Silverfin, Young Bond Book 1 by Charlie Higson (Miramax Books/Hyperion, $16.96).
Who was James Bond -- before he was ordering martinis -- "shaken, not stirred" -- and bedding the ladies as Agent 007 In Her Majesty's Secret Service?
The estate of author Ian Fleming has picked British author Charlie Higson to write a prequel series about young James Bond -- and a fine job he does of it, too. This first book finds James at 13 beginning school at Eton after being tutored by his Aunt Charmian in Scotland. It doesn't take long for James to run afoul of bully George Hellebore, son of an American industrialist who is doing genetic research in his fortified castle in the Scottish countryside. Fans of Fleming's work will note that Higson imitates Fleming's style in many ways including coming up with fitting names for characters (Hellebore for the villain, Wilder Lawless for the lovely Scottish lass James meets at the local circus). There's a sci-fi aspect to the plot, but it all comes together rather nicely in the end. The characterization of James makes sense with the man he will become, although the death of his chain-smoking uncle in this book surely would have turned young Bond against cigarettes at an early age. In this book, young James also learns to drive.
Jellybeans by Sylvia Van Ommen (Roaring Book Press, $15.95). All ages.
A cat and a rabbit have a picnic of jellybeans and hot chocolate and muse about heaven and how they might find each other there in this small, perfect gem of a book with its soul-warming sentiments about friendship and the afterlife. The black and white cartoon illustrations perfectly match the story's simple grace and droll humor. The Dutch author-illustrator showed great wisdom in centering her book around that most magical of candies, the jellybean.
The Whole Green World by Tony Johnston (pictures by Elisa Kleven, Farrar Straus Giroux, $15).
The engaging, playful sing-song of Johnston's tribute to the beauty of the world is matched by the detailed, dreamlike paintings of a talented illustrator in this gorgeous picture book, dedicated to Frederick Law Olmsted.
Saint Francis of Assisi, Life of Joy by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (illustrated by Dennis Nolan, Hyperion Books, $18.99.) Ages 5 to 9.
Robert Francis Kennedy Jr., a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council and a devout Catholic, offers a lively, inspiring account of the life of Francis of Assisi, the fascinating 13th century rebel who rejected his father's wealthy lifestyle to become a poor monk, embracing the poorest of the poor, embracing animals, even the rat and the wolf. He would tell his followers: "If a thief steals your socks, you should run after him and give him your shoes." Nolan's paintings are gorgeous; each page contains a verse from the famous prayer of St. Francis.
1000 French Words, 1000 Spanish Words (Berlitz, $9.95 apiece).
Busy, colorful double-page illustrations of different settings -- a supermarket, a kid's bedroom, a restaurant, an amusement park -- offer kid-friendly language vocabulary words (VCR, comic book, etc.) in a fun format perfect for young children (or anyone struggling to learn a language). The paperbacks also come in German, Italian and English for Spanish speakers.
-- Jean Westmoore