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Holiday books for kids

In an age when even toddlers have I-Pads in crashproof rubber cases, loaded with games and their personalized NetFlix account, a case can still be made for the tactile experience of words on paper, for turning pages, for the gorgeous full-page illustrations of a bound book.

Among the wonderful book offerings from publishers this year are:

Christmas books

Margaret Wise Brown’s lovely child’s-eye view of the Christmas story, “Christmas in the Barn,” first published in 1952, is reprinted in a lovely new edition (HarperCollins, $17.99) with gorgeous illustrations in oil paint, pastel pencil and marker by beloved “Llama Llama” book creator Anna Dewdney, who died of brain cancer in September at the age of 50.

For teen readers, “The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily” (Alfred A. Knopf, $17.99) is a real Christmas treat from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (collaborators on “Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares” and “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist”).  Dash and Lily are appealing characters, New York City at holiday time is an irresistible backdrop and there’s a real depth of emotion as Lily grapples with the reality of the failing health of her beloved grandfather and Dash concocts an elaborate strategy to cheer her up that includes a rooftop ice-skating party complete with glitter shower that goes disastrously awry.

Picture Books

The unusual Animals Are Delicious by Sarah Hutt (illustrated by David Ladd and Stephanie Anderson; Phaidon; $17.95) is a slipcase containing three board books, that fold out 6-feet long, to detail animal food chains in the ocean, sky and forest with playful language and brightly colored stylized illustrations that are big on science, yet short on gore.

The handsome, oversize “My Very First Mother Goose,” (Candlewick Press, $24.99, edited by Iona Opie) with beautiful, often playful illustrations by the incomparable Rosemary Wells, (her Jack and Jill strongly resembling Well’s beloved Max and Ruby siblings), has been republished as a 20th anniversary edition and is a must for any child’s library.  From Henry Holt ($19.99) comes a 50th anniversary edition of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?,” the first collaboration by Bill Martin Jr. and brilliant illustrator Eric Carle, complete with a CD of the story read by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Alphabet Books

Oversize pages display the intriguing letter shapes rendered in imaginatively composed objects, flora or fauna (hedge clippers form a capital Y, posed next to a topiary-lower-case Y in a pot next to it) in Norman Messenger’s handsome “An Artist’s Alphabet” (Candlewick, $17.99). On a sillier note, “An Excessive Alphabet: Avalanches of As to Zillions of Zs” (Atheneum Books, $17.99) is an amusing guessing game from Judi and Ron Barrett (creators of “Cloudy, With a Chance of Meatballs”).

Crossing Niagara: The Death-Defying Tightrope Adventures of the Great Blondin by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press, $17.99) is a marvelous picture book, with oversize illustrations including a four-page foldout of Blondin performing feats on his rope including walking with his feet in washtubs and doing somersaults at Niagara Falls.

From Niagara Falls, Ont., native Jon Klassen comes “We Found a Hat” (Candlewick Press, $17.99) a wondrous and funny picture book, with illustrations created digitally and with powdered graphite, the last – and best- in a trilogy of picture books starring animals and hats.

Nonfiction Books

The rain forest comes alive in fluid 3-D Motion as pages are moved - a tree frog blinks his big eyes, a monkey scratches his back, a snake flicks its tongue - in the entertaining “Jungle: A Photicular Book” (by Dan Kainen and Kathy Wollard, Workman Publishing, 24 pages. $25.95) (Previous titles include “Ocean” and “Safari.”

Super Cool Tech (DK, $24.99), with a silver laptop-styled cover, explores the exploding world of technology, from Hoverboards, to the 3Dvarius (a playable electric violin created with a 3-D printer), the Artiphon Instrument 1 (a guitar, piano, violin and drum machine all in one), the RFID tags used to track athletes’ performance and much, much more. One particularly fascinating chapter looks at the world’s tallest skyscraper, the 200-floor Burj Khalifa in Dubai; the ultramodern Blue Planet aquarium in Copenhagan, Denmark, and the Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, which is rebuilt each year using blocks of ice from the nearby River Torne.

The spectacular, oversize “Under Water/Under Earth” by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski (Big Picture Press/Candlewick, $35) with interesting often humorous cartoon text and marvelous illustrations opens one way to explore the depths of the ocean, then flips for an exploration of life deep inside the earth. (Revelations about life underground include a giant earthworm in Australia that can grow up to 10 feet long, and explorations of an anthill, burrowing animals,edible roots, underground utilities, tunnels and more.)


For Harry Potter fans, Scholastic has published the second book in its marvelous illustrated series, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” with marvelous illustrations by Jim Kay (Scholastic, $39.99) including a fabulous depiction of Diagon Alley spread over four pages.
Children’s Novels for ages 8 to 12

Jennifer Weiner offers a thoroughly entertaining adventure and the first installment of a trilogy, in The Littlest Bigfoot (Simon & Schuster, $16.99) of a collision between the world of Bigfoot and human at a hippy-styled summer camp in upstate New York, offering suspense, humor and a positive message about body image.

“Baby Sitters Club” author Ann Martin offers a worthy spinoff of Betty MacDonald’s beloved Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books with “Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure” (also by Annie Parnell; illustrated by Ben Hatke; Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 ) which finds Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s grand-niece taking over the task of curing children of their bad behavior. (And how we love the names: Heavenly Earwig, Trillium Tickle).

Middle school might be hell, but there’s a special kind of crazy at work at Vanguard One Middle School when an artificial intelligence experiment goes wrong in the suspenseful, hilarious Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger ( Amulet Books, $14.95) which takes quite a few jabs at standardized testing.

There’s a history lesson with the humor in Jennifer L. Holm’s marvelous novel “Full of Beans” (Random House, $16.99)  set in Key West during the Great Depression when FDR’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration came up with what seemed to the locals like a crazy idea of making Key West into a tourist destination. Beans Curry narrates the tale in memorable style: “Me and the gang were sitting on Duval Street watching our toenails grow.”


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