by Kathleen Krull and Peter Neumeyer, Ph.D.
What makes a good book for children? It's almost easier to say what makes
a bad one: Weak writing. Amateurish art or design. Too much preaching.
Plot lines that have been done to death. Books that fail to ring some
primary emotional chord. Stories that are secretly about adults and adult
Enough negativity! Here, then, are just the opposite: this year's best
books. Each offers something fresh and valuable, whether it be stunning
graphics, an original theme, subtle wisdom, or a genuine emotional response
you just can't wait to share with a child heading into a new millennium.
Bark, George, written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer.
Little dog George surprises everyone by the funny sounds he makes. What
makes him finally bark is a surprise to everyone. Clever and in striking
colors. HarperCollins; ages 2 to 6; $14.95. (212) 207-7491.
Are You? by Francesca Simon, illustrated by David Melling. Harry
the dog goes shopping with Grandpa (the dog), and they lose each other
in the profusion of the supermarket. Lots of detail and a friendly spirit—a
happy, low-key read-together. Peachtree Publishers; ages 2 to 6; $12.95.
Another Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated
by Chris Raschka. A never-before-published book by the author of Goodnight
Moon? All about the stages of development between ages 1 and 6? With eloquent
drawings? How important! HarperCollins; ages 4 to 8; $15.95. (212)
How are You Peeling?
Foods With Moods, by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers. Books
for the very young on emotions are rare, but the stars here are the fruits
and vegetables. All those who play with their food will find this irresistibly
clever. Scholastic; ages 4 to 8; $15.95. (212) 343-7708.
A Child's Book of Art: Discover Great Paintings, by Lucy
Micklethwait. In this large-format book in which great paintings are scrutinized
in detail with both care and imagination, provocative questions lead children
and adults to see more than they'd ever imagine. Dorling Kindersley;
ages 5 to 12; $16.95. (212) 213-4800.
DK Guide to Space: A Photographic Journey Through the Universe,
by Peter Bond. Using the newest photos from the Hubble telescope, this
photographic journey through the universe features stunning views of comets,
asteroids, planets and our own beautiful Earth. Dorling Kindersley;
ages 9 and older; $19.95. (212) 213-4800.
Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges. This inspirational book
is a detailed account, complete with dramatic photos, lots of background,
and a "where-is-she-now" update of what happened in 1960 when
a 6-year-old child integrated an all-white school in New Orleans. Scholastic;
ages 8 to 12; $16.95. (212) 343-7708.
A Girl's Guide to Divorce and Stepfamilies, by Nancy Holyoke,
illustrated by Scott Nash. There's not much out there for kids on this
confusing and painful topic, and this unassuming guide is quite well-done.
The main theme: talk. The only flaw in this useful little paperback is
that no boy will touch it. Pleasant Company; ages 8 and up; $8.95.
Folklore, Poetry and
Angels Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems/Los Angeles Andan
en Bicicleta, poems by Francisco X. Alarcón, illustrations by
Maya Christina Gonzalez. Going to the market in the evening, buying popsicles,
going off to school, heading for the dentist, observing the smog and experiencing
an earthquake daily life in Los Angeles is celebrated in bilingual poems,
and in paintings as bold and extroverted as the great multicultural city
itself. Children's Book Press; ages 6 to 12; $15.95. (415) 995-2200.
Twilight Verses, Moonlight Rhymes, compiled by Mary Joslin,
illustrated by Liz Pichon. Saccharine and distinctly short on humor, this
collection nonetheless displays ample first-rate poems, mellow and calming,
for bedtime, against a pleasingly colorful background. Fortress Publishers;
ages 2 to 5; $16.99. (612) 330-3327.
Tasty Baby Belly Buttons, by Judy Sierra, illustrated
by Meilo So. In this exuberant Japanese folktale, in which monsters find
belly buttons a yummy treat, a fearless heroine saves the day and the
babies. With pale, tasty illustrations. Knopf; ages 5 to 8; $17. (212)
Lizards Leaping: A New Twelve Days of Christmas, by Jan Romero
Stevens, illustrated by Christine Mau. A colorful Southwestern motif injects
new life into the traditional carol by way of tamales, piñatas,
turquoise rings and a charming quail in a paloverde tree. Rising Moon;
ages 4 to 8; $14.95. (800) 346-3257.
Boy, by Lawrence David, illustrated by Delphine Durand. "Gregory
Sampson woke up one morning to discover that he had become a giant beetle,"
and beginning with that transformation of the first sentence of Kafka's
The Metamorphosis, David's book continues the parody meticulously and
hilariously, supported by the marvelously apt illustrations. Doubleday;
ages 6 to 10; $15.95. (212) 782-8667.
I, Crocodile, by Fred Marcellino. Beginning with endpapers
evocative of ancient Egypt, every illustration is a subtle historical
document, beautiful in itself and, all together, supportive of a very
funny tale with a surprise ending. HarperCollins; ages 6 to 10; $15.95.
Swine Lake, by James Marshall, illustrated by Maurice
Sendak. Two ultimate masters of wit and of the picture-book art form team
up for an original story that combines elements of fairy tales, ballet,
puns, and the sweet, subtle triumph of good over evil. HarperCollins;
ages 7 and up; $15.95. (212) 207-7491.
Goes to School, by David Shannon. A worthy successor to last year's
two-word literary sensation. No, David! Now it is time for David
to encounter (and of course flout) every possible rule at school. Gross,
silly, and we can't wait to see David enter the business world. Scholastic/The
Blue Sky Press; ages 4 to 8; $14.95. (212) 343-7708.
Magnetic Poetry Book and Creativity Kit, by Dave Kapell and Sally
Steenland, foreword by Judith Viorst. The introductory book is immensely
encouraging for those who have no idea about poetry. Includes more than
200 magnetic word tiles and a magnetic board on which to rearrange them
into an infinite variety of poems. Workman; ages 6 and up; $16.95.
Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered, by Quentin
Blake and John Cassidy. A foremost illustrator teams up with an imaginative
and encouraging writer exhorting you to draw the darndest things, exploit
your accidents, and lose yourself in hours of adventurous creativity with
a pencil. Funny and exuberant. Klutz; ages 6 and up; $19.95. (650)
Jr., by Joan Steiner. In this junior companion to last year's
amazing Look-Alikes, eye-catching photographs of complicated three-dimensional
worlds are constructed out of common household objects. The activity of
decoding them will supply literally hours of entertainment you'll want
to share. Little, Brown; ages 4 and up; $12.95. (617) 263-2813.
Anything With Clay, by Sherri Haab and Laura Torres. Once you
flip through the attractive collection of "recipes" for ice
cream sandwiches, dollhouse furniture, sushi, masks, jewelry and much
more, you'll immediately smush your fingers into the eight colors of clay
that come with the book. Klutz; ages 5 and up; $19.95. (650) 857-0888.