Crilley also offers a feisty heroine who will delight young readers not only with her intelligence but her own guile as she deals with the faeries and The Invisible Order of humans too.  The book reads effortlessly, beginning quickly with the pages whipping by as the adventure heats up.   Children looking for a good read should look no further.  Teachers as well should look to this as a great classroom read with enough action to keep even the most doubtful listener rapt. 

A delight of a novel, this is one of the top faery books I have read for younger readers.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Egmont.

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Little Black Crow


Little Black Crow by Chris Raschka

A little boy sits on a fence and wonders about the life of a little crow.  Where does the crow go in the snow?  Where does it go in a storm?  Who does it meet?  Does it ever complain about the cold and wet?  How does it sleep?  And most vital of all, is it really a boy, like him with similar feelings and wonders?  Raschka takes his spare verse and asks deep questions about animals and their relationship to humans.  Through it all, his watercolor images move, transitioning as the book continues from a black and brown palette to a glory of pinks, blues, oranges and yellows.  Even the illustrations have a minimalist feel to them, just like the verse they leave plenty of room for readers to insert themselves into the book.

Raschka has created a book that really works here.  It is a book that will lead to conversations and questions naturally.  It is a book that is beautifully designed, a book that invites exploration.  Raschka’s illustrations have a freedom, an exquisite carefree feel that works as a foil to the wondering tone of the boy as he tries to understand more clearly the world of the bird. 

A marvelous book, this picture book offers lots of wonder and depth.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

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2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

The Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Awards have been announced.  They recognize literature’s importance to the Australian “national identity, community and economy.”  (I love that!)

Here are the winners in the children’s and young adult categories:


Children’s Fiction

Star Jumps by Lorraine Marwood

Young Adult Fiction

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God by Bill Condon


Their website has information on the books, the authors and comments from the judges on the winners.

Balancing Act: Simple Fun and Math


Balancing Act by Ellen Stoll Walsh

Two mice put together a stick and rock to make a teeter-totter.  With one mouse on each end, they balance.  But when a salamander wants to join in, the teeter-totter tips, until another salamander comes along.  When one frog jumps in, the teeter-totter really tips, but balance is restored with another jumping frog coming on.  Trouble comes along though when a bird wants to join in too.  For a little while there is balance with all of the animals on one side and the bird on the other.  But then the weight is too much for the stick.  All of the animals except the mice head off to do something else.  The mice?  Well, they still have a stick and a rock…

Stoll Walsh has a way with simple stories that really allows them to shine.  Her use of very basic text allows her books to be used with very young children.  Her art is also simplicity itself with its paper collage on a white background.  She uses great color as the animals join in with a bright red salamander, teal frog and blue bird.  At the same time as she is giving an engaging story, she is also introducing the concept of balancing and how to add objects together to make two sides equal.  A book that offers basic math concepts in such a gentle and enjoyable way is very special.

A jolly picture book that offers equal story and concept for preschoolers.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.



ZooBorns! Zoo Babies from around the World by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland

Even without the tie-in to a popular animal blog, this book will fly off your shelves.  Pair gorgeous close-ups of baby animals with clear, concise text and you get lots of appeal.  The book offers a glimpse of animals in a way that is very approachable.  Each pair of pages has five lines of text in a large font and one full-page image of the animals.  Adding to the appeal is the fact that each of the animals is named and offered as an individual.  The fennec fox image alone is worth picking up the book for:

The animals range from the cuddly like foxes and tigers to the strange like aardvarks, hippos and anteaters.  In the rear of the book is more information on each of the animals, though even that will most likely not satisfy a child whose interest is peaked by the book.  I see lots of fennec fox research in my future.

A charming and approachable book that is sure to be enjoyed by many children, this book is appropriate for children aged 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 Best Books

Kirkus Reviews has announced their lists of the 2010 Best Books for Children and Teens.  Interestingly, they have broken their list into categories, making it very easy to head just to the section you are most interested in.  So there are complete lists for children and teens, or you can browse by Animals, Art, Contemporary Novels, Graphic Novels, and many more.  Just paging through, there are so many titles that I have yet to read!  Here’s to new-found great reads.

Jim: A Cautionary Tale

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Jim: a Cautionary Tale by Hilaire Belloc and Mini Grey

Looking for a picture book that is far from sweet and a bit wicked?  Then look no further!  Mini Grey takes the classic tale by Belloc and turns it into a book with lots of tiny details and pop-up pages that make for great fun in reading.  The tale is one of Jim, who went to the zoo with his nurse and then slipped away from her.  He hadn’t gotten far when a lion grabbed him and began to eat him from the feet up.  Jim called for help and a zookeeper came running, but was too late, only Jim’s head was left.  The story is written in verse that is dry and naughty.  The voice of the poem makes what happens that much more unexpected and delightful.  Grey’s illustrations have a modern feel that works well with the tone here.  This is a picture book best shared with children who are slightly older and will understand the dark humor at work.

Belloc’s poem makes a great point from which Grey could build such a book.  Though the writing is decidedly Edwardian, Grey’s modern illustrations work well with it.  Her small touches enliven the book, getting readers interacting with panels to open, a zoo map to view, and a lion’s claws to dodge.  Though we may see modern books as those with a darker edge, it took an Edwardian author to create one of the more dark picture books I have read in a long time.  Children looking for a sudden happy ending will not find one.  They will only find the sly humor of an urn shaped just like Jim’s head that holds his remains.

This is one of those books that readers will either love or hate.  Me?  I absolutely adored it and read it again and again just to get that same jolt from the ending.  You know what kids will love this book.  Get it into their hands!  It would make an ideal holiday gift for that special child with a wicked sense of humor.

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf.

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