A book is a garden you can hold in your hand
An orchard you take on your lap
A book is a companion who sleeps
Only when you are asleep…
A book is a tree that lives long,
And bears delicious and abundant fruit,
That is easy to pick and perfectly ripe,
At all times of the year.
—Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahral-Jahiz, a.k.a. al-Jahiz, from the introduction to Nancy Farmer’s “Clever Ali,” illustrated by Gail De Marcken (Orchard Books, $17.99.)
And so begins the tale of an Egyptian boy, who at the age of 7, moves into the men’s quarters of his family’s house — men and women live separately — and goes to work with his father, a pigeon keeper for the Sultan of Cairo. “Clever Ali” is just one of the children’s books this season that celebrates family and reflects some of the diversity worldwide. The holiday spirit also can found in stories about food and concerns about the environment.
All you need is love
One book this season that expresses the universal joy of giving is Roni Schotter’s “Mama, I’ll Give You the World,” illustrated by Susan Saelig Gallagher (Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.95.) The story revolves around a little girl, named Luisa, who sees how hard her mother works at the local beauty shop, especially since Dad is not around anymore. (One of the few references to the fact that Mama is a single parent.) At day’s end, Mama doesn’t complain but tells Luisa, “The world is big. So much more for you to know. So much more for you to see. One day, if I can, I will give the world to you.” For Mama’s birthday, Luisa decides to give Mama the world and turns Walter’s World of Beauty into a ballroom — the Roseland Ballroom, to be exact — so Mama can experience some of the joy she gives to others.
Another tale about the importance of Mama is Sandhya Rao’s “My Mother’s Sari” illustrated by Nina Sabnani (North-South Books, $14.95.) In this case, the young girl (no name) is able to explore the world wrapped up in the comfort of her mother’s sari. The colorful sari becomes a train, a river, a rope. It also can be used to hide behind with her friends and even wipe her nose. The conclusion: “I love my mother’s sari and how it makes me dream.”
A similar theme runs through Catherine Louis’s “Liu and the Bird: A Journey into Chinese Calligraphy,” calligraphy by Feng Xiao Min (North-South Books, $16.95.) This time, a dream inspires a young boy, named Liu, to travel over mountains, across a river, through a forest to see his grandfather. Guided by a star, a bird, a floating feather and even a child writing on rocks by the river, Liu lands at grandpa’s house. Grandpa, however, is not surprised by the unexpected visit: “I was waiting for you ... Because the voice of love can be heard from far away.” In addition to the narrative, on almost every page, a series of drawings show the evolution of certain words in the Chinese language, from pictures to current Chinese characters.
Mom and Dad take on new meaning when Bob not only learns he is a palindrome — a word that is spelled exactly the same way forward and backward — but so are his parents. Once enlightened, Bob sees palindromes everywhere in Mark Shulman’s “Mom and Dad Are Palindromes,” illustrated by Adam McCauley(Chronicle Books, $15.95.) What he concludes, well, you have to read the book.
Green Eggs to diner fare
Food and family are so intertwined in most cultures; it’s hard to ignore the wonderful food-themed children’s books on the shelves this season. One of the cleverest titles to hit the shelves is Georgeanne Brennan’s “Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook,” illustrated by Dr. Seuss (Random House Children’s Books, $16.95). In the book’s introduction, Brennan tells us she has always wondered what green eggs and ham really tasted like. I must admit, I have not. In search of an answer, Brennan compiles a 64-page cookbook of recipes based on expressions found in Dr. Seuss’ tomes.
Brennan creates the recipes from scratch, choosing healthy yet fun ingredients. For example, “Schlopp with a Cherry on Top” becomes a bowl of homemade granola, yogurt, banana and, of course, a cherry on top. A “Yot in a Pot” is transformed into an Italian stew with lots of vegetables, and clams, shrimp, sausage if you want. Dr. Seuss’ illustrations fill the book as well as photographs by Frankie Frankeny of the delightful delicacies. So what makes the eggs green? Once again, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the bright orange book to find out the answer.
Eat your vegetables — green and otherwise — may just be the morale of Alan Durant’s “Burger Boy” illustrated by Mei Matsuoka, (Clarion Books, $16.) As many little boys do, Benny only wants to eat hamburgers. So much so that yes, one day, he turns into a big fat burger. But not to worry, as in most children’s tales, the 29-page book has a happy ending. Benny discovers you can have your cake (or carrots) and eat it too, but everything in moderation.
The diner inLynn Downey’s “Matilda’s Humdinger” (Random House Children’s Books, 17.99) is unusual because 1) the head waitress is a cat; 2) the patrons are an assortment of creatures from beavers to moose; and 3) the service is terrible. That is, Matilda is the worst waitress in the world. But she can write, and in the end, it’s her creative writing skills that save the day when the diner’s patrons are threatened by masked bandits.
Save the penguins and moreEver since the release of “The March of the Penguins” and now “Happy Feet,” it seems Americans can’t get enough of the cuddly creatures from the South Pole. But how would it feel if a penguin arrived in the mail each day for a year with no return address? Well, author Jean-Luc Fromental does just that by concocting a tale around the arrival of our fine, feathered friends on the doorstep of one unsuspecting family in “365 Penguins,” illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet, (Abrams Young Readers, $17.95.)
Along the way, there are basic lessons to be learned, mostly about counting. Did you know if you stack penguins in four piles of 15, you have a total of 60 penguins? But the point to be driven home (excuse the pun) is the consequences of the planet warming up and the ice caps melting.
Wild horses come to life in Leo Yerxa’s “Ancient Thunder” (Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, $18.95) a series of drawings by Yerxa that feature wild horses against a background that resembles the traditional cloth worn by the plains’ people. Yerxa, an artist of Ojibway ancestry and born on the Little Eagle Reserve in Ontario, uses few words to move the story forward. And if Yerxa intent was to celebrate these majestic animals, he succeeds wildly.
Other new and noteworthy children’s books include:
- “Across the Alley” by Richard Michelson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99)
- “Alphabet Explosion!: Search and Count from Alien to Zebra” by John Nickle (Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.95)
- “The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History” by Jennifer Armstrong, Illustrated by Roger Roth (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $34.95)
- “Brother Juniper” by Diane Gibfried, Illustrated by Meilo So (Clarion Books, $16)
- “Children’s Miscellany Too: More Useless Information That’s Essential to Know” by Matthew Morgan and Samantha Barnes, Illustrated by Niki Catlow (Chronicle Books, $12.95)
- “Dizzy” by Jonah Winter, Illustrated by Sean Qualls (Scholastic, $16.99)
- “Flotsam” by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, $17)
- “Honky-Tonk Heroes & Hillbilly Angels The Pioneers of Country & Western Music” by Holly George-Warren, Illustrated by Laura Levine (Houghton Mifflin, $16)
- “John, Paul, George and Ben” by Lane Smith (Hyperion Books for Children, $16.99)
- “Mites to Mastodons: A Book of Animal Poems” by Maxine Kumin, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Company, $16)
- “My Little Matryoshicas” by Tanya Roitman (Blue Apple Books, $14.95)
- “Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation” by Linas Alsenas (Scholastic Press, $16.99)
- “The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct” by Moo Willems(Hyperion Books for Children, $16.99)
- “The Enchanted Dolls’ House” By Robyn Johnson (Handprint Books, $24.95)
- “Welcome to Zanzibar Road” by Niki Daly (Clarion Books, $16)
- “Where Does Pepper Come From And Other Fun Facts” by Brigitte Raab, Manuela Olten (North-South Books, $15.95)