Birdsongs by Betsy Franco and Steve Jenkins (Margaret K. McElderry Books, $16.99). Ages 3 to 7.
Franco offers a nice introduction to backyard birds and their calls in this lovely counting book featuring the stunning collages of Caldecott Honor illustrator Jenkins.
Silly Billy by Anthony Browne (Candlewick Press, $15.99).
A little boy finds relief from his worries through the Guatemalan tradition of the worry doll in this helpful picture book dedicated to "worriers everywhere."
Great Big Guinea Pigs by Susan L. Roth (Bloomsbury Books, $17.95)
A pet guinea pig learns about his extremely large ancestors who lived in a time before exercise wheels and chewing sticks and weighed almost a ton, lived in Venezuela, could swim and had eyes almost on top of their heads. This interesting lesson about evolution is told in the form of a bedtime story to a guinea pig from his mama (who learned it from the newspaper cut up as bedding in the cage!). Roth's textured cut-paper illustrations are interesting and her story is both amusing and informative.
Voyage of Midnight by Michelle Torrey (Alfred Knopf, $15.95, 216 pages).
This fine novel, with its unflinchingly graphic descriptions of the horrors of the slave trade, was inspired by letters written by a planter's son about his experience aboard a slave ship where both slaves and crew were blinded by ophthalmia and the slaves thrown overboard. The author modified the story to create a protagonist with a moral compass and a happier ending. The result is a thrilling adventure about 12-year-old Philip Higgins, a British orphan who has known only the hard life of the workhouse when he tracks down a wealthy uncle and becomes a surgeon's assistant on his uncle's slave ship, gradually becoming enlightened to the true nature of the evil he is participating in.
Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido D'Arezzo (by Susan L. Roth in association with Angelo Mafucci), Houghton Mifflin, $17).
A gifted author-illustrator offers a lovely picture book that tells the story of Guido D'Arezzo and his quest to develop a written system to teach and learn -- and preserve -- music. (Before music notation was developed, songs had to be memorized or they were lost.) Her collage illustrations are always interesting; American composer Victoria Bond was commissioned to set the book to music drawn from the actual Gregorian chant first written by Guido d'Arezzo.
Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara by Elvira Woodruff (pictures by Adam Rex, Knopf, $15.95).
A young girl in Ireland is busy noticing the small beauties in the world around her, whether it be a spiderweb, a pebble, or a butterfly wing, and her gift helps remind her family of home after they are displaced by the Great Potato Famine and must travel to America. Woodruff's poetic words have an Irish lilt.
Black & White by Tana Hoban (Greenwillow, $7.99).
This accordion-style, foldout board book can stand up in baby's crib and its high-contrast black and white pages depicting everyday objects (including bibs and bottles) are designed to interest young babies.
-- Jean Westmoore