Staff Picks for Children

 Recommended books for kids. Comment on a review by clicking on its title. You can also write your thoughts about any book on our Facebook Wall.

You can still access reviews from pre-September 2012 for Adults and Children.

The House that Santa Built

(2013)
The House that Santa Built

A traditional nursery rhyme is given a cute Christmas twist with a little help from Santa Claus, and a lot from de Las Casas and Stone-Barker.  Based on “The House that Jack Built,” and similar to the team's Halloween version, The House that Witchy Built, The House that Santa Built is a rollicking romp of rhythm, with elves and reindeer and snow  and—of course—children taking part of the arctic antics in and out of Santa’s castle.   The cut-paper collage illustrations are fun and fanciful.   There are plenty of sound effects that make this a perfect story to read aloud, and act out.  It might just become a family tradition!

The House that Santa Built is recommended for ages 0-6.

For another Christmas-themed book based on a classic tale, see the other pick on my list today!

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The Big Book of Art

(2013)
The Big Book of Art

 

 

 This fantastic book is an interactive, abstract, visual adventure inviting the reader to explore their own ideas of art through mixing and matching different colors, patterns, shapes and lines. With the exception of a few whole pages scattered throughout, this book is made up of half pages allowing the reader to arrange and rearrange designs in a multitude of interesting ways. Some of the patterns are recognizable such as flowers or fish. Others are quite abstract such as blobs of color or squiggly lines. There is also a section on the alphabet which encourages children to visually play with recognizing letters both in whole and in part. This is a book that celebrates creativity and imagination. It is a wonderful way to introduce children to art and will hopefully inspire children to make some art of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

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Me First

(2013)
Me First

 

In this book, translated from the French, a duckling is determined to be first at everything in his day, from going outside, to fishing, to bathing, to lunch.  Until he hears humans at lunchtime discussing the lunchtime menu: duck.  He slinks away slyly, meowing all the way.  He has learned that being first is maybe not always the best option!  I love Di Giacomo's illustrations--bright and vibrant colors.  Highly recommended for preschool through grade 2.

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The Favorite Daughter

(2013)
The Favorite Daughter

 

Allen Say has long been one of my favorite authors/illustrators.  I love his autobiographical journeys in Japanese and American culture, and The Favorite Daughter does not disappoint me.  This book tells the story of Say's daughter Yuriko.  The children at school make fun of Yuriko because of her blonde hair and Japanese features, and because her name sounds like "Eureka".  Yuriko is also upset because she is asked to do yet another art project involving the Golden Gate Bridge.  Yuriko and her father go to a favorite sushi restaurant and a Japanese garden where a man draws a Japanese ink painting of Yuriko's name for her.  Yuriko is newly inspired about her name, and about her project for the Bridge.  The watercolor paintings are complemented by two photographs of the real Yuriko, one as a young girl, and one as a young woman.  I loved this book and highly recommend it to younger school age children.

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Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball

2013

In 1891 a school teacher named James Naismith, desperate to manage a rowdy gym class in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented a new game he called "Basket Ball". It started with a list of rules scratched on paper, two old peach baskets and a soccer ball. The game was an instant sensation. The origin of the national sport of basketball is humorously written and illustrated in this picture book. Enjoy the original first draft of "Basket Ball" rules inside the cover. Author's notes add biographical details for the curious reader. This is a must read for basketball lovers. Recommended for age 6 - 8, as well as parents and teachers alike. What a hoot!

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Spirits of the Season

(2012)
bookcover for Spirits of the Season


The fourth book of the Saranormal Series

In this continuation of the saga of Sara and her ability to see and talk to ghosts, finds her at Christmas time in Stellamar.  During this busy time of holiday shoppers there is far more ghostly activity than ever before.  Sara has been seeing ghosts for as long as she can remember, but now that she and her father have moved to this small tourist seashore city she has been in contact with many spirits.  Lady Azura, the owner of the house they are renting, has similar abilities as Sara and has been teaching Sara how to use and control her new powers.  Lady Azura explains to Sara that the twelve days before Christmas is a special time where the ghosts of the departed can come back to Stellamar to visit their friends and family.

When a spirit of a dead soldier, named Franklin, seeks out Sara begging her for help, she is faced with a dilemma.  Franklin wants Sara to help him find his lost love.  He had been visiting her every year on December 22nd  for the past years.  But when the area was modernized he couldn’t find his way to her home.

Other plot developments include Sara’s relationship with Lady Azura, the importance of December 22nd, and the connection Sara has with the opal stone that helps make wishes come true.  What is the connection between Lady Azura and the dead soldier?  Will Sara learn more about her mother and her family’s background?  These are just a few of the conflicts that will be solved at the end of the story. Sara may see her mother!?

Here is a story for readers who enjoy a good book about humor, friendship, and a little mystery and paranormal activity.   All the main characters from the previous books are portrayed plus some new characters, including Lily, Jayden, Janelle, her father’s girlfriend and her two daughters, Dina, and Chloe, and of course, there is Franklin.

This book is recommended for grades 4th through 6th; ages 9-12.

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Christmas Chaos

(2013)
Christmas Chaos
Zoo Hideout

Are you looking for a fun gift idea?  Something new for “Where’s Waldo” fans?  Or just a way to keep the kiddos busy while they wait for Christmas?  Then bring a little “Christmas Chaos” into your life!  It’s one of several books in the “Seek It Out” series by Picture Window Books, a division of Capstone Press.  The book features 14 scenes, laid out in two-page spreads, which feature a different winter holiday experience: the center of a busy shopping mall, Santa’s workshop, ski slope, skating rink, a gingerbread village, a Kwanzaa celebration, among others.  Many objects from penguins and peppermint sticks, snowflakes and stockings, to fishing poles and backpacks are cleverly hidden among the other objects, animals and people in the scene, sometimes in the least expected places.  The unexpectedness, along with expressive character faces and actions, will provide giggles and engage imaginations while readers seek and find the objects.  The puzzles become more challenging from first to last, with between 6 and 12 objects to find on each page.  The objects pictured on the list are in the same relative size, and in grayscale, so part of the challenge is to find each object by shape and tone rather than size and hue.  The final puzzle invites readers to search through the whole book for the answers.

Another book in the series, Zoo Hideout, includes many scenes from a busy zoo complex, including a reptile room, a petting zoo, a butterfly garden, a veterinary hospital, a whale and dolphin show, even a gift shop.  I found it even more engaging than the holiday offering; the illustrations by Simon Smith and Moreno Chiacchiera are more goofily charming, and the unexpected locations of some of the objects are funnier.  But Christmas Chaos hits the spot in this season of the year. There are more books in the series to choose from, and they're all fun—take a look!

Christmas Chaos and Zoo Hideout are recommended for ages 5 and up.

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The Elephant From Baghdad

(2012)
The Elephant From Baghdad

 

A monk, Notker the Stammerer, tells the story of Charlemagne and his elephant Abu who had come all the way from Baghdad.  How in the world did Charlemagne come to be in the possession of an elephant from the Middle East?  Charlemagne, who ruled most of Europe, had heard of Harun al-Rashid, who was caliph of Baghdad.  He sent ambassadors to visit the caliph in Baghdad to learn about the Middle East and come back and report.  Harun also wanted to know all about Charlemagne.  In the end, Harun wanted to send the ambassadors back with gifts.  The most stupendous gift was the elephant Abu.  The elephant began to be seen in tapestries and coins, and Abu lived with Charlemagne until his death in 810.

A note from the author tells us while Notker the Stammerer was truly the historian for the abbey of St. Gall in the Swiss Alps, they have imagined that Notker was the historian telling this story.  The other source of information was by a historian named Einhard who was a courtier and secretary to Charlemagne. 

The illustrations are in watercolor and ink, but there are photographs of antiques such as a silk cloth interspersed throughout the book.  I did not know this story, and found it to be a gem.

