Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mini-Reviews: Books for Kids

Kids' books get a bit neglected in the world of online book reviews, and with Christmas coming up, you may be looking for one final thing to stuff in the kids' stockings that isn't more candy. Books! You can never have too many. Here are some I like, divided up (loosely) by age group, plus handy shopping links, if you need some overnight shipping assistance.


Albert's Alphabet by Leslie Tryon

If your kid is the type to be fascinated by illustrations, especially those with a lot of details to absorb, this is a good one. My 6 year old is the one who brought it home from the library because it looked "interesting," but my 3 year old is getting just as much enjoyment out of it.

Albert the duck has to build the entire alphabet in order to decorate the school walkway, and the book shows the clever ways in which he uses all 26 letters.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

A classic. I loved this one when I was a kid, and it's the sort of book you can read to both your baby and your kindergartener. It's imaginative, still involves bedtime (the important part to emphasize, of course), and it gets kids thinking about what they would do if they had a magical crayon.

Baby, Make Me Breakfast by Lisa Brown

Lisa Brown has an entire "Baby Be of Use" 6 book series, including Baby, Do My Banking, Baby, Plan My Wedding, and Baby, Fix My Car. Though not really a gift for those more traditional/uptight parents, I find the whole series quite funny. And the kids just love the simple drawings and bright colors. All the books end with "Thank you, Baby!" Now if only I really could get my 3 year old to make my coffee in the morning...

Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

I bought this book for my daughter for her first Christmas, when she was 9 months old. A first grader now, she still likes it. The illustrations are a lovely black/white/charcoal combination, and most any kid who likes cats will enjoy it. Henkes tells the story of a kitten who is convinced that the full moon is a bowl of milk, and so she spends the entire evening trying to "get" it. It's a story of perseverance without being preachy.

The Mouse and the Buddha by Kathryn Price

My husband is Buddhist, and at around 4, my daughter started expressing interest in Buddhism. I searched around for a book that would give her the basics, but would still hold her attention like a storybook. The Mouse and the Buddha fits this perfectly.

Tsi Tsi the mouse is wandering late at night, in search of a snack. He encounters the food left out for the Buddha, and ends up having a conversation with the Buddha about love, compassion and patience. As a result, Tsi Tsi decides that he should incorporate more kindness into his life. Even your most Christian relative should be able to find value in this lovely little hardcover.


The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket

The reason I bump this one up into the Kindergarten age group is that there is a lot more text in this book compared to the previous books, though my 3 year old son still gets plenty of enjoyment out of this book. It will depend on the book-related attention span of your toddler as to whether or not they will enjoy this book.

And yes, this is another faith-based book, this time combining Christmas and Hannukah. However, for those of you a bit squeamish about religion, I can assure you that The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming is more about respecting each other's traditions, with a little dash of history thrown in. God and Jesus do not make appearances, but there is an evergreen who says, "Let me tell you a funny story about Pagan traditions."

Mostly, my kids like it for the screaming.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

My daughter reads well for a first grader, and so she's just now starting to move into chapter books that are not as reliant on illustration. I picked this book up at the library for her because of her interest in detective work. She read the entire thing within 2 days.

Asked what she liked about it, she said, "I don't know, I just liked it! I liked Harriet's little brother and the ugly old lady."

I also remember liking this one as a kid.

The Witches by Roald Dahl

I devoured every single Roald Dahl book my elementary school library had, way back when. (NOT SO way back when, I mean...) I have yet to introduce my daughter to Dahl's books, but I think she will like them. The Witches scared me, but in a good way. Children turning into mice? Witches EATING said mice? Madness!

It's also worth pointing out that the movie-version of this book paired with The Addams Family started my lifelong fascination with Anjelica Huston. I love her.

Middle Readers and Older

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My full review of this book can be found here, but in short, most kids with a good grasp on reading chapter books will enjoy this book. That is if they can get past the somewhat grisly murderer point-of-view in the opening chapter. As soon as the story moves on to the child's view, it gets much better. It's a great book about growing up and finding strength.

Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block

I think I was around 10 when I read these books for the first time. Over one summer, I amassed a stack of Block's books from the library (among others), and thoroughly loved them all. Thing is, I've never really been what you'd call a "fantasy" reader, and I wouldn't necessarily categorize her as traditional fantasy. Urban fantasy, maybe. I haven't read these stories in a long time -- though I've been meaning to reread them -- but I can remember feeling at home with her characters. She had musicians, crazy hair colors, people who weren't straight and lovelovelove all around. In some ways, the books might help a kid embrace their "difference" from the rest of the pack. These books are listed as 'Teen,' but again, it will depend on the maturity of your reader.

I apologize for my list slanting so heavily in the Toddler/Kindergarten section, but I still have young kids and my memory for specific books in my childhood is... fuzzy. I mean, unless you want me going on about all the Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High, Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine that I read... 80s and 90s pulp classics, those.

Anyway, whatever holiday you celebrate, it never hurts to give a kid a new book. Happy reading.

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