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Where The Best Books Are! reviews the best new children's books as well as favorites from the backlist. Along with big-name titles, the blog features lesser known books, foreign titles and books reissued after years out of print. It also shares classic stories retold in a fresh way and/or beautifully repackaged, nonfiction books that make learning fun and novelty publications that are eye-catching as well as innovative.
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1. The Heart Runneth Over

I Haiku You, by Betsy Snyder, Random House, $9.99, 32 pages, ages 4 and up, 2012.  Joy bubbles off the pages of this poetry book, as children share the little things in life that mean the most to them: the warble of a bird that wakes a girl in the morning, the rainbow that pushes aside gray skies so friends can play. Poet Betsy Snyder uses haiku to convey the sweetness and honesty of children's emotions, and the cute way they see things. When a child is sick in bed, the noodles of alphabet soup look like love letters for her tummy and when a child is hurt, her teddy hugs away her tears. Snyder's watercolors sweeten the words with images that reflect the ease in which children show affection and receive love. After a bath, a child wrapped up in a hooded towel snuggles with his mother as she coos: "from your button nose / to your little piggy toes / i luv-a-dub you." Later, a girl stands arm-in-arm with her teddy, looking up at "shiny mister moon," reassured by his big smile. Paintings have a soft, retro touch -- the children look as if they were stamped in blue ink -- and every image is delicately rendered. This is a book about opening the heart to love, and has the delightful effect of giving the tush a push to get out there in the world, live and love.

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2. Meese, Mise, Mooses: A Delightful Lesson from Author-Illustrator Oliver Jeffers

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3. Best Novels of 2012

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, Margaret K. McElderry Books, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 240 pages. Orphan Rownie escapes a witch's home for stray children to look for his missing brother and falls in with a theatrical troupe of goblins that teaches him the craft of masking.

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, Greenwillow, $16.99, ages 9 and up, 384 pages. Bartholmew Biddle joins forces with a bumbling member of Parliament to recover his kidnapped sister and stop a creepy lord from kidnapping changelings from the slums of Bath.

The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis, Wendy Lamb Books, $15.99, ages 9 and up, 320 pages. A spunky, courageous 12-year-old named Deza refuses to give up on her family's motto -- "We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful" -- in Depression-era Hooverville.

The Great Unexpected, by Sharon Creech, HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 240 pages. Two orphan girls, Naomi and best friend Lizzie, think they know all the peculiar people in Blackbird Tree until one day a boy drops out of a tree and the Dingle Dangle man appears.

Starry River of the Sky, by Grace Lin, Little Brown, $17.99, ages 8-12, 304 pages. In this magical companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, runaway Rendi is left stranded in a remote Village of Clear Sky where the sky moans in pain and a mysterious storyteller helps Rendi work through his past.

Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 12 and up, 272 pages. When violent rebels attack her mother's wildlife sanctuary in the Congo, 14-year-old Sophie flees with orphan bonobo Otto and sacrifices everything to protect her endangered apes.

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, Harcourt, $16.99, ages 10 and up,  256 pages. Sixteen-year-old foundling Jennifer is left in charge of Kazam, a temp agency for wizards, and tries to save the last dragon from being killed in an alternate United Kingdom.

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, Knopf, $15.99, ages 8 and up, 320 pages. Born with a facial deformity, 10-year-old August longs to be treated as an ordinary kid, but as he enters mainstream school for the first time, his classmates can't look beyond his extraordinary face.

Shadows on the Moon, by Zoe Marriott, Candlewick, $17.99, ages 14 and up, 464 pages. When soldiers massacre her father and cousin, 16-year-old Suzume survives by making herself invisible through the magic of shadow weaving, then sets off to seek revenge.

Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, Dial, $16.99, ages 10 and up, 256 pages. Orphan Mo Lo Beau tries to solve the biggest crime to come to Tupelo Landing while she searches to solve her own mystery: how she came to be washed ashore in a hurricane when she was a baby.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion, $16.99, ages 14 and up, 352 pages. When her plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, young British spy Verity is arrested by the Gestapo and faces a harrowing decision: to reveal her mission or face execution.

The One and  Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao, HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 320 pages. A gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade meets a baby elephant who transforms his sad and solitary world.

Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead, Wendy Lamb, $15.99, ages 9 and up, 192 pages. Seventh-grader Georges is recruited by his 12-year-old neighbor Safer to track a mysterious man in an upstairs apartment, but as Safer becomes more demanding Georges wonders what is a lie and what is a game.

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, Candlewick, $17.99, ages 9 and up, 400 pages. Three children fall prey to a ruthless magician and must break free of a witch's paralyzing hold in order to find the happiness that's eluded in them.

Every Day, by David Levithan, Alfred A. Knopf, $17.99. Body jumping is a way of life for 16-year-old A -- every day he wakes up in a different body, in a different person's life. But then one day he assumes the body of Justin and forms an attachment he can't shake.

Rootless, by Chris Howard, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 14 and up, 336 pages. In a brutal post-Apocalypic world, 17-year-old tree builder Banyan meets a woman with a strange tattoo and sets off across a wasteland in search of his missing father and the last living trees.

The Secret Tree, by Natalie Standiford, Scholastic, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 256 pages. When Minty sees a flash in the woods, she chases after it and discovers a tree with a hollow trunk that contains the secrets of everyone in her neighborhood.

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, Little Brown, $16.99, 432 pages. When a cheeky princess named Violet and her kind-hearted friend Demetrius stumble upon a hidden room, they discover a forbidden book that threatens their mirrored world.

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8 and up, 256 pages. When spiderlike creatures steal her brother's soul, Liza ventures into an underground world of talking rats, greedy trologods and an evil queen to rescue him.

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4. Wrap This! Holiday Gift Guide 2012.

from the Christmas Quiet Book

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5. Holiday Gift Idea #8: Wings to Fly

Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind, by Gary Ross, illustrated by Matthew Myers, Candlewick, $17.99, ages 6 and up, 96 pages, 2012.

A boy flies away from home to escape his ordinary life, only to discover that he misses his parents, his tasks and routines.

In this exhilarating poem by film director Gary Ross, Bartholomew Biddle straps on a bedsheet and soars out of his window at night to see what the world has to offer.

"'Why, that looks like fun! / Just look at those trees! They're bending in half -- yeah, that's quite a breeze,'" he says, as a wind blows in to carry him away.

