Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gift Guide: Books for Children

January Magazine’s Holiday Gift Guide 2006 continues here with books for children. Selections in fiction are here. And check back for further gift book selections over the next few days.

Baby Grizzly by Aubrey Lang, Photographs by Wayne Lynch (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) 36 pages
What I’ve liked best about Fitzhenry & Whiteside’s Nature Babies series is the gently National Geographic tone and content the books consistently deliver. Packaged for children aged five to eight, Baby Grizzly never condescends, but manages to bring youngsters a beautiful, informative book that won’t intimidate even the most reluctant reader. The photographs are first rate and the numerous grizzly facts simply but succinctly shared. Husband and wife team Lang and Lynch have produced nearly 40 books for both children and adults. As well, their work has appeared in Owl, National Wildlife and Canadian Geographic. Other books in the Nature Babies series include Baby Ground Squirrel, Baby Koala, Baby Sloth and several others. -- Sienna Powers

Carew by J.C. Mills (Key Porter Books) 248 pages
“In Northern Nepal, not far from the fabled city of Kathmandu, lie the deep, lush forests of the Langtang valley. Nestled in the shadow of Mount everest -- the earth’s highest peak -- is a place rich in legend.” It is in this region that Sir Jeffrey Parnell hopes to fulfil the ambition of a lifetime: to find a new species, unlike any that has been seen before and, when he does, there are repercussions beyond any that he could have imagined. It falls to two youngsters in the expedition to put things right in an adventure that is beyond what either had bargained for. Mills weaves a mystical strand through what is in many ways an entirely earthbound story. Readers 12 and up should enjoy having the boundaries of their world stretched in this way. -- Linda L. Richards

Duck & Goose text and illustrations by Tad Hills (Schwartz & Wade Books) 40 pages
What makes a perfect children's picture book? In my opinion, it’s a strong story, wonderful illustrations and superior execution. Duck & Goose by painter, actor and “obsessive Halloween costume maker” Tad Hills wins on all three counts. This one is intended for quite young children (the publisher says ages three to seven). The story is simple and almost every page features charming illustrations of our fowl heroes as they compete for a mysterious egg that even the youngest reader will recognize as a brightly colored soccer ball. A beautiful book that should captivate your young reader. -- Sienna Powers

Everything You Need to Know About the World by Simon Eliot (Raincoast Books) 192 pages
“England invented toffee, which breaks your teeth. Canada invented Smarties, which melt in your mouth and are good for your soul. Canadians also invented Crispy Crunch, Coffee Crisp and apple pie.” This is just the teensiest bit of the information crammed into Everything You Need to Know About the World by Simon Eliot, intended for readers age eight and up. And I don’t use the term “crammed” here lightly. “A normal breath travels at 4 miles per hour,” the book says in one section. “Shrews are like tiny mice with long noses. Many of them die of old age when they reach one year old,” it says in another. Who invented the slingshot? What is vomit made of? Who invented chocolate? And all of it put together in a seemingly willy-nilly fashion that is somehow also absolutely compelling. The book was originally published in New Zealand in 2004 where it was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. Apparently, we can look forward to other books in the Simon Eliot series. -- Linda L. Richards

The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin, illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert (Starscape/Tor Teen) 106 pages
George R.R. Martin is a legendary name in the world of modern fantasy fiction. In 2005, Time magazine called him “the American Tolkien.” Martin is the author of the internationally bestselling series A Song of Fire and Ice and has won just about every award open to him. Clearly, when an author of Martin’s stature decides to write a novel for young adults -- especially one in the genre for which he is known -- the world pays attention. Readers of The Ice Dragon will discover that paying attention here was a worthwhile undertaking. The Ice Dragon was originally published in 1980, when Martin was nowhere near as well known an author. It was also long before writing books for children got to be such a fashionable thing for successful authors to do. And that’s a good thing here. Martin’s charming tale is filled with passion and power, yet is somehow delicately told. The story of a child and the fierce dragon she befriends is a touching adventure with all the taut storytelling skill one would expect from this award-winning author. -- Linda L. Richards

