Best Children’s Books

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If books have been taking a back seat lately, set a goal to find time over the holiday break and check out some of these great finds in children's books.

If books have been taking a back seat lately, set a goal to find time over the holiday break. Head to your library, where kids can enjoy storytime on a regular basis.

“Library storytimes provide a fun way to encourage children to develop a love of books through reading, rhyming, singing songs, and interacting with other children,” says Eric Davis, Children’s Librarian at the Clifton branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

The holidays, he adds, “are a perfect time to visit your local library branch, check out great books, and share in the joy of reading together as a family. Developing your child’s early literacy skills is the best gift you can give.”

For a complete list of Library storytimes and programs, visit programs.CincinnatiLibrary.org.

When you go to the library with your children, let them bring their very own tote, choose their own books, and even lug them home themselves.

For busy parents still on the prowl for gifts for their kids and others, we’ve combed through the bountiful crop of 2014 children’s books. Here are some sure bets, organized by age appropriateness.

Happy reading together!

Just for the Holidays

Little Blue Truck

Little Blue Truck’s Christmas
by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99)
Beep! Beep! Beep! December’s here! Little Blue Truck is full of cheer. As Little Blue delivers Christmas trees, there’s much merry activity for young eyes to gaze upon, and counting opportunities for those who are ready. The pages of smooth and sturdy cardstock will be hard to destroy. Bonus: real flashing holiday lights on the last page (batteries included). Ages 0 – 3.

Star Bright-A Christmas Story

Star Bright: A Christmas Story
by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds
(Atheneum, $16.99)
There’s a reason you hear that simple is often best. A very special baby has been born and the newest and smallest angel is fretful (she’s all a-flutter), because she can’t think of just the right gift to present to the child. The dominant purple hues lend a strong feeling of love and warmth to masterful illustrations. Ages 4 – 8.

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel
by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by David Slonim
(Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99)
Bubbe swallowed a dreidel she thought was a bagel. Could that be fatal? She goes on to swallow oil, latkes, brisket, even a menorah. The cartoony illustrations take on more oomph with the addition of some playful takes on famous artworks (from da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” to Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans”). A terrific Hanukkah title. Ages 4 – 8.

Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book

Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book
by Diane Muldrow
(Golden Books/Random House, $9.99)
Dear to our hearts (since 1942) are the Little Golden Books with gold-foil spines, upbeat stories and happy, jewel-tones artwork. A fetching selection of images from favorite Golden Books are gathered into this generous (96 pages) gem. Comfy-cozy, enchanting, and many subtle lessons and reminders. All ages.

Happy 75th, Rudolph

That’s right, the frisky lad has been lighting the way, gleeful and sure, since 1939. To boot, the beloved 1964 television special turns 50 this year. Here are two new books to celebrate the milestone birthdays:

Rudolph PopUp

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Special Edition Pop-Up Book
(Silver Dolphin Books, $19.95)
The actual images from the TV special were used to create the elaborate, large-scale pop-ups. Wonderful eye candy for the whole family. Ages 3 and up.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 75th Anniversary Edition
by Robert L. May, illustrated by Antonio Javier Caparo
(Little Simon, $17.99)
Experience the original story, created by May when the Montgomery Ward department store wanted a Christmas story to give away to customers. May wrote in bouncy verse reminiscent of the familiar The Night Before Christmas. Ages 4 and up.

Board Books for Baby

Touch and Feel Animal Library

Touch and Feel Animal Library
(DK Publishing, $19.99)
Three popular “critter” board books from DK are together in a thick cardboard case. Kids are asked to “tickle” the orangutan’s reddish hair, “pet” the velvety fur of the jaguar, “feel” the snake’s scales, the “fluffy” yellow ducklings, and so on. The shiny covers will attract a wee one’s eyes. The construction of each is sturdy as can be. Ages 1 – 4.

Kids Look & Learn series- Dogs and Things That Go

National Geographic Kids Look & Learn series: Dogs and Things That Go
($6.99 each)
Can you find … a dog with ears that are floppy, or with ears that stick up? In the second book, tots learn basic things about vehicles from cars to fire engines to airplanes. For both, National Geographic employs real photographs and has a neat way of offering details that are basic, yet also more intriguing than obvious. Meant to teach a budding child in a gradual way, this series is built to last. Ages 2 – 5.

