Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Best of the "Best of" Lists in Children's Litterature

Well, as we face a new year, we instinctively look back to asses the year behind us.  What can we learn, what can we take forward and what should we leave far behind us?  The children's book world is no different, and so I thought for the final post of the year I would give you some of the "the best of" lists for 2012.  Sadly, because I am a Cybils judge I am precluded from giving you my own list of kid's books that rocked my world this year (oh those pesky rules,) but I can share with you some lists that I follow.

The thing to remember is that each list has its own perspective and criteria for selection.  Some represent the most culturally diverse books, some the most notable from a literary standpoint, and some the most innovative.  That doesn't mean that your child will necessarily like all of the selections, but you can be assured that they represent exciting and creative things happening in children's literature.

Brain Pickings is a wonderful website which, to quote "bring(s) you things you didn't know you were interested in until you are."  Their book choices are always graphically a delight, culled from little known sources and are books that push the envelope.  This year they have listed their Best Illustrated Children's Books and Picturebooks of 2012.  I always leave this site thoroughly inspired!

The Children's Book Council (CBC) is the non profit trade association of children's book publishers.  They put together a list of titles, culled from other best of lists (got that) that focus on diversity.  As our population looks less and less homogeneous, and as children continue to be drawn to books that reflect their heritage, history and fantasies, I love to see exceptional titles that celebrate a variety of main characters.  So please check out the lovely books on the CBC Diversity roundup.

The New York Times Notable Children's Books of 2012 is simply a must read just because it is the New York Times!  I actually quite like their Book Review Features Editor, Pamela Paul, who is smart and quite down to earth.   However, given that they are a bit of a highbrow publication when it comes to literature, I find their list a mix of books kids will love and books grownup reviewers looking for excellence in children's literature will love.  So for me this list is an interesting mix of both.

I wanted to include the Kirkus Best Children's Books of 2012 list, which is especially nice because of the breadth of titles.  They also include graphic novels, which I appreciate.  Kirkus has been reviewing books since 1933 and their starred reviews are coveted in the industry.  Their editor, Vicky Smith, has definitely included fun titles in the 2012 selections, along with some notable books.  A very nice breadth of choices.  

And last, but certainly not least, the 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature.  This award prides itself on finding the unusual or under-the-radar choices.  These are books that are described as gems that will delight adults as well as children.  This group is usually a mixed bag for me, with some amazing finds that kids will love, and some very unusual and intellectual books that probably are more amazing to the adults in the room.  This list always tests my book knowledge and brings some new titles to my attention.

Now I would certainly be remiss not to remind you of the Cybils!  These are the internet book awards for which I am a finalist judge in middle grade fiction.  We have just learned our super secret finalist list from the wonderful first round judges, and if I may so, the selection looks marvelous!  While I can say no more, I will include a link to last year's winners.  What I love about these awards is that they represent books that are not only well written, but that are also ones kids actually want to read!  The Cybils 2011 Awards

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Books for the Kids

In our house I always bring out a big basket of holiday themed books for the kids.  Christmas, Easter, Halloween, St. Patricks Day - that basket is always full.  Even though my kids are getting older, and the books don't hold the same "oh" "ah" factor they once did, my kids actually get angry with me if I don't put the basket out.  They like leafing through their favorites from years past.  Proves they actually have a sentimental streak, even though they won't wear the fuzzy footy pajamas with candy canes I was sure they would be crazy about this year!  Go figure.

Well with Christmas upon us, I thought I would pull out a few from the basket that are our perennial favorites.  Hope your family enjoys a lovely holiday and many hours of happy reading!

Title:         Jan Brett’s Christmas Treasury

Author:     Jan Brett

This book is a collection of Jan Brett’s favorites holiday stories.  It includes her classic The Mitten and well as The Night Before Christmas and of course, The Trouble with Trolls.  Being Scandinavian, this book resonates with our family, but you don’t have to have relatives from the cold northern countries to appreciate the gorgeous illustrations, with hidden details throughout.  If you are unfamiliar with Brett’s work, let me just say that you and your children will be enchanted by these pictures and you will be able to pour over them for hours, as our family has.  If there is one book that gets me in the Christmas mood, it is this one!

Title:         What am I? Christmas!

Author:     Alain Crozon

This book is a guessing game that delighted my children when they were young.  With rhyming clues and flaps to lift to see if your guess was correct, this interactive story keeps little ones engaged.  “We work for Santa, No time to play, Making toys, for Christmas Day.  Who are we?”  Santa’s elves of course!  The illustrations are vibrant and cleverly done so that it is also a joy to look at.

