When you give a book for a holiday present, you want it to make a big splash. It should be eye-grabbing, spectacular, and memorable and not a gimmicky one-day wonder. Here are some splash-worthy, A-rated recommendations:
The All Jahdu Storybook
Virginia Hamilton; illustrated by Barry Moser
Jahdu is a magical, rapping, prank-playing trickster in this collection of vivid original stories in the folktale manner. Thanks to Hamilton’s gift for lyrical prose, it’s a read-aloud treasure. And it has a direct appeal to contemporary kids: Jahdu, a puckish figure, scampers from jungles to Harlem, tangles with robots, and turns into a skyscraper. Moser’s striking watercolors keep pace with the rollicking imp.
Animal Fables From Aesop
Adapted and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Nine of Aesop’s odd little animal fables are retold in a style perfect for reading aloud. McClintock’s wittily stylish illustrations have the charm and detail of 19th-century children’s books. Her humanlike animals are marvelously lively and expressive.
Story and paintings by Peter Catalanotto
Trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, Katie is distracted by a wonderfully funny and exciting series of visits from fantasy figures — Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy, and, of course, you know who. Lovely watercolor illustrations capture the starry-eyed dazzle of magical fantasies.
Slick transparencies combine with shiny pages to make captivating color combinations: blue and yellow for a green frog, pink and yellow for an orange ice cream cone. It’s a snazzy introduction to color mixing that will tempt the poster-paint set to new experiments.
In a pungent, vigorous new translation by Magda Bogin, the Renaissance classic springs to life. The affectionate satire of a book-besotted romantic ”knight” and his adventures is as freshly funny, sly, touching, and slapstick as ever. This is a handsome gift edition with a wealth of illustrations by Manuel Boix.
Eric Carle’s Dragons Dragons
Compiled by Laura Whipple
It’s hard to say which is more delightful, Carle’s brilliant, impressionistic (and not too scary) paintings of mythical beasts and monsters, or Whipple’s inspired selection of poems to accompany each picture, from Shakespeare to Native American songs.
Robert Burleigh; illustrated by Mike Wimmer
An intensely dramatic recounting of Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic, Flight weaves some of Lindbergh’s own diary into the narrative to re-create the loneliness, courage, and beauty of that historic feat. Vibrant paintings with stunning cinematic immediacy make you feel you are there.
Patricia MacLachlan; illustrated and designed by Barry Moser
Eleven-year-old Journey slowly puzzles out — and accepts — his fragmented family life and his mother’s abandonment of him, with the help of his grandparents’ loving patience and his grandfather’s passion for photography. Award-winning author MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall) has come up with another touching, tautly written novel of deep reassurance and wide appeal.
The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien; illustrated by Alan Lee
If you’re baffled by what to give a teenage boy, you can’t go far wrong with this hefty new edition — complete with appendixes and index — that marks the 1992 centenary of Tolkien’s birth. All three of Tolkien’s ”Rings” books are here, as riveting an adventure as ever was told. Lee’s misty oil paintings evoke the Dungeons & Dragons atmosphere so beloved by Tolkien addicts.
Retold by Diane Wolkstein; illustrated by Dennis McDermott
This exciting Russian folktale has everything: a good-hearted hero, a genie, the witch Baba Yaga, an appealingly clever heroine, adventure, mesmerizing language, glowingly lively illustrations, and a finale that celebrates the triumph of kindness and love.
A Pack of Lies
Winner of the prestigious Guardian Children’s Fiction award in Britain when it was originally published in 1988 and recently available in the U.S., this sparklingly witty novel is a treat for the avid reader. A mysterious stranger moves into an antique shop ineptly run by a teenage girl and her mother, and transforms their fortunes by spinning wonderful tales to suit every customer. But who is the stranger? It’s a literary teaser.
Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch
Nancy Willard; illustrations by the Dillons
The Renaissance Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch was one of the most bizarre painters who ever lived, peopling his art with invented creatures. In this wild, rhyming romp of a picture-book fantasy, Bosch’s weird little beasties and creepy critters come alive, creating domestic havoc. Bosch’s long-suffering housekeeper triumphs over them (and him) at last. The Dillons’ surreal paintings are brilliantly inventive, hilarious, and sumptuously elaborate.
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
The rhythmic text and vivid paintings of zoo animals will have children chanting along as they learn a rich vocabulary for the noises animals make, from braying to snarling.
Jane Yolen; illustrated by Dennis Nolan
An outstanding retelling of the Greek myth of Daedalus and his son, Icarus. Tender, haunting, and mysterious, Nolan’s pictures evoke both the life of the ancient Mediterranean and the awesome presence of the gods. Yolen makes moral sense of the troubling story in this highly effective narrative complete with a shivery Greek chorus.
A Young Painter
Zheng Zhensun and Alice Low
A lavishly illustrated and inspiring account of China’s remarkable teenage artist Wang Yani, who had her first exhibition (playful paintings of cats and monkeys) at the age of 4. The text explains her techniques, style, discipline, and delight in creativity; photographs show the artist at work.