In bare feet and pajamas, Bart paraglides out over houses and cars, and fancies himself the "World's Best Bedsheet flier."

"'Wow, this isn't bad!' / he said, swooping and soaring, / buzzing the rooftops while / people were snoring."

Bart climbs higher and "levels 'er off," then decides he's ready to go somewhere. In the next chapter, Bartholomew wakes up cradled in his sheet between limbs of a banana tree.

Looking down, he realizes he's on a tropical island and sees a band of pirates as merry as can be. In no time, they invite him down to dig up gold and feast on mango pie. It's paradise. And yet it's almost too perfect even for pirates.

One day, Bart hears crying and learns that the pirate's captain is homesick for the sea. The captain misses being surprised by life and not having things work out perfectly right: "Fun isn't fun fun / when it's all that you know."

Bart realizes he misses those things too, and tells the pirates he's "gotta be going" and sets off in search of home. "'Cause tough as it was / to admit to himself / he missed his old room / and the toys on his shelf."

"And even his mom / at a quarter to eight: 'C'mon sleepyhead -- you're one hour late!"

As Bart takes flight again, the wind ripples through his pajamas, now tattered at the cuffs like those of a pirate's slops -- reflecting the adventuring he's already done.

But wind, like life, is uncertain and as Bartholomew coasts for home, he finds himself plummeting down into more peculiar places: where people never leave because they're afraid to or they feel stuck.

Each landing comes abruptly, while Bartholomew is reflecting on things he misses back home, and is also serendipitous: while stranded in these places, Bart learns what it means to really live.

First, the wind peters out over a sad little town where men head off to work with their eyes toward the ground. While Bartholomew loses altitude, he wonders if his dad is like these men, shuffling off to work in a daze.

"Each morning and night / he'd pass through that door, / but what comes in the middle? There's got to be more..."

Then Bartholomew remembers a glistening day, when he and his dad lay on the floor with 500 shades of crayons, marveling at all of the possibilities life has to offer.

"You're young, and the future / is yours to be plucked," his dad said that day.

But then Bart clips a tree and is startled back to reality. He falls into a mucky pond by an austere-looking boarding school, where students have so many rules, they can hardly keep track.

"No running, no jumping, / no chewing of gum, / No teasing, no sneezing, / no crying for your mum."

But then Bart befriends one of the students, Densy, who longs to explore too and Bart asks him to fly away with him. Though Densy longs to do so, he's afraid to break the rules and at the last minute, chooses to stay.

Reluctantly, Bart leaves his new friend behind and soars up until Densy is just a dot on the ground. Soon, Bart is lost in a cloud that leads to a storm and then he's pitched back to the ground.

With rain pelting down and his sheet tearing, Bart plummets into a canyon where all sorts of explorers and risk-takers are stranded. Among them an aviator "Amelia", a balloonist, windsurfers, a Swiss mountaineer and pioneers.

The canyon is enclosed by sheer cliffs and everyone has assumed there's no way out. "They sit and they stare / at nothing at all," having lost the spirit of adventure that got them there.

Will Bart lose his ambition too? Or will a friend new to all this adventuring take a chance, and come and try to save him?

Ross' debut into children's writing is wondrous and though the poem is epic (for a picture book), it has an easy cadence that keeps readers bounding along to the end.

The message for children is simple and wise, and reminiscent of something Dr. Seuss would write: 

Life's for living -- seize the moment, break free. But then come home -- check in, learn the things you need to know before setting off again.

I read this to my eight-year-old son and knew almost instantly we'd read straight to the end. It was his punctuated laugh and beaming face that cued me in, as he reacted to the line, "He'd turned from a ten-year-old / to a small plane."

It took almost an hour to read the book and though my voice got a little craggy, we didn't want to stop till the end. When the last page did come, we felt as if we could float off to bed.

Myers' paintings are exhilarating, particularly those of Bart in flight, and have whimsical touches that float about the page. When Bart learns how explorers blew into the canyon, Myers scatters humorous images of them between poem columns.

The edges of the pages become the walls of the cavern as characters tumble down: On one side, a tornado whirls down with a flag at the top, representing a golfer who got swept away, and below that a man falls clutching the arm of a giant clock to represent being in the right place at the "wrong time."

Not all of the pages are illustrated, but after awhile it didn't matter. By the end of the poem, I realized we'd already filled in all of the blanks with our imaginations.

This is a joyful read for any child who wishes they could lift off and fly.

Of course, we don't want children experimenting with flight. (A cautionary note appears at the beginning of the story.) But wouldn't it be great to see them in the backyard on a windy day, running around with a sheet at their backs?

Ross is the director of many acclaimed films, including The Tale of Despereaux, Pleasantville, and The Hunger Games.

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6. Holiday Gift Guide #7: Things That Pop

Book meets toy: the novelty book. Here are some of my favorites.

Pop-Up London, by Jennie Maizels, paper engineering by Richard Ferguson, Candlewick, $19.99, ages 5-9, 2012. Baroque architecture rises from the pages of this entrancing book, and tempts readers to pull in close and peak around building corners. Gorgeously rendered in pen-and-ink, each spread leads readers from one famous district of London to the next. A small booklet at the top of the scene describes what it's like to enter the district. It then explains its significance, shares secrets about it, and asks questions that readers must then search to answer on the ground and behind buildings. Diminutive flaps, hidden pictures and pop-ups turn this book into an adventure. Among the many delights: two sculls that race on the river Thames along slits, and a scene inside Buckingham Palace that shows royals gathered at a banquet and dancing. The palace's interior walls are detailed like a finely furnished doll house: a two-story scene of butlers rushing about and the king and queen waving from a balcony. Another page features a pop-up of the London Eye, which readers erect by folding back a tab.

Any child who loves cities, architecture or miniatures will be dazzled -- and, chances are, they'll soon be begging for a trip to London. This isn't just a pop-up; it's an experience. The book transports readers into the city on a scavenger hunt down the Thames, in and out of lanes and even across a 3-D Tower Bridge, the grand finale. Best parts: Every little detail. This is one of the best pop-up I've ever seen. Readers will want to lay it open on the dresser and imagine they're tiny enough to walk around the page. The only hard part will be deciding which district to display. 

