December 2016: Holiday Picks

Holiday Picks 2016
Books for babies and toddlers
Trying to figure out how to explain complex principles of science to your infant? Never fear, this new Baby Loves series will help. Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering covers three examples of flight: a bird with wings, a plane with engines, and a rocket with gas propulsion in ways that are fun and, yes, age appropriate. Look for companion title, Baby Loves Quarks.
In HTML tags are commands. They explain how the content or elements should be presented. In this book, don't try to read the tags, instead let the tags guide the reading. <h1> hello beautiful wonderful baby</h1> should be read in a booming, introduction voice, since <h1> </h1> indicates header. Likewise <a>happy</a> denotes a link so connect with your young reader as you <div id="smilelaughgiggle"> together. Companion titles include CSS for Babies, JavaScript for Babies, and Web Colors: A Hexadecimal Lift-the-Flap Book.

In the story of Cinderella, Cinderella lives with her stepmother and stepsister . . . just kidding. You know the story. In this version, it is the illustrations that will appeal most. Sandra Equihua's interpretation of the story is fresh, colorful, and vivid. Look for companion title Snow White, illustrated by Misa Saburi.
There's so much to see and do in a busy city and it all jumps off the pages of this graphic and colorful board book. You don't have to be a city dweller to feel its energy and excitement. Small children will delight with all there is to identify as you journey through the city. Parents might like the ideas they get for activities. Companion titles include Alphablock, Countablock, and Dinoblock.
I have seen a lot of alphabet books over the years but this one is really extraordinary. The design will astound you. The tactile experience of this well-made, creative, and unique volume is impressive. The raised die-cut letters are precise and elegant. The colors are vibrant and the placement of letters is clever and provocative. I can't wait to read this one with my new grandson.
When a little mouse plucks a flower from an old wall, a brick comes loose and he can see through it for the first time. He and the other animals keep removing more bricks until they can see that another group of animals lives on the other side. Together they then use the bricks to build a bridge to join their lands. Brick by Brick is a clever, timely, wordless book that conveys the idea that building bridges to connect us is more effective than building walls that divide. It is a hopeful message for this holiday season.
Picture books and early readers
This sartorial romp through the alphabet is fantastic. The list of words, such as "ensemble" and "vintage," will augment vocabulary. Furthermore, the illustrations feature a wide variety of children engaging in activities from cooking, ice-skating, and dancing, to playing in the rain and visiting the beach. Girls knitting are balanced with boy ballerinas and chefs. The soft illustrations contain quite a bit to look at and talk about; don't miss the endpapers filled with empty hangers in the front and an assortment of clothes featured in the book hanging in the back.
Best in Snow is a gorgeous and dramatic set of photographs of winter scenes accompanied by brief rhyming text. As a bonus, at the end of the book there are several pages of information keyed to some of the photos and concepts. The close-ups are stunning, especially the cover blue jay, ice crystals, and squirrels.
What is a pickle? A green (see), sour (taste), crunchy (hear) vegetable? What other senses can we use to describe it? In five color-coded sections, with wonderfully simple but descriptive pictures and phrases, we see examples of the five senses. Add spicy (smell) and slippery (touch) and you have a complete pickle!
Written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner Rachel Isadora I Hear a Pickle is a wonderful picture book that will help even the youngest children explore their five senses.
Are you stressed, anxious, self-conscious? Is your beak cold? Are you tired of being hunted by large sea creatures? Or dealing with the injustice of being a flightless bird? Penguin has all these problems and more. But with the help of a wise and mysterious walrus, Penguin will learn to see the beauty in life. Maybe.
"The cat walked through the world, with its whisker, ears, and paws . . ." and along the way a child, dog, fox, fish, mouse, bee, bird, flea, snake, skunk, worm, and bat all saw a cat, but not all  in the same way. Each one sees the cat a little differently providing a simple story about perspective.
