Gift Guide 2003







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Amazing Things Animals Do
by Marilyn Baillie
art by Romi Caron
Published by Maple Tree Press
127 pages, 2003

Aimed at children aged five to eight, Amazing Things Animals Do is intended to be a young child's first real introduction to the natural world. Unlike many books of this nature that snipe snippets of information at readers with MTV-like precision, Amazing Things Animals Do serves its lessons up in gentle little stories. Depending on your child's age and hunger for information, two or three of these each evening would make a super goodnight read. Romi Caron's watercolors are extremely charming and work with the text to enhance the gentle appeal of Baillie's book.

Father Fox's Christmas Rhymes
by Clyde Watson
illustrated by Wendy Watson
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux
32 pages, 2003

"Here I am, old Father Fox with sweets in pocket & holes in my socks bringing a basket brimful of cheer a toy for each day until Christmas is here." Thirty years after his introduction in Father Fox's Pennyrhymes, a National Book Award finalist at the time, sisters Clyde and Wendy Watson bring back their beloved creation in a Christmas book. The illustrations are bright and happy, the rhymes feel good rolling off the tongue. Father Fox's Christmas Rhymes has the right stuff to become a seasonal favorite.

Fox on the Ice
by Tomson Highway
illustrated by Brian Deines
Published by HarperCollins
64 pages, 2003

The latest installment in celebrated novelist Tomson Highway's "Songs of the North Wind" series of children's picture books stands alone. Written in both English and Cree, in Fox on the Ice we again meet Joe and Cody, first introduced in Caribou Song. This time the brothers are ice fishing with their family. They're having a perfect day when they see a fox on the ice with fur "as bright as flames." The appearance of the fox causes excitement among the sled dogs and when they insist on chasing the red beast, disaster is avoided only by Joe and Cody's father's fast moves and the cleverness of Cody's dog, Ootsie. Award-winning artist Brian Deines' enchanting illustrations compliment Highway's lyrical style.


How to Hold a Crocodile
by the Diagram Group
Published by Firefly Books
191 pages, 2003

Kind of a survival guide for the under 12 set, How to Hold a Crocodile covers all the basic things you need to know in order to get by: and some of the not so basic things, as well. How to make yogurt. How to measure a flea's leap. How to hold a goldfish, play polo, become king or queen of England, medicate a cat, spot an ectomorph, dry herbs, photograph fish. Some of the answers include instructions for projects such as making beads from paper, getting power from potatoes and making egg paint. But there's a lot here: with two or three items on every page, there are literally hundreds of facts and projects. A great rainy -- or snowy -- day activity book.

The Hollow Kingdom
by Clare B. Dunkle
Published by Henry Holt
230 pages, 2003

Clare B. Dunkle's first book manages to cross the tightrope of young adult fiction. It's an intelligent story with a likable, believable main character and a good dose of otherworldly magic in the form of an ancient magician who calls himself a king. Former librarian Dunkle initially wrote The Hollow Kingdom as a series of letters to her two daughters, Valerie and Elena. Perhaps it was the need to entrance her two young critics that Dunkle's book managed to gain such life. Whatever the case, The Hollow Kingdom is a rich and worthwhile read, at times frightening, at others warm but always entertaining.

The King of Capri
by Jeanette Winterson
illustrated by Jane Ray
Published by Bloomsbury
32 pages, 2003

Jewel-bright illustrations and a surprising tale that charms make The King of Capri a welcome addition to a young child's picture book library. As the book opens, the king in question is stout and selfish. Though he's not a nasty king, he's a thoughtless one, "Why have I got two hands but only one mouth?" he asks an advisor, who answers, "Sire, think of all the poor people in your kingdom. They can hardly feed one mouth each. However could they feed two?" But the king never had a thought for the poor people or really, it seems, anyone besides himself. One night a big wind (a really big wind) comes and blows just about everything on the Isle of Capri across the bay to the city of Naples. The bulk of the king's personal belongings land in the yard of the poorest person in Naples, the washerwoman Mrs. Jewel. With all the king's glorious stuff, she styles herself the Queen of Naples, building a palace and doling out advice to the rich and money to the poor. The gentle story resolves itself happily with Mrs. Jewel giving back her ill-gotten gains but not before the King learns a lesson and, into the bargain, falls in love with Mrs. Jewel. Happily, of course, ever after.

Let's Get Going!: The Step-by-Step Guide to Successful Outings with Children
by Candace Weisner
Published by Red Deer Press
172 pages, 2003

In a world where most parents work more than their share, time devoted to outings with the kids is precious. With time such a commodity, it's somewhat natural to want every moment you manage to steal from other activities to count. And, above all, to be memorable to your children. Memorable for all the right reasons. Candace Weisner's Let's Get Going! helps parents prepare for these special times: not just for the activity itself, but in the preparation and even with follow-up activities, to help milk the maximum amount of fun and learning out of planned time with your children. "Let's Get Going," writes Weisner in her introduction, "is meant to encourage your creative spirit as well as your children's. It is not a rule book, but rather a resource for your imagination." Weisner covers 12 activities that parents based in any western city and on almost any budget will be able to do with their kids: a trip back in time (restored historical villages, forts or outdoor museums); a trip to the zoo; to the beach; a nature walk; a visit to a farm; a bus ride; a museum; the airport; the park; a ball game; a farmer's market; and a performance. For each activity, Weisner provides a list of things to do while enroute; things to bring, snacks to provide, activities that can be done with various age groups; and activities to do after the main event.

