A is for America: An American Alphabet
Written by Devin Scillian
Illustrated by Pam Carroll
Published by Sleeping Bear Press
56 pages, 2001


L is for Lone Star: A Texas Alphabet
Written by Carol Crane
Illustrated by Alan Stacy
Published by Sleeping Bear Press
40 pages, 2001


M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet
Written by Mike Ulmer
Illustrated by Melanie Rose
Published by Sleeping Bear Press
56 pages, 2001


Sleeping Bear Press has made a cottage industry out of regional alphabet books, and this year they have three more volumes to add to the list. America, Canada and Texas all get the 26-letter salute, and any one of these attractive books would make a fine gift for a youngster in your life. While the books have different authors and illustrators, they are similar in style and tone: each letter of the alphabet gets its own little poem accompanied by beautiful illustrations and fun facts about the topic. (Did you know that a zipper was named for the way it sounds, or that it was invented by an American but perfected and patented by a Canadian?) Other books in the series cover Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Maine, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, with more states to come. But with the recent surge of patriotism, the American alphabet book with its striking Statue of Liberty cover is sure a to be a favorite this holiday season. -- Pamela Patterson


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Arthur: The Seeing Stone
by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Published by Orion
338 pages, 2001

In a year that lacks a new Harry Potter book, young J.K. Rowling fans might be placated -- and more -- by Arthur: The Seeing Stone, an engagingly written first-person retelling of the Arthurian legends. While clearly aimed at children around the age to appreciate the Potter books, here again is a volume that can be as voraciously enjoyed by adults as it can by kids. Intended to be part one in a trilogy, Arthur takes place in Wales during the late 12th century and is seen through the eyes of a young page. An enchanting reworking of a classic tale.


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Good Morning, Sweetie Pie And Other Poems for Little Children
Written by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Jane Dyer
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
32 pages, 2001

Young children love to hear stories about themselves and Good Morning, Sweetie Pie fills that bill with eight very sweet poems about toddlers and the things they do. With titles like "Baby Loves a Rainy Day," "Baby Has a Bath Today," "Going in the Car" and "Sweetie's Messes," it celebrates the everyday activities (messy or otherwise) of our little ones. Accompanied by lovely oversize watercolor illustrations, the poems are all based on real life "sweetie pies" whose names and photos are displayed at the end of the book. This is bound to be one book that toddlers will demand to hear "Again! Again!" -- Pamela Patterson


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Inventor's Handbook: Radio and Communications
by Steve Harris
Published by Silver Dolphin Books
32-page booklet, radio schematic, radio parts, 2001

How many books do you know of that not only teach you step-by-step how to build your very own radio right in your home but also come with all the bits and pieces as well? Designed for children eight and older, Inventor's Handbook: Radio and Communications takes you through a simple history and evolution of radio and other interesting communication devices from smoke signals and talking drums to computers and e-mail. The real fun here is getting to build a real working radio and the package comes complete with transistors and wires and full instructions. Tired of your kids sitting in front of video games for hours on end? Give them Radio and Communications and you just might be sparking little Sparky's imagination to become the next great Nobel Peace Prize winning engineer. Great for those bored kids who need something to occupy them other than taking apart dad's watch, or for the adult who believes that they should know more than just being the only one able to belch the national anthem when lost in the woods with their fishing buddies. This gift will definitely put an end to that debate over whether there are small people with tiny instruments inside your car stereo. -- David Middleton


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Sophie's Masterpiece: A Spider's Tale
Written by Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by Jane Dyer
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
32 pages, 2001

In Sophie's Masterpiece, a very special spider with an artistic bent goes off to live at Beekman's Boardinghouse. Although she tries make herself useful, the landlady wants her out of the parlor, the tugboat captain is frightened when he finds her in his closet and the cook is disgusted by her very presence. But when an expectant mother moves in one day, Sophie gets the chance to do something truly selfless and miraculous for the new resident and her efforts are appreciated at last. The story, inspired by an incident from the author's life, resonates with gentle compassion. Jane Dyer has added her inimitable stamp to this book with her fanciful watercolor illustrations (especially whimsical are Sophie's brightly colored socks -- a different one for each of her eight legs). This is a tale to be treasured: it will both make you smile and break your heart. -- Pamela Patterson

Ted
Written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
40 pages, 2001

Did you have an imaginary friend when you were little? (Of course you did. You just won't admit it now.) But was your imaginary friend a very large, raspberry-colored creature that looked rather like a pot-bellied dog, wearing a brown vest and a polka-dotted, bow-tied neckerchief, with a big button for a navel? (Um, probably not.) Ted is a fun-loving, sometimes mischievous oaf who introduces his school-age sidekick to a handful of adventures designed to get the attention of the boy's preoccupied dad. (Sometimes, all it takes to bring an adult out of a self-absorbed reverie is something as simple as indoor swimming.) Tony DiTerlizzi's delightful illustrations are rife with wonderful little details, such as a vintage television set in the living room and old-fashioned handles on the bathroom sink. And the picture on the last page exudes pure, unadulterated joy. Ted is a fun book for kids of all ages. -- Pamela Patterson


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Olivia Owl and Oscar Otter
by Maurice Pledger
Published by Silver Dolphin Books
10 pages, 2001

Creating books for babies is a special proposition. They must have big, fat pages -- boardbooks -- so that those surprisingly strong little fingers can't destroy the book in their joyous enthusiasm. The illustrations must be at least enchanting to capture the interest of their intended audience. (After all, if they don't do that, you may as well not bother with the fat pages.) And, with all of that in place, they must have something more. And you have to think: What is it that babies like? What is it that babies want to (ahem) read about. In two board books published in 2001, Maurice Pledger uses a baby-attention-grabbing device that's been done before, but he does it very well: He uses textures to captivate his teeny readers. And so, on the cover of Olivia Owl we can touch the shiny wings of a butterfly or the soft, fuzzy petals of a flower. And on the cover of Oscar Otter, we can touch the scratchy stems of bulrushes. Though these are "texture" books, no one seems too concerned that the textures included don't, for the most part, feel much like the real thing. Sophie Salmon's underbelly is the same texture as the aforementioned butterfly and the wing of William Wood Duck is soft and (fake) furry and feels more like it should be on Oscar Otter himself. It doesn't matter: babies should be charmed and the illustrations are delightful.


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The Race of the Birkebeiners
Written by Lise Lunge-Larsen
Illustrated by Mary Azarian
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company
32 pages, 2001

Based on a true story from Norwegian history, The Race of the Birkebeiners is a tale of bravery and tenderness under duress. The Birkebeiners were the fiercest warriors in the land, and loyal to the king -- but after the king's death, they find themselves at odds with the Baglers, "those rich nobles and false bishops who wanted to line their pockets with the peasants' money." On Christmas Eve in the year 1206, a gathering at the district governor's farm is interrupted by a knock at the door. Unexpected guests are asking for help, and what happens next makes for a suspenseful story where skiing prowess and endurance ultimately save the day. Mary Azarian's glorious woodcuts, hand-tinted with watercolors, contribute immensely to the feel of the story; it is easy to see why she was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1999 for Snowflake Bentley, another gorgeous picture book based on a true story. -- Pamela Patterson


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