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Blue Heron Books) 191 pages
The Jungle Book is one of the most enduring tales for young people. Since it was first published in 1894, there is not a generation of western children who have not been captivated by the story of the abandoned human boy, Mowgli, who is found in the jungle and raised by wolves. What delights here is the fullness of the text. So many abridged versions have been illustrated and published. So many cartoons and films and children's picture books have been based on this classic tale. If you’ve not read Kipling’s Jungle Book as he wrote it -- or if it’s been a long while since you have -- be prepared for an animal magic that other authors have seldom duplicated. The prose is lovely, as well. Kipling’s timeless cadences and his eye for detail enhance what could otherwise be a cumbersome story. If more enhancement is required, this edition is illustrated by the incomparable Robert Ingpen, who likewise illustrated a century anniversary edition of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy for the same publisher in 2004. Like that book, this version of Rudyard Kipling’s best known work invites a family group to read together, admiring Ingpen’s vivid illustrations and Kipling’s timeless prose. -- Monica Stark

The Keeper’s Shadow by Dennis Foon (Annick Press) 412 pages
Dennis Foon’s Longlight Legacy series has been picking up momentum -- and lots of young fans -- since the publication of the first book in the series, The Dirt Eaters. The Keeper’s Shadow concludes the trilogy. Though definitely appropriate and published for children, like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Foon’s series has grown in both complexity and weight since the publication of that first book. The comparison to Rowling must end there, however. Foon’s books are less light-hearted, slightly -- and pleasantly -- more dark and, though these are fantasy novels, their themes are important ones, perhaps especially to young people: the effects of war and the results of carelessness for the environment. Clearly, these are not books for reluctant readers. But children ages 11 and up who love to lose themselves in carefully created worlds will relish every mile that Roan travels as he struggles with his warring dreams of peace and revenge. -- Linda L. Richards

London Calling by Edward Bloor (Knopf) 289 pages
Though London Calling begins and ends in England in 2019, there’s an awful lot of stuff -- and periods of history -- in between. For instance, a lot of London Calling takes place amid the confusion of the Blitz in 1940. This is a book that includes adventure, history, time travel, mystery and ghosts. None of it should work -- at least not together -- but it does, and on every level. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the story of young Martin Conway whose life is transformed when a boy appears in his basement from another time. Edward Bloor is also the author of Tangerine, which was named an ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults. -- Aaron Blanton

McGonigle Scores! by Leslie McFarlane (Key Porter Books) 256 pages
While I’m not totally convinced that today's electronics-reared youngsters will find much to enthuse about in a 40 year old book about hockey, I’m pretty sure many of their parents will. This is a style of writing many of us were reared on and if some of the cadences in McGonigle Scores! strike a familiar note, there’s a good reason: author Leslie McFarlane was more famously known as Franklin W. Dixon, author of 21 novels featuring the Hardy Boys, as well as a huge body of work in fiction, television and film. If you missed McGonigle Scores! when you were growing up, you might enjoy it even now. In fact, though the book is marketed here to children 12 and up, I'm guessing it will more likely find its market in hockey fans of any age. The pace here is as fast as the game that forms the core of the story. McGonigle Scores! is a solid and satisfying read that can’t help but put you in mind of a time -- and a game -- that was much simpler. -- Lincoln Cho

The Quirky Girls’ Guide to Rest Stops and Road Trips by Karen Rivers (Polestar) 289 pages
Though the title seems derivative, the story and the way it’s told are not. Karen Rivers’ Haley Andromeda series has been rightfully gaining a following since the publication of The Healing Time of Hickeys (2003). Like a vibrant and youthful Bridget Jones’ Diary or a north of the border Princess Diaries, sans princess, Rivers’ heroine tells her first person story in the form of a journal. This time out, Haley is 17 and hard on the heels of adulthood. She leaves high school behind and hits the road in her travel worn Volkswagen van. While it seems needless to say that adventure ensues, it’s worth adding that Haley-via-Rivers brings growth and insight while still leaving room for yet another book in this delightful young series. -- Linda L. Richards

Santa Claws by Laura Leuck, illustrated by Chris Grimly (Chronicle Books) 40 pages
Striking just the right balance between classic Christmas tale and post-1990s insouciance, the work of author Leuck (Jeepers Creepers, My Monster Mama Loves Me So) and illustrator Grimly (Boris and Bella, Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness) form the perfect marriage of cheerily grim elements for this monstrous take on a Christmas story. Check this: “O Santa Claws, that fat old sprite with pointy horns and teeth that bite, who rides his dragon through the air, bringing presents sure to scare.” See? Santa Claws will not be everyone’s cup of egg nog, but those with this particular bent are sure to adore it. Santa Claws is wonderful. -- Linda L. Richards

