Books for the Holidays! Foundling Family Book Review – Issue 12

Here are some wonderful books to give as gifts in the spirit of winter holidays to the children and teens in your life. Courtesy of Foundling friend Celia McGee. Enjoy!    



   Pat-a- Cake and All Fall Down, by Mary Brigid Barrett, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Candlewick Press) are two jolly board books that transform a duo of old-fashioned nursery rhymes into contemporary language and situations that little ones will relate to, with peals of laughter.

Pat A Cake and All Fall Down

   With PANTONE Box of Colour (Abrams Appleseed), the company known worldwide since the 50s for providing the standard language for color communication from designer to manufacturer to retailer to customer, has turned six of its colors into six toddler-size peek-a-boo board books, which will teach tots about colors, shapes and objects, as well as purely delight.

   Emma Dodd’s Forever (Templar Books), which has holiday-glittery bits of foil worked into its illustrations, Sarah L. Thomson’s Cub’s Big World, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Harcourt Children’s Books), and, also for slightly older children, Naoko Stoop’s Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue (Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown) all center on one of this season’s favorite and cutest animals—polar bears. To little readers these present little polar bear cubs, who sometimes get lost or up to no good, but ultimately find their way home to a mother’s love.

   Toys Galore, by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake (Candlewick Press) is a veritable toy chest of zany children and zanier toys accompanied by quick-stepping rhymes that tout the playful powers of both.  Last but not least emerges the most special power, but no spoiler here.


AGES  4-7

   Two more books that glisten with sparkles, Tallulah’s Nutcracker, by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and The Very Fairy Princess Sparkles in the Snow, by legendary actress Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton (their illustrator is Christine Davenier) (Little, Brown), remind us that Christmas isn’t Christmas without “The Nutcracker” while in Geraldine’s (aka The Very Fairy Princess) hometown,  the holiday season isn’t the holiday season without the Winter Wonderland Festival. Both Tallulah and Geraldine are sure they are destined to be stars—and they are, just not as they expected.

The Very Fairy Princess

   In Olivia and the Ice Show: A Lift the Flap Story, adapted from the popular Nickelodeon show by Tina Gallo and illustrated by Shane L. Johnson (Simon Spotlight/Simon & Schuster) we get another performer in the making. Olivia (may we call her the famous young pig?) is determined to be cast front and center in the “Cinderella on Ice” show coming to town. She’s a very good skater, but her friend Julian, who helps her concoct a practice rink, is not. But Olivia is not so stuck up that she doesn’t take time to aid Julian in mastering skating, and the results are fun and rewarding.

   Snowflakes Fall, by Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg (Random House) is a charming, frolicsome treat of a book with a subtly bittersweet ending featuring a row of snow angels. Behind its message of no two snowflakes or children being alike is a moving backstory. The book commemorates the lost children of Sandy Hook and Newtown, Ct. (where Steven Kellogg lived for 35 years), and in their honor publisher Random House has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund and is also donating 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in support of children everywhere.

   Almost smack in the middle of movie star Julianne Moore’s sweet and inclusive My Mom Is a Foreigner, But Not To Me, illustrated by Meilo So (Chronicle Books) is a colorful two-page spread about different holidays around the world, including wintertime’s Chinese New Year, the Scottish Burns Night, St. Lucia Day, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and the St. Nicholas Day.  “We celebrate some holidays on a different day or two,” it says there, and, if you’re Dutch, “…sometimes I find PRESENTS stuck inside my SHOE.”

   Believe it or not, in  DragonQuest, by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Wayne Harris (Candlewick Press),  “the last dragon” turns out to live up high above the snowline in mountains few men dare to climb. But not the intrepid young lad who, with an elderly guide full of wisdom about the perils of nature and the supernatural they must brave to attain their chilly goal, grows up quite a bit as he uses courage as his other companion.  For slightly older friends or siblings (8-12), the lavishly designed and informative 10th anniversary edition of Dr. Ernest Drake’s Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons (Candlewick Press) will make a nifty gift.

 Dragon Quest


AGES 8-12

   Sophie Scott and her Antarctic adventures in Sophie Goes South, by Alison Lester (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children), will appeal to the younger end of this age group, but that doesn’t mean the tantalizing story of a girl and her dad on a trip to the lands bordering the South Pole isn’t also long on real details and the occasional page of photographs from the regions they visit. Does it elude Sophie that she has the same last name as the famous Antarctic explorer? No, it does not.