Popposites: The Pop-Up Opposites Book!, by Mike Haines and Keith Finch, Kingfisher, $16.99, ages 3 and up, 2012. Few books of opposites can match this one. The creators of Wild Alphabet return with a clever spin on opposites. Every page has unique tabs that when rotated or pulled transform one scene into its opposite. The authors begin by contrasting old things with new, and as readers turn a tab, an ancient pyramid rises into the sky and becomes the roof of a modern skyscraper.  Every layout if unique and whimsical. On one page, readers look into an empty portal, then turn a tab and six faces slide out from the edges looking back at them. On another, readers learn about the extremes of sound: an elephant stands quietly with his trunk down, then with the pull of a tab, he raises his trunk and opens his mouth to suggest he's trumpeting. Another favorite shows a flying arrow (the past) transforming into a soaring rocket ship (the present). My only caution is that pull tabs can be stiff at first -- I found this particularly true of a zipper used to show "together" and "apart" -- so it's good for parents to loosen the tabs up a little before passing it on to a small child.  Best parts: A lesson about up and down: as readers pull a tab, a dapper man climbs a staircase and a boy slides down on a railing. And a page about big and little: readers see Earth floating in a circle of stars and as they pull a tab, a hand closes around it, making our planet look suddenly tiny, which when compared to the universe, it truly is! To read my 2010 review of Wild Alphabet click here.

The Wizard of Oz: A Classic Story Pop-Up Book With Sounds, by L. Frank Baum & Paul Hess, design and paper-engineering by Andy Mansfield, retold by Libby Hamilton, Silver Dolphin, $18.95. ages 4 and up, 2012. A twister as tall as a ruler pops up from the fold and triggers blustery sounds that transport readers into the action of L. Frank Baum's classic novel. In this atmospheric remake of The Wizard of Oz, readers see five scenes from the story rise from the page as they read an abridged narrative of the classic. When each pop-up opens, a tab slides at the fold to turn on sound effects, ranging from the cackling of flying monkeys to a crescendo of orchestral music at the gates of Oz. In the first pop-up, Toto barks frantically, a cow bellows and the wind rattles about, sucking up everything in its path. Auntie Em and Uncle Henry's farmhouse spins at the top of vortex, with a shocked Dorothy staring out the window. Opposite is a giant uprooted tree flipped upside down, while below, a tractor whirls around with a cow rising from below. Under that, they see the narrowing tail of the tornado cutting a path across a swath of checkerboard farmland. The perspective is fantastic as it gives readers the feeling they're hovering in the sky nearby. It is the most stunning of the pop-ups and is the one readers are likely to open over and over. Soon Dorothy has landed in Oz and in the next pop-up she helps grease the Tin Man back to life as readers listen to his gears creak and jaunty orchestral music. Other pop-ups show the Emerald City rising like a palace, the flying monkeys carrying Dorothy and Toto away and the great head of Oz: a colorful mask-like visage. This pop-up is far less intricate than Robert Sabuda's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but that also makes it more accessible for small children. I missed not seeing a pop-up of the Wicked Witch under the house, yet I was pleased that the illustrations were playful and not scary. Overall, this is a charming way to introduce young children to a classic. Best part: The perspective of looking down at the tornado, sensing the sheer height of it, while listening to the sounds of livestock and branches getting pitched into the air. Watch a trailer here!

For more pop-up fun, check out these other great titles:

Hide and Seek, by David A. Carter, Tate Publishing (Abrams), $24.95, ages 3 and up, 2012.

One Spotted Giraffe: A Counting Pop-Up Book, by Petr Horacek, Candlewick, $15.99, ages 3 and up, 2012.

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7. The Wizard of Oz trailer

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8. A Jolly Young Soul

Santa from Cincinnati, by Judi Barrett, pictures by Kevin Hawkes, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 4-8, 48 pages, 2012.

With that big belly that shakes like jelly, it's hard to believe Santa was ever a tyke. But indeed he was -- just ask Judy Barrett and Kevin Hawkes.

The book-making dynamos come together for the first time to share the wonder years of dear old Claus -- and wondrous they were.

Even as a newborn, Santa had cheeks like roses and a nose like a cherry. As other babies wailed their way into the world, he turned his mouth up like a bow.

As you might guess, Santa was crazy for toys and the funny thing is, his stuffed toy reindeer had a habit of floating when Mom wasn't looking. Santa would take those eight toys everywhere (Mom gave him a pillowcase to carry them over his shoulder).

Santa was quirky, just like his dad. (At age 5, he glued cotton balls to his face so he had Dad's beard.) His dad was a basement toymaker and he invented all of Santa's toys. Soon, Santa was drilling alongside Dad and neighbor kids were putting in orders.

But of course all of this toy making takes time -- 365 days of time. So how does a guy with homework, prom, college and a girlfriend find the time to become the world's nicest guy?

Barrett's writing is playful and fun -- Santa's an Ohio native, so he's got a Midwest work ethic, and being a preoccupied with inventing, he's surrounded by clutter. He also has to streamline his work (by cutting naughty kids from his list).

Hawke's paintings radiate happiness. His somewhat retro style is matched with whimsical detail. One of my favorite images is on the cover (a young Santa with the shadow of his future self looming behind him).

This is a sweet picture book to feed that magical feeling of Christmas -- and remind children that life is good and that wondrous things do happen.

Best Part: Hawke gives Santa an "Elf on the Shelf" grin -- a joyful smile that never goes away.

(Barrett is the author of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hawke's books include Westlandia.)

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9. Wishing from Afar

Ever wonder what clever, new books are springing up overseas? Here's a picture book I can't wait for.

The Paper Dolls, by Julia Donaldson, Pan Macmillan, 32 pages, 2012. A little girl takes her paper dolls on a fantastical adventure through the house and into the garden. First they escape the clutches of a toy dinosaur, then an oven-glove crocodile and finally a real pair of scissors. A charming picture book by UK's Children's Laureate and debut illustrator Rebecca Cobb. Donaldson is the author of the wildly popular The Gruffalo and my all-time favorite Room on a Broom.

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10. Gift Idea # 6: A Bit of Magic

Here are two picture books that make anything seem possible.

