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A gift guide for young readers

There’s a good argument to be made for the pleasure of turning glossy pages, of admiring beautiful illustrations, of lining up several books by a favorite author on a bedroom shelf. This year’s bounty of books for young people includes a number that would be keepers for any child’s – or teen’s – permanent library collection.

Christmas books

Acclaimed Michigan author Gloria Whelan, who won the National Book Award for “Homeless Bird,” offers a charming and heartwarming tale of undisciplined Irish monk Brother Cuthbert, whose messy but creative printing style makes him ideally suited to the task of illuminating a manuscript of the Christmas story in “Smudge and the Book of Mistakes: A Christmas Story” (Sleeping Bear Press, $17.95), with lively illustrations by Stephen Costanza. “Just Right for Christmas,” by Birdie Black & Rosalind Beardshaw (Nosy Crow, $15.99), is the sweet story of a red cloak for a princess that yields enough cloth scraps to make a jacket for a kitchen maid’s mother, then a hat for badger, gloves for squirrel, a scarf for mouse. Uri Shulevitz’s gorgeous Caldecott Honor Book “Snow,” (Farrar Straus Giroux, $7.99), which tells of a gray urban landscape slowly transformed, has taken on new life as a sturdy board book.

Counting and alphabet

An impatient moose won’t wait for his turn in this hilarious, entirely original approach to an alphabet book in “Z Is for Moose” by Kelly Bingham; illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky (Greenwillow Books, $16.99). Adorable photos of baby pandas, otters and sloths are accompanied by hilarious captions (“I’m flat-out pooped from playing with my panda pals”) in Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland’s charming “ABC ZooBorns!” (Beach Lane Books, $12.99). Keith Baker follows up his New York Times best-seller “LMNO Peas” with “123 Peas” (Beach Lane Books, $16.99), zany and educational number fun with splashy playful illustrations of peas rowing boats, fishing, painting, jumping in pools, all the way up to 60 peas watching fireworks.


Harper reprinted E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” ($8.99) with the original illustrations by Garth Williams and a foreword by Kate DiCamillo in this, the book’s 60th anniversary year in a lovely hardcover.

From Square Fish comes a 50th anniversary edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery Medal-winning “A Wrinkle in Time,” ($9.99), that marvelous tale of time travel and redemptive love, with a new foreword by Katherine Paterson. Fans of the book will love the fabulous and faithful graphic novel version from Hope Larson (Farrar Straus Giroux, $19.99).

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books (edited by Caroline Fraser, $75), minus illustrations, are revealed as a fascinating narrative of pioneer life for all ages in a two-volume box set from the Library of America Collection with all eight books plus “The First Four Years” about Wilder’s early married life and fascinating extra material including a 1937 speech the author made at a Book Fair in Detroit.

Gillian Cross, author of Carnegie Medal-winning “Wolf,” offers an accessible, dramatic retelling of “The Odyssey” (Candlewick Press, $19.99) with intriguing illustrations by British artist Neil Packer.

The Disney cartoon version will be wiped from your memory by this handsome new edition of Carlo Collodi’s beloved “Pinocchio” (New York Review Children’s Collection, $24.95), translated by Geoffrey Brock, with an introduction by Umberto Eco and brilliant, full-page color illustrations by pre-eminent Italian illustrator Fulvio Testa.

Petra Mathers’ angular illustrations are very droll in “The McElderry Book of Mother Goose” (Margaret K. McElderry Books, $21.99), a collection of less familiar nursery rhymes including “I Saw a Fishpond All on Fire.”

From Running Press comes the latest nifty Steampunk Classic, “Steampunk: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” ($18.95) with appropriately Gothic-Victorian nightmarish, atmospheric illustrations – including a very different vision of “the creature” – by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac. (First was Poe, next up is H.G. Wells.)