Title:         The Latke who Couldn’t Stop Screaming:a Christmas Story

Author:      Lemony Snicket

Is this a Christmas story or a Hanukkah story?  Well a little of both.  But it is ultimately a clever and funny story that teaches kids about Hanukkah.  This book will teach your kids that Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas and that a Latke is not hash browns.  But the message it delivers is the best, “It is very frustrating not to be understood in this world...everyone and everything should be welcomed somewhere.”  Now if that isn’t a message for the holidays, I don’t know what is!

Title:         My Penguin Osbert

Author:     Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

This book is a tribute to all kids who want a puppy for Christmas, but then realize how much work it is to take care of.  Joe never seems to get exactly what he wants for Christmas, but when he asks for a penguin, lo and behold the stars are aligned and he gets his wish.  The only problem is that taking care of penguin is a lot less fun than he expected, so he is relieved when his penguin Osbert decides that life at the zoo might be better.  But of course, Joe is not about to reign in his imagination for next year!

Title:         Priscilla and the Great Santa Search

Author:     Nathaniel Hobbie

I am a huge Priscilla fan.  The illustrations are just fabulous and the story, which is told all in rhyme, always delights me.  In this story Priscilla and her best friend Bettina are in search of the real Santa, so they decide to make a trek to the North Pole.  While they don’t actually see the big bearded man, they are surprised to find he has made an appearance in the most unusual of places.  These books always have me smiling and my daughter and I always have fun reading the latest Priscilla offering!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Books to Give to Teens for the Holidays

Ok, teens are not an easy bunch!  Finding something they will like is hard enough, so books can be challenging.  But I don't always feel that I want to simply get them a gift card.  This selection represents some books that caught my interest and in my discussion with my own teen and his friends, seem to resonate with their crowd.  So I hope they provide some good choices as you navigate through this hard to buy for bunch of kids.  Please keep in mind that Dear Teen Me and Mad do have some more mature themes, so they may not be appropriate for younger kids.

Dear Teen Me edited by Miranda Kenneally and E. Kristin Anderson is a series of letters that a collection of authors have written to their teen selves.  They deal with bullying, love, friendship, abuse,  etc.  This book is meant to show teens that they can overcome adversity, that life can get better and give them empathy for what others may be facing.  In the end, the hope is that teens will feel a little less alone and better in their own skin.  To purchase this book, click here: Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves (True Stories)

Insanely Awesome Mad by the Usual Gang of Idiots is a great gift for a teenage boy.  If you grew up with Mad magazine, as I did, you know and love the parodies, and the ridiculous commercials.  There is also Spy vs. Spy and snappy answers to stupid questions. What teenage boy could resist? To purchase this book, click here: Insanely Awesome Mad TP

Cinder by Marrisa Meyer is one of my favorite books for girls and with the sequel Scarlet about to be released, your teen will not have to wait long to satisfy her wish for what happens next.  Cinder is futuristic take on Cinderella, but it couldn't be further from the Disney version your teen read when she was a toddler.  Cinder is now a cyborg who lives and breaths technology.  When a plague breaks out in the land, our prince will do almost anything to find a cure.  Suffice it to say that this is a great read.  To purchase this book, click here: Cinder (Lunar Chronicles)

The Cult of Lego by John Baichtal and Joe Meno is not a book for younger kids.  This is a tour through the Lego community, profiling Lego filmmakers, professional Lego artists and amazing adult creations. This book is for teens who use Legos in robotics or who enjoy moving way beyond the basic building sets into creating new and interesting things.  To purchase this book, click here: The Cult of LEGO

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Board Books to Give for the Holidays

Board books are wonderful gifts to give for the holidays.  Toddlers are overwhelmed by the holidays, as it is, and parents will appreciate the allure of books long after the excitement over the large plastic toys wears off.  There are some fun books out these days that will satisfy both a parent and child so lets get cracking!

Alice in Wonderland:A BabyLit Colors Primer by Jennifer Adams is one in a series of board books to feature the classics.  You can also expose your child to Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol and Dracula, to name a few.  These books are definitely not a short version of their well read counterparts, but counting and color identification books using the themes and characters from these classics.  The visuals are a treat.  One blogger I follow aptly described them as eye candy!  Stop reading now Uncle Thad - because these will definitely be my gift to my little niece this year!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Alice in Wonderland: A BabyLit Colors Primer

Trains Go by Steve Light is a delightful board book for kids obsessed with locomotives.  It is very reminiscent of Freight Train by Donald Crews.  One of the things that makes this book so fun is that it  is not the standard square board book dimensions, but actually a rectangle, which visually gives the child the sense of a speeding train.  The parent simply needs to provide the sounds.  If your child is more of a truck kid, then don't pass up Trucks Go, another visual treat.  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Trains Go