Little Elephants, by Graeme Base, Abrams, $16.95, ages 4 and up, 40 pages, 2012. When locusts threaten a boy's farm, a stranger appears with a magical horn that brings a herd of tiny elephants to the rescue. In this enchanting picture book, Jim and his mother are nearly out of luck -- their harvester is broken and a swarm of locusts is headed their way. But then something incredible happens. Jim sees a mysterious vagabond wading through the wheat stalks. Though the man cannot stay to help, he tells Jim the wind will bring good luck. That afternoon, Jim discovers a bullhorn left on the gate and as he blows into it, clouds of dust waft out and set off a wondrous chain of events. First, a wild mouse that Jim had let loose the day before returns to his bedroom with a surprise: A herd of toy-sized elephants scuffling under his bed. They're frisky and mischievous, and Jim tries to hide them because his mom doesn't want animals in the house. But then the locusts descend, and the elephants break cover and come charging out. They sprout wings and with trunks swinging, launch themselves at the locusts and drive them away. At last, the wheat is safe. But how will Jim and his mother ever harvest it? Base once again dips his pen into a magical place and gives readers something to dream about. Best parts: Nighttime scenes of the elephants racing around Jim's room on toy cars and frolicking in the yard with egg beaters and spoons -- and later, flying off with the stranger into the sunset.

The Man from the Land of Fandango, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar, Clarion, $16.99, ages 4 and up, 32 pages, 2012. A jolly man in a tricolor jacket leaps off a painting on a magical journey into make-believe, in this sparkly treasure by the late Mahy and her long-time illustrating partner Dunbar. After a girl and boy dab the last paint onto the man's portrait, he "bingles and bangles and bounces" off the picture and takes them on a musical romp with instrument-tooting animals. By the end of the picture book, the showman has danced on ceilings and walls, and taken the children bouncing on kangaroos and sliding down a wave of dreams. Mahy's rhymes skip and somersault across the page, while Dunbar's watercolors shout with glee. Characters smile with half-moon eyes and take trampoline leaps as stars and bubbles float about them. Every character in the story looks dizzily happy and that makes readers want to feel that way too. A wonderful farewell from one of the world's most beloved writers. Favorite part: Watching the man from Fandango leap into life and show us all that you're never too old to be playful  -- "He comes in at the door like a somersault star" and dances around as merrily as chimney sweep Bert from Mary Poppins before popping back into his portrait. 

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11. Gift Idea #5: Books Teachers Would Love

Give the gift that gives all year. An enchanting read-aloud, an illustrated moment in history, a story about a teacher who changed a child's world.

Here are six ideas -- for more gift ideas and close-ups of these covers, scroll down for a slide show or click here.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams, illustrated by Aldo Galli, Atheneum, $29.99, ages 10 and up, 496 pages. A band of rabbits flees its comfy warren to live in the Berkshire Downs after a psychic buck named Fiver predicts danger, in this first-ever illustrated version of the 1972 classic. Luminous pictures capture the magic of Adam's heroic tale -- originally told to his children over a long car journey.

Because Your Are My Teacher, by Sherry North, illustrated by Marcellus Hall, Abrams, $16.95, ages 4 and up, 32 pages. A teacher takes her class on an imaginary journey to seven continents (by schooner, camels, helicopter and skis), in this beautiful, rhyming picture book by the creators of Because You Are My Baby. "If we had a schooner, we would have our class at sea / And study the Atlantic, where the great blue whales roam free," the book begins.

The Art of Miss Chew, by Patrician Polacco, Putnam, $17.99, ages 5 and up, 32 pages, 2012. A much-loved author and illustrator recalls her struggle with a reading disability and the teacher who stood up for her when she couldn't keep up. In this inspiring, autobiographical picture book, "Trisha" Polacco pays tribute to MIss Chew, a high school art teacher who refused to let a substitute teacher pull her out of art class.

Mr. Terupt Falls Again, by Rob Buyea, Delacorte, $16.99, ages 9 and up, 368 pages, 2012.  Back on his feet after a coma, beloved teacher Mr. Terupt gets to spend one more year with his seven students before they graduate from elementary school. With energy and understanding, he helps them be their best as they try to pull off an extra-credit project. A heart-warming companion to the 2010 gem Because of Mr. Terupt.

I Have a Dream (Book & CD), by Martin Luther King Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Schwartz & Wade, $18.99, ages 5 and up, 40 pages. A gorgeous, intimate picture book of Martin Luther King's world-changing speech, "I Have a Dream." Up-close head shots of King speaking and a united crowd watching are paired with the last third of the speech. Nelson's paintings make King look as big as his message. A phenomenal series of paintings, which when paired with the entire speech on CD, take your breath away. 

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce, illustrated by Joyce and Joe Bluhm, Atheneum, $17.99, ages 4 and up, 56 pages, 2012. When a hurricane blows away all of the books in his house, a wayward bibliophile moves into a magical library where books nest, chatter, fly and whisper invitations to adventure. Based on the 2011 Academy Award-winning short film by the same name, this stunning picture book was inspired by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz and the curative power of books. Watch the trailer below! For more about this magical book, visit morrislessmore.com.

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12. Books for Every Teacher

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13. Holiday Gift Guide #4: A Charming Import

There's something magical about books from faraway places. Perspectives on life are just a bit different and lend a whimsical touch to familiar subjects -- and to unusual ones. Here are seven gems that travelled this year across the pond from England and France and into U.S. bookstores.

From England:

Dick Bruna's I Can Count, Round, Square, Triangle and My Vest is White , by Dick Bruna, Tate Publishing (Abrams), $7.95 each, ages 2 and up, 28 pages, 2012. Bold, crisp colors and clean, simple lines make learning to count, and identifying basic colors and shapes a snap -- in this compact trio by a renowned Dutch author.

Bruna's graphics are warm and welcoming, and unclutter the mind to learn. Bruna's  work, by way of an earlier series, has a tender spot in my heart. When I was 2, my grandmother gave me Dick Bruna's The Sailor (A Toy Box Tale) about a sailor boy who sailed his toy ship to a land of ice and snow. To this day, when I think of books that made me feel cozy and secure as a small child, Bruna's pops into memory. Best part: The clarity of the message, owed to Bruna's smart use of primary colors and thick, black lines.

The Sailor from childhood; a Dick Bruna garland on Etsy.

The Goldilocks Variations: A Pop-Up Book, by Allan Ahlberg, illustrations by Jessica Ahlberg, Walker, $17.99, ages 5 and up, 40 pages, 2012. A witty retelling in which Goldilocks dines on Choco Pops instead of porridge, and meets 33 bears, an odd-talking Blim and the three little pigs on her search for porridge. Whimsical plot twists, quaint pictures, and clever pull tabs and flaps by an award-winning storyteller and his daughter. Best part: All the little interactive features inside, from a tiny picture dictionary that defines silly words to a diminutive book that presents a stage play of Goldilocks at the village playhouse -- "Marvel at the naughtiness! Gasp at the Scariness! Eat the buns!" a playbill announces.