What does old MacDonald's quaint little farm need? A stable of awesome trucks and heavy construction vehicles, that's what! The familiar tune is back, but tractors, excavators, and bulldozers have taken over the action. And boy, can these trucks make some noise and mess! Children young and old will enjoy singing along with this raucous, joyful take on a classic song.
Based on a folk tale about two volcanoes located southeast of Mexico City, The Princess and the Warrior tells the story of Iztaccíhuatl (the sleeping woman) and Poposcatéptl (the smoky mountain). In Tonatiuh's interpretation, the illustrations are reminiscent of images from the Mixtec codices, much like his other books. An Author's note, Glossary, and Bibliography provide additional information about the story. The Princess and the Warrior is an excellent addition to the libraries of folk- and fairy-tale lovers.
Henry is a boy and Leo is a plush lion, but they are still the best of friends. When his lion gets lost in the woods, Henry is devastated. How will they be reunited? Leo must enlist the help of the forest animals to find his way home. Pamela Zagarenski's stunning illustrations are both surreal and enchanting.
Fans of Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer will be delighted at this third installment, Ada Twist, Scientist from author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts. Super-fans might even recognize Ada as she, Rosie, and Iggy are all classmates and each appears in the other's book. Ada is curious. She's an observer. And she wants to know "why?" She also wants to know "what, how, and when?" Her family encourages her investigations until one experiment goes too far. Nevertheless, Ada's a thinker and cannot be stopped, and her family realizes that they must help, "because that's what you do // when your kid has a passion and heart that is true." Read this book aloud to best appreciate the poetry, and look closely at class pictures to see if you can predict who might be featured in Beaty and Roberts's next book . . .

This version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a retelling of the classic fairy tale. A brave knight answers the plea of his king to solve a mystery: why are the princesses' shoes worn through with holes every morning? The knight has three days and three nights to uncover the truth. The fabulous antique-style illustrations of this edition will transport any reader to a distant fantasy realm.
Mira is an artist and her room is full of color. The streets of her neighborhood, however, are grey and drab. One day Mira meets an artist who envisions something beautiful and the two paint murals on the city walls. The colors and paintings attract the neighbors, inspire music and dancing, and bring the community together. Based on a true story, Maybe Something Beautiful is a gentle reminder that we all need to look beyond the ordinary and envision something beautiful -- something beautiful that inspires us and connects us to the community around us.
Madeline Finn does not like to read. The truth is she struggles a little, especially when she has to read out loud. When her mother takes her to the library, the librarian asks Madeline Finn if she would like to read to a dog! Bonnie looks like a big, snowy polar bear; she is patient, does not interrupt, and never giggles. Over time, Madeline Finn gains confidence in her reading and surprise! earns a star for reading at school. One day Bonnie isn't at the library. Turns out she has a surprise of her own. A gentle story with lovely illustrations that is perfect for any child who struggles a little (with reading or any new skill), but perseveres anyway. Inspiring!
As the site of Paraguay's main landfill, the town of Cateura might not obviously inspire hope for its residents, many of whom earn a living scavenging and selling others' trash. When environmental engineer and musician Favio Chavez decided to offer music lessons in Cateura, he realized he didn't have enough instruments for his students. Furthermore, having an expensive instrument could be considered risky in an area where "a violin is worth more than a house." With help, Chavez devised a solution: create instruments using recycled materials found in the landfill! Ada's Violin is an inspiring story, and the Recycled Orchestra has now traveled around the world sharing music.
Enjoy this introduction to 17th century London, Shakespearean theatre and, of course, the phrases we know today that Shakespeare introduced to us. Enhanced by beautiful drawings and vignettes of everyday London life, the book explains how Shakespeare created such phrases as "sorry sight," "too much of a good thing," and the ever popular "wild goose chase." Not all phrases Shakespeare used mean the same thing today as they did then. A conversation-starter that the whole family will enjoy.
