Bank Street’s Children’s Librarian Lisa Von Drasek on Buying Books for holiday gifts

December 19, 2011 at 11:19 am 1 comment

Books to Give Kids You Don’t Know Very Well

So, there I was in the Bank Street College Bookstore, looking for my holiday gifts when I found myself helping other shoppers find the perfect book for their nieces, nephews, grandchildren and young cousins. I must have lost track of time and was startled when I heard my husband shout over from the stairs, “She doesn’t work here! Lisa, get back to your own shopping!”

My gift to readers for this holiday season is the 4th annual Books to Give Kids You Don’t Know Very Well.the time of year when we’re asked to recommend titles for that 4-year-old niece who is dying to learn to read (Mo Willems, Elephant and Piggie books, Disney/Hyperion), chapter books for that five-year-old emerging reader who lives in another state (Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick), the young adult cousin who can’t wait for theHunger Games movie, (Divergent by Veronica Roth, HarperCollins/Katherine Tegan; Legend by Marie Lu, Penguin/Putnam; or Variant by Robinson Wells, HarperTeen).

I’ve organized the selections by age levels and interest; below are suggestions for younger children and for kids who just don’t like books (yet).

Board Books for New Family Members

Baby Animals, a series that includes the titles PetsIn the Jungle  and In the  Forest, various authors, Macmillan/Kingfisher. $5.99 each

Heavy stock board covered with close-up glossy photos of adorable baby gorillas, parrots and deer (there’s a reason is so popular).

  The More We Get Together and You Are My Sunshine illus. by Caroline Jayne Church, Scholastic, $6.99 each

Shiny metallic covers envelope two classic songs with quietly sweet illustrations that embody friendship and love.

Little Black Book and Little Pink Book by Renée Khatami, Random House. $8.99 each

From the soft fluffy “touch and feel” fur of the black bunny to the page “seek and find” of licorice shapes, these are delightfully interactive color concept books.

Preschoolers Ages 3 to 5

If You’re Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre, pictures by Jackie Urbanovic, HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 16.99

A joyously buoyant retelling of the song “If your happy and you know it” with hoppy bunnies, growly bears and flappy butterflies.

Ages 3 and Up

I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal, S&S/Atheneum, 14.99

A little boy is missing his stuffed monkey. Willy reminisces about past events that Bobo helped him through like going down a steep slide and walking past a big dog. He has looked everywhere! There isn’t a family who hasn’t experienced the loss of a treasured comfort object.

Mine! by Shutta Crum, pictures by Patrice Barton, RH/Knopf, 16.99

A toddler explains to a baby that the toys – a stuffed giraffe, starfish, airplane and ball are “Mine…mine…mine” until the dog decides that they all need a good washing.

Bears! Bears! Bears! by Bob Barner, Chronicle, 14.95

Cut paper collage and rhyming words depict a variety of bears from “Polar bears dive for an icy seal” to “Sun bears lick up a sticky meal” in this fact-filled information book.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Hachette/Little Brown, $16.99

Beginning with the endpapers as the moon smiles benevolently down on the woodland creatures, we sing the familiar tune. As dusk descends, we follow a chipmunk on a fantasy journey into the evening sky and back again. Caldecott winner, Pinkney paints a dreamy bedtime tale.

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, RH/Schwartz and Wade, 16.99

A wordless tour de force, Raschka paints in loose lines rendering a dog who is enthralled with big red ball. He rolls with it, bounces with it and naps with it on the comfy green and blue striped couch. One day at the dog park, the ball is snatched by another dog and burst. We see that our little dog is bereft as the pictures display the stages of grief over his loss. Don’t worry, although it takes time, things do turn out all right.

Kids Who Just Don’t Like Books

A book?! (the child’s face falls in disappointment as the wrapping is torn off). If that is the anticipated reaction, let’s try to turn it around.

Aesop’s Fables: A Pop-up Book of Classic Tales, illustrated by Chris Beatrice and Bruce Whatley, Little Simon, 27.99, Ages 5 and up

Familiar tales like The Lion and the Mouseand The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggare rendered in 3-D, pop-up glory. The lion leaps off the page struggling in the hunter’s ropes, Tortoise and Rabbit inhabit a lush garden while Crow teases a Fox at the top of a tree that looms twice the book width high.