A pop-up of the Bears' cottage within the stage play.

Jonathon & Martha, by Petr Horacek, Phaidon, $14.95, ages 3 and up, 40 pages, 2012. Two lonely worms living on opposite sides of a tree find love when they meet at the middle of a big, juicy pear, in this UK Picture Book of the Year. Neither worm realizes the other worm is nibbling into the pear from the opposite side, and at first they want to fight over whose pear it really is. But in the process of tussling, they become knotted together, and are forced to work together and share. Then one day a crow swoops down and munches off their tails, which doesn't hurt for long but separates them from the tangle. Only now they don't ever want to be apart and wiggle off happily ever after. Best part: Horacek's charming use of two little holes punched into the pages for the worms to wiggle through. This is especially effective when the worms try to get away from the crow by diving into their holes.

Entangled and content.

The Table That Ran Away to the Woods, by Stefan Themerson, illustrated by Franciszka Themerson, Tate Publishing (Abrams), $10.95, 20 pages,  2012. A writing desk runs away to the woods to grow back into a tree, in this joyful 1963 poem, translated for the first time from Polish to English. One day, a writing desk "grabbed two pairs of shoes / ran downstairs, and took flight" out of the author's house with him and his wife in pursuit.  As it raced through the countryside, the desk slowly reclaimed its original existence, growing leaves and rooting into the ground. The story, first published in 1940 in a Polish newspaper then recreated in this collage version in 1963, is a celebration of renewal and the natural world. (The Themersons were Polish avant-garde artists and filmmakers who fled to London in the 1940s.) Best part: Every bit of it, but especially an image of the desk bounding toward the forest like an excited puppy with its legs splayed out.

From France:

Pomelo Explores Color, by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud, Enchanted Lion, $15.95, ages 3 and up, 120 pages, 2012. When everything in the world goes black and white, a pink elephant discovers all of the ways that color colours his life. In this charming followup to the acclaimed Pomelo Begins to Grow, Pomelo the garden elephant explores 12 colors that affect his mood and make his life adventurous. He finds comfort in white while curling up under a fluffy ball of dandelion seeds. He rejoices in orange as a shower of shredded carrots pile up around him. He sees the romance of pink when two slugs kiss: their cheeks grow rosy, pink stars explode around them and their dangly eyes twirl around each other's. A quirky exploration of color with signature French humor: as Pomelo works his way through yellow, he marvels at all the yellows of "wee-wee."  Best part: When Pomelo sticks his trunk into a black hole and peers in at "The shadowy blue of the Unknown."

Pomelo discovers blue and white.

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14. Holiday Gift Idea #3: Stocking Stuffers

Books that are small enough to slip into stockings and charming enough to belong there! (See Note for Santa at the end of each review.)

Bear Despair (Stories Without Words), by Gaetan Doremus, Enchanted Lion, $14.95, ages 4 and up, 32 pages, 2012. Never play keep-away from a bear. But if you dare, just beware. He has a big belly and he might stuff you in there -- until he's good and ready to let you out. In this hilarious sixth title in the wordless series, a bear chases down animals who've taken his teddy bear, then swallow them whole when they decide to be mean and toss the toy away.

One night, Bear wakes up to find that Wolf has snatched Teddy right from under his arm.  In despair, Bear gives chase, but just as he catches up to Wolf, Wolf snickers and flings poor Teddy up and over the trees. Bear is furious, goes in for a tackle and stuffs Wolf into his mouth. As Wolf howls from inside Bear's belly, Bear races off to find Teddy. There! Teddy's on the ground. Up ahead! But why is Lion grabbing him? Jeering at Bear? Holding Teddy out his reach? Now Lion is running away and Bear is after him. But as Lion reaches a cliff, he hurls Teddy into the air. Bear can't believe his eyes and in a rage, gobbles down Lion. Now, Wolf and Lion are hunkered in Bear's belly, heads in hands, bored stiff.

And Bear? Well, he's spotted Teddy again -- this time, in a mountain-top nest. Hey, what's Bird doing flying away with Teddy? Bear's heart feels like it'll explode and with a roar, he gets back at Bird and swallows her eggs. But revenge isn't sweet for long and with heavy paws, Bear trudges up a hill, plunks down under a rain cloud, and lets out a mournful roar. It helps, though, to vent and soon Bear has perked up, and with arms swaying, resumes his search. As you might guess, Bear doesn't  like what he finds: this time it's Elephant who has absconded with Teddy. As Bear tries to tug Teddy free of Elephant's trunk, Elephant growls and tosses Teddy up once more. So of course, Bear eats Elephant. And since he has, Bear's body stretches into an enormous pear shape.  But now, Wolf, Lion and Elephant have had time to think and, as it so happens, learn about loving something: As Wolf and Lion kneel on Elephant's back (it's pretty crowded inside Bear's belly), they watch two little birds hatch from the eggs and begin to coo. But will Bear ever recover Teddy? And if he does, will these silly animals ever be free again? A delight from start to finish. Doremus' premise is hysterical and his cross hatch-style illustrations are so expressive, readers may forget there aren't words to go with them. A gem for any a child whose ever loved a stuffed toy. Best Part: A drawing of Bear pull out all of the animal from his stomach, with each linked to the others by tails, arms or a trunk. Note for Santa:  This book measures 10 1/4 inches by 6 1/8 inches. Pair it with a little purple teddy bear.

Twelve Kinds of Ice, by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrations by Barbara McClintock, Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, ages 7 and up, 64 pages.  As the air grows crisp and hats and mittens go on, a girl savors each stage of ice that comes to her family's farm and the promise it brings, in this toasty, magical tale. With spare, sweet prose, Obed reminisces about playing on ice as a child and dreaming of it when it was gone.

