2013 offered a bumper crop of great books, and with so many to choose from, we wanted to offer some suggestions of books you won't want to miss when shopping for holiday gifts.
In compiling this list, we have included books that will meet a range of interests and age levels, including picture books, fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels. Above all, any one of these books is one that would be a pleasure to own, to share, to reread. Books in the first category, Great Family Reads, were selected family sharing in mind, so they will appeal to a broad age range.
Tips for selecting books as gifts:
· Take the reader's interests into consideration. Does your kid like sports? Animals? Humor? Nonfiction?
· In selecting a book for a particular age or reading level, remember you are choosing something the child will own and grow with. It's okay to choose something just a bit above his or her reading level – just as you are more likely to choose clothes for your kids to grow into.
· When selecting books for multiple kids in a family, you may select books with the corresponding age levels in mind, but you can give all the books to the family as a whole and let the kids decide which book(s) they want to read.
· Still not sure what to get? You can always ask your local public librarian for suggestions, based on your kid's reading interests. Or how about a magazine subscription? Again, your librarian will be able to recommend good ones. And what kid doesn't like getting mail?
Great Family ReadsThe Animal BookBy Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin, $21.99, 208 pp.
In this treasure trove of information, Jenkins relates fascinating facts about 300 different animals, looking at them in sections that highlight various qualities, traits, and behaviors. The author/artist combines dramatic, eye-catching cut-paper collage images of each animal with clever and succinct writing.
Poems to Learn by HeartSelected by Caroline Kennedy ; illustrated by Jon J Muth
Disney/Hyperion, $19.99, 191pp.
There's not much emphasis these days on memorizing poetry but Kennedy argues in her introduction that it can help to build confidence and give kids a sense of accomplishment. Whether kids choose to memorize one of more of the poems included in this volume, or simply come to know them by heart through repeated family readings, there is a great variety of poems within – funny and sad, serious and nonsensical – arranged into nine broad thematic categories such as School, Sports, War, Family, and Nature, and illustrated with stunning watercolor paintings.
The Tortoise & the HareBy Jerry Pinkney
Little, Brown, $18.00, 40pp
"Slow and steady wins the race." We all know this moral to Aesop's most famous fable, and here, Pinkney cleverly spins that line out, tortoise style, so that it's the only line of text in what is otherwise a wordless story. The tortoise, the hare, and all of the other animal spectators are shown as species native to the American southwest, and the precise detail in each watercolor illustration will make this elegant volume something kids want to pore over, in a slow and steady style.
LocomotiveBy Brian Floca
Richard Jackson / Atheneum, $17.99, 60pp.
With words and pictures, Floca recounts the 19th century journey of a mother and her two children, travelling from Omaha to Sacremento via steam locomotive shortly after the transcontinental railroad was completed. Each page offers a feast for the eye as we get an inside view of personnel, passengers, equipment, and accommodations, as well as the majestic passing landscape. There's so much here for children and adults to see that it will no doubt inspire many return trips.
Great Picture BooksBullyBy Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Roaring Brook/Macmillan, $16.99, 32pp.
After being rejected by a playmate, an angry little bull stomps around the barnyard calling all the other animals species-specific names ("Chicken!" "Pig!") until a goat turns the tables on him and calls him "Bully!" This label so hurts the little bull's feelings that it causes him to think, apologize and ask the other animals to play with him. Seeger's bold illustrations carry most of the story as they show the emotional impact of each animal's actions on the other barnyard animals.
JourneyBy Aaron Becker
Candlewick, $15.99, 40pp.
In a completely wordless story, a young girl with a red crayon draws a door in her bedroom wall that opens onto a fantastical world where she begins her adventure. Lushly detailed illustrations provide a lot for the eye to explore, and both boys and girls will want to follow her to see where just she goes and how she escapes danger each time, thanks to her magical red crayon.
