The excellence of this year’s crop of gift books for children means there is no need to agonize over which book is best. You can find something just right for all ages and stages of young readers.
FOR LITTLE ONES
My First Farm Friends by Betsy Wallin is a sweet read-and-play combo for babies through preschoolers. Four board books, one for each farmyard favorite—goat, cow, pig and chicken—show daily life on a happy family farm. We see where the animals live, what they eat, how they play and how the whole family works together to take good care of them. We also learn the real names for animals, like father rooster, mother hen and baby chicks; or, for the goats, father buck, mother doe and baby kid. The cute gift box in which the four books are contained is illustrated inside and out and instantly converts into a play barn with a working door. Children can act out the stories and make up new ones using the four sturdy, stand-up animals. A nice touch for tired parents is that each book ends with a sunset and cozy night scene just right for winding down with bedtime reading.
The Family Storybook Treasury: Tales of Laughter, Curiosity, and Fun assembles eight complete picture books and eight poems from the wide world of children’s literature. All are ideal for bedtime or anytime read-aloud sessions. They include Curious George and the Firefighters; Lyle Walks the Dog (starring everyone’s favorite crocodile); Martha Speaks (of PBS fame); Sheep in a Jeep (the hilarious, rhyming easy-reader); Tacky the Penguin; The Great Doughnut Parade; Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed; and the classic Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. All the stories are read aloud on the bonus audio CD. Tucked between books are delightfully random poems: a haiku here, freeform verse or a visual poem there. An enjoyable addition is the “meet the authors and illustrators” section, which gives a bit of background and refers to other works.
If you aren’t familiar with the wild and wonderful art of Caldecott winner Paul O. Zelinsky, now is the time. His “moving parts book” version of Knick-Knack Paddywhack turns the old counting song into an adventure with nonstop action. Every page has pop-ups, flaps, slides, tabs, wheels, pulls and more, and every movement furthers the story or extends the wordplay. The song unfolds (literally) as a boy and his dog wake up to not just one “old man,” but 10. Each little man enacts the words in silly ways until everyone ends up “rolling home” in a joyful heap. Read this one to little kids or let older readers have a go solo. All ages will enjoy the sophisticated paper engineering and detailed illustrations.
Geraldine Cosneau’s All Around the World gives kids (ages 4 to 8) 400 cute stickers to position on huge fold-out illustrations of different biomes: the countryside, African savannah, Sahara desert, North American forest, Amazon rainforest, tropical sea, Australian outback and the Arctic. Each set of animal stickers is organized by habitat, so kids just have to decide where on that particular panorama each critter should go. The stickers are re-positionable, allowing for do-overs and repeat play. On the back of each fold-out are big, dotted outlines of animals, ready to be colored with crayon or marker. There is no text, but every animal and habitat is labeled, and the quirky artwork is enough to take kids on eight environmental adventures. Fold-outs can be removed for display or left in the book to re-do.
Hervé Tullet’s Doodle Cook is an activity book designed to get creative juices flowing in the 5- to 8-year-old set. An award-winning artist whose work appears in the New Yorker, Tullet is also known as the “prince of pre-school books,” and his exuberance is contagious. Young artists get 19 large-format “blank canvas plates” upon which to create masterpieces with crayon, pencil, pastel or marker, guided by a step-by-step recipe. Kids create Scribble Delight, Dot Stew, ZigZag Soup, Crayon Puff Pastries, Thousand Layer Cake and many more masterpieces, leading to the pièce de résistance, an original, from-scratch recipe. To be clear, no actual food is being prepared here, just actual art. Kids too young to read directions will still love to follow them if a grown-up helper reads them aloud. Both jacket flaps reveal examples of “ingredients” for kids to mimic: dots, triangles, blobs, fingerprints, spirals, squiggles and more.