Obed, who grew up on a six-acre farm in Maine, goes chapter by chapter through each phase of ice that she and her brothers and sister would watch for and describes each of them so tenderly that readers will wish for those memories too. Every stage of ice feels more grand than the last and ultimately leads Obed's family to transform their vegetable garden (with "boards and snow, a garden hose, and hours of work") into a neighborhood skating rink. The book begins with the children watching ice thicken in pails -- from "a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it" to an unbreakable ice that brought them what they were waiting for -- an ice hard enough to skate on. Their first skating ice was always field ice, a short-lived strip of frozen water in a hay field. Then came stream ice, a frozen meander of ice "where the stream smalled to a brook of bent alders." After that was black ice, when their pond was "shocked still by the cold" and for a brief time, the children skated to the middle of it, carved out circles and listened to ice "cracking and groaning as it stretched itself in the cold." Then, it was time to prepare their rink for ice, a cozy family affair of nailing in boards, packing in snow with feet, skis and a toboggan, then spraying the snow with layers of water.  When they were done, word would spread through the neighborhood that "Bryan Gardens" was open and boys would leap onto the ice "like steers out of a pen" and girls would glide out and carve figure eights.

But of course, ice doesn't last forever, and as the weather slowly warms, Obed also describes the phases of thawing and how even after winter was gone, she'd continue to skate (in her dreams). Obed's memories are idyllic and contagious in nostalgic way. They have a comforting familiarity, even if readers have never put on skates, made all he richer by McClintock's pen-and-ink drawings. Readers will want to linger on the words and pictures, and may even feel tempted, as I did, to carry the book around with them, as if it were a pocket book of poems. Note for Santa: This book measures  5 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches long. Pair it with an ice skating ornament made of felt or one made to look like a little winter coat.

The Game Of board book series, by Herve Tullet, Phaidon, $9.95-$12.95, ages 2 and up, 14 pages, 2012. Known in his native France as the "Prince of Pre-School Books," author-illustrator Tullet is acclaimed for many books that children touch and explore, including last year's gem Press Here. Here are three of his latest game books:

 The Game of Red, Yellow and Blue: Little shapes of blended color go searching for their mums and dads, in this joyful exploration of the color wheel. First, a small purple square calls out to three big squares (Red, Yellow and Blue) and asks which of them are his mother and father. Red and Blue reply, "Red and Blue are the Only Parents for You!," then stretch over the fold and overlap onto the little square as if in a hug. Next it's Green Circle's turn, then Orange Triangle's. Finally, all three complementary colors know where they belong. Now it's time to swirl together and create new (tertiary) colors. It's a rainbow carnival and every color is invited. A charming introduction to color that could also be used to celebrate diversity.
The Game in the Dark:  Turn out the lights and follow a rocket ship as it journeys through a glow-in-the-dark galaxy on its way to the moon. For this charming wordless adventure, readers hold their book up to a light to charge up greenish white paint on the cover and pages, then slip into a dark room (or closet) and watch a rocket soar and swerve through space. Little fingers can trace's the rocket's path (a dotted line of paint) around planets, through concentric circles of orbiting satellites, past a five-pointed star, and over a giant planet before its makes a lunar landing. A perfect way to help little ones sleep without a light.

The Game of Sculpture: In this tactile delight, readers unfold accordian-like pages, and use notches, slots, holes and shapes to reconstruct a book into 3-D art. Every page is an art panel, and has unique, ready-made slits (at the top, middle and sides of the page) and holes, and is perforated with assorted shapes for readers to punch out. As readers position the pages in different ways, they insert the triangles, ovals or rectangles into slots to hold the sculpture in place and build their designs. Readers are also encouraged to paint their own shapes (such as an empty toilet paper roll) and work them into their design. Every page is painted in shades of a single pigment and looks as if it were glazed with finger paints. The book unfolds into 16 panels (eight on each side), and has seven parallel folds. An exciting way to encourage creativity.
Note for Santa: Each book measures 5 3/4 inches by 8 1/4 inches. Pair these games with tickets to an art museum.

3D Keepsake Cityscapes and Expanding Pocket Guides (London, New York, Paris, Washington, D.C., and The Metropolitan Museum of Art), by Sarah McMenemy, Candlewick, $8.99, ages 5 and up, 30 pages, 2012. Readers go sight seeing right in the palm of their hands, in these charming little guides to the world's greatest cities and museums.  McMenemy's innovative guides are about the size of coasters and open like accordions to reveal about a dozen sights.

The first fold-out gives an overview of the place they're visiting, either a city or museum, while the rest of them feature famous landmarks or exhibits they would see there. Many of these places are architectural -- towers, churches, bridges or sculptures -- and are depicted in water colors in 3-D.  Beside each landmark or exhibit is a short description of the sight and the experience of being there: for instance, in the Paris guide, readers are told they ascend the Eiffel Tower through a glass elevator and see a glorious panorama. When guides are stretched to their maximum size, five feet, readers flip them over and continue the tour on the opposite side, with the last two pages reserved for a map of all the places they saw.

Then when not in use, the book is folded up and stored in an illustrated cardboard sleeve. The books have the feel of miniature maps, but are much easier to fold and far more charming. Diminutive, painterly scenes and hand-lettering make them feel artsy and handmade, and give readers a lovely taste for what the world has to offer. Learn more about McMenemy here. Note for Santa: Each measures almost 4 inches by 4 inches. Pair a guide with a favorite children's novel set in the same location for a fun gift.

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15. A Charming Holiday App

Peter, Paul and Mary's 'The Night Before Christmas' App for iPhone & iPad. (First released in 2011 & updated in 2012 to enable users to draw on snow and send a holiday card.) (By Touchoo, iTunes, $1.99)

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16. Holiday Gift Idea #2: Unleash the Force

A trio of Star Wars books: A pop-up, paper craft book and Yoda-inspired series. (Save you, they can!)

Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure, by Matthew Reinhart, Orchard, $36.99, ages 7 & up, 10 pages, 2012. A skeletal General Grievous lunges out with sabers swinging, in one of the most exciting pop ups in this 3-D sequel. Engineering wizard Reinhart follows up his best-selling Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy with painterly pop-ups that are so intricate, it's hard to believe they could be mass produced. Readers will want to gingerly move from one scene to another, with parents helping kids (even as kids bounce around, wanting to rush to see it all). Devious separatists and fanged monsters lurk under folds, then swivel in attack, and in one, a bounty hunter's head transforms into a mercenary's. Smaller pop-ups near page corners are often nested three folds deep and can be viewed at least two at a time (with care). Reinhart packs in so many plot elements, every section bulges like a scrapbook. The book spans three prequel movies and the Clone Wars, from when Anakin is recruited as a Jedi through his transformation into Darth Vader. The grand finale is equipped with an LED and shows the fallen Jedi swiping the air with a saber that turns blue to red, as he passes to the Dark Side. Reinhart's book is a jaw-dropping marvel -- haunting and perilous like George Lucas's epic movies, and layered with complexity. Once more, Reinhart stretches the bounds of 3-D paper art and leaves even his youngest fan speechless. Best part: The gulp factor. One of my favorites is an eerie little pop-up at the end of the book. The head of Darth Sidious slips out of Palpatine's cloak, transforming the chancellor into the evil lord, with a deranged grin and raised claw-like hand. Click here to watch the trailer or scroll down to the next post!

