Gift book picks for kids

Last week, my co-columnist, Angela Howe-Decker, shared book picks for holiday gift giving for adults. This week, I'll offer some picks for kids' books.

The best picture book I've seen this year for preschoolers through third grade is "Do Not Open This Book!"

Written by Michaela Muntean and illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, the book features a grouchy pig with a serious case of writer's block. When a little reader opens this book, it seems like the pig is talking directly to him or her.

The pig tries valiantly to get the reader to close the book, even threatening to call the pest control company.

My son's elementary school librarian says she can't keep this book on the shelves. It's checked out again almost as soon as it comes back in. "Do Not Open This Book!" is guaranteed to produce giggles.

"Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City," by Janet Schulman with illustrations by Meilo So, made it on the New York Times' Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2008 list. Some of the books on the list have illustrations that are too spare to really appeal to kids, but "Pale Male" offers striking, bird's eye views of skyscrapers and Central Park.

The staff at Bloomsbury Books in downtown Ashland had a number of book recommendations.

"Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes," written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, would be a good book for families with a new baby or young children. Kids can learn about counting while looking at the different babies with their waggling fingers and toes.

"Old Bear," written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, is about a hibernating bear who has fanciful dreams about being a cub again.

Writer and illustrator Brian Lies has followed up his "Bats at the Beach" with the new book "Bats at the Library." Kids might recognize characters from some of their favorite stories as they look through this richly illustrated picture book.

"America: The Making of a Nation" by Charlie Samuels might sound like an educational book that no kid wants to find under the Christmas tree, but it actually has hands-on activities that bring history alive. It includes recreations of historic train tickets, the Declaration of Independence and a flag designed by George Washington, as well as directions for making a paper star. This interactive book was given a Parents' Choice Award.

For middle school readers, Bloomsbury Books recommends Tor Seidler's "Gully's Travels." Pictures by Brock Cole help illustrate the story as the little dog Gully searches for a home.

In "Masterpiece" by Elise Broach with illustrations by Kelly Murphy, an artistic beetle and a boy solve a mystery about stolen art.

Humor author Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson teamed up to create "Science Fair: A Story of Mystery, Danger, International Suspense, and a Very Nervous Frog." The first page, which starts out with five large, hairy men gathered for a top secret meeting in Krpsht, gives an immediate idea of the tone of the book: "Krpsht (pronounced 'Krpsht') was the capital of the Republic of Krpshtan, a poor, mountainous nation with few vowels and a population of four million, including goats."

Now, you may be wondering why this column has no book picks for teens. Two reasons. One, most teens can handle adult books, so good books for adults can also work for teens. Two, most teens are incredibly picky. My recommendation is just to get a gift certificate to a good book store. If you pair it with a gift certificate to a coffee shop, the teen in your life can have a fun outing picking out a book and then cracking it open while sipping a mocha.

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