Look-Alikes Christmas
by Joan Steiner
Published by Little, Brown
32 pages, 2003

With her series of Look-Alikes books for children, award-winning artist Joan Steiner has picked up in the place the Where's Waldo books left off: there's no real story here. The sculpture-like illustrations invite children to participate visually. The cover of Look-Alikes Christmas is a good example. What you see at first glance is a fairy tale-style cottage in a snowy yard. But look closer: one chimney is made of erasers, the other a dog biscuit, the front door is a building block, the snow-covered plants in front of the house are icing-covered pretzels. See the bright yellow fence? Disposable razors. The front porch on the house's second floor? A hair clip. The closer you look, the more things you recognize, until you realize that nothing is what it seems and, at the same time, everything is quite perfect. Look-Alikes Christmas contains several scenes -- everyone a small work of found art -- on the Christmas theme. A scene from The Nutcracker occupies two pages; Santa's Workshop commands two more. Grandma's Kitchen, Christmas Windows, a Cathedral, a Dollhouse, a Toy Train and New Year's Eve complete the book's illustration pages, but the book continues with a four page section devoted to helping young readers create their own Look-Alikes and a few more pages that discuss the Look-Alike philosophy (Where does she get her ideas? is one of the questions Steiner answers here.) Then, for those children who have treated this as a puzzle book, six pages tell sharp-eyed reader all of the Look-Alikes in every scene.

Lyra's Oxford
by Philip Pullman
Published by Knopf
56 pages, 2003

The author of the His Dark Materials trilogy delivers a brief sojourn back to where it all began: with Lyra Belacqua and the city where worlds cross over each other. The clothbound book contains "a story and several other things," writes Pullman in the opening pages of Lyra's Oxford. "The other things might be connected with the story, or they might not; they might be connected to stories that haven't appeared yet. It's not easy to tell." The other things are a scribbled-on pullout map of Oxford, a postcard and an advertisement flyer for a cruise. Clues perhaps? Hints? But, certainly, a promise: fans of His Dark Materials won't want to miss this very gift-like volume.

Magic: A Strange Science Book
by Sylvia Funston
illustrated by Joe Weissmann
Published by Maple Tree Press
40 pages, 2003

Kids that are entranced by Harry Potter will enjoy Magic: A Strange Science Book. In fact, Harry's ghost is invoked on the very first page. "If you could enroll at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, you would have to cram your head full of all sorts of weird and wonderful facts." After that, however, the magic and mystery of the natural world is mostly what's conjured up. The book looks at magic throughout the world and throughout the ages and searches out its natural roots and how these things are manifested in the modern world. It's pretty interesting stuff, but the book would be a lot less effective without Joe Weissmann's magically imaginative illustrations.

Swan Sister: Fairy Tales Retold
edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Published by Simon & Schuster
165 pages, 2003

From the same editorial team that brought us the superlative The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, genre mavens Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, though Swan Sister is an entirely different type of animal. Here Datlow and Windling bring us 13 classic fairy tales retold by some of the top fantasy authors working today. Will Shetterly, Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, Bruce Coville, Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman and others deliver a starkly diverse collection. Some of the stories will be instantly familiar: reworked but striking chords nonetheless. Others are barely recognizable, their basis in classic fairy tale a mere jumping off point for a more modern tale. Swan Sister is a follow up to A Wolf At the Door by the same editors. That one shared the premise, but the stories were geared to adult readers.

Redheaded Robbie's Christmas Story
by Bill Luttrell
illustrations by Luc Melanson
Published by Sleeping Bear Press
32 pages, 2003

Redheaded Robbie is painfully shy and whenever he gets nervous or excited or upset, "the first words that jumped from his lips usually made no sense." So when his second grade teacher tells the class that one of their number will be chosen to compose and perform a seasonal story at the school's Christmas assembly, Robbie tries to say "Don't choose me," but it comes out: "Bogle bree chee" instead. And, of course, Robbie gets chosen. In a bit of a panic, he visits all of his friends over the course of several days, asking for ideas for his Christmas story. Robbie discards each offering as not being in keeping with the real meaning of Christmas. On performance day, Robbie has a story prepared, but he chokes. All that comes out is, "Shamina mina flanket" and "Gleapin gloppin glope," and other bits of nonsense. On the brink of disaster, Robbie is ready to burst into tears when, one by one, his friends come to the rescue, each telling the story of how Robbie helped them come to be a better understanding of Christmas. It's a simple yet delightful story. No moralizing, just niceness: all the kids are nice, the adults are nice and their world looks like a nice place. Part of all of this niceness are Luc Melanson's wonderful illustrations. His colors are clear and luminous, his characters humorous and engaging.