Star Wars Origami, 36 Amazing Paper-folding Projects from a Galaxy Far, Far Away, by Chris Alexander, foreword by Tom Angleberger, Workman, $16.95, ages 9 an up, 272 pages. From the creator of starwarsorigami.com comes an irresistible tome of paper-folding projects. Alexander -- who Angleberger (author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda) aptly calls the "Jedi Master" of origami  -- has designed 36 models representing iconic creatures, characters, weapons and battleships from the Star Wars epic. Alexander begins with a training chapter -- a short lesson in basic folds -- then dives into projects of varying difficulty, beginning at a Youngling level (easy), and on to Padawan (medium), Jedi Knight (difficult) and Jedi Master (tricky). Alexander takes readers step-by-step through the folds, giving pictures as he goes, and supplies 72 sheets of artfully designed paper. In between projects, fans take a breather and test their memories with trivia quizzes. Among the highlights, a death star for beginners that blows up into a small paper pillow and a self-standing C-350 made from two pieces of golden paper detailed with joints, eyes, even shadows (medium). Origami, in general, is challenging and Alexander's projects -- though well-explained -- are no different. So, plan on making this a joint activity for parents and child to avoid needless frustration. But be ready. Young fans will want to fold them all!  Best part: An elaborately folded Taun We -- long-necked and as elegant as a preying mantis.

Origami Yoda Book series (The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, The Secret of Fortune Wookie), by Tom Angleberger, Amulet, $12.95 each, 8 and up, 160-176 pages, 2010-2012.  In this hilarious series, a sixth-grade misfit shows up at school with an origami Yoda on his fingers and the puppet begins doling out advice that suggests the puppet is wise beyond the boy's years. Is this just the boy, Dwight, throwing his voice or could this "green paper wad" have mystical powers? Written like case files, this fun, fast-paced series explores the social dynamics and fads of sixth grade, and what it means to rise to greatness. Could it be that greatness lies in...weirdness?  Best parts: When Dwight's cootie-catcher takes on a life on its own and inspires the arrival of paper puppet Chewbacca, a Fortune Wookie, and folded Han Solo, alias Han Foldo. Also, every book includes instructions to recreate one of these sage little puppets. (Watch for Art2-D2's Guide to Folding and Doodling: An Origami Yoda Activity book, due out in March!)

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17. A Galactic Pop-Up Trailer

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18. Snowman Bookmark How-To

Click Read more below for patterns and directions. (Shown above marking my page in Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed and illustrated by Barbara McClintock, Houghton Mifflin, $16.99,  2012.)

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19. Magical Tidings

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20. Holiday Gift Idea #1: For a Little Princess

A trio of picture books about feisty gals who aren't afraid to get their slippers wet.

Princess in Training, by Tammi Sauer, pictures by Joe Berger, Harcourt, 2012, $16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Princess Viola throws herself into life like a comic book hero.  But is that any way for a princess to behave? Her parents, the king and queen, think not and send her off to princess camp to make her prim and proper. But poor Viola only wants to run and leap. Rather than master waving at the wrist, she karate chops the air -- and soon she's dived into a moat in her taffeta gown and skateboarded up a drawbridge. By the end of the day, Viola feels like a total flop. But hey, what's a giant, fire-breathing creature doing at the princess dance? Could all of Viola's wild moves come in handy after all? Sauer's story shouts girl power, while Berger's art bursts on the page. Lichtenstein-style explosions (vibrant colors and Ben-day dots) and bold, superhero sound words (Hi-Ya! and Zip! Zup! Zoom!) convey Viola's unstoppable spirit. Best part: The energy -- it's hypnotic. Words and pictures are equally charged and together, deliver a one-two punch.

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson, pictures by Sue deGennaro, Peachtree, 2012, $16.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages. In this adorable twist on the Princess and the Pea, a woodsy prince finds true love by challenging his best friend to rough it. Prince Henrik could have any gal. Every time he leaves the castle, girls scream, toss him tulips and wilt, "Oh my goodness, it's him!" But how does a prince like Henrik find a real princess? A girl with a nice smile? Who loves camping and playing hockey? Henrik's brother Hans thinks Henrik should use the old pea-in-a-mattress trick. But that's if Henrik wants a wife like Hans's -- one that's fussy and demanding. What Henrik wants is a girl who can take what she gets. So, he comes up with special bed to weed out sensitive gals: an old sleeping bag over a thin camping mattress atop a bag of frozen peas. Though many girls visit his palace, none of them appreciate the accommodations. In fact, most wake up bent out shape and toss frozen peas in his face. Then one day, Henrik's old friend Pippa comes for a stay and after a rough-and-tumble day of play, he's smitten. So he sets her up in the guest room and waits for morning. But why would any girl want to sleep with a freezing bag of vegetables in her bed? Wilson's wry humor makes this a delight, while deGennaro's delicate drawings make it playful. Best part: DeGennaro's depiction of Henrik's groupies: girls with paper-thin bodies and legs jointed like jumping jacks'.

Olivia and the Fairy Princess, by Ian Falconer, Atheneum, 2012, $17.99, ages 3-7, 32 pages. Olivia the pig is in a tizzy over what she should be some day. Her father says she'll always be his little princess -- but come on. A princess? That's what every other girl (and some boys) want to be. And if there's one thing Olivia is, it's authentic, beyond compare -- and befuddling. In this funny sequel to the Olivia books, Olivia spends an entire day getting worked up over why anyone would want to be a princess. She reminds her mother of how bravely she resists the pressures to wear pink and act dainty. When other girls dress in ruffly skirts, Olivia wears a snappy sailor shirt. When other girls twirl like ballerinas, she makes dramatic poses in a black fabric tube (an avant-garde number without sleeves). By the end of the day, Olivia's so fired up that she's indignant. Her mother begins a bedtime story in which a beautiful maiden is rescued by a prince and Olivia can't believe where it's headed. Not another prince making a girl his princess! Her mother swiftly ditches the book and opens The Little Match Girl instead. But being a freezing little match girl doesn't sound like fun either. As Olivia tries to settle down for the night, she imagines doing something valiant with her lifeā€¦ Or should she just find a nice pedestal to put herself on? Witty as ever, Falconer writes to all those girls who'd rather go on an adventure than be rescued. Best part: Olivia's inspiration to ditch the tutu -- a photo over her bed from Martha Graham's "Lamentation."