Color for Baby

Color for Baby
by Yana Peel
(Big Picture Press, $21.99)
The welcome surprise here is the low price for this boxed set, another winner in the Art for Baby series. Each of four books folds out accordian-style. Famous works by contemporary artists have been reproduced on both sides of each book. The 40 or so works, each one handily identified, are organized by dominant color, so there’s one book for green, red, yellow and blue. Among the artists represented: Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Henri Matisse, Roy Lichtenstein. Brilliant concept. Ages 2 – 5.

Picture Books

The Nuts-Bedtime at the Nut House

The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House
by Eric Litwin, illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Little, Brown, $18)
It’s time for nighty-night but Mama Nut’s having a heckuva bedtime tug-of-war with her sweet little Wally Nut and Hazel Nut. All of them are just – nuts! From the bestselling author of “Pete the Cat,” this one’s a must for every playful family. Story ends with a Nutty Lullaby you can sing along with; free download at TheNutFamily.com. Ages 2 – 6.

Mighty Dads

Mighty Dads
by Joan Holub, illustrated by James Dean
(Scholastic Press, $16.99)
Mighty dads, strong and tall, Help their children, young and small. Do you know a youngster who, at the moment, chiefly cares about cars, trucks, tanks and such? From the creator of “Pete the Cat,” the vibrant art in primary colors bursts with action and personality. Main message: that strong dads (vehicle “characters” here) teach their tykes all sorts of things and also provide protection, hugs, cheers, love. In this rhyming romp, a child is introduced to the bulldozer, crane, cement mixer and more. Ages 3 – 5.

Flora and the Penguin

Flora and the Penguin
by Molly Idle
(Chronicle, $16.99)
Wordless books are hot, and this one’s a standout on ice – with unusually clever lift-the-flaps architecture. In Idle’s “Flora and the Flamingo” (which received a Caldecott Honor last year), the wide-eyed little girl did ballet with the tall pink bird. This time, she glides o’er the ice with a jaunty little penguin. The pair swirl and soar in harmony, but also have their problems with one another – much like any friends do. The graceful animation of the artwork, in muted shades of periwinkle, enhance this quiet story’s sense of wonder. Ages 3 – 5.

Gus & Me

Gus & Me
by Keith Richards, art by Theodora Dupree Richards
(Little Brown, $18)
A quirky array of pen-and-ink plus collage art by Richards’ daughter creates a burst of love, nostalgia and energy as the iconic rocker relates “The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar,” the book’s subtitle. Richards was heavily influenced by his Granddad Dupree, who “would hum whole symphonies.” Parents will adore this as least as much as their kids. Includes a CD featuring the Rolling Stones musician. Ages 3 – 6.

The Book With No Pictures

The Book With No Pictures
by B.J. Novak
(Dial Books for Young Readers, $17.99)
Maybe you’ve heard of this one from the writer, director and actor (he played Ryan on “The Office”), because it’s been hanging out at the No. 1 spot on picture-book bestseller lists even though there are zero pictures. This giggles-galore achievement embraces the notion of just being goofy together. Get set for those in your household to go around reciting things such as “Glurr-Ga-Wocko ma-GRUMPH-a-doo!” Ages 3 – 7.

The Hug Machine

The Hug Machine
by Scott Campbell
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.99)
Yikes and yippee, here comes the little Hug Machine – and no one or no thing (even if it’s spiky) is exempt from his stretched-out arms and sweet embrace. His hugs “make the biggest feel small” and “the smallest feel big.” Campbell’s expressive watercolor images are so full of love you might just start hugging this adorable book. Ages 4 – 8.

Baby Bear

Baby Bear
by Kadir Nelson
(Balzer & Bray, $17.99)
Nelson, one of the most gifted and lauded artists in the field, strikes again. His gorgeous dark paintings lend a soothing quality to this story of Baby Bear, who is lost in the forest and must rely on help from other animals and also learn to trust his instincts. “When I am lost, I sit very still and try to listen to my heart,” is advice from the gigantic Moose, who seems to stare smack into the eyes of any young listener. “It speaks as softly and as sweetly as a gentle breeze. And it is never wrong. It will lead you home.” Ages 4 – 8.

Pig and Small

Pig and Small
by Alex Latimer
(Peachtree, $15.95)
Sometimes it takes a little while for a friendship to find its footing – especially when two are so different. Such is the case with Pig and Bug. We adore Latimer’s playful pictures, which provide much to enjoy and ponder. Ages 4 – 8.

