The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch (Little Brown, $17.99, 359 pages.) Ages 8 to 12.
With a style eerily similar to the direct address and playful whimsy of Lemony Snicket, an anonymous author concocts a fabulous adventure about two classmates, Cassandra and Max-Ernest, who discover a magician's notebook full of dire warnings that lead them to a spa built like an Egyptian temple and two diabolical villains searching for the fountain of youth. This smart and suspenseful tale offers humor, richly drawn characters and a nifty plot based around synesthesia, a confusion of the senses (someone who hears music and sees colors). Among the memorable points are a hilarious depiction of a mud bath and the use of names to indicate character (Cassandra is always predicting disaster; one of the villains is Ms. Mauvais). Among the delightful details are a mysterious wooden case containing a "symphony of smells."
The Alphabet From A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! by Steve Martin and Roz Chast (Flying Dolphin Press/Doubleday, $17.95).
Those who are amused by anything Steve Martin does may be entertained by this book. The rest can find enjoyment in Roz Chast's brilliant cartoons and ignore Martin's contribution, an alphabet soup of random rhymes that sometimes succeed as funny tongue-twisters when read aloud but more often don't.
Who Will Sing a Lullaby? by Dee Lillegard (illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, Alfred A. Knopf, $15.99.) Ages 3 to 6.
Lillegard's lovely lullaby ("listen to that baby cry!" the birds around the cradle sigh...") is a sweet succession of irresistible, hypnotically rhythmic verses about one bird after another trying to stop a fretful baby's crying. The illustrations are quite a departure for the creature of "Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! I'm Off to the Moon!"
White Magic: Spells to Hold You by Kelly Easton (Wendy Lamb Books, $15.99, 193 pages). Ages 14 and up.
The gifted author of "The Life History of a Star" alternates narrators in this poignant novel of three outsiders at a high school in Santa Monica, Calif., who form a coven to practice positive spells. Yvonne is Romanian and a fortune teller; 15-year-old Chrissie has moved from Vermont after her father's death; Karen is helplessly in love with the wrong boy. Easton offers vivid characters and a true touch in writing about adolescents dealing with loss.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen illustrated by John Schoenherr (Philomel Books, $16.99).
Yolen's lovely, deeply personal story of a late-night expedition to see a Great Horned Owl in the winter woods has been republished on its 20th anniversary so a new generation can enjoy the wonder of nature, the bond between dad and daughter, and Schoenherr's glorious watercolor illustrations, which won him the Caldecott Medal.
Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems (Hyperion, $16.99). Ages 3 to 6.
Since the original "Knuffle Bunny" book, Trixie has graduated to pre-K and disaster results when she takes Knuffle Bunny to school -- and discovers a classmate has the very same bunny! Willems uses expressive cartoons of figures against photographic backdrops of New York City to give his book a marvelous grounding in the real world; his touching and funny story depicts a universal childhood reaction to a crisis and parents stirred to action.
Christmas at Stoney Creek by Stephanie Greene (pictures Chris Sheban) HarperCollins $14.99, 85 pages). All ages.
The author of many fine books for young readers offers a thrilling story of family loyalty, courage and invention in this beautifully crafted tale about a mouse named Pipsqueak and her determination to find Christmas dinner for her family after her father disappears. She bravely heads for the eerily named Land's End, a house in the woods where her uncle was killed and her brother injured in a foraging expedition. Greene vividly evokes the world of a mouse, the terror of predators, the scramble for food in a frozen world, even as her brave heroine devises an ingenious trick to play on the humans.
-- Jean Westmoore