We’ve sifted through the latest crop of children’s books to bring you all-out winners. As you shop for toys for your kids this month, don’t forget about books – gifts that can provide countless cherished moments and last into the next generation. Here are a dozen strong picks for the giving season. And don’t miss our quick list of 20 more suggestions for your holiday hunt. Both lists are organized by age appropriateness.
Board books for babies and tots
Jack Wants a Snack
By Pat Schories
(Boyds Mill Press, $7.99)
There’s so much going on in this charming and wordless adventure about a frisky pup whose chief concern is getting to nibble on something. There’s plenty left to a child’s imagination, too. And hooray for that.
Starry Night, Hold Me Tight
By Jean Sagendorph
Illustrated by Kim Siebold
(Running Press Kids, $6.95)
Momma’s deep love for Baby Bear takes center stage in this quiet and heartfelt bedtime tale in a wintry setting. “Momma’s fur is soft and warm, keeping Baby safe in the big snowstorm.”
Ages 3 and up
Illustrated by Jill Howarth
(Running Press Kids, $10.95)
Jing-a-ling-ling, talk about bells on bobtail ringing! Has no one thought ’til now to attach jingly bells to a sweet storybook bearing the words to the famous holiday ditty? Well, maybe it has been done, but these bells are firmly secured and this super-duper board book seems indestructible. (The age recommendation is because of the small parts – the three bells). Howarth’s artwork bursts with holiday happiness. A jingly-jangly treasure guaranteed to make little spirits merry and bright again and again and . . .
The Small World of Paper Toys
By Gérard Lo Monaco
(Little Gestalten, $24.95)
Some children’s books nowadays are so precious they could be in museum cases – or should at least be kept under lock and key. Then again, this small-format pop-up achievement with a big whiff of nostalgia is too wonderful and magical not to share with your children.
On each of 10 splendidly crafted pages, classic toys spring up – from an elephant on wheels and a doll cradle to a fire engine with eight little firefighters. The paper engineering is the finest you’ll find, the spare text playful, perfect. Your heart may melt every time you reach the “lights out” page and the child says “Good night, my toys.”
If you give this as a gift, you (and it) will be well loved. If you’re not aware of the children’s line from the German-based Gestalten imprint, visit little.gestalten.com to discover so many more titles that are as lively, clever and artistically triumphant.
My Wild Family
By Laurent Moreau
(Chronicle Books, $17.99)
What funny and interesting creatures humans are, and that’s the premise of this super-large and handsome season standout: that certain people can remind you of certain animals. Is that Uncle at the head of the table, or a big hungry bear? Mother is likened to a giraffe: “tall and beautiful, everyone notices her. She is also shy and prefers not to stand out.” A little brother is like a bird: “flighty,” with head “often in the clouds,” and also an “excellent singer.”
The contemporary scenes are bold, edgy and bursting with personality and humorous details.
Who Done It?
By Olivier Tallec
(Chronicle Books, $15.99)
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned whodunnit to inspire discussion and debate. Gather little ones around your lap and together solve the delightful mystery on every page. This effort is an enchanting way to test a child’s observation skills.
Each flip of the page brings a new question, and nine or 10 delightful characters (or “suspects”) from which to choose. The 12 mysteries/questions include: “Whose arm hurts?” and “Who ate all the jam?” The sad girl with little scratches on her face is the correct answer to “Who played with the mean cat?” (Solutions are at the back of the book). We adore this one!
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
By Lindsay Mattick
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
(Little Brown, $18)
The true story of the very special baby bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh unfolds on 56 large and lovely pages. Author Mattick is the great-great granddaughter of Henry Colebourn, the Canadian veterinarian and World War I soldier who purchased the bear from a trapper, named it Winnie (after his Winnipeg home), kept it with his unit for a time, then placed it in the London Zoo when the unit shipped out to France.
As you know, A.A. Milne wrote the Pooh stories. It was Milne, with son Christopher Robin, who came upon Winnie at the London Zoo. They frequently visited her, and the boy was even allowed to play with the bear inside her zoo habitat. Winnie inspired Christopher Robin to make up adventures with his stuffed bear in the woods, which inspired Milne to write the famous Pooh tales. Mattick tells the story in loving detail and with sure pride; Blackall’s finely detailed illustrations contain wonderful warmth and expression.
By Kate Louise
Illustrated by Grace Sandford
(Sky Pony Press, $16.99)
This gingerbread man is no pushover, but he’s in a real pickle. When he was made, the baker forgot to add ginger. So since he can’t be sold, he’s stirring up all sorts of trouble in the bake shop, and Sandford’s giddy illustrations really stir up the madness.
The story is ultimately a fine lesson in the importance of being kind and helpful. If you give it as a gift, why not include a recipe and a gingerbread man cookie cutter. And while you’re at it, toss in some fresh ginger.
Home Alone: The Classic Illustrated Storybook
Based on the story written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus
Illustrated by Kim Smith
(Chronicle Books, $17.99)
A bit gutsy, to call your new book a “classic.” Then again, it’s the 25th anniversary of the mega-hit movie in which Kevin McAllister (9-year-old Macauley Culkin), tries to outsmart everyone’s favorite pair of bumbling burglars.
To cut to the chase, this is an absolute ear-to-ear grin, especially when Kevin first realizes he’s home alone at Christmas. He bounces on all the beds, watches tons of TV, eats a giant ice cream sundae for breakfast and rides a toboggan down the staircase (pretending it’s a mountain). Smith’s expertly rendered cartoony artwork adds even more hilarity to this fine trimmed-down version of the 1990 film’s story. Destined to become a family favorite in your home.
Ages 7 and up
LEGO Awesome Ideas
By Daniel Lipkowitz
Here’s eye candy and endless ideas for the LEGO lover in your house or on your Christmas list – especially that creative kid who already has a couple of buckets of the building bricks.
Organized into categories such as Wild West, Outer Space and Modern Metropolis, 200 large pages are artfully packed with ideas. Just some of the projects: extra-terrestrial trees and interplanetary landscapes; robots and alien characters; a space rover and space equipment; cell phone, MP3 player and calculator; a jailhouse, steam train, outlaw hideout and rolling riverboat; a gingerbread man, cakes and a popsicle. And so many more. So go for it kid: create!
Why?: Over 1,111 Answers to Everything
By Crispin Boyer
(National Geographic, $19.99)
Do you know a youngster always quick to ask “Why?” Even if not, this affordable volume provides loads of meaty answers to terrific questions.
Why did pirates fly the skull and crossbones? Why do rainbows appear after a storm? Why don’t we have flying cars yet? Why is the ocean salty? (Plus more than 1,100 other Q&As).
Hey, what’s the smartest animal on Earth? You are! OK, besides humans, that list would include octopuses, dolphins, pigs, nightingales and crows. Who knew?
Fun for the Whole Family
Disney Movie Posters: From Steamboat Willie to Inside Out
By Kevin Luperchio
(Disney Editions, $40)
Who said it?: “I can move! I can walk! I can talk!” Pinocchio, of course, in the 1940 Disney film. This is a spectacular gift to give any movie-loving family for its coffee table, to be treasured for years to come.
The Disney film posters reproduced here in gorgeous living color span 10 decades (Steamboat Willie was a 1928 animated short). On most pages of this hefty volume’s 140 pages you’ll find film posters reproduced in gorgeous living color, each measuring 14 inches high and 11 inches across.
They’re all here, from Mickey Mouse and Pluto vehicles to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, from Dumbo and Lady and the Tramp to Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, from Beauty and the Beast to Toy Story, Chicken Little, Tangled, Ratatouille and this year’s Cinderella. Will provide hours of wide-eyed wonder, while reminding you to watch some of your old favorites with kids who’ve never seen them.
20 More Terrific Titles!
The autumn-into-holidays season is always a biggie in children’s publishing. It can be hard for busy parents to keep up with what’s out there, so here are 20 “sure bets” for your radar. But first, it’s the 50th anniversary of the beloved 1965 TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (airing on Nov. 30 this year), so you’ll find plenty of new efforts celebrating Charlie Brown, Snoopy, their pals, and the work of their late creator Charles M. Schulz. For family enjoyment we especially like these three titles:
- A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe 50th Anniversary Edition; by Schulz (Running Press, ages 3 and up, $12.95). A hardcover reissue of the holiday classic in a handsome slipcover.
- A Box of Peanuts Holiday Wisdom; by Schulz (Running Press, ages 4 and up, $17.95). Three dear and dandy little books are enclosed in their own case: “Be Thankful,” “Be Awesome,” “Be Joyful.”
- The Snoopy Treasures: A Celebration of the World Famous Beagle; by Nat Gertler (Thunder Bay Press, all ages 4 and up, $34.95).Extensive and interactive collection of images and memorabilia for any Snoopy-loving clan.
- Sophie’s Little Library; (DK Publishing, for babies and toddlers, $19.99). You can’t go wrong with this new box sleeve that holds three of the most popular interactive Sophie la girafe board books: Sophie’s Busy Day, Colors, and Peekaboo Sophie!
- Look & Learn Activity Set: ABC and Look and Learn Activity Set: 1-2-3; both by Laura Knowles (Silver Dollar Books, ages 3 and up, $18.95 each). Each strong carrying case holds flash cards, activity book and a large poster.
- Merry Christmas, Squirrels!; by Nancy Rose (Little Brown, ages 3-6, $17). We’re nuts about Mr. Peanuts’ holiday activities, especially as depicted in Rose’s photographs of real squirrels she puts (for real) into her festive hand-crafted scenes.
- The Orq; by David Elliott, illustrated by Lori Nichols (Boyds Mill Press, ages 3 and up, $16.95). A rollicking friendship tale starring Orq the cave boy and his woolly mammoth Woma. (Quick: Say those last three words fast!)
- My First Book of Football: A Rookie Book; by Beth Bugler and Mark Bechtel, illustrations by Bill Hinds (Time Inc. Books & Sports Illustrated Kids, ages 3 and up, $11.95). Fantastic intro to the sport is divided into four quarters and will even help parents out. First title in the all-new Rookie Book series. Watch for more!
- Frog on a Log?; by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field (Scholastic Press, ages 3-5, $16.99). The young one who’s smitten with rhyming books will love this one in which cats sit on mats, parrots on carrots, gophers on sofas and so on.
- Sleeping Beauty; by Sarah Gibb (Albert Whitman & Company, ages 4-7, $16.99). A lovely retelling of the classic story, with fanciful and extraordinary illustrations; for that wide-eye’d lover of fairytales.
- Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas; by Rubin Pingk (Simon & Schuster, ages 4-8, $17.99).Cool red, white and black artwork and a wild story with an epic snowball fight for the young ninja on your list.
- The Whisper; by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ages 4-8, $17.99). Naturally we are a sucker for a story that’s about the magic of reading and creating stories, but the stunning mixed-media paintings elevate this wonderful concept even further.
- Counting Lions: Portraits from the Wild; by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton (Candlewick Press, ages 5-12, $22). Walton’s magnificent charcoal illustrations have much to do with this roaring success. The older age recommendation – for a counting book – is due to the endangered species angle; find excellent supplementary information on the wild animals at the back of this oversized triumph.
- The Story of Diva and Flea; by Mo Willems, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi (Disney-Hyperion, ages 6-8, $17.95). This most unexpected and oh-so special friendship is from two top talents in the children’s book field.
- Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova; by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle Books, ages 6-9, $17.99). Gorgeous and enchanting storybook, ideal for any young ballerina on your list.
- Ultimate Reptileopedia: The Most Complete Reptile Reference Ever; by Christina Wilsdon, (National Geographic Kids, ages 7-10, $24.99). A big-time winner for that lover of lizards (and other slimy critters) who wants to get up close and personal with them all, while devouring hundreds of facts.
- Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation; by Peggy Thomas, illustrations by Stacy Innerst (Calkins Creek, ages 8-12, $16.95). A young history buff will learn that Jefferson did a heckuva lot more than government work. The gently humourous gouche-on-paper art displays only add to the immense appeal.
- A Shiloh Christmas; by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ages 8-12, $17.99). The rescued pup has melted our hearts since 1991 and Naylor now wraps up the Newberry Award-winning series with this warm and full-bodied holiday companion. Just the ticket for gathering the family around and reading aloud together.
- Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?; by Lemony Snicket, with art by Seth. (Little, Brown and Company, ages 8 and up, $16). The hugely popular author wraps up his “All the Wrong Questions” series loaded with both laughs and mysteries; a good choice for a reluctant reader.