Stella’s Starliner

Stella’s Starliner
by Rosemary Wells
(Candlewick Press, $15.99)
Tiny, portable homes are trending these days, yes? The incomparable Wells, author of some 120 picture books, delivers another bright charmer. Here, the little fox girl Stella lives in a small house on wheels that’s “as silver as a comet in the sky.” Weasels tease her about it, and hurt her feelings. But she comes to learn she has everything she needs in life. The things that matter, that is. Ages 4 – 8.

Once Upon an Alphabet

Once Upon an Alphabet
by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel Books, $26.99).
From the talent behind “The Day the Crayons Quit” comes this tall and thick – 112 pages – ABC book like no other. Each of our 26 letters gets its own brief and outrageous tale, such as “The Terrible Typewriter” for “T.” We especially love the clever arrangement of the wacky (and top-drawer) contemporary art. The humor is absurd, sometimes even sick or morbid. So, yes, it takes a certain family to embrace this one, but we know such families are out there. Ages 5 – grownups.

Johnny Cash

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash
by G. Neri, illustrated by A.G. Ford
(Candlewick Press, (Candlewick Press, $16.99)
It’s unusual, to choose an extra-large picture-book format for a meaty biography aimed toward older kids. It might not seem cool, reading a a book in the style typically for those still being read to. But please consider this a worthy exception. The Man in Black rose from harsh times in Arkansas to become a legend (and died in Nashville in 2003). His story can be hugely inspirational to any youngster with big dreams. Ford’s dark and expansive oil paintings lend an extra layer or richness to a life told here in free verse life. Gather the family around for this one, and enjoy it together over a period of time. Ages 9 – 14.

For Young Readers

Dory Fantasmagory

Dory Fantasmagory
by Abby Hanlon
(Dial, 153 pages, $14.99)
For the reader who has run out of Junie B. Jones titles to devour, the spirited and irresistible Dory is just the ticket. The author drew inspiration from first graders she used to teach. Dory is constantly tormented by older siblings, and her story is superbly enhanced by Hanlon’s own goofy, childlike drawings. Ages 6 – 8.

Leroy Nicker Saddles Up

Leroy Nicker Saddles Up
by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
(Candlewick Press, 96 pages, $12.99)
Two top talents in children’s lit launch Tales from Decawoo Drive, a new series. The series features Leroy, who wants to be a cowboy, his most particular horse Maybelline, and an entertaining cast of supporting characters. Ages 6 – 9.

The Diamond Mystery

The Diamond Mystery
— and —
The Hotel Mystery
by Martin Widmark, illustrated by Helena Willis
(Grosset & Dunlap, 80 pages, $5.99 each)
Widmark is a “literary giant” in Sweden; his entertaining Whodunit Detective Agency series with delightful color illustrations has sold millions of copies there. This entertaining series starring two kid detectives, Jerry and Maya, is just hitting this country. Ages 7 – 9.

The Yeti Files-Meet the Bigfeet

The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet
by Kevin Sherry
(Scholastic Press, 122 pages, $8.99)
A yeti, of course, is a cryptid, and a cryptid is a “hidden animal whose existence has never been proven.” Here’s the start to another new series, this one entirely for kids who want crazy pictures on every page, and laughs above all else. Ages 7 – 10.

Ken Jennings Junior Guides- Outer Space

Ken Jennings’ Junior Guides: Outer Space
by Ken Jennings, illustrated by Mike Lowery
(Little Simon, 160 pages, $19.99)
Jennings, the all-time Jeopardy! champ (74-game winning streak), produces this fact-packed series for kids who love to know more than their parents. Wowza. Ages 8 – 10.

Lug Dawn of the Ice Age

Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age
by David Zeltser
(Egmont USA, 182 pages, $15.99)
Laughs worked for The Flintstones, and there’s plenty of fun in this startup to a new series set in the Stone Age. The title character is a caveboy who prefers to paint in his secret cave, rather than act like the wild savage others expect him to be. Ages 8 – 12.

Try This- 50 Fun  Experiments for the  Mad Scientist in You

Try This: 50 Fun Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You
by Karen Romano Young, photographs by Matthew Rakola
(National Geographic Kids, 160 pages, $16.99)
Toothbrush robots! Racing rocket balloons! Blue-glow your own hands! Cricket training (the bug not the sport)! Step-by-step instructions and loads of awesome facts. Ages 10 and up.

Fashion

The Fashion Book
(DK, 169 pages, $15.99)
Kids are into fashion like never before. Here’s a feast for that set, with everything from history and how-to’s to bios on fashion icons and detailed information on fabrics, materials, fashion terminology, you name it. A jam-packed and handsome resource. Ages 10 and up.

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