Best of 2002









Children's Books


A Far-Fetched Story by Karin Cates illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Greenwillow Books)

It's early one autumn, long ago and far away, but a long, hard winter is coming soon, and there isn't quite enough fuel in the woodpile to suit Grandmother. She wants just one more armful of firewood to add to the box she keeps for emergencies, so she dispatches her grandson to get some. When he returns with his striped shirt in tatters and no firewood, Grandmother inquires whatever happened, and the boy literally cries wolf: "It tore my shirt with its terrible, pointed fangs. It made me forget all about the firewood. I barely escaped with my life!" His grandmother replies, "Well, that's a far-fetched story! It's a pity but it can't be helped, and I'm afraid we'll have to burn your shirt for firewood." The boy begs her not to, as it's his favorite shirt, but to no avail. In quick succession, Grandmother enlists the other family members to help, but each comes back with an implausible tale of what happened to their clothes and why they returned empty-handed. When the baby is found wearing only her diaper and the sash from her pretty dress, Grandmother is at her wits' end. A blast of cold air rushes through the door and she announces that they will have to burn the ruined clothing that night -- until she picks up a rag from the pile in the wood box and gets an idea. The story's satisfying dénouement and Nancy Carpenter's delightful illustrations make this book one that I've been happy to read again and again to my three-year-old. -- Pamela C. Patterson

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (Alfred A. Knopf)

My dad recommended that I read this ecological mystery. He has enjoyed Carl Hiaasen's adult fiction (Basket Case, Strip Tease, etc.), and thought I'd like the author's first book for children. He was right. I did enjoy it very much, mostly because it was so different from any other book I've read. The plot follows a kid named Roy Eberhardt, who moves (unhappily) from Montana to Florida. On his first day of riding a school bus, he spots a boy with strawberry blonde hair running at 100 miles per hour. That this boy isn't wearing any shoes is kind of weird. But it's no weirder than the adventure that follows, centered on efforts by Roy and his middle-school classmates to save some miniature owls, who are endangered by the coming construction of Mother Paul's All-American Pancake House. This book is quite funny in parts, but I won't spoil it for you by telling too much (other than to note that the adults don't come out looking too good). -- Sophia Karim, age 10

One! Two! Three! This Book's For Me! by Stuart Samuel (Jupiter Scientific)

I'm always a bit skeptical of self-published books, mainly because I've seen so many bad ones. (Not that being a famous author or having a big publishing house behind you means you have written a masterpiece: witness last year's Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.) And I'm even more leery of self-published children's books that purport to teach something. But in the case of One! Two! Three! This Book's For Me! the author actually succeeds. As you might guess, this is a counting book, but it's unusual for a couple of reasons: in the style reminiscent of a rebus, it uses what the author calls picto-words™ --images directly below the text to help a child guess the words, which are color-coded to stand out. According to a press release included with the book, author Stuart Samuel taught his pre-schooler to read at a first-grade level with the help of One! Two! Three! and various other methods which were not described. The press notes also state that Dr. Samuel is preparing a pamphlet called How I Taught My Four-Year-Old Son to Read for use in conjunction with the book. Too bad it wasn't ready in time to be included with the first press run. No matter: in the meantime, I'll be interested to see my own pre-schooler's reaction to the rhyming text and brightly colored computer-generated drawings. And if it actually gets him reading at a first-grade level before he even starts kindergarten, so much the better. -- Pamela C. Patterson

Princess In Love by Meg Cabot (HarperCollins)

What is it about Mia's smart, happy voice that is so completely enchanting? On the one hand, there are the classic Cinderella aspects of the saga: The young girl -- normal in her gawky adolescence -- suddenly discovering that she's royally connected. But a large part of the magic is, of course, author Meg Cabot's obvious connection and understanding of people Mia's age: their fears, ambitions, foibles and desires, an understanding Cabot demonstrated twice in 2002: here with Princess In Love and, in an unrelated but not dissimilar novel, All American Girl. Princess in Love is volume 3 in Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries. This time Mia is fighting her way through the holidays: trying to have a normal Thanksgiving with her mother and stepfather while being prepared by her grandmother for her introduction to Genovian society. What's a princess in training to do? And, since it's a saga, by the end of Princess In Love we're left dangling, anticipating the next installment. I can hardly wait! -- Monica Stark

Winkle's World by Lara Jo Regan (Random House)

There's something seriously demented about Winkle's World, though in the nicest possible way. When I reviewed the book back in June I included it in a round up of books called "Silly Pets." Winkle's World didn't belong with the other books in that omnibus review: none of the others were books for kids. Yet, in some very real way, there was no other place I could have put Winkle's World. Part of an ongoing project by award winning photographer Lara Jo Regan, I stand by what I said back in June: "Positioned as a children's book, Winkle's World contains all of the oddness and charm -- together with the faintest touch of weirdness -- necessary to make a cult classic." It hasn't happened yet, but I'm watching. -- Sienna Powers

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