Best of Children's Books 2005

 Best Books of 2006












The Beauty of the Beast selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Meilo So (Knopf)
What's especially lovely in The Beauty of the Beast is the thorough and charming exposure to literature and the arts that children can gain. This is a book meant to be savored, enjoyed. A poem or three at bedtime, for instance, perhaps sprinkled with discussion on the illustrations that accompany the poems read. The poems in the collection were selected by American children's poet laureate (I made that up, but if there was one, he'd be it) Jack Prelutsky, author of Tyrannosaurus Was a Beast, The Dragons Are Singing Tonight, The Random House Book of Poetry for Children and many, many others. And, appropriately enough, Prelutsky's own poems fill out the collection, adding his sharp eye for detail as well as his cheerful and Zenlike commentary. ("An auk on land is not so grand -- an auk walks aukwardly.") Whether you plan on sipping from the book with your children or slipping it off the shelf to enjoy in a quiet moment, it's lovely to have it back. -- Sienna Powers

Blaze of Glory
by Michael Pryor: Volume 1 of The Laws of Magic (Random House Australia)

Albion is in an alternative universe, a land which is not quite Edwardian England, but not quite anything else. The major difference between this universe and our own is that magic works and can be studied at school. It can also be used in a major way, by governments. Somebody is using it to start a major war within the not-quite Europe of this world. In this world lives Aubrey Fitzwilliam, son of an ex-Prime Minister. Aubrey is a brilliant student of magic, but he has made a huge error. You can’t help loving a book with an opening line like “Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead. It made things much harder than they needed to be.”  With his friend George and a strong-minded young woman called Caroline, Aubrey must find out what is going on when a number of prominent magical researchers, including Caroline’s father, are killed. All of Aubrey’s magical skills are tested to the limit. Aubrey reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold’s space opera hero Miles Vorkosigan. He is just as brilliant and cheeky and the story is an entertaining romp, with hardly a pause for breath. You’ll probably also like this one if you enjoyed Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy. It is certainly the most enjoyable read I have had all this year. Although it’s the first volume of a series, it more or less stands alone. There are some ends left untied for future volumes, but it doesn’t end on the kind of frustrating cliffhanger that many other series novels do. Highly recommended. -- Sue Bursztynski

Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse (KCP Poetry)
KCP Poetry’s publication of Casey at the Bat heralded the beginning of an important no line for KidsCan Press called Visions in Poetry. All of the titles in the line have been memorable: fantastic illustrated reimaginings of classic tales. If you thought you knew this story, think about. Though Thayer’s classic words are, of course, untouched, Joe Morse’s contemporary illustrations give the story a whole new spin. Though marketed as a children's book -- for kids in grade five and up -- Casey at the Bat will also appeal to illustration aficionados. The book also feels a little like the very best of graphic novels. The whole thing is a fabulous production: hard bound and with a Japanese linen spine, silver foil blocking and vellum overlay, this is a book to keep or share.-- Lincoln Cho

Hurt Go Happy
by Ginny Rorby (Starscape)
Author Rorby reports that the inspiration for Hurt Go Happy came when she read a newspaper interview with prominent animal behaviorist Jane Goodall. Goodall, who has spent her life studying chimpanzees, had told the reporter about Lucy, an extraordinary chimpanzee who had been raised in the home of a psychoanalyst and his wife. Lucy's story ended badly. After eight years, her adopted "family" turned her out and had her released in the wild where she ended up dead within eight months. Rorby gives her version -- that with Joey and Sukari -- a better ending. Perhaps the ending that should have been -- and certainly might have been -- for Lucy if things had gone a different way. Rorby writes clearly and well. In other hands, Hurt Go Happy could very well have been one of those overly sweet stories you want to throw across the room mid-way through. But Rorby manages to tell this unavoidably heartwrenching tale without ever creating a toothache. Her prose is simple -- though not too simple -- always lucid and, as demonstrated, the story snaps along at breakneck speed. -- Lincoln Cho

Kids Cook 1-2-3
by Rozanne Gold, illustrated by Sara Pinto (Bloomsbury)
If the idea of having your eight-year-old prepare a chicken salad, pineapple-glazed salmon steaks or a creamy potato gratin appeals, you should give serious thought to adding Kids Cook 1-2-3 to your child’s personal library. Award-winning food author Rozanne Gold approaches her young charges with a tone that manages to be fun and businesslike all at once. Gold begins with kitchen and safety basics -- a thread she weaves through the book quite skillfully -- then takes her young readers on a journey of food preparation. There are recipes here for every part of the day -- from breakfast through snacks and dinner. This is food a child might make for herself, or even to impress or restore family members. Imagine the feeling of accomplishment a child might gain from roasting a chicken and making gravy from scratch, perhaps followed by a wholesome dessert. And no recipe in the very generous book requires more than three ingredients. “When you cook your way through this book,” Gold writes, “you will begin to feel confident in the kitchen.” A perfectly delivered, considered and produced book. Every child with access to a kitchen should have a copy. -- Monica Stark

Lucy Goose Goes to Texas by Holly Bea, illustrated by Joe Boddy (Starseed Press)
We first meet Lucy the Canada Goose as she emerges from her egg. “This is Lucy,” the story begins. “She lives in a shell. It’s smooth and it’s white and she knows it so well.” We follow her as she emerges to meet her mother and four siblings as they explore the world of their northern lake: the fish, the frogs, their lake-bound style of life. As the goslings get older, their mother explains that, as the weather gets colder and the brood grows further still, they will all be expected to fly south for the winter, “When the weather gets cool and the leaves start to fall, we’ll head down to Texas and have us a ball!” Lucy, though, proves to be an independent soul and she strikes out on her own, with predictably dire results. It all comes right in the end (the book is aimed at children ages four to seven, after all) and Lucy reunites with her family. Lucy Goose Goes to Texas scores on all counts: great story and super illustrations by Joe Boddy. -- Monica Stark

Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt)

“The first thing I can remember clearly is writing the way into the secret room. I am so small I have to reach my arm up to make the signs in the right place on the wall of the corridor.” Ursula K. Le Guin writes beautifully. In over 40 books written over as many years, Le Guin has been thrilling us with novels both ethereal and suspenseful, strong in both story and style. In Voices, the author follows up 2004’s Gifts, a haunting tale of coming of age set in the oppressed city of Ansul where reading is punishable by death. Le Guin has said that Memer, the heroine of Voices, is “a very passionate person. It worries me that people are going to see her not as a born heroine, but as a born librarian. It’s important to me that people realize that you can be both at once.” Voices is a celebration of books and of story. Fans of this author -- children and adults alike -- won’t want to miss this one. -- Linda L. Richards

Best Books of 2006