America the Beautiful by Robert Sabuda (Simon and Schuster, $26.95). A master paper engineer lifts the pop-up book to glorious heights in "America the Beautiful," a beautiful but fragile keepsake that opens to reveal one delicate 3-D marvel after another. The book begins with the Golden Gate Bridge in orange with delicate boats below on a bay of turquoise. Then comes a family farm complete with scarecrow, windmill and tractor ("amber waves of grain"). Then come wondrous scenes of Mount Rushmore, Mesa Verde, a paddleboat on the Mississippi River and the Capitol with the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool. The grand finale is a majestic New York City skyline with a small inset book reprinting the song's other stirring verses accompanied by small but lovely pop-ups of the World Trade Towers, the Liberty Bell, the space shuttle and a bald eagle. The colors are subtle and lovely, the construction all in white with accents of reflective foil and some color in the backgrounds. This is not so much for children as for grown-ups who will handle it with the care it deserves.
Twice as Nice by Nicole Rubel (Farrar, Straus Giroux, $16.50). This amusing, informative picture book from a talented author-illustrator (who is herself a twin) covers all the bases about twindom, from the biological facts of life about why there are twins, to annoying questions people ask twins, to "advice for parents, teachers and friends of twins." (For example, "don't compare us all the time" and "please try to tell us apart.") There are interviews with young twins, a collection of twin riddles, the Bible story of Jacob and Esau, facts about animal twins, and stories of amazing twins, including advice columnists Abigail Van Buren and Ann Landers. One interesting page deals with identical twins Jim Springer and Jim Lewis who were raised separately but whose lives were similar in amazing ways.
The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket, illustrations by Brett Helquist (HarperCollins, 323 pages, $11.99). The misfortunes of the three Baudelaire orphans continue to multiply in the 11th volume of the hugely popular "Unfortunate Events" series. This time Violet, Klaus and Sunny find themselves up on a decrepit submarine dubbed the Queequeg (a character from Herman Melville's "Moby Dick") still fleeing the hideous Count Olaf. Most of the action centers around saving little Sunny, who finds herself stuck inside a diving helmet with a particularly toxic strain of mushroom. As usual, what happens is less important than the wordplay, obscure references and caustic asides that will amuse older readers but surely be lost on anybody under 16. (As the orphans stumble into a dark underwater cave, young Sunny mumbles "Hewenkella" for instance.) There are references to Melville and Edgar Guest, killer mushrooms and Greek philosophy and an antidote involving a Japanese equivalent of horseradish.