Niño Wrestles the WorldBy Yuyi Morales
Roaring Brook/Macmillan, $16.99, 36pp
A young, masked, underwear-clad boy takes on one opponent after another as he imagines the toys strewn on his floor as full-size rivals in a lucha libre match. The only rivals he can't beat are his toddler twin sisters, Las Hermanitas. Illustrated in a comic style, this vibrant picture book integrates Spanish words and expressions into the English text and aptly captures the energy and noise of a small boy at play. Included at the front and back are amusing trading cards for Niño and each of his adversaries.
Take Me Out to the YakyuBy Aaron Meshon
Atheneum, $15.99, 40pp
A young boy describes what it's like to go to a baseball game in America with his Pop Pop and in Japan with his Ji Ji. Although the game is basically the same, the experiences are different – from the modes of transportation to get there to the snacks sold in stadiums to the souvenirs and the cheers. (In Japan, for example, the crowd yells "Do your best!"). Each double-page spread shows the boy at an American game on the left-hand side and at a Japanese game on the right-hand side.
Xander's Panda PartyBy Linda Sue Park; illustrated by Matt Phelan
Clarion, $16.99, 40pp
Since he is the only panda at the zoo, Xander has to expand his invitation list to include all bears. But when Koala points out that she is actually a marsupial, he must expand further to include all mammals. And then Rhinoceros shows up with his bird friend. The constantly expanding party parameters cleverly introduce the scientific concept of taxonomy, and it's all told with a tongue-twisting rhyming text that will delight young ears when it's read aloud.
Great Transitional BooksThe Big Wet BalloonBy Liniers
Toon Books/Candlewick, $12.95, 32 pp
Toon Books has launched a popular series of easy-to-read stories that use comic book conventions and can serve as a child's first introduction to graphic novels. In this latest offering, sisters Matilda and Clemmie find ways to have fun on a rainy Saturday, in a story that requires kids to read both text and pictures. At the end parents will find helpful tips on how to read comics with kids.
Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented BasketballBy John Coy; illustrated by Joe Morse
Carolrhoda, $16.95, 32 pages
In the winter of 1891, James Naismith was hired to teach physical education to a group of unruly male students who had energy to burn. Because they were confined to a gymnasium, he wanted to come up with a game the boys could play indoors with existing equipment, and with two peach baskets and a soccer ball, he came up with a game that proved so popular, the boys never wanted to stop playing it. Young sports enthusiasts will enjoy the pictures and the story, but the serious fans will be fascinated by the Naismith's original typewritten rules that decorate the opening pages of the book.
Ling & Ting Share a BirthdayBy Grace Lin
Little, Brown, $15.00, 43 pages
In the second volume in an easy reader series about identical twin sisters, Ling and Ting have different ways of preparing for the sixth birthday they share, but the one thing they have in common other than their birthday is that they both want it to be a happy occasion for their twin. Six short episodic chapters with just a few lines of text per page make this series accessible to kids who are just starting to read on their own.
That's a Possibility! A Book about What Might HappenBy Bruce Goldstone.
Henry Holt, $16.99, 32 pages
Some kids love math, and it's not easy to find good books to meet their interests and expand their knowledge. Thank heavens for Bruce Goldstone! In his latest math offering, he uses eye-catching color photographs and a text that invites the reader to look at the pictures and to make predictions about them, thereby introducing the concept of probability. Even kids who think they don't like math will find it hard to resist the challenges they'll find here.
The Year of Billy MillerBy Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $16.99, 229pp.
At the beginning of second grade, Billy is worried he won't be smart enough to keep up. By the end of the school year, he has enough confidence to get up in front of an audience to read a poem he has written about his mother. In between, he has a number of child-like experiences at school and at home that shape him – trying to stay awake all night, working on his first diorama, getting caught making fun of a classmate, etc. The structure and design of this easy but satisfying chapter book make it perfect for newly independent readers who, like Billy, will gain confidence with each page turn.
Great PageturnersBluffton: My Summers with BusterBy Matt Phelan
Candlewick, $22.99, 223pp
In the days of vaudeville, the theaters were just too hot to draw an audience, so actors typically spent their summers in colonies like Bluffton, just outside of Muskegon, Michigan. This graphic novel spans three summers and is told from the point of view of a young boy who lives in Muskegon, who befriends a young actor his age named Buster Keaton. Although Buster is the star of his family's act, already known for his famous pratfalls and deadpan expression, he relishes the summer months when he can be like other kids and pursue his love of playing baseball. Today's readers won't need to know who Buster Keaton was to appreciate this story, but it may inspire them to look up some of his old silent movies so they can see his remarkable comic acts.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresBy Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by K. G. Campbell
Candlewick, $17.99, 231pp
A cynical ten-year old girl, obsessed with comic books, finds an unlikely super hero is a squirrel who has been endowed with super powers after being accidently run over by a neighbor woman using a Ulysses 2000X vacuum cleaner. There's a laugh on every page of this original novel that's told in short chapters and lots of black-and-white illustrations.
I Even Funnier: A Middle-School StoryBy James Patterson and Chris Grabbenstein; illustrated by Laura Park
Little, Brown, $13.99, 368pp.
When your name is Jamie Grimm, your parents and only sibling were killed in a car accident that left you disabled and in a wheelchair, and you now share a home with your cousin who is also the school's biggest bully, nothing should be funny, right? Wrong! Jamie has an uncanny ability to find humor in his everyday life and use it in his comedy act as he works to become the world's greatest stand-up – okay, sit-down – comedian in the second volume of the popular series, illustrated with comic line drawings.
P.S. Be ElevenBy Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad/HarperCollins, $16.99, 274pp.
After returning to Brooklyn after spending a summer in California with their mother (One Crazy Summer, Amistad, 2010), eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters settle into a new school year while adjusting to changes in their life: an uncle who has just returned from Vietnam and their father's new girlfriend. This warm, humorous story about three sisters caught up in their love for a new musical group, the Jackson 5, gives a good sense of the late 1960s while also capturing the universals of family life.
Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Really Know What Dinosaurs Looked Like?By Catherine Thimmesh
Houghton Mifflin, $17.99 64pp
Dinosaurs have long been a topic that fascinates many children, and Catherine Thimmesh capitalizes on this interest in beautifully illustrated book that shows how different kinds of scientists use existing evidence to figure out what dinosaurs actually looked like. In doing so she show where theories have changed over time and where contemporary scientists sometimes disagree. Each page-turn reveals a lifelike reconstruction by one of several paleoartists who use this scientific evidence to create sketches, paintings, and even digital graphics that offer a peek into the distant past
Great Advanced ReadsThe Golden DayBy Ursula Dubosarsky
Candlewick, $16.99, 160pp
Age 12 and older
Don't let the title and jacket fool you. This gripping story about eleven Australian school girls who go on an off-the-record field trip with their teacher, and then return without her, will keep readers on the edge of their seats, and will inspire discussion about what exactly happened, long after the book is finished.
If I Ever Get Out of HereBy Eric Gansworth
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99, 368 pp
Lewis Blake is the only Tuscarora reservation kid tracked with the "braniacs" in junior high, and George, a new kid at the school, becomes his first, and only, white friend. In a narrative full of humor and rife with tender, honest, and unsettling truths, this novel explores adolescent identity, and what it means to find — and to be — a friend.
The LivingBy Matt de la Peña.
Delacorte, $17.99, 311pp
Age 12 and older
Shy has an enviable summer job, working on a luxury cruise ship, passing out towels by day and water by night. When a devastating earthquake wipes out California, and a tsunami destroys the cruise ship, he struggles to survive, trapped on a raft in shark-infested waters with a rich girl with whom he has nothing in common – or does he? Part thriller, part survival story, part disaster novel, this action-packed page-turner challenges stereotypes about race, class, and gender.
Still Star-CrossedBy Melinda Taub
Random House, $16.99, 352pp
Age 12 and older
Ever wonder what happened to the Montagues and the Capulets after the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet? This witty novel, written from the point of view of Juliet's cousin Rosaline, opens three weeks later, and offers mystery, romance, treachery, and murder, as well as a ferocious race against time.
Thanks to Kathleen T. Horning, Cooperative Children's Book Center, School of Education, UW-Madison for compiling.