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Best Books for Young People

By Elizabeth Ward
Sunday, December 9, 2007

For Children

Dimity Dumpty: The Story of Humpty's Little Sister, by Bob Graham (Candlewick, $15.99; ages 4-8). In this dainty comic riff, Dimity Dumpty comes out of her shell after her brother's great fall.

Leaves, by David Ezra Stein (Putnam, $15.99; ages 4-8). A bear cub notices a leaf falling. Should he put it back? The most engaging lesson ever on the seasonal cycle.

Little Donkey and the Birthday Present, by Rindert Kromhout, translated from the Dutch by Marianne Martens (NorthSouth, $15.95; ages 4-8). An everyday tale of birthday politics is rendered transcendent by its setting, full of mountain peaks, steep paths and prayer flags.

Maisy Big, Maisy Small, by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick, $15.99; ages 2-6). Maisy stale, Maisy fresh! Maisy has never been more fun than in this surprising book of opposites.

Pierre in Love, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Orchard, $16.99; ages 4-8). Pierre the fisherman, who's a mouse, or possibly a weasel, plots to win the heart of Catherine the ballet teacher, who's a rabbit.

Tiger's Story, by Harriet Blackford, illustrated by Manya Stojic (Boxer, $12.95; ages 3-6). Spectacular paintings enhance a zoologist's account of a "small, strong, stripy cub" growing up and lighting out for his own territory.

Today and Today, by Issa, arranged and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Scholastic, $16.99; ages 4-8). Haiku by an 18th-century poet show a year in one family's life.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses, by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Rachel Isadora (Putnam, $16.99; ages 4-8). A dazzling, African-inspired take on the Grimms' tale of the dozen royal sisters who mysteriously wear out their shoes every night.

The Zoo, by Suzy Lee (Kane/Miller, $15.95; ages 4-8). This stunning book from South Korea compresses the big question about zoos -- are they places of wretchedness or wonder, or both?

For Pre-teens

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting, by Hugh Brewster (Kids Can, $17.95; ages 9-12). A beautifully illustrated book based on John Singer Sargent's painting of two small girls lighting paper lanterns in an autumn dusk.

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam, by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, $16.99; ages 10-up.) A German shepherd, "born to be a beloved queen and eat good snacks," is taken to be a sniffer dog in Vietnam after her family falls on hard times. Memorable portrayals of a smart dog, the boy who lost her, the soldier who bonded with her and a fast-fading war.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $34.99; ages 8-up). It isn't perfect -- not enough Hogwarts, too much camping, and what the heck happens in the finale? But this book wraps up the greatest imaginative feat children's literature has seen in decades.

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, by Gennifer Choldenko (Harcourt, $17; ages 10-up). A white girl and a black boy at a private school take turns narrating their discovery that they, um, have only three parents between them. Who would have thought race, class and marital discord could be this funny?

Nacky Patcher and the Curse of the Dry-Land Boats, by Jeffrey Kluger (Philomel, $18.99; ages 10-14). On a small lake in the middle of the mythic town of Yole floats a vast teakwood ship, broken into thousands of pieces. No way you don't want to find out how it got there and who gets to put it together again.

The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization, by Daniel Pinkwater (Houghton Mifflin, $16; ages 10-14). Young Neddie Wentworthstein battles to save civilization -- i.e., 1940s southern California -- from ancient, malevolent forces that are "underground, sort of" and "dead, only they aren't."

Red Moon at Sharpsburg, by Rosemary Wells (Viking, $16.99; ages 12-up). From the creator of Max, Ruby and other furry kindergarten critters: a novel about the Civil War (and slavery, women's rights, education and medical advances) that's as forceful as classics by Harold Keith and James Collier.

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, $16; ages 10-14). On Long Island, in 1967, a lone Presbyterian seventh-grader discovers Shakespeare and a great deal more on the Wednesday afternoons his Catholic and Jewish classmates head to St. Adelbert's and Temple Beth-El.

For Teens

Freak Show, by James St. James (Dutton, $18.99; ages 14-up). A 17-year-old drag queen, sent to live with his dad in Florida, hits his new school "like the crack of a bat." Funniest young-adult novel of the year -- and a profile in out-of-the-mainstream courage.

Slam, by Nick Hornby (Putnam, $19.99; ages 14-up). Life is "ticking along quite nicely" for Sam, a 16-year-old Londoner and skateboard nut, when his ex-girlfriend alerts him that he is going to become a father.

The White Darkness, by Geraldine McCaughrean (HarperCollins, $16.99; ages 12-up). A 14-year-old English girl fixated on the polar explorer Capt. "Titus" Oates is whisked off by a family friend to Antarctica -- a murderously beautiful kingdom that reflects her own locked-down state of mind.

For All Ages

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $19.99; ages 12-up). Hundreds of sepia-toned drawings, without a word of dialogue, depict an immigrant's journey to a strange, far-off country. A candidate for best book of the year for any age group.

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