By Susan Lawrence, Sarah Ellis & Nathalie Atkinson
WEB EXCLUSIVE One Gray Mouse by Katherine Burton, illustrated by Kim Fernandes (Kids Can Press, $9)
The bright Fimo characters in this colour and counting book will appeal to the playdough set. Gray Mouse is our genial host as we visit groups of animals such as a crew of feathered firemen in “nine white ducks in a red duck truck.” The sturdy board book format is great for those who haven’t quite mastered the art of delicate page-turning. SE
Peek a Little Boo by Sheree Fitch, illustrated by Laura Watson (Orca Book Publishers, $20)
You’ll find baby’s first game (hiding and finding), first story (thrilling disappearance, reassuring return), first joke (you fooled me!) and first rhyming couplet (“peek a boo, I see you”) in this little gem. In a new twist on the universal poem, the author and illustrator celebrate babies from around the world ““ you can find the babies’ countries, their names and meanings in an appendix at the back of this board book. SE
What Do You Want? by Lars Klinting (Groundwood Books, $16)
This view of the familiar things in a baby’s life ““ pillow, shoe, chair ““ is a perfect introduction to the drama of the turning page. “The cone wants…its ice cream.” FAMILY-TESTED! “Abby, 1, seemed to enjoy the simple phrases of who wants what, and enjoyed helping me turn the pages to see what’s next. I liked how it used familiar scenes with animals, people and infant clothing that I could point out to Abby as I read the book to her,” says Emily B.P., Calgary. SE
WEB EXCLUSIVE How To Be by Lisa Brown (HarperCollins, $22)
Simple, elegant illustrations and a “be yourself” message are what make this book by a first-time author and illustrator so charming. Economical both in words and brushstrokes, the book explains how to imitate a bear, monkey, turtle, snake, spider and dog, subtly promoting virtues like patience, bravery and curiosity. SE
Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems (Hyperion, $18)
The pigeon is back, and this time he’s engaging in a classic game of bedtime inflation ““ “Can I have a drink of water? Studies show that pigeons need very little sleep. I’ll go to bed early tomorrow night instead.” Kids will giggle at the familiar delay tactics but revel in sending the pigeon to bed. Fifth in the series, following the award-winning Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. SE
Off We Go by Beverley Abramson (Tundra Books, $19)
There are 40 words, 29 children and a world of action in this energetic photographic romp. “Hop. Never stop. Twirl. Take a whirl.” Pictures of kids running and jumping will appeal to busy toddlers who love to name actions and memorize simple rhymes. FAMILY-TESTED! “Graeme, then 2, really liked the pictures. And he said that he would like to try some of the things he saw the big kids doing,” says Brian M., Vancouver. SE
WEB EXCLUSIVE Happily Ever Afternoon by Sharon Jennings, illustrated by Ron Lightburn (Annick Press, $9)
A just-turned-four-year-old misbehaves on his birthday and is sent for a time-out ““ or so the pictures tell us. The words tell a different tale ““ of treasure, dungeons and derring-do. A book for apprentice heroes and a little reminder to parents that there is always more than one side to a story. SE
Up in the Tree by Margaret Atwood (Groundwood Books, $15)
Rhythm, rhyme, repetition and the delicious fantasy of living in a tree ““ this is a great book for getting the hang of reading. Atwood’s cheery creation, written, illustrated, designed and hand-lettered for her own daughter, has been reissued for a new generation of wannabe tree-dwellers. SE
When You Were Small by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Simply Read Books, $20)
Henry’s father remembers when Henry was so small he slept in a slipper, brushed his hair with a toothbrush and used a ruler for a toboggan. This shared dad-son fantasy shines with the polish of a tale told again and again. Gentle line drawings give a child’s imagination plenty of room to roam. FAMILY-TESTED! “It showed such a cool imagination to see what life could be like if you were really that small, and the dad in the book had such a great sense of humour ““ because you know he was just making that stuff up,” says Ben, 9, big brother to the book’s intended tester. Abbey, 5, was dismayed to find there was “nothing in there about princesses or mommies,” says mom Jacqueline V.D., Vancouver. SE
WEB EXCLUSIVE Roundup at the Palace by Kathleen Cook Waldron, illustrated by Alan and Lea Daniel (Red Deer Press, $20)
Young Zack and his Dad are taking their bull, Buster, to a stock show when Buster breaks out of the pickup and creates mayhem in the Palace Hotel. The illustrations are magnificent (especially the double-pagers of the big panicky beast), and the kids are the heroes here in a satisfyingly rip-snortin’ saga. SL
Travels with My Family by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel (Groundwood Books, $16)
The nine-year-old narrator grumbles because his oddball parents, who love holidays off the beaten track, never take him and his brother to Disneyland. But their many unusual vacations ““ surviving Hurricane Bob in Maine and canoeing amid alligators in Florida’s Okefenokee Swamp ““ morph into charmingly funny stories.