The first in a new series, Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea! is an early-reader graphic novel, perfect for lovers of humor and waffles. Narwhal and Jellyfish meet - who's real and who's imaginary? - form a (podtastic) pod, and imagine up the BEST BOOK EVER! The book also contains fun facts about narwhals and jellyfish, along with lyrics to "The Narwhal Song" (clap clap clap).
Everyone loves to think about what their stuffed animals do when they aren't around. Imagine they lived all together on an island. A teddy bear, an elephant who loves to bake, two silly pigs, a sad snake and a wooden penguin call this wonderful island home. All is peaceful until a very confident bunny and a glamorous doll arrive to live with them and possibly stir things up.
Lovely, fun, poignant with a few black and white illustrations that add to the story. This wonderful fantasy is a great read aloud for the whole family.
With fun illustrations and fantastic photographs, A Child's Introduction to Natural History presents readers with Earth's wonders, from rocks and minerals, to plants and animals. Readers who like science and facts will enjoy this informative book, and can have fun using the patterned origami paper provided in the front of the book to create various animal projects.
Melissa Sweet has given us an enchanting biography of E. B. White, author of classics like Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. Combined with her amazing collages are White's letters, photos, and manuscripts to give us the first-ever fully illustrated biography of the legendary author. The integration of real material with Sweet's own gorgeous artwork is so seamless and successful that young readers and readers of all ages will be swept up in this captivating and wonderfully illustrated story.
Books for middle grade
The final installment in Grace Lin's trilogy (Newbery Honor Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky), When the Sea Turned to Silver is just as gorgeous and fun to read as the first two. Lin also illustrated the series, and When the Sea Turned to Silver includes illustrated headings and eight full-color illustrated plates. When Pinmei's grandmother is taken by soldiers, Pinmei and Yishan set off on a quest to rescue her. Their adventure is infused with legends and heroes. Readers familiar with the previous books will enjoy becoming re-acquainted with a few favorite characters, but When the Sea Turned to Silver is a stand-alone and can be appreciated on its own. Illustrated.
Told from two viewpoints -- that of Pax, a fox rescued as an abandoned kit and Peter, the boy who rescued him -- Pax is more than an animal story. Peter and Pax each see themselves as the protector of the other and are rarely apart, until Peter's father enlists to fight in an impending war. Peter is sent to live with his grandfather, but Pax is not welcome at that house. Peter is forced to release Pax into the woods, into an unfamiliar life. Fearful for Pax's life, Peter runs away and heads back to where Pax was abandoned. Both Peter and Pax, alone in their journeys, are forced to learn survival skills and in the end accept the course of nature.
Nandu was abandoned at age two and found by the Nepalese king's elephant keeper in the grasslands bordering Nepal and India. Actually, it was the lead female elephant Devi Kali who first spotted Nandu, and thus established a bond that strengthened as Nandu grew up and learned the secrets of training elephants. When it seems that the elephant stable will be closed, 12-year-old Nandu and his close friend Rita conceive a plan to keep the stable open - a plan rife with challenges. Definitely a book for animal lovers, What Elephants Know is also about the unusual forms family can take, the challenges of an outsider trying to find his place in a stratified society, and a beautiful description of a country and culture with which we may not be familiar.
Abbie Wu is a middle child about to start middle school. She is the 'middle of all Middles" and is not happy about it. What to do when everyone around you seems to know exactly who they are and what they want? When Abbie starts to speak out about issues facing her classmates, she realizes that you don't always have to know exactly what you want to do in the future. Simply standing up for yourself right now is enough. Illustrated.
Perry T. Cook has lived in prison his whole life. His mother in one of the inmates. The warden is currently acting as his foster-mother, allowing him to grow up near his mother and attend school in the nearby town. Most of the people who know about this arrangement quietly look the other way, until a new district attorney moves to town and he decides he must save Perry. Who gets to decide what is best for Perry? His mom? The warden? The DA? Himself? Perry T. Cook is absolutely charming and the cast of characters he lives with -- some less 'innocent' than others -- are a reminder that family bonds are forged by love.