Stanley’s Wild Ride by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Bill Slavin (KidsCan Press) 64 pages
We met Stanley in Stanley’s Party, written and illustrated by this same talented team. It’s lovely to encounter Stanley again, though it’s a toss up to decide which is better: Bailey’s engaging stories or Slavin’s charming illustrations. Both are flatly wonderful. This time out, laconic but curious Stanley finds a little hole in the corner of his yard and sets out to make it bigger. Much bigger. Big enough for him to wriggle out of and into the wider world beyond. Clearly, dogs running loose are not a good a idea and, eventually, trouble will ensue. At first, though, Stanley really enjoys himself and he even spends some energy trekking around his neighbourhood and helping his best friends get free of their yards, as well. There are some small adventures, as well as a few lessons that don’t mar the story at all. Overall, though, Stanley’s Wild Ride is fun, enjoyable and beautiful. In all ways, just as good as a picture book can be. -- Monica Stark

Stuff to Hold Your Stuff by Ellen Warwick, illustrated by Bernice Lum (Kids Can Press) 80 pages
You take a small tarp, some elastic ribbon and a bit of velcro and -- without much further fuss -- voila! -- a toiletry case. How about a dozen old neckties (or new ones, if you prefer), some thread and scissors and pins and -- whammo, presto -- a tote bag. Or maybe a map, some laminating sheets and still more velcro and -- ta da! -- a new wallet. Warwick’s projects for kids aged 10 and up are simple, smart and cool. This title compliments another also published this year, Injeanuity, which is the same idea as Stuff to Hold Your Stuff, only different. As you might guess, Injeanuity helps kids turn old jeans into other stuff: slippers, a halter top, skirts, a footstool and still more bags. I’ve said “kids” here a couple of times, but the nature of the projects makes it pretty clear both titles are aimed at girls. Both books are great jumping off points to creativity, and that's always a good thing. -- Monica Stark

Vanishing Act by John Feinstein (Knopf) 279 pages
John Feinstein knows sports. He’s written for Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, The Washington Post and National Sports Daily. He’s also an Edgar award winning mystery author, as well as the author of several bestselling books for kids. With a resume like that, it’s not surprising to find that his latest mystery for kids, Vanishing Act, is compelling, engaging and mysterious. The place is New York City. The event is the U.S. Open. The crime is kidnapping. The pace is intense. Two young wannabe sports writers are sitting in the press box when the hottest star in tennis simply vanishes and the youngster’s press credentials end up buying them more than they bargained for. A worthwhile book from end to end. -- Lincoln Cho

Wake Up, Henry Rooster! by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Sean Cassidy (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) 32 pages
It seems that children’s book author Margriet Ruurs has a thing for fowl. Ruurs’ books featuring Emma the chicken have gained the author a wide following. But where Emma is loveable and full of fun, Ruurs’ latest character, Henry the rooster, is just plain irresponsible. When his father goes to the Rooster’s Union Convention and leaves him in charge of waking everyone up for one week, Henry just doesn’t take the responsibility seriously. He stays up late, playing cards with the goats and popping corn with the pigs and in the morning when his mother wakes him, he can barely crow for all the yawning he’s doing. That night, he’s at it again: playing with sheep and dancing with cows. Of course, it doesn’t take long for his behaviour to catch up with him and soon everyone’s mad at Henry because, if he sleeps in, no one gets up and none of their important farm animal appointments are being kept. By the end of the book, of course, Henry has reached a solution and some conclusions and mended his ways, but the journey is an engaging one. How can you not love a 32-page book with a story this strong? -- Linda L. Richards

Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? by Stanley Coren (KidsCan Press) 64 pages
Stanley Coren knows dogs. The author of several bestselling books on the care, feeding and training of dogs, he’s the host of Good Dog on Canada’s Life Network and has been a visiting dog expert on several national television shows, including Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live and many others. So when I heard Coren had a children’s book about dogs coming out, I sat up and paid attention. It was a good call. Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? As the title implies, the book deals with dog information. Everyone knows what a dog is, but where did they come from? How did they get to be man’s best friend? More importantly for young dog owners, Coren approaches how better to understand dog language and why dogs do the things they do. Add in a lot of interesting doggie facts -- dog dreams, tastes, biggest dog, smallest dog and so on -- and you have a doggone interesting book. -- India Wilson

You can see the introduction to January’s 2006 Holiday Gift Guide here.

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