 

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Bot Wars

(2013)
Cover for Bot Wars


The story takes place in a futuristic world where the United States has been divided into 13 districts after the war with robots. In this society the “Bots’ are banned and are forced to live in the district known as Bot Territory.  The hero is a young twelve-year-old boy named Trout, who wants to find his father who is reported missing after the war.  He hasn’t given up hope and plans to get his story out on the Net with the help of a classmate, Tellie Rix.  They make a video-message that brings about a variety of unintended consequences. 

Trout is now thrown into a number of adventures.  He meets a robot, named LT, who rescues him and takes him to Bot territory, he meets his father, and his brother, Po is captured by the District’s government.  Trout learns the truth about his father, and must save his brother.  Trout’s father was involved with the Meta-Rise, a union of people and bots who want equal rights for all, especially the robots.

The story and characters were very good.  The gadgets used in rescuing Po were clever, and the slang seemed somewhat appropriate.  Examples of the slang words included “notched” or “cracked” or “go nuclear’ and people can “gear out” or be a “drain clogger” or “totally wrenched”.  The sentences were written in such a way that the reader would know what a word meant.

This Science Fiction story is fast-paced and engaging.  It is appropriate for grades 5th through 7th grade.

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Daisy Gets Lost

(2013)

 

Daisy and her ball are back! The day begins with Daisy and her owner playing ball near a forest. As Daisy’s ball rolls into the woods, Daisy discovers something new to chase...A SQUIRREL! Quickly, Daisy dashes deeper into the forest after the squirrel and finds herself lost. Will she ever find her way home?

Raschka’s vibrant and playful illustrations draw the reader into the story. With a few simple lines and colors, Raschka communicates Daisy’s excitement of seeing a squirrel, fear of being lost and the frantic nature of searching for her owner. Another plus - Daisy Gets Lost is a nearly wordless picture book! This will allow young children to gain visual literacy skills by creating their own story about Daisy based on the pictures.

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The Birchbark House

(1999)
The Birchbark House

November has been designated National Native American Heritage Month.  Even if it weren’t, I would still sing the praises of this wonderful book and its sequels.  The Birchbark House introduces the reader to Omakayas (“Little Frog”), a young Ojibwa girl living on what is now known as Madeline Island, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior in the 1840’s.  Omakayas is a strong, sympathetic character; readers will relate to her feelings about her family, her chores, her friends, and will be drawn into her adventures, including an unexpected encounter with a family of bears, and a rescue of a baby crow who becomes her pet.  Through a cycle of seasons, the family lives in harmony with nature with all its beauty and hardship: hunting, fishing, and gathering food; making meals, tools, clothing, toys, learning about life and death.  As autumn winds grow sharper, they move from their summer birchbark house to their snug log cabin built by Omakayas’ Deydey (Daddy) on the edge of the town of La Pointe, that the Ojibwa share with an ever-growing population of chimookomanug (white and non-Indians).  Living so close with the chimookoman settlers, the Ojibwa are unprepared for the diseases they carry. Through the year, including the trials of winter and sickness, Omakayas begins the discovery of her unique past, as well as her talents and nature as a healer.

The Birchbark House and sequels The Game of Silence (2005) and The Porcupine Year (2008) feature Omakayas’ adventures from age 7 to 12.  The fourth,  Chickadee (2012), focuses on the next generation, particularly Omakayas’ sons, Chickadee and  Makoons.  I hope this latest book is not the last!

Unlike most 19th century historic fiction featuring Indian characters, the stories of are told from the Indian point of view, based on the author’s own Ojibwa family history.  Erdrich masterfully weaves tribal culture and language, as well as actual events in history into her story, just as Omakayas, her family and others in her tribe weave games, music, spirituality and rituals into their daily work.  A helpful glossary and pronunciation guide is included in back of the book.

The setting and time frame parallel those in some of  Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series books; the illustrations by the author are reminiscent of those by Garth Williams for the Wilder series, but are charming and beautiful in their own right.  A fine audio book version of The Birchbark House is available on disc, and on a download through the Wisconsin Digital Library powered by Overdrive.

 The Birchbark House is recommended for ages 9 and up.  The sequels are recommended for ages 10 and up.

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