The world's most complete guide on how to never grow up could be trusted to no one but the editors of Klutz, bringers of countless kits and books aimed spot-on at getting kids to amuse themselves, learn something and have a great time. The Encyclopedia of Immaturity is a must-have reference: a whopping 400-plus pages of invaluable how-tos guaranteed to reduce your mental and emotional age. Learn, for example, how to fake a concussion in study hall, how to whistle with your fingers, how to make a soda explode several feet into the air and how to play tunes on a telephone keypad. Low-tech and hands-on, the handy hardbound spiral format is also hands-free, meaning the book remains open while kids try to spin a basketball on one finger, play Cat's Cradle with a buddy or practice smashing a grape through their own head. In a high-tech, overscheduled world, a kid might need a bit of help just to be a kid. With entries ranging from obnoxious, funny, cool, clever, weird, to just plain gross, The Encyclopedia of Immaturity is a one-size-fits-all solution.

Hardly a likely subject for a children's book, World War I becomes a captivating one in Archie's War. Author Marcia Williams has turned several epic tales into comic-book-like creations, but for the story of a fictional 10-year-old English boy during the Great War she uses a different approach. The book looks and feels like a beloved, dog-eared scrapbook filled with illustrated journal entries, mementos, newspaper clippings, letters and drawings galore that make life at the home front come alive. The drawings are charmingly na•ve, scampering across the pages with the exuberant, egotistical imagination peculiar to childhood. A sense of the war at large gradually emerges from Archie's small world: from overheard conversations to news announcements, the buzz on the street and changing day-to-day routines. Busy marginalia anchors readers with facts on people, places and events, and a glossary demystifies some of the more obscure (and always interesting) Britishisms.

Nonfiction offerings are plentiful and extreme this season, with many books utilizing multiple flashy features like pop-ups, flaps, books-within-books and even sound and lights. Alive: The Living, Breathing Human Body Book claims all of the above, which makes it an apt and irresistible multi-sensory introduction to biology. The brain twinkles, the heart beats and the multi-layered model of the digestive system is realistic enough to register on the gross-out scale. Particularly noteworthy is the spooky pop-up skull, but even the photos and illustrations flat on the page are captivating. All the fantastic paper engineering is in tune with the book's generous content: It's packed with facts organized for clarity and comprehension. Adults may wonder why school textbooks can't be this exciting, and indeed the author must have he is a former high-school science teacher!

Don't let the page count fool you. Extreme Dinosaurs by Robert Mash is an everything-kids-want-to-know reference shockingly full of information. Pull-outs, gate-folds, flaps, moving parts, booklets and posters treble the space, and do so with an appealing layout and fantastic artwork. Charts, timelines and a fun quiz punctuate the text. Emphasis is on the extreme the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, the scariest, the smartest but the overall presentation is well rounded and thorough. Dino fans will undoubtedly be extremely pleased.

Sometimes first things are best. This first encyclopedia for young children packs in enough basic information to actually come close to the claim of its title: Everything You Need to Know: An Encyclopedia for Inquiring Young Minds. The book has the feel of an older generation of children's reference, but in a good way: Information is calmly and logically arranged without undue distraction. Colorful, detailed drawings, not photographs, illustrate the text. Also, it is structured by theme (Animals, Plants, My Body, People Through Time, etc.) rather than by alphabet, making it user-friendly for kids browsing on their own.

An unsinkable subject for books, the world's most famous ship outdoes itself with this one: Titanic written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Brian Sanders. Fans of Titanic lore far too young to watch the Hollywood movies will love the whole package, starting with the fun-to-open magnetized doors of the cover. Inside is a banquet of goodies: facsimile documents tucked into pockets (a ticket, a newspaper clipping and a rather poignant menu card showing first- and third-class selections), a deck plan and personal histories of some of the key personalities. But what will really float their boat is the elaborate two-and-a-half foot long pop-up paper model of the ocean liner itself. Supporting this spectacle is an enclosed book detailing the ship's history, the tragic timeline of events and the results of recent investigations into what truly sank the ship and how. Speaking as the parent of a child who once created and wore a cardboard Titanic at Halloween, I predict this book will be a clear hit for any gift-giver.

Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, a Newbery Honor book that sparked a whole series of follow-up novels, has been fascinating even the most reluctant readers for 20 years. The story of a boy stranded alone and unprepared in the Canadian wilderness has perennial appeal, especially when the unrelenting drama and spare, muscular prose is rooted in the author's personal experiences. Brian, the 13-year-old protagonist, struggles with challenge after challenge internal and external and gradually accumulates the skill, fortitude and self-reliance to keep himself going.

In celebration of two decades of continuing popularity, a new hardcover anniversary edition of Hatchet adds three things: an introduction and ongoing commentary by Paulsen, plus gorgeous line drawings by artist Drew Willis. The handwritten notes and pen-and-ink sketches are scattered throughout the text like sepia-toned pages ripped from a weathered field journal, giving the book an intimate, journal-like quality, as if Paulsen himself is guiding us through Brian's adventures.

Hatchet is all adventure, and which kind is the most horrifying is difficult to say: a dead pilot, a crash-landing, a tornado, wild animals, starvation or the prospect of parents headed for divorce. For young readers dealing with a world composed of shades of gray, Hatchet presents a welcome, vicarious scenario of black and white, perish or survive. This handsome gift edition is a real treat.

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