   Just in under the wire for gift-giving purposes, that weird and wonderful Lemony Snicket has managed to publish  the second book in his new “All the Wrong Questions” series,  “When Did You See Her Last?”  with vintage-meets-mad-scientist type illustrations, again by Seth (Little, Brown). Still living in the bedraggled town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, Snicket the young P.I. is put onto a case involving the disappearance and possible kidnapping of the town’s debutante. This somehow gets tangled up with his chemistry-loving crush, Ellington Feint, a curious statue of  a local hero,  a laudanum pusher, underground passageways, and Mr. Snicket’s typical who-knew-nothing-and-when-did-they-not-know-it.  Breath will stay bated for the next installment.

   Tom Angleberger’s The Origami Yoda Files, a boxed set of all four “Origami Yoda” novels, illustrated by Angleberger and Jason Rosenstock (Amulet Books), reminds us that few authors do a better job of unfolding (get it?) the trials, tricks, absurdity and whacky victories of middle school. Just look at that adorably bizarre “Star Wars” paper knockoff smiling—or is it glaring?—at you from the front of the box, and you want to dive right into the dramedy of the McQuarrie Middle School’s troop of misfits and dreamers. The ultimate question is: do you believe in magic, or is it the strength imagination?

   A treasure trove of tales about The Mysterious Benedict Society also gets the boxed-set treatment in Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society Collection, illustrated by Diana Sudyka  (Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown), with the well-loved prequel, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict of course coming last. In the first book, young Reynie Muldoon of Stonetown takes the enigmatic series of tests that will land him in the company of three other out-of-the-ordinary geniuses at a rather odd boarding school, and from then on it’s one challenge, dastardly plot, dangerous puzzle, death-defying feat, and lesson about friendship after another in the battle for good to prevail. No clueless reader may apply.


   Animation Studio, by Helen Piercy, with various illustrators (Candlewick Press), comes in a box, and looks like a retro something aimed at toddler siblings. But it is, in fact, a clever kit devised for the very up-to-date, sophisticated middle-school pastime of learning all about animation—to the point that you may even be able to figure out how to send out your own story-boarded, dramatically lit, action-packed animated movies over your cell phone.


Ages 12 and up

  Of the exquisitely produced Eragon Collector’s Edition: Inheritance, Book One (Alfred A. Knopf), author Christopher Paolini writes: “When I was a kid”—keep in mind that he wrote this myth-laden best-seller when he was fifteen—“I thought every book ought to be bound in leather. My stance has mellowed over time, but even so, there’s something special about a book clad in leather and adorned with marbled endpapers. Even more so if it’s illustrated.” Some of the fanciful, full-color illustrations are by Paolini himself.  In its intricacies of clans and the mystical, the original saga, published in 2003, about a boy suddenly dealt the fate of defending a well-intentioned folk against an evil dictator and his forces of darkness, foreshadows the ardor now also felt for “Game of Thrones.”

   Before there was a Katniss, a Stephanie Meyer or the many other authors and characters who newly keep us us enthralled by the sanguinary and otherworldly, there was Lois Lowry with The Giver, in 1993. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Houghton Mifflin has produced a boxed set of The Giver Quartet—The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son—and its brilliant evocation of a dystopian world bereft of feeling, real families, and the idea that death as we know it exists. Is escape possible, and what happens then?

   Beware beautiful creatures, or rather the ancient curses and secrets, gore, Southern Gothic, and violent emotions that beset the four books of The Beautiful Creatures Complete Paperback Collection, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown). Beware dull, sleepy, smothering towns below the Mason-Dixon Line and the centuries of powerful, supernatural malevolence they may contain, only to be brightened by intense teenage romance. And even that may not be what it seems.  For something completely different, beings called casters and incubi might just show up at the fusty town grocery store.

Beautiful Creatures

   Continuing our gift-giving theme that the only thing better than getting one book is receiving more, Veronica Roth’s phenomenally best-selling Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant have been boxed together in The Divergent Series (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins). The futuristic setting here is a radically changed, dystopian Chicago, its inhabitants divided into five factions that are supposed to keep society in balance. But when Tris Prior chooses to buck the system, all kinds of surprises, horrors and heartbreak are revealed to her, and they only increase in mysterious behavior and open warfare as her saga progresses. In the mean time, she struggles with a secret of her own. The set comes with a bonus booklet, The World of Veronica Roth’s Divergent Series, which is well worth keeping at hand.  

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