Bob Staake’s Look! A Book!A Zany Seek-And-Find Adventure, Hachette/Little Brown 16.99, Ages 3 and up

For the fans of the Walter Wick, I Spy Books, this is a volume jam-packed with graphic silly, absurd and teeny tiny images to engage readers. This is the book for the holiday trip on trains, planes and automobiles.

   How to Speak Wookie: A Manual for Intergalactic Communicationby Wu Kee Smith, Illustrations by JAKe, Chronicle, 16.95

No really. Want give a Wookie directions in a starship? “AHH ARGH, ARRGHH!” That phrase translates to “Turn Right. Right!” or “Jump to hyperspace”? AARRR WWGGH WAANH” If we are still unsure of the correct pronunciation, the author has provided digital audio for ten commonly used Wookie phrases. I can’t stop playing with it.

The Worst-Case ScenarioSurvive-0-pedia Junior Edition, Chronicle, 16.99

This one is an accidental pick. Faced with two boys that needed to be entertained for a couple of hours while waiting for the Thanksgiving turkey, I grabbed this from a stack of book. It worked. Want to know how to survive an avalanche? A shipwreck? Living on a deserted island? An active volcano? No problem. Start reading.

Short Story Collections

Ages 9 and Up

Guys Read: Thrilleredited by Jon Scieszka, illustrations by Brett Helquist, HarperCollins/Walden Pond, $16.99

The Guys Read series is back with a compilation of mystery stories by rock-star authors including M.T. Anderson, Gennifer Choldenko, Bruce Hale, Anthony Horowitz, and James Patterson. These are page-turning tales of pirates, smugglers, and detectives.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, HMH, $24.99; Brilliance Audio

For a weirdly compelling collection, look no further than The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. In 1984, Van Allsburg produced a book of 14 captioned illustrations, titled The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, using the conceit that each drawing came from a different story. The illustrations are humorous, mysterious, whimsical and at times absurd, with images like a wallpaper bird coming to life and flying out a window. The idea comes full circle inThe Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a book of stories inspired by the pictures, written by fourteen authors including Kate DiCamillo, Gregory Maguire, Stephen King, Lois Lowry and Cory Doctorow. Or, maybe not. According to the introduction by Lemony Snicket, the writers will confirm or deny their involvement.

Young Adult

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, includes stories by Garth Nix, Holly Black, Cory Doctorow and Cassandra Clare, Candlewick, $22.99

For Young Adult readers, there’s no better introduction to steampunk than this collection. How do we define this science fiction sub-genre? Is it fantasy set in a parallel world? Or is it science fiction with Victorian manners and modern technologies based on steam engineering? These stories of mad inventors, child inventors, mysterious murders and steampunk fairies are the perfect entry into this fascinating world.

Wimpy Kid Lovers

Tale of a Sixth Grade Muppet by Kirk Scroggs, Hachette/LBYR, $12.99

The Wimpy Kid kids who have already glommed onto The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and its sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back, (Abrams/Amulet) by Tom Angleberger, will also love Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet by Kirk Scroggs with the author’s cartoons generously embedded in text.

Middle Grade Sleepers

Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick, Scholastic, $29.99

OK, OK, this is not a sleeper. In fact, it’s on most of the year’s best books lists, but I am including it because it may be overshadowed byHugo, Scorsese’s movie based on Selznick’s previous title, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. In Wonderstruck, Selznick once again sails into uncharted territory and takes readers on an awe-inspiring journey. Readers young and old will enjoy spotting the inter-textual references to  E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

The Falcon Quinn series, Jennifer Finney Boylan, HarperCollins, $16.99

The perfect choice for fans of Harry Potter who think they have read “everything.”  The first title in the series, Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror,  supplies this crowd with everything they want. Protagonist with hidden talent/curse? Check. Strange secluded boarding academy? Check. Developing loyalties? Check. Frighteningly powerful nemesis? Check. Slyly subversive humor? Check. The second volume, Falcon Quinn and the Crimson Vapor arrived in May and the 4th graders are now haunting my doorway for number three.