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21. Need a Little Christmas? Right This Very Minute?

From Leslie Patricelli's Fa La La.
Here's a sample of the fun holiday books hitting bookstores now!

Click the links below or scroll down the page!

Like a Dream -- The Nutcracker: A Magic Theater Book

Santa vs. the Digital Age -- Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special

Silent Joy -- The Christmas Quiet Book

Latkes for Santa -- Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama

Santa's Stowaway -- Christmas Wombat

When Toys Wish for Toys -- Christmas at the Toy Museum

A Tug to Remember -- The Christmas Tugboat

All About Merry -- Fa La La

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22. Like a Dream

The Nutcracker: A Magic Theater Book, by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Kristina Swarner, Chronicle, $19.99, 24 pages, ages 6 an up, 2012.  In this gorgeous remake of the classic ballet story, a girl curls up under a Christmas tree with her broken nutcracker and dreams of freeing a prince from a witch's curse. As readers turn pages, die-cut characters bow to each other in dances or parry in duels within wreath-like openings. A tab inserted over the page fold causes the characters to tilt inward, as if they were dancing on a curtained stage. It also eliminates the need for readers to pull tabs themselves, making this an easy book for little hands. Swarner's paintings look as wondrous as a fairyland -- they glow in rich hues, and sparkle with oversized snowflakes and floating treats, and McCaughrean's writing is as enchanting as ever. Marie (the story's Clara) is taken by her prince on "a boat of starlight and swansdown" to the Land of Sweets (reminiscent of Candyland from the game board). Then later she sails home through "soft, sheep-flocks of clouds" and "gates of sunrise" -- an image that is enticingly dreamy. This is a dazzling, imaginative journey that sweeps readers off the stage to a glistening wonderland -- a world they'll want to lay awake at night trying to imagine into their dreams. (McCaughrean is the award-winning author of Peter Pan in Scarlet and Sunshine Queen.) Best part: When Marie and her prince sail off in the night under a long, feathery wing.

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23. Santa vs. Bits and Bytes

Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special, by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost, First Second, $9.99, 6 and up, 64 pages, 2012. When Santa's elves stop making gifts to write game codes for girls and boys, the jolly man in red concocts a plan to entice kids back to the printed page. In this funny cartoon for the digital age, three comic makers imagine how Santa would react if kids only wanted digital gifts, and his elves no longer packed his sleigh with books and toys. Being a traditional fellow, Santa isn't happy that children only wish for electronic games, so he calls on his Magical Cartooning Elf to save Christmas from being all about bits and bytes. He asks the Elf to summon a knight who's had great adventures and work with him to write a comic book that no child could resist. On first try, the knight writes about being captured by a yeti in a blizzard, then waking to find the yeti greeting him in a peculiar way, eating his arm like spaghetti. A curious tale -- but Santa and the elf want, "Something inspiring! Something redeeming!" So, the knight writes instead about riding a rocket to space to get a real star for a child's extra-tall tree. Sounds perfect, says Santa. But after the book has gone to print and they go to load the sleigh, they learn that Santa's reindeer have been set free. Since the elves switched to uploading gifts, they no longer needed them. How will they ever carry all those books to good girls and boys? They need a hero, a knight, to save the day! But what could a knight supply that would fly and light the way? This is a silly, delightful tale of how a comic book saves Christmas from the being overly digitalized. Best part: Santa, the elf and knight blazing across the sky on a green, fire-breathing "sleigh."

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24. Silent Joy

The Christmas Quiet Book, by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska, Houghton Mifflin, $12.99, ages 4 and up, 32 pages, 2012. Animals with fur like felted wool soak up the quiet moments of the holiday, in this adorable companion to the national bestsellers The Quiet Book and The Loud Book!. On the snowy days leading up to Christmas, bunnies, bears, a mole, a hedgehog, an owl and an iguana share intimate moments when nothing is said out loud but everything is understood. They experience the quiet wonder of hanging a star on the top of a Christmas tree and making angels in the snow, and the cozy silence of being so bundled up in winter gear that they look as if they'll have to wobble around. They feel the chilly quiet of knocking on a friend's burrow with mittens, and the warm silence of sipping hot cocoa as they snuggle their paws. They share the quiet concentration of decorating a gingerbread house and the awkward silence when two friends meet under mistletoe. And together they own an embarrassing moment; when one friend forgets a line during a Christmas pageant, another saves him with a friendly whisper. Underwood's simple, spare words sparkle with humor and caring, while Liwska's animals are so soft and cuddly looking, it's hard not to reach out and try to pet them. Best part: An illustration labeled "Reading by the fire quiet." A bunny falls asleep on her tummy while reading, and as she dreams, tiny animal drawings parade off the pages into the shadows. (If you like this book, be sure to read Liwska's Little Panda.)

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25. Latkes for Santa

Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99, ages 5 and up, 32 pages, 2012. Barely pausing for a breath, a girl shares all the ways her family blends their Jewish and Christian beliefs during the holidays. Every tradition Sadie lists is a charming mix of the two faiths, and makes celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas together look whimsical, fun and easy. As the family crowns their tree with a star, they leave latkes with milk on the mantel for Santa and hang candy canes from menorah branches. Sadie then cuts out blue angels, a Star of David and Santa's reindeer from paper, and hangs them from the ceiling, and her father stuffs a turkey with cranberry kugel dressing. As their extended families arrive to celebrate, Sadie feels lucky to have so many traditions; then everyone shares the tales that link them together. When the holiday is over, Sadie looks ahead and thinks of all the Jewish and Christian holidays still to come. Behind her family, a whimsical timeline extends from their tree across a two-page spread as if a mural of holidays were painted on their wall-- and the best part, the holidays are not all Jewish and Christian. Kwanzaa is there too, even Earth Day has a dateline. Alko (Every-day Dress-Up) shows how rewarding it is to incorporate different beliefs, and she gets readers excited to explore many traditions too. To get them started, she shares recipes for cranberry kugel and turkey dressing. Best part: As an uncle and aunt tell stories of how their holidays came to be, images from each story swirl around family gathered in the living room.

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