Obayda's father has been injured and their family has had to leave Kabul to be closer to his brothers. With a family of four daughters, there is no one to work and help the family. Following a tradition in which a daughter is dressed and treated as a boy, to bring luck to the family, Obayda's aunt suggests that Obayda become Obayd, a bacha pash.
Her new outward gender opens opportunities, but it also creates a divide between her and her sisters. It also raises lots of questions. What does it mean to one day have your family tell you you are a boy? What happens when they decide to change you back? Obayda is pre-pubescent and One Half from the East addresses gender only, not sexuality or attraction. It is a fascinating story that will create lots of conversations about gender roles and expectations. It will also inspire readers of all ages and genders to ask questions, take adventures, and visit waterfalls.
They say there is a witch in the woods. They say that the Day of Sacrifice will appease the witch and protect the village. They say there's nothing they can do. They say there is no hope. What they don't know is that the witch in the woods protects, loves, and is loved. They don't know that a child who drank the moon will become powerful. They don't know that another witch lives inside the village, feasting on their sorrow. They don't know that the one person with nothing left to hope for is creating hope.
Unidentified Suburban Object takes a fish-out-of-water tale about a Korean-American girl who has always felt out of place to a whole new dimension. Chloe's is the only Asian family in town until a new teacher, Ms. Lee, arrives.  Without giving away the hilarious and surprising twist, suffice it to say that Chloe makes a world of discoveries about her family and heritage. It is easy to love these characters and to root for the transformation just about every middle schooler faces. Mike Jung has a quirky and delightful sense of humor. The cover art is both apt and charming.
Like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Inquisitor's Tale is told in a series of stories, all by different travelers, who rest in a tavern and share the news. The news that's on everyone's mind is the tale of three children (and a dog) who are fugitives and wanted by King Louis of France. "How did this happen? That's what I'm wondering" the narrator tells us in the opening, and readers will wonder the same as they read each storyteller's captivating tale of Jeanne - a peasant, with a sainted dog - William - a supernaturally strong young monk - and Jacob - a Jewish boy who has the ability to heal. The Inquisitor's Tale brings the complexity of the medieval period to life and will teach a little about acceptance, bravery, religion, and what to do should you encounter a farting dragon. Illustrated.
Ghost knows how to run. He doesn't need a track coach, and he certainly doesn't need a team. What he discovers, however, is that being part of a team is bigger than he realized. Having friends and people who believe in him are exactly what Ghost needs to help him stop running from the memories he'll never be able to shake.
For eighth-grade soccer star Nick Hall, nothing could be more boring than reading a book. When his parents make a shocking announcement, and circumstances on the field leave him unable to play soccer, Nick feels that his life is falling apart. With the encouragement of his school librarian and his crush, however, Nick decides to give reading a try. Could it be that escaping into the right book is exactly what he needs in order to face his current reality? The verse format keeps the pages turning quickly, but a relatable protagonist and wonderful supporting characters make this a book worth savoring.
Books for teens
Canaan is a walled city. No one ever leaves the city or even knows what's on the other side. Except Nadia. In Canaan, every twelve years, the entire community forgets everything. The only thing they have to remind them of who they are are the books that they carry, which they are supposed to write in every day. They know the forgetting is coming soon and the town is preparing. They know that soon they will wake up and have no memories of themselves. Except Nadia. She remembers everything.
Goldie Vance lives and works at a Florida resort with her father, but she aspires to be the in-house detective and in her spare time assists Walter, who currently has the position. Goldie is smart, observant, and resourceful, traits that will come in handy when Walter is working a case that he can't crack alone. Like any good mystery, this first volume has a few twists and turns that will keep readers guessing about what could possibly happen in Volume 2. Set in vibrant 1950s Florida, Goldie Vance is filled with a fantastic cast of supporting characters, including Diane, the love interest. Illustrated.