SF Giants 101 by Brad Epstein is the must have for any respectable northern California baby!  However, you can get this board book for any team except the Dodgers (just kidding - a little baseball rivalry.)  I consider this book more of a gift to the parent to ensure that their son or daughter grows up knowing the fundamentals of their team!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: San Francisco Giants 101 (101 My First Team-Board-Books)

Peek-A Who? by Nina Laden is not a new book, but one my kids loved.  Children have to guess the next word by peeking through cut outs in the book.  Each work ends in "oo" sound such as Boo or Moo.  A nice way to teach kids some early reading skills without feeling like instruction.  It  has fun ending and my kids could never get enough of this one.  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Peek-A Who?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Graphic Novels to Give for the Holidays

It may surprise you, but I like giving graphic novels for the holidays.  Your child feels like they just got a comic book, but the quality of these offerings is so good, that you know it is much more than that.  Think Mikey and Life cereal, for those of you who grew up in the 70's!  It tastes great and it's good for you too.

Don't forget to like one great book on Facebook, or follow us on twitter for wonderful children's book recommendations throughout the year.

The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds is one that my son is getting for Christmas.  This is a wonderful retelling of Homer's epic poem of Odysseus's journey home after the Trojan War.  It makes this poem accessible to all and is even a fabulous companion piece to those already familiar with the tale.  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: The Odyssey

Hades:Lord of the Dead by George O'Connor is the fourth installment in this graphic novel series about the Greek gods.  These books are full of adventure, and action packed.  O'Connor has managed to include a plethora of information in an engaging graphic novel.  These are great books to give kids who love the Percy Jackson series.  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Hades: Lord of the Dead (Olympians)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is the second book in this highly recommended series.  In this sequel, Zita has become an intergalactic superstar, but she must still make her way home.  As she works her way across the galaxy, she continues to meet new characters including one who has taken her identity.  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Mal & Chad: Belly Flop by Stephen McCranie is the third book in this fun series.  Mal is a genius who can build almost anything, but trouble is never far behind and thankfully his dog Chad is there to help him out!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Belly Flop!: Book 3 (Mal and Chad)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Chapter Books to Give for the Holidays

I am warning you once and only once.  Don't give your child a "distinguished" chapter book for the holidays.  I know what you are thinking: my child loves reading and s/he is so advanced they will love this book.  Wrong!  The holidays are not about what your child should be reading, they are about enjoying what is fun to read.  An award winning book will simply sit off to the side in the excitement of the day and then be forgotten.  I know I have a few doubters, but I assure that I know of what I write!

So does that mean chapter books are off limits as gifts for the holidays?  Well I wouldn't go that far.  There are some really fun books that your child will actually want to pick up during the excitement of the day, but you need to choose carefully.  I have included some books this week that I hope will not get lost in the wrappings pile, but I won't lie, this is a tough one!

Don't forget to check back on Thursday when I will have some great graphic novels for the holidays.  Also, if this blog has been helpful to you, don't forget to click on the links to purchase the books.  A portion of every purchase goes back to support this blog and allows me to continue to put out great recommendations!

Worst-Case Scenario Ulitmate Adventure: Everest by David Borgenicht is like the choose your own adventure books from our childhood.  In this case, the reader must make choices throughout the book that will determine whether they survive the climb up Mt. Everest.  There is only one set of choices that will get them to the top so they must choose wisely.  I just love books where kids become a part of the story.  There are also adventures to Mars and their latest book takes readers through the Amazon!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure: Everest: You Decide How to Survive!

Planet Tad by Tim Carvell is from the head writer of the Daily Show, so you know it is going to be funny.  Tad writes a blog about the things that happen to him in seventh grade, and he just seems to get into one mishap after another.  But Tad is a good kid and his adventures are hilarious which had my son laughing through the whole book, even on his third reading!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Planet Tad

Now if you want to get your child into a great new series, here are two whose first books were published this year.  They are with out a doubt two of my favorites and I have parents stop and tell me how much their kids have enjoyed these books, so they are as close to a sure bet as I can give you.

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen has it all, action ... adventure .... intrigue.  Sage is an extremely fun main character, full of humor and swagger.  He is rounded up with a group of orphans who are competing to impersonate a prince who was lost at sea.  Only one will be selected and the rest killed.  The story is told in Sage's voice and it will keep you on the edge of your seat!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy is a laugh out loud book which looks at the world from the view of Prince Charming.  Yes, all those fairytales you have heard about since you were young are from the perspective of the princess, but as always, there is another side to the story.  So find your own shoe Cinderella, put your hair up Rapunzel,  the Prince Charmings are here and they want to be heard!  To purchase this book from Amazon, click here: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom