IT CAN be hard to find new books that appeal as much as the old favorites. What child's library is complete without the picture books of Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss or Beatrix Potter? Or the classic "Little House" books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the "Great Brain" series by John Fitzgerald and the Ramona and Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary?
These are books to cherish, books children will return to over and over again. It's a stiff standard tojudge by, but there are books to cherish among the holiday offerings from publishers.
Alexandra Day's (almost) wordless picture book, "Carl's Christmas" (Farrar Straus Giroux, $10.95) is such a book. In it, parents leave their trusted Rottweiler, Carl, with the baby; the two embark on a Christmas Eve adventure that captures the spirit of giving in a simple but truly magical way. Day's oil paintings are wonderful.
Astrid Lindgren, Swedish author of the popular Pippi Longstocking books, has a funny and charming little picture book, "Lotta's Christmas Surprise" (illustrated by Ilon Wikland; R & S Books, $13.95), in which a most determined 5-year-old ends up with a Christmas tree in spite of everything. A Christmas Eve thaw rescues a little girl having guilt pangs about a snow lady that pokes fun at a crotchety neighbor in Shirley Hughes' lively "The Snow Lady" (Lothrop Lee & Shepard, $13.95).
Collections of stories are almost sure to please.
One very fine one is Adele Geras' "My Grandmother's Stories: A Collection of Jewish Folk Tales" (illustrated by Jael Jordan; Knopf, $17.95). Geras skillfully weaves 10 traditional tales in with an affectionate memoir of a little girl visiting her grandmother. The stories are both funny and wise: King Solomon teaches a miser to be generous; a husband and wife cheat each other out of the pennies they are "saving"; the chief sage in a mythical village of fools keeps getting his gold shoes muddy.
Another very fine collection (and probably one of the best children's books of the year) is Paul Yee's "Tales From Gold Mountain: Stories of the Chinese in the New World" (paintings by Simon Ng; Macmillan, $14.95). Yee is a noted historian and children's author, and he has written eight original stories which dramatically portray the rough-and-tumble world Chinese immigrants experienced in America. The best are "Sons and Daughters" (about a man whose determination to have sons yields tragic results) and "The Revenge of the Iron Chink" (in which salmon cannery workers get their revenge after their jobs are lost to machines). Each story is adorned with a dramatic Ng painting.
Doubleday offers a sumptuous (and expensive -- $24.95) facsimile of a limited edition of Aleksandr Pushkin's "The Golden Cockerel and Other Fairy Tales," that was published in France in 1925 with illustrations by Boris Zvorykin, a renowned artist who moved to Paris after the Revolution. This lovely book, with its old-fashioned decorative borders and lavish stylized pictures, offers a lively account of the life of Pushkin by Rudolf Nureyev along with four interesting Pushkin stories: two uniquely Russian (and somewhat bizarre) ones, "Golden Cockerel" and "Tale of the Tsar Saltan," and two more familiar ones, a Snow White-like story and the story of the fisherman and his wife. This is truly a collector's item.
More for adults, but instructive for children as well, is Toby Knobel Fluek's beautifully illustrated and moving memoir, "Memories of My Life in a Polish Village" (Knopf, $19.95). Fluek is an accomplished artist and writer, and her beautifully composed drawings and paintings and simple but dramatic text offer a valuable and beautiful testament to a vanished way of life, a detailed account of what it was to be a Jew in rural Poland and to survive the Holocaust. The book impresses with its simplicity.
Every publishing season brings a flood tide of alphabet books and other learning books for the wee ones. This year's entries include Anita Lobel's "Alison's Zinnia" with lavish, full-color paintings of flowers from A to Z, and Ann Jonas' amusing "Aardvarks, Disembark!" (both Greenwillow, $14.95), in which the oddest beasts leave the ark last, so Noah encounters them backward, from zebus to aoudads. Atheneum's "Glorious ABC" ($14.95), illustrations selected by Cooper Edens, offers a nostalgic A-to-Z trip into the past, with the work of artists from 1874 to 1918, including Arthur Rackham, Kate Greenaway, Beatrix Potter and Johnny Gruelle. Brief biographies of the artists are included.
Tana Hoban's beautiful photographs (of eggs in a basket, cracked eggs; a sheep's "front" and "back") make something very special of "Exactly the Opposite" (Greenwillow, $12.95). And award-winning illustrator Peter Sis offers something different to find on every page in "Beach Ball" (Greenwillow, $12.95) with his sprawling colorful "find-it" beach scenes, each one a "theme" of colors, shapes, numbers, etc.
The award for best-illustrated new version of a fairy tale goes to Fred Marcellino for his lavish illustrations of Charles Perrault's classic "Puss in Boots" (Farrar Straus Giroux, $14.95).
In the poetry department, Orchard Books has "Nursery Rhymes," chosen by Zena Sutherland ($21.95), a fine collection of Mother Goose and lesser-known poems, with amusing drawings by Faith Jaques. Kid poet-humorist Jack Prelutsky has another collection, "Something Big Has Been Here" (drawings by James Stevenson; Greenwillow, $14.95), with many amusing poems. Prelutsky isn't the lunatic genius Shel Silverstein is, but the whimsy and wordplay are entertaining.
For beginning readers, ages 8 to 10, Donald Sobol's "Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers" (Morrow, $12.95) offers 10 new brain-teasers of varying interest starring the 10-year-old supersleuth, still solving the crimes that stump his police chief dad.
For readers 12 and up, Jan O'Donnell Klaveness' mystery novel "Keeper of the Light" (Morrow, $12.95) is a real spellbinder, complete with romance, family secrets and murder, set on windswept Cape Hatteras.
There's also plenty of action (and history) in Robert M. McClung's excellent biography "Hugh Glass, Mountain Man" (Morrow, $12.95), who was mauled by a grizzly bear, left for dead and managed to crawl 200 miles through a wilderness full of hostile Indians in 1823. McClung successfully combines the gritty realities of a survival novel (Glass chewing on raw rattlesnake meat) with the psychological realities of what a man like Glass must have been like. His gradual shift from a search for revenge to grudging forgiveness is convincing.