This holiday shopping season, you can try to find the latest high tech game console or battle the crowds for that limited edition Furby doll. But if you want to get back to basics, there's nothing better than a good book.
Here to give us her picks for the best new children's books of the season is Mara Alpert, a children's librarian with the Los Angeles Public Library.
For Young Kids
- "This Little Piggy" by Tim Harrington of art rock group Les Savy Fav
We all know about this little piggy who went to the market, the one who stayed home, ate roast beef and we we we all the way home, but what about the other foot? Well, in this version, the other one, this little piggy went dancing, this little piggy flew planes, this little piggy sold hot dogs, this little piggy loved paints.
And then, once the first foot discovers that the second foot is having so much fun, it decides that it wants to expand its activities. Then, we get little piggies that are playing drums and racing go-karts and this little piggy who was secretly "Super Toe," the world's greatest superhero, faster than a race car, he could blow out birthday candles from a mile away and fly high above the clouds and so on and so forth. This one is just loads of fun because you can use it with really young children.
- "Toys Galore" by veteran kids book author Peter Stein, with illustrations by Bob Staake
This one is a celebration of every kind of toy you can imagine, except for things that are not electronic. Basically, if it involves a tablet or a computer or a television, it's not in this book. It's toys that whirl and toys that wiggle, and it's a multicultural cast of really fun, big headed kids. Some are purple, some are green.
It's just celebrating everything and at the very end, the real major celebration is a child's imagination. That's the best toy of all. Actually, play is one of the five activities that help kids get ready to learn how to read. There's five early literacy activities, play happens to be one of them, imaginative play, so this is celebrating that.
- "Battle Bunny" by Jon Scieszka and Max Barnett
This one I was a little scare of recommending. Well, it's basically a kid gets one of those worse golden book, ushy-gushy, birthday bunny books, and takes a felt tip marker to it and makes it his own. So now it's battle bunny who is planning to take over the world with his evil plans, and can anybody stop him? Only Alex, who happens to be the birthday boy.
The reason I was a little nervous about suggesting this one is I really hope that we don't get a rash of people deciding to edit books with black felt tip markers and then turning them back to the library because that's kind of a problem. But it's very funny and I hope somebody at least shows a copy of this to President Obama because he's in the book. He's not named, but it's the president. And it's a great picture of the president so I really hope someday he gets to see this one.
For Older Kids
- "Bo at Ballard Creek" by Kirkpatrick Hill
It takes place in the late 1920s and it's based on a true story. It reminds a lot people about little house in the big woods, the first little house book, which is basically the story about a very young child. She is 5-years-old, and she was an abandoned child who was basically adopted by two rough and tumble miners. It's the story of her life in this mining village. Now, it's a little rougher than the little house books, there's a little bit of swearing in it and there's good time girls. It's definitely not as innocent, not as sanitized.
If you were reading this to your child, you could decided whether or not you were going to use the swear words. But you could read this to a fairly young child because it's really beautifully written and the illustrations are so charming. That is really where it reminded me the most of the little house books with the Garth Williams illustrations.
"Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library" by Chris Grabenstein
This one reminded me most of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Mr. Lemoncello is a game designer and his parents were immigrants and he basically learned everything from the public library. As an adult, he goes back to his hometown and he builds the most amazing public library you can imagine. It has lots of technology, but it also celebrates books and they invite twelve 12-year-old kids...to have an overnight at the library, but it turns into basically an escape from the library game, where they have to solve mysteries and puzzles and they have to learn how to work together. And it's like the library you wish existed, if you had a gazillion dollars and you could build a public library that could inspire everybody who walked in, whether their interests was in books or new technology, this would be the place.
- "The Animal Book" by Steve Jenkins:
It's basically his highlight reel, so it takes from many of the books that he has published over the years. And Steve Jenkins does the most gorgeous illustrations, all collage and it's a browsing book. And this one has got everything.
For instance, this page, which is on the section on predators: special weapons and tactics, and it talks about animals you may not have ever heard of. The mantis shrimp who can kick so hard that they have been known to break the glass out of an aquarium. The crucifix toad who stores captured insects on its sticky, mucus-covered skin and regularly sheds its skin by pulling it off over its head like a sweater and then eats it, bugs and all. Lots of stuff to learn, lots of information, but just a wonderful book to browse over.
- "Volcano Rising" by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrations by Susan Swan:
This one actually reads like a story book, but there's plenty of information in it. So the first page, "Kaboom! Most people think volcanoes are either sound asleep or blowing their tops off in fiery, ash-spewing catastrophes. And the illustrations are really amazing. It's like collage and photoshop and found objects. So, it reads like a picture book, but then also as it goes along it gives you information in smaller prints. So it works with younger children, you could read it out loud to them. And then with older kids, there's enough information in here to write a report.
"The Read Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease:
This book is fabulous because the first half of the book talks about why it's so important to read aloud to your children. And he's got stories and statistics and studies to back it up. And he talks about the countries that have the best literacy rates, what do they do that we don't, but he's talking about the importance of sustained silent reading and just reading in general. And then the whole second half of the book is about recommendations.
Really great books to read aloud at all stages of a child's life. He suggest you start reading pretty much when the doctor says you are pregnant and keep reading out loud through college. Just as long as you can get the kids to participate. This is the book I give to all of my friends who are saying they are having their first kid, this is what they get from me because it's such a amazing resource.