Rosie in New York City: Gotcha
by Carol Matas
Published by Key Porter Books
127 pages, 2003

Carol Matas' takes readers on a ride in a time machine in Rosie in New York City: Gotcha, the first book in a trilogy featuring Rosie Lepidus, an 11-year-old in 1910 who takes her mother's place at the shirtwaist factory when her mother falls ill. Matas is the author of more than 25 novels for children including her Holocaust series, Lisa and Jesper. The next installment in the Rosie series, Rosie in Chicago: Play Ball will be published in 2004. -- Monica Stark

Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes
by Margaret Atwood
illustrated by Dusan Petricic
Published by Key Porter Books
32 pages, 2003

In a world with too many banal little children's books with little to say and few words to say them with, Margaret Atwood's Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes is a delight. This is a book that is fun to read, aloud or to yourself, though aloud is better for all the fun your tongue has tripping over her wacky and clever sentences. Try one on: "Rude Ramsey resided in a ramshackle rectangular residence with a roof garden, root cellar, and a revolving door. A rampart ranged down the right-hand side of the run-down real estate." And on it goes: with Atwood using so many words that begin with the letter "R" or contain a strong "R" sound, she must have been billed extra for overuse. The result of all this alliteration is just plain fun. The story is engaging, the language often lovely and it will challenge little vocabularies in a very enjoyable way. Dusan Petricic's loose and lively illustration complement Atwood's story perfectly. Rude Ramsey is the fourth children's book for Atwood, whose books for grown ups -- Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid's Tale among them, are among the most celebrated in the world.

by Matthew Van Fleet
Published by Harcourt
20 pages, 2003

The text in Tails is not the thing. "Tails furry, tails spiny, tails rainbow-hued and shiny!" (This from two pages of text.) It's the many tales in Matthew Van Fleet's latest books -- and the brilliant way he displays them -- that are meant to capture a young child's imagination. Some of the pages fold out, giving us previously hidden glimpses of a fully extended peacock tail, or the impressive might of the tail of a whale. Little pull outs on some pages let the reader wag a tail or see cheerful baby crocodiles born. Some of the tails invite the reader to touch them. On the book's cover, for instance, the tiger tail is soft, stripy plush, the snake tail some snake-embossed vinyl material and so on: all inviting little fingers to caress and explore this completely touchable and somewhat interactive book. Thick pages, charming illustrations and that interactivity make this one a good choice for the teeniest readers on your list.

Tell Me A Scary Story
by Carl Reiner
illustrated by James Bennett
Published by Little Brown
32 pages, 2003

Lots of celebrities are writing books for children these days. It's like the latest Hollywood fad: a raw food diet, liposuction and kid's book authoring. And while many are doing it -- Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis, to name just two -- I don't know of any who also star in their own book. It makes sense, then, that the man who brought us Oh, God!, The Jerk and All of Me, Carl Reiner, would cast himself as the storyteller in Tell Me A Scary Story. And, while the story is engaging enough, the real star here is James Bennett whose rich, deep and well considered illustrations are nothing short of brilliant. -- Monica Stark

The Wee Free Men
by Terry Pratchett
Published by HarperCollins
264 pages, 2003

When Terry Pratchett's first young adult novel, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, won Britain's highest honor for a children's book, the Carnegie Medal, no one should have been very surprised. Millions of readers had been enjoying Pratchett's Discworld novels for years. Pratchett is, in fact, one of the UK's top selling authors. And anyone who's read in the Discworld series knows that the books are delightfully, deliciously silly. Writing for children couldn't have been a huge leap. The Wee Free Men is Pratchett's second young adult novel set in the Discworld. This time, a young about-to-be witch named Tiffany has to journey through the nightmarish Fairyland to rescue her brother. Her weapon is a frying pan, and she is aided on her quest by a band a little blue men (the Wee Free Men of the book's title). As always, Pratchett is a delight.

Working Like A Dog: The Story of Working Dogs Through History
by Gena K. Gorrell
Published by Tundra Books
156 pages, 2003

Though the topic has been covered widely and admirably in recent years, we've not seen it done quite this well for younger readers; carefully explaining the relationship between early man and early canine, how that very wolf-like early canine evolved into the dizzying array of domestic dogs around today, including the controversy that surrounds both of those subjects. Dogs throughout recorded history are covered, as well. From the days of the pharaohs to Assyria,Rome, and the dog's placement -- or misplacement -- within Christianity. And that's all in the first two chapters. The remainder of the book is dedicated to, as the title suggests, dogs and their jobs, throughout history and into the present day. We're entertainingly introduced to the obvious gun dogs, sheepdogs, sled dogs and so on. Less well known jobs for dogs are covered as well: dogs in wartime, a narcolepsy aid dog, dogs in film, and dogs who've found their own jobs by rushing to the aid of an owner in trouble. Author Gorrell balances all of this with information young dog owners can use to enhance their relationships with their personal pooches. A balanced, informative book.

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