Color scanimation comes to one of the most beloved movies ever in The Wizard of Oz: 10 Classic Scenes from Over the Rainbow, the latest of Rufus Butler Seder’s best-selling scanimation books, which incorporate “moving” images. Framed by a glittery, ruby-red cover (perfect!) is a picture of Dorothy’s ruby slippers tap, tap, tapping the way home. Inside are more iconic moments from the movie brought to life by the author’s technical wizardry, such as Dorothy’s house whirling into the air, the Scarecrow’s dance, the Tin Man’s reawakening, the foursome’s skipping journey down the Yellow Brick Road and the Wicked Witch with her infamous flying monkeys. Each page is faced by a quote from the character at hand, a drawing and a brief synopsis of the plot. Not to be missed: the Wicked Witch meeting her wet and memorable demise: “Oh, what a world!” The book is designed for ages 9 to 12, but anyone old enough to love the movie will love this innovative tribute.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Pop-Up Book, written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake, is the real deal. By this I mean it is the real story with the original illustrator, and even if you or your child hated (or loved, for that matter) the Willy Wonka films, the book came first and it is stellar. What’s new this time around is the pop-up feature. Pairing Dahl’s wacky story and Blake’s mad illustrations with paper engineering seems inevitable, somehow. Slide the tab and Mike Teevee disappears into the television set. Pull another and plunge Veruca down the reject hole in the Nut Room. And of course, there is a bar of chocolate needing only a few tugs to reveal a Golden Ticket. Unlike the movies, this version is guaranteed not to elicit nightmares about Oompa-Loompas and other liberties. Fun for older readers to enjoy on their own and as a read-aloud for younger ones.
Michael Hague, one of America’s most acclaimed illustrators, lends his artistry to 14 favorite stories in Treasured Classics. The “classics” include such stories as “The Grasshopper and the Ant,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Gingerbread Man,” “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Three Little Pigs.” Artwork on every page makes each tale all the more compelling for young readers and listeners. Hague’s style is legendary, full of fantasy and magic, and it honors the drama without infantilizing it. The target audience is 9- to 12-year-olds, if they can be convinced they are not too old for fairy tales. Of course, no one is too old for fairy tales in general—or this collection in particular.
LOOKING & LEARNING
Legendary Journeys: Ships, illustrated by Sebastian Quigley, is written by Brian Lavery, who in his day job is Curator Emeritus of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. The book is like a personal, interactive museum display, full of exploded views, fascinating marginalia and 10 amazing slide-out extensions that double the width and bring the ships to life. Readers take a journey through time from the earliest ships, such as a Greek trireme warship, to modern cargo giants and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. In between are famous vessels like the ships of Columbus, Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ironclad Monitor from the Civil War, the clipper ship Cutty Sark, the ill-fated Titanic and the USS Nimitz from the current naval fleet. Cutaways and cross-sections detail inner and outer workings, and an index rounds out the volume. For ages 8 and up.
My Fabulous Look Book: Fashion Drawing Made Easy claims no drawing skills are required, but whoever uses Karen Phillips’ entertaining guide will build skills soon enough. Budding designers, personal stylists, makeup artists and hairstylists will find a complete kit: 10 pencil colors, teeny sparkly stickers, a die-cut portfolio to show off favorite looks and, most importantly, “art starters”: tons of pale sketch outlines ready to make over. These include various head shots, full body poses and details of hands, feet and bags to inspire hairstyles, clothes of all sorts, plus jewelry and accessories to die for. Tips show how to draw specific effects with cross-hatching, rubbing and layering. Plenty of examples in each category (hair, skin, cheeks, eyes, lips, apparel, shoes and so on) offer authentic technique and inspiration for ages 8 and up.
The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums is the must-have companion for fans of the best-selling Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart. Just as Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance had to pass certain tests of wit to be admitted into the Society, so all fans must pass the “ultimate challenge” within this collection. The variety of puzzles is staggering: Morse code, geography, logic, wordplay, memory, spatial relations, patterns, hidden codes, limericks, sequences and counting in Tamil, to name a few, and all require an extensive knowledge of the stories. Luckily, the book includes a section of “helpful resources” with a glossary, many hints and a sneak peek at the next entry in the series. For ages 8 to 12.