Ashtown Burials #1: The Dragon’s Tooth, by N. D. Wilson, RH/Random House, $16.99

If I could pick just one title from the avalanche of fantasy novels for ages 10 and up, this would be it. The story centers on twelve-year-old, Cyrus who lives with his sister and teenage brother in a run-down motel. When a mysterious tattooed stranger visits the siblings, the plot takes off like a roller-coaster ride.

YA Sleepers

Blood Red Road, by Moira Young, S&S/McElderry, $17.99; S&S Audio

A mash-up with the heart-pounding violence of Road Warrior crossed with the romance of Fire and Hunger Games, this fat read is for those teens who need to be swept away.

12 Things to Do Before You Crash and Burn, by James Proimos, Macmillan/Roaring Brook, $14.99

What if your dad was a famous TV self-help guru? What if he was a terrible dad? What if he died? And then what? Hercules Martino, aged 16 is sent to spend two weeks with his Uncle in Baltimore who had a falling out with his dad years ago. Proimos’s spare immediate language, sense of humor, and pitch perfect voice captures the young man’s anxiety, anger, confusion and yes, lust.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $17.99

For girls who want a romantic fantasy with a snarky, strong female protagonist who goes through a transformative experience, this is the one to grab.

Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman, Hachette/LBYR, $19

But, wait! It’s not a sleeper (all five prepub reviews have starred it), but I have to mention Daniel Handler’s (AKA Lemony Snicket’s) novel-length break-up letter, Why We Broke Up. In bite sized vignettes, we witness Min, the quirky, smart, artsy high-school student fall for Ed, the school’s charming star athlete and then leave him. Maira Kalman’s paintings portray all the mementoes of the relationship in heartbreaking detail. For the teens dying to get  their hands on the next John Green.

Chapter Books for Elementary Kids

If you asked the 4th graders at my school for their recommendations, they would encourage you to give series books. Boxed sets are a thrill because children read through these titles like peanuts. The list prices may look daunting, but shop around. They are heavily discounted by many online retailers.

Ages 7 and Up

My Weird School 21-Book Box Set, by Dan Gutman, illustrations by Jim Paillot, HarperCollins, list price $80.

For the kids who are looking for silly fun, these are the books. They are one step up from Captain Underpants. If a kid has already read through these, suggest a move up to the Louis Sachar’s Sideways School series (Scholastic).

Ages 8 and Up

The Secret Series Complete Collection by Pseudonymous Bosch, Little Brown, $80.00.

The readers who have just graduated from Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, have a real treat is in store with this series. You just can’t go wrong with a good mystery, mind-bending puzzles and a snarky narrator.

Ages 9 and Up

Kate McMullan’s Mythomania. Capstone/Stone Arch Books, $5.95 each.

Are the kids wild about Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief? Give them this series of fractured Greek myth retellings, told from point of view of Hades. Now back in print after an almost ten year absence, they are therefore new to today’s kids. They’re not available as a boxed set, so suggest making their own, starting with Have a Hot Time In Hades!Phone Home, Persephone!Say Cheese, Medusa!, andNice Shot, Cupid!

Family Read Alouds

Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists, Macmillan/First Second, $18.99.

The book’s editors have gathered traditional rhymes like Hickory Dickory DockPat-a-Cake, and the Itsy Bitsy Spider, pairing them with famous graphic artists like Jules Feiffer, George O’Connor and Roz Chast.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, HarperCollins, ages 7 and up, $16.99.

This is an old-fashioned tale of two orphans reminiscent of classics like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Liesl must escape the clutches of her evil stepmother and Po is a ghost who is trying to become human. A mystery and a ghost story carefully wrought with deliberate pacing perfect for family read aloud time.

The Flint Heart: a fairy story by John Barstow, retold by Katherine and James Paterson, Candlewick, $19.99.

Originally published in 1910, this humorous fairytale adventure  was almost forgotten because of its archaic language and references. The Patersons rescued it from obscurity with their updated adaptation. John Rocco’s sumptuous art makes this a volume sure to become a family treasure.

Toys Come Home: Being the Early Experiences of an Intelligent Stingray, a Brave Buffalo, and a Brand-New Someone Called Plastic, by Emily Jenkins, RH/Schwartz and Wade. Ages 5 and up, $16.99.