Nicola Yoon burst onto the YA scene last year with Everything, Everything (soon to be a movie), and The Sun Is Also a Star shines just as bright. Natasha and Daniel cross paths as both of them are going through major life changes. Natasha is doing everything she can in a last-ditch effort to save her family from being deported. Daniel is supposed to be meeting an interviewer who will help decide whether Daniel will fulfill all of his parents' dreams for him, or become the family failure. As the day unfolds, we learn not only about the two characters, but also the stories behind the people they meet along the way. The people, who in another story might be considered background characters, take center stage for a page or two. Long enough for us to remember that while we might only interact with them for an instant, everyone has a story and you never know what kind of impact your brief connection could have. Kindness and selfishness have ripple-effects that you may never realize.
Joana is a nurse. Florian is an artist. Alfred is a sailor. Emilie has not yet discovered who she will become. Each one has secrets and a strong desire to survive. Joana is Lithuanian. Florian is Prussian. Alfred is German, and Emilie is Polish. Each one is running from the past, hunted by guilt, fate, fear, and shame. As each character struggles to escape the past, and to escape the war that is devastating Europe, they are all blindly heading towards another tragedy, a deadly maritime disaster that occurred in January of 1945 and is largely unknown today.
Although Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Septys, is set towards the end of World War II, it is not about war. It is about choices. The choice to love someone for no reason. To find a family when yours is gone. To betray your neighbors. Devastated by a war that has stolen their childhoods and adolescence, Joana, Florian, Alfred, and Emilie each have to make a choice about the individual role they will play in the war's atrocities. They must choose between whom, or what, they will fight to protect, and whom, or what, they will sacrifice to protect themselves.
Salt to the Sea is haunting and beautiful, tragic and hopeful. Highly recommended.
Dill, Lydia, and Travis are finishing high school, but while Lydia is getting ready to embark on a new adventure, Dill and Travis plan to continue living in the same small town, under the thumb of their domineering parents. Dill's mother has never forgiven him for testifying against his own father, a Pentecostal minister known for handling snakes. Travis's father is abusive and Travis's best escape is a fantasy series by his favorite author. The characters and writing in this book are stunning and, although you will cry, you will also rejoice as Dill slowly re-discovers his own voice.
The Crooked Kingdom is the companion book to last year's Holiday Pick, Six of Crows. All six of our favorite characters are back and this time the stakes are higher. At first they had to forge an unlikely crew; now the connections are even more complicated. They've betrayed each other, fallen in love, risked everything, and sacrificed themselves. They will have to figure out a way to trust each other, even when everyone is lying, and find a way to save their city and maybe even themselves. It is necessary to read Six of Crows first.
Adrian Piper is no hero. As an aspiring graphic novel writer and illustrator, he wishes he could be, but in his Texas town, he's better off trying to blend in than standing out. Then he and his friends witness an openly-gay student at their school get beaten up by the Sheriff's son in the parking lot outside a coffee shop. Although a lot of people see exactly what happened, Adrian is the only one willing to call it what it is: a hate crime. Despite repeated pressure at his school, from the police, and even his peers, he refuses to back down. Perhaps Adrian Piper is a hero. Does that mean he will get the boy? Illustrated.
Best friends Miel and Sam are strange and inseparable. Roses grow out of Meil's wrists and Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees.  When the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches, want the roses that grow from Meil's skin, the story becomes especially suspenseful. Meil needs to protect herself but she also would do anything to keep Sam safe and his secrets from being revealed. Using ethereal language and magical realism, When the Moon Was Ours is a beautifully written romance with multicultural elements and LGBT themes.  It is also an inspiring, honest story about best friends who fall in love and have to decide how they want to define themselves in this world.
Fiction and non-fiction
Do trees have a social life? Do they communicate, protect their children, form a social network? Peter Wohlleben presents compelling evidence in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, that trees do indeed have these attributes, conclusions based on his experience working for the forest conservancy in Germany for more than 20 years. A perfect gift for the nature lover, this book is printed and bound on ancient forest-friendly paper.
Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has lost his printing business in the aftermath of the Civil War. He now travels at will through small Texas towns, reading newspapers for ten cents to citizens hungry for news of the outside world. At one of his stops in northern Texas, he's offered a $50 gold piece to return a young girl to her relatives in San Antonio. Johanna's parents had been killed in a raid; she was kidnapped and adopted into the Kiowa tribe, with whom she lived for six years. And so Captain Kidd begins this 400-mile treacherous journey with a 10-year-old girl, recently rescued  by the Army, who only speaks Kiowa and is determined to eschew "civilized" behavior and clothing. Dependent upon each other, an unusual bond develops; ultimately, Captain Kidd is faced with a momentous decision. We, the readers, cheer him on in hopes that he comes through with the correct choice.
In her debut novel, Yaa Gyasi bravely explores in depth the ramifications of the European-American slave trade, beginning with its origins in Africa, where victorious tribal warlords sold conquered Africans to white traders. Tracing the descendants of two Ghanian half-sisters, Effia, the wife of a British soldier, and Esi, who is sold into slavery, Homegoing is encyclopedic in its reach. Beautifully written and extremely well crafted, Gyasi brings to life characters who have suffered under slavery-generations of men, women, and children who are still under the burden of its far-reaching legacy.
Professor Samuel Andersen-Anderson exhibited early promise as an up-and-coming writer. However, after one successful work he has been unable to produce a second novel and has retreated to a community college where he teaches English and secretly escapes online into "The World of Elfscape." That is until his mother, whom he hasn't seen in decades, becomes a news sensation upon her arrest for throwing rocks at a presidential candidate. Samuel knows he must somehow come to her rescue. Critics have described The Nix as Dickensian in its scope as it follows Samuel on his journey to discover his mother's past with its many secrets. On the way, Samuel begins to reclaim his own identity. This debut novel wanders far and wide, subtly satirizing current and past trends in our culture.
Author J.D. Vance, in tracing his rise from poverty and a tumultuous home life to graduation from Yale Law School, opens our eyes to a segment of the American population that has been overlooked, ridiculed, and by-passed as blue collar rural jobs evaporated. Vance is among a minority who have managed to escape the unemployment and curse of addiction that has brought this culture down. Yet in his return to his roots in Appalachia, he does not condemn but presents his culture honestly and sympathetically. A timely and important book!
Welcome all to your table! Anna Thomas' approach is to offer flexible recipes with variations and menus that include something for all preferences. The enticing recipes are simple yet creative and the photography is beautiful. Inspiration for all of us to eat healthier.
Books for all ages
The Eiffel Tower takes us up, up and away on a whimsical journey over Paris. Sights and activities of the City of Light are beautifully illustrated through  intricate laser-cuts. Readers of all ages will be in awe. Truly a work of art.
The title says it all; this book contains 28 home scientific projects including Lemon Battery, Balloon Rocket Car, and Jungle in a Bottle that can be done at home. Each project contains an introduction. step-by-step instructions, a list of required materials, photographs, and a 'how it works' section. The glossary will be a useful reference  for new scientific concepts. Maker Lab will be enjoyed by the whole family. Stock up on supplies for a couple of projects so that you can get started right away.
Neil Gaiman's blurb on the cover of Atlas Obscura states, "I thought I had seen most of the interesting bits of the world. Atlas Obscura showed me that I was wrong." I confess I feel the same way. I haven't traveled the globe, but the first thing I did upon seeing this book was look up the places I've lived or traveled to the most. While I was pleased to see a couple of my favorite destinations (shout out to Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland and Fingal's Cave, Scotland), I immediately regretted all the places I didn't know about earlier! With stunning photographs, history, information, as well as travel advice, this will be your  go-to guide from now on, before traveling anywhere new, or deciding where to visit next. Root Bridges of Cherrapunji, Meghalaya anyone?