FAMILY-TESTED! “Instead of one climax, it has lots of them,” says Aparna, 8, Toronto, who gives the book an A+. Mom Shailaja S. says Aparna giggled all through it. SL
Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius by Frank Asch (Kids Can Press, $7)
“It’s amazing what you can build from common household items,” says Alex, as he creates a spaceship out of cardboard boxes, duct tape, empty soup cans and his imagination. Alex wants to escape his irritating young brother, Jonathan, but eventually comes to realize just how useful Jonathan is. SL
WEB EXCLUSIVE The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick Press, $27)
Edward is a haughty china rabbit who’s tossed off the Queen Mary, to the despair of his loving 10-year-old owner, Abilene. Over the years he falls into the hands (sometimes loving, sometimes not) of a succession of Depression-era characters until finally he understands heartbreak and learns to love. Ibatoulline’s haunting illustrations make this beautiful novella a memorable experience. SL
No Safe Harbour by Julie Lawson (Scholastic Canada, $15)
Twelve-year-old Charlotte Blackburn’s diary vividly recounts her experience of the Halifax Explosion on Dec. 6, 1917, when most of her family perished. The latest in the popular Dear Canada historical novel series includes newspaper headlines, photos and maps that bring the terrible tragedy to life. FAMILY-TESTED! “Probably the best one” in the Dear Canada series, says 11-year-old Liona, Toronto, who’s read most of the titles. SL
Pirate’s Passage by William Gilkerson (Random House, $26)
In the tradition of Treasure Island, a 12-year-old Nova Scotia boy encounters a mysterious sea captain who blows in on a storm, bringing coming-of-age adventure. Great for Pirates of the Caribbean fans who want to learn pirate history. SL
WEB EXCLUSIVE We All Fall Down by Eric Walters (Doubleday Canada, $15)
It’s Sept. 10, 2001 and Will, a Grade 9 student, is totally bored by the prospect of his school assignment to spend the next day with his workaholic father at his office on the 85th floor of the World Trade Center. The tension is terrific in this page-turner about a competitive father and son who struggle to survive the disaster. SL
Rash by Pete Hautman (Simon & Schuster, $22)
This wickedly funny satire is set in the late 21st century, when almost everything’s a crime, including being fat. Falsely blamed for spreading a rash, 16-year-old Bo is imprisoned in the Canadian tundra and forced to make pizza for McDonald’s. Bo’s gruff Gramps provides comic relief with his rosy memories of the 1990s, a time when the only way to wind up in prison was to steal, kill or use some illegal drugs. FAMILY-TESTED! “It’s fascinating to see our technology and innovation regarded as a thing of the past,” says Renner, 17, Toronto. SL
The Scarlet Cross by Karleen Bradford (HarperCollins Canada, $16)
Kids will welcome the fourth book in Bradford’s popular Crusades series. This is the tale of the French shepherd boy who led an army of children in a march to Jerusalem in 1212. It’s a fictionalized tale about a real event in which 20,000 children took a terrible trek across Europe that ended in slavery. SL
Snow Apples by Mary Razzell (Groundwood Books, $10)
Take one bitter mother scrimping to make ends meet, add a womanizing father who’s never around and stir in 16-year-old Sheila, who’s ripe for romance but ends up with an unwanted pregnancy. Back in print after 10 years, readers will still connect with this classic, set on Canada’s west coast in 1945. SL
WEB EXCLUSIVE Almost Eden by Anita Horrocks (Tundra Books, $15)
THEY’LL LOVE The thoroughly spirited, likeable character of 12-year-old Elsie, a Manitoba Mennonite who wonders why God isn’t doing more to help her depressed mother in the mental hospital (incongruously named Eden).
YOU’LL LOVE Elsie’s irrepressibility and conversations with God, which bring hopefulness and humour to her strictured life. SL
Looking for one book the whole family can read at the cottage, a lÃ Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket? These picks were all written for young adults, but are interesting and thoughtful enough to captivate adults, too.
BloodFever, Charlie Higson (Simon & Schuster, $11)
THEY’LL LOVE Following the 15-year-old James Bond ““ ostensibly in Sardinia for an archaeological dig with his Eton schoolmates ““ as he investigates the disappearance of a classmate’s family, who go missing while yachting in the Mediterranean. It’s second in the popular Young Bond series.
YOU’LL LOVE Recognizing the origins of the adult Bond in Higson’s teen character, who’s more vulnerable than Ian Fleming’s grown-up hero.
Montmorency and the Assassins by Eleanor Updale (Scholastic Canada, $23)
THEY’LL LOVE The page-turning plot in the third delectable Montmorency adventure. It whisks readers off to Florence, where the former criminal-turned-detective searches for stolen specimens and encounters Italian anarchists.
YOU’LL LOVE The vividly eccentric characters (including real ones, such as Empress Elizabeth of Hungary) in this Victorian intrigue, who make Sherlock Holmes seem pale.
Friendship: Stories by Budge Wilson (Penguin Canada, $13)
THEY’LL LOVE The way both adults and children in these stories are flawed, interesting, struggling characters, none more so than the absent dad in “Father by Mail.”
YOU’LL LOVE The way each short story speaks to the importance of human connection. SL