Our pals from Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party are back in this prequel where we find out how they all came together with The Girl. As we all know, toys have very busy lives when we aren’t looking. This satisfying story stands alone but once readers have entered its magical world they won’t want to stop until they have read all three books.

What Animals Really Like written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson, Abrams, 15.95. Ages 5+

Mr. Herbert Timberteeth, a beaver has composed a song about what he thinks animals enjoy — lions should like to prowl, wolves to howl and the pigeons to coo. His concert is disrupted when the animals insist on singing about what they really like. The cows like to dig, the warthogs like to blow big enormous bubbles and the kangaroos prefer ping-pong to hopping around. Absurdly humorous illustrations complete the package for a terrific read-aloud.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, Candlewick $15.99, Ages 6 and up

Fans of Emily Gravett’s The Odd Eggand Wolves (both S&S) will welcome this deceptively simple story of a bear who has lost his pointy red hat. His very polite exchanges with the other forest animals that aren’t very helpful. The deadpan humor will tickle the most jaded funny bone while beginning readers will delight that the limited vocabulary speaks volumes.

Blackout by John Rocco, Disney/ Hyperion ages 5 an up

It is evening and the family is very busy, too busy to play a board game with a little sister. Mom is working at the computer, Dad is cooking dinner and the older sister is on the phone. The little girl is resigned to playing a video game all alone when suddenly the lights go out. Rocco’s cartoon graphic panels capture the fear and excitement of the totally dark city in the shadows of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O’Connell George, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Clarion Books

Little sisters can be embarrassing. Little sisters can be annoying. Little sisters snoop and can’t keep secrets. This collection of narrative poems describe the relationship, the ups and downs, the good and the bad between Jessica, the narrator and her little sister Emma.

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, Hachette/LBYR, 15.99 Ages 6 and up

In this picture book biography we see primatologist, environmentalist Jane Goodall as a little girl with her stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee. Together they observe the natural world – birds making their nests, spiders spinning their webs and squirrels chasing one another up and down trees. McDonnell intersperses his signature sweet cartoons with Goodall’s own original sketches and notes.

You will Be My Friend! By Peter Brown, 16.99 Little Brown ages 5+

Lucy, the bear from Children Make Terrible Pets is aggressively looking for friend. She is very excited about turning cartwheels, having picnics, climbing trees, and going swimming with each new friend. Finding a compatible playmate isn’t that easy. The frogs are too wet and small. The skunk is too smelly and Lucy is a little too big to fit in with the rabbits. Will she ever find the “just right” friend?

A Zeal of Zebras written and illustrated by Woop Studio, Chronicle, 17.99

This arty trip through the alphabet pairs collective nouns with 26 colorful prints.

Did you know that a group of pandas is called an embarrassment? Did you know that a herd of Gnus is an implausibility?

The Information about the animals is accurate and will delight wordsmiths and artists alike.

The Queen of France by Tim Wadham, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, Candlewick, 16.99 ages 5+

“When Rose woke up that morning she felt royal. She opened the box of jewelry. She put on the necklaces. She put on the bracelets. She went to the make-believe basket. She put on the crown.” Rose’s mom and dad play along as she pretends to be royalty and goes about her day. The perfect read aloud for all those little girls begging for a princess book.

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cakeby Michael B. Kaplan illustrated by Stéphane Jorish, Dial, 16.99

Betty Bunny, the youngest of four children, tries chocolate cake for the first time. She loves it. She loves it so much that she says, “When I grow up I am going to marry chocolate cake!” When Betty discovers that she can’t have her favorite food for every meal, she turns into a “handful.” Realistic family relationships create a warm light tone as Betty learns how to manage her impulsive behavior.

The Family Storybook Treasury:Tales of Laughter, Curiosity and Fun, HMH, 18.99

This oversized compendium includes eight classic picture books like Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh, Nancy Shaw’s rhyming wonder Sheep in a Jeep and the rambunctious bedtime favorite Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. The volume also includes poems by eight renowned poets including Kristine O’Connell George, Nikki Grimes and Bob Raczka.

Entry filed under: Children's literature, families, literacy.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Emily  |  January 5, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Thanks for this list, Lisa! I wish I saw it before the holidays, but now I know what to get for the next birthdays!

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