Classics, the sequel

Peter Rabbit makes an accidental visit to Scotland in actress Emma Thompson’s amusing update of Beatrix Potter in “The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit,” illustrations by Eleanor Taylor (Frederick Warne & Co., $19.99), which comes with a CD read by the author.

Jacqueline Kelly, who won Newbery Honors for “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate,” offers a delicious, faithful update of Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 classic in “Return to the Willows,” illustrations by Clint G. Young (Henry Holt, $19.99) complete with the first sentence of “Pride and Prejudice” as it applies to Toad.

Perennial favorites

Ian Falconer’s willful pig heroine has never been more hilarious than in her angst over the peer pressure to be a princess in “Olivia and the Fairy Princess” (Atheneum, $17.99), dedicated “with deepest apologies to Martha Graham.”

“Knuffle Bunny” creator Mo Willems has invented a hilarious upside-down fairy tale in “Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs” (Balzer and Bray, $17.99) targeted at “dinosaur ages Triassic to Jurassic.”

Worthy picture books

Holly Meade’s gorgeous woodcut illustrations and David Elliott’s playful poetry bring to life the sea horse, the shark (“the fin, the skin, the brutal grin”) and the sea turtle in “In the Sea” (Candlewick, $16.99), their third collaboration.

The father and daughter team of Ed and Rebecca Emberley give a joyous Cajun twist and a refreshing nod to the grasshopper and his music-making rather than the traditional lecture about hard work in this rollicking “The Ant and the Grasshopper” (Roaring Brook Press, $16.99) with riotous paintings in neon-bright colors.


From Workman Publishing (publisher of the simpler but marvelous Scanimation children’s books) comes a “photicular book,” titled “Safari” ($24.95) from “artist-inventor” Dan Kainen, who uses sliding lenses and video imagery to create 3-D moving images of eight animals, including a cheetah (running), a gorilla (munching on a blade of grass) and an elephant (flapping his ears). The accompanying first-person photo essay is by former National Geographic writer Carol Kaufmann.

The joy of her Maine childhood and the thrill of skating on an open pond and a rink on a backyard garden are evoked in Ellen Bryan Obed’s “Twelve Kinds of Ice” (Houghton Mifflin, $16.99), with illustrations by Barbara McClintock.

Middle-grade readers (ages 8 to 12)

“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio (Alfred A. Knopf, $15.99) is the uplifting story of a boy born with a severe facial deformity and his battle for acceptance when he enrolls in school for the first time.

Trenton Lee Stewart brings together an unfortunate orphan, a decrepit mansion and rumors of treasure with a redemptive message in “The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict” (Little, Brown, $17.99), a marvelous prequel to his wonderful Mysterious Benedict Society series, which is available in paperback.

An orphan, a murder, a dastardly plot involving the throne are part of “The False Prince” (Scholastic Press, $17.99), a marvelous, old-fashioned swashbuckler from Jennifer A. Nielsen, the first installment of what promises to be an amusing Ascendance Trilogy.

Blue Jay the pirate and his crew on the Grosbeak plunder seeds and such from other ships but must battle for their lives with the villainous Crow Teach and his evil henchmen in “The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate” (Candlewick Press, $17.99), a fabulous debut novel decorated with gorgeous pen and ink illustrations (including maps) by author Scott Nash.

Young adult (ages 12 and up)

My favorite book of the year, “Bitterblue” by Kristin Cashore (Dial Books, 539 pages $19.99) is an enthralling fantasy with memorable characters, a vivid setting and a political backdrop of a kingdom traumatized by the predations of a sadistic ruler. It’s a sequel to “Graceling” and companion to “Fire,” and all three would make a lovely gift.

“The Other Normals” by Ned Vizzini (Balzer & Bray, 387 pages $17.99), author of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” is a wild and inventive fantasy of a 15-year-old boy who wants to be a hero and finds himself suspended between realities, of a summer camp where he must make a human connection to please his parents and the alternative reality of his favorite role-playing game with life and death odds.