Thursday, December 18, 2008


I had an idea! In the countdown to the holidays, there is so much anticipation, but when presents are finally being opened, its hard for books to initially compete with all the battery-powered beeping and booping. Why not make a tradition of a countdown to Christmahanukwanzaakah by letting your child find a wrapped gift of a book under his or her pillow (or at the foot of the bed or outside the door or served up on a breakfast plate) every day for a week before the holiday? Kind of like eight days of Hanukkah, or a shortened, real-live advent calendar; I dare to suggest, waking up to a book may even beat opening those little windows with chocolate inside! I think titles may be more appreciated when given in this well-paced way, as older children will want to read to pass the time during winter vacations, and younger children will love the time spent reading aloud together as much as any present, underscoring the real joy of the season: savoring time together. You can also be freed up to give books that are less glitzy, and ones that may be enjoyed all through the year. What do you say? Here are a few new picture book picks of special merit to get you started, or to give as gifts on a big day!

HUMPTY DUMPTY CLIMBS AGAIN by Dave Horowitz (Putnam)
Humpty Dumpty/Sits in a chair,/He used to climb rocks--/Today he won't dare." After his great fall, the egg with a fragile ego doesn't have the gumption to scale any walls, and instead mopes around in his underwear, in spite of encouragement from his concerned nursery-rhyme constituency. When one of the king's horses is in peril, though, Humpty rises to the occasion. This book is at once hilarious and a hard-boiled look at how important it is to try, try again. The author is one of watch; a super-funny favorite among children, if he can keep up his laugh-a-minute quota he may rise to the level of Robert Munsch. Also, try his recent royal alphabet TWENTY-SIX PRINCESSES in which some saucy sisters in crowns cut some mighty funny capers, and the kosher countdown in FIVE LITTLE GEFILTES, which also makes a hit as a hostess gift at Jewish holiday celebrations.

DINOSAUR VS. BEDTIME by Bob Shea (Hyperion) Grown-ups blabbing away! A pile of leaves! A bowl of spaghetti! All vanquished with a roar, roar, roar! No problem! But bedtime? Now, there we may have a problem. This simple, beautifully designed picture book taps into the toddler tug-of-war between power and vulnerability, and it seems even the bravest, most ferocious folk like a little consolation when the lights go out. With energetic lines and a retro sensibility, it is sure to garner award buzz, but it already has won the best prize of all: a perfect bedtime story that will both delight and comfort even your tiniest T-Rex. (3 and up)

TILLIE LAYS AN EGG by Terry Golson, with photographs by Ben Fink (Scholastic) Real photographs of the author's own chickens are nesting inside these pages. Each day, Tillie, the renegade hen, picks different places around the barnyard to lay her precious egg, and in every picture the reader is invited for seek and find: where has Tillie laid her egg? Funny, anthropomorphic asides into chicken thinking abound ("On Wednesday, Tillie goes into the kitchen. She doesn't find any worms, but she does find some breakfast. Delicious, she thinks. This tastes much better than the corn in the barnyard. ") In many ways, this inspired and well-balanced endeavor is a perfect conceptual picture book for primary children, the likes of which I have not seen since the heyday of work done by The Crews Family. Each spread is graced lovely glossy photographs that have a country charm, and a real love of the subject that shines as brightly as the sun coming up. Cock-a-doodle-doooo! (4 and up)

PEANUT by David Lucas (Candlewick)
In the night, on a tree, a flower grew.
As the son rose, the flower opened.
Inside was a monkey, a monkey as big as a pea...
"How pleasant to be a little peanut," said the tiny monkey.
(He really didn't know what he was."
Oh, what a big, big world is it for the little monkey! The floor is made of air, water falls from the sky, and beasts abound (how is Peanut to know they're really butterflies?) and when the sun goes down, it seems the world has ended. Luckily, even in the big wide and wild world, a friend awaits to help explain it all away. Sometimes you want a book that is just plain magical, and this book delivers. Visually beautiful and dynamic, patterns play on symmetry against bold backdrops, and through it all is our hero, so sweet in his smallness. Channeling the spirit of Leo Lionni, this book sees the world of a child through a child's wide eyes, and from the vantage point of a flower petal. (3 and up)

NEVER TAKE A SHARK TO THE DENTIST (AND OTHER THINGS NOT TO DO) by Judi Barrett, illustrated by John Nickle (Atheneum) The co-author of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and ANIMALS SHOULD DEFINITELY NOT WEAR CLOTHING offers us some fresh but equally sage advice, such as "never play double-dutch with a grasshopper,""never take a giraffe to the movies," "never give a moth a sweater for her birthday,"page folds up to reveal the giraffe's head going through the roof of the theater, interfering with pigeons watching television. The illustrator's smooth, computerized style gives a contemporary edge to a classic author who still has her creative chops. (5 and up)

THE DUCK WHO PLAYED THE KAZOO by Amy Sklansky, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (Clarion) "La ditty, da ditty, zu zu!" Don't you just want to join in? This chummy, rhythmic story stars a duck who ventures out into new vistas, and uses music to make friends who will come and visit him, too. The illustrator's watercolors are surprisingly atmospheric. Of course, a kazoo for you and your friend makes the reading all the more melodic. (3 and up)

A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick) Uh-oh, it seems like somebody rolled out on the wrong side of the den, as bear is an insufferable grouch who wants nothing better to be left alone. this misanthropic mood does nothing to deter Mouse, who reappears time and time again with "ta-da!"-like panache, no matter how tightly Bear tries to secure his abode. When Bear finally gives in to the mouse's insistence on a visit, the tables are turned and he begs for more golden hours in the company of his lovely new friend. Sometimes authors and illustrators are a match made in heaven, and this seems to be the case; droll and mannered language like "vamoose!" and"farewell!" and "begone!" and "intolerable!" are just a few among the well-chosen, well-ordered text, and soft-toned illustrations against white backgrounds hearken to the gentle work of Martha Alexander. This book reminded me a little bit of GUS WAS A FRIENDLY GHOST by Jane Thayer, illustrated by Seymour Fleishman, in both the story line and some of the character gestures, but the hearty and hale resiliency of the mouse in his campaign to make a friend will win over a whole new generation. (5 and up)

BEE-WIGGED by Cece Bell (Candlewick) Jerry is a big bumblebee, but he's never stung anyone, so why can't he cut a break in the friend-making department? When he sports an old wig, he finds his old identity is hidden under the rug, so to speak. His many good qualities win him many companions and he enjoys a series of school adventures before the children find out the truth. Just like a wig, the zany unlikelihood of the story covers the deeper truth that many children have trouble making new friends and will go to great lengths to join the hive. In the vein of Andrew Clement's BIG AL and Don Freeman's wonderful DANDELION, this book, too, will reassure young readers that people can like them as they are. (5 and up)

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Stacy said...

Thank you so much for the book recommendations. I use the titles you put on your blog and go for a book hunt at my local library. Giving a book a day before a holiday is an excellent idea! I saw this book at my school's library and I thought you might get a kick out of it too. It is called, "Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude" by Kevin O'Malley, Illustrated by Carol Heyer and scott Goto. Here is the link on B&N
Stacy C.

teacherninja said...

Great great list, thanks.

Unknown said...

hi, nice toddler books for Christmas!

Happy blogging,

Toddler Books

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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