Children's Books

Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda by Margaret Atwood illustrated by Dusan Petricic (Key Porter Kids)

Margaret Atwood is one of the best known writers in the English language. At one time or another, she has won every award she has been eligible for, including the Man Booker Prize, which she was awarded for The Blind Assassin. Few forget The Handmaid's Tale, Cat's Eye and, most recently, Oryx and Crake. Atwood is an intense force in the international literary community. The writer is, however, less known for her books for young children. Over the years, there have been six in all, starting with 1978's Up in the Tree. In Atwood's latest effort, Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, we encounter Atwood's usual acerbic wit -- here set to "light" in respect of the age of her audience -- as the title characters delve into the depths of their own personalities. But this is Atwood and it's aimed at young kids, so what you encounter is a rollicking ride and a subtle tribute to the under celebrated art of alliteration. "When Bob was a baby, he was abandoned in a basket, beside a beauty parlour. His bubbleheaded mum, a brunette, had become a blond in the beauty parlour, and was so blinded by her burnished brilliance that baby Bob was blotted from her brain." And that's only the beginning of the first page. Atwood's deeply fun prose is here complimented by the whimsical art of award-winning illustrator Dusan Petricic. -- Sienna Powers

Freewalker: Book II of the Longlight Legacy by Dennis Foon (Annick Press)

The very best of children's books seem not to have been written for children at all. That is, they pull no punches, hold nothing back -- at least not in their prose -- spinning strong stories with rich and fabulous writing. Dennis Foon's Freewalker, sequel to 2003's The Dirt Eaters, is like that. This is storytelling that even adults can enjoy: a suspense-filled futuristic fantasy that, at first glance, might seem derivative of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials series but, on closer inspection, reveals a unique and memorable story in its own right. This time out the children are in a coma that might threaten their lives and Roan and Lumpy must find a cure. -- Lincoln Cho

Greene & Greene For Kids by Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen (Gibbs Smith)

First of all, it should be stated that Greene & Greene for Kids would not seem to be based on a topic that would make an interesting book for children. At all. And, truly, it is probably only a certain type of parent or grandparent who would even think about purchasing this book for a child. And that's a shame because Greene & Greene for Kids is lovely, deeply interesting and filled with information and activities intended to stimulate a child's curiosity while increasing their knowledge. First things first: who were Greene and Greene? Many people -- and not just kids -- simply have no idea. The Ohio-born brothers Charles and Henry Greene were two of the architects most important to the American Arts & Crafts movement. Their designs -- and indeed their design philosophies -- have endured beyond the common knowledge of their names. Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen -- who is also the author of the very successful Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids -- has put another sterling package together in Greene & Greene for Kids that includes some very intriguing activities: creating a small water garden, building a model stone wall, working with a color wheel, designing a motto and -- my favorite -- designing a classical house. Thorne-Thompson's book works on every level. It is deeply interesting, filled with challenging projects and -- best of all -- it treats children like small but intelligent humans. Those who aspire to write non-fiction for children could learn a lot from this author. -- India Wilson

Peter Pan and Wendy: Centenary Edition by J.M. Barrie, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Blue Heron Books)

The magic of J.M. Barrie's classic tale of the boy who never grew up, here re-imagined by the astonishing talent of award-winning illustrator Robert Ingpen. You know the story. Wendy and her two brothers are whisked away to a magical island to meet the Lost Boys. From there the group are but a blink of an eye away from a series of adventures that include encounters with pirates, crocodiles, mermaids and the fairy, Tinker Bell. Here the children's classic is given a full and new life in a more real way than Hollywood ever could. -- Monica Stark

Petropolis by Susanne Santoro Whayne, illustrations by Christopher Santoro (Handprint Books)

In the world of picture books for very young children, it is fairly well understood that there is a strong dividing line. On one side, there are the books intended purely to delight. Though the illustrations may be simplistic, they are brightly colored enough to hold a child's attention along with a strong story. On the other side are books not really meant for children at all. Though the stories are childish, these books are like short works of art and they are purchased and hoarded by collectors. The ideal, of course, is when these two worlds come together as they have in Petropolis by the brother and sister writing and illustration team of Susanne Santoro Whayne and Christopher Santoro. Petropolis is the charming tale of Max the dog. When his owners install a new pet door ("Hey Max!" Dad called. "Here's your new pet door." "Hmmm," Molly said, "I liked his old one more.") made by the Petropolis Pet Door Company, the world beyond Max's door changes. Max finds himself in an unfamiliar neighborhood, wearing clothes, meeting up with his friend, Nina, going to the movies and a museum. Max initially loves this pet-driven world, but then discovers he misses the warmth of his home and his human family. To get home, though, he must follow a trail and get through several obstacles in order to be reunited with his family. A beautiful and charming book that will delight both children and collectors. -- India Wilson

Pinduli by Janell Cannon (Harcourt)

California writer and illustrator Janell Cannon has created a string of award-winning books for young children. Her debut, Stellaluna, was a bestseller, and subsequent books -- Verdi, Crickwing, Little Yau and Trupp: A Fuzzhead Tale have all been as well received by both critics and young readers. To my mind, however, Pinduli is the best of the lot of great children's picture books created by this talented artist and writer. Once again we're treated to Cannon's vibrant and softly-brilliant illustrations, here combined with a beautifully told story of a young hyena's coming to understand the physical differences that set her apart from other animals, yet make her uniquely beautiful. After the story's satisfying conclusion, Cannon delivers four pages -- almost a little bonus book -- with information about hyenas and the other animals Pinduli runs into on her adventure. A lovely book sure to be set on by collectors of children's book art as well as the young readers it is intended for. -- Monica Stark

Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (Viking)

Getting children to eat their science along with their vegetables has been the goal of many, many creators of picture books for kids. Most of the time, though, if it looks like spinach and it walks like spinach it's spinach and no amount of dressing it up is going to change that fact. But what if you could rethink spinach in a way that had kids feeling like it was -- if not chocolate, then something just as good? In Science Verse, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith have done just that: reinvented science in a way that children will find not just palatable, but infinitely yummy. Here we have science, undisguised as anything else, but created as poetry and -- on the CD that accompanies the book -- to music. And so, for instance, we learn about matter: "Miss Lucy had some matter. She didn't know its state. She only had three choices, so tried to get it straight." Black holes, combustion, metamorphosis, viruses and a lot more, all engagingly delivered in rhyme. Alone, the poems and the songs would be great, but Lane Smith's brilliant and witty illustrations take the project to a whole different level. Together this package is just about as good as things get in picture book land. I can't recommend this one highly enough. -- Lincoln Cho


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