The Year's Best Kids' Books

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By Elizabeth Ward
Sunday, December 4, 2005

Birdwing , by Rafe Martin (Scholastic/Levine, $16.99; ages 12-up). At the end of the Grimms' "The Six Swans," the bewitched brothers regain human form, but the youngest is left with a wing. In an inspired riff, "Prince Freak" sets out to learn how he must live.

47 , by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown, $16.99; ages 12-up). Forty-seven, the narrator, is both a slave boy on an antebellum Southern plantation and a time-traveling savior called High John the Conqueror. Outlandish, you say? No more so than slavery, says Mosley.

Mister Boots , by Carol Emshwiller (Viking, $15.99; ages 9-12). In pre-Depression-era California, young Bobby meets an injured man who is also a horse. But then, Bobby might also be a girl. A strange, sad, funny book, alive with subversive ideas.

Summer's End , by Audrey Couloumbis (Putnam, $16.99; ages 12-up). The saga of a family wrenched apart by the Vietnam War, as told by a highly unsentimental 13-year-old girl.

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea , by Shyam Selvadurai (Tundra, $18.95; ages 13-up). A coming-of-age and a coming-out story set in Colombo, Sri Lanka, circa 1980. Fourteen-year-old Amrith's role in a school production of "Othello" helps him plumb the "black mood [that had] swept over him like a wave."

Picture Books

Four Hens and a Rooster , by Lena and Olof Landstrom, translated from the Swedish by Joan Sandin (R&S, $16; age 4-8). Four large, meek hens share a chicken yard with a small, despotic rooster. Then the ladies take a self-esteem course. Chick lit with a vengeance.

In the Small, Small Night , by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Rachel Isadora (Greenwillow/Amistad, $16.99; ages 4-8). In the wee hours of a Ghanaian family's first night in America, a girl comforts her forlorn little brother with colorful folktales from home.

So Happy! by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Anita Lobel (Greenwillow, $15.99; ages 2-5). A seed can't grow for lack of rain. A rabbit gets lost. A little boy is bored. Then the rain comes and sets all three plots in joyous motion. As for Lobel's art, think Van Gogh in New Mexico.

Tales Told in Tents: Stories from Central Asia , by Sally Pomme Clayton, illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer (Frances Lincoln, $16.95; ages 5-up). "At the end of a twisting passageway, in the city of old Herat, was a tiny carpet shop. It smelled of wool." The opening of "The Carpet of Dreams," from Afghanistan, sums up the allure of these wonderful stories from the "stans."

Zen Shorts , by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic, $16.95; ages 4-up). One morning, a Japanese paper umbrella brings a giant panda floating down into three kids' backyard. And those "Zen shorts" he wears to go swimming? They're also the Buddhist tales he lives by.

and a Book of Verse

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook , by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins, $17.99; all ages). An Everyrabbit's adventures are rendered hilarious and weirdly profound by the simple device of transposing words' initial letters. For my money, the kids' yook of the bear.

and a Book of Verse

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook , by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins, $17.99; all ages). An Everyrabbit's adventures are rendered hilarious and weirdly profound by the simple device of transposing words' initial letters. For my money, the kids' yook of the bear.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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