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Best Kids Books of the Year

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The following are excerpts from the

most favorable reviews of the year.

Regular reviewers are identified by

initials if they are quoted more than once.

FOR CHILDREN

ABC3D, by Marion Bataille (Roaring Brook; all ages). It's hard to reinvent the alphabet, but this innovative feat of paper engineering does exactly that using pop-ups, mirrored images, translucent overlays and much more.

-- Kristi Jemtegaard

The Black Book of Colors, by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría (Groundwood; ages 5-10). Stunning all-black embossed illustrations translate the world of a blind boy into a series of textures and shapes that illuminate the gently poetic text. -- KJ

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, by Marla Frazee (Harcourt; ages 6-9). James and Eamon's adventures are just the thing to get everyone in the right frame of mind for summer in any season.

-- Elizabeth Ward

A Kitten Tale, by Eric Rohmann (Knopf; ages 3-6). Four kittens have never seen snow. Three are scared silly by the very idea, but the fourth "can't wait." -- EW

Orange Pear Apple Bear, by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster; ages 1-4). What's the difference between "orange, pear" and "orange pear"? "Apple bear" and "apple, bear"? Gravett explains with five words and wickedly clever illustrations. -- EW

Sandy's Circus, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Viking; ages 6 and up). A lovely distillation of the evolution of Alexander Calder's magnificent miniature circus. -- Abby McGanney Nolan

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Harcourt; ages 3-5). Eight little babies roll and wriggle, swing and sway, wobble and toddle to the rhythm of a toe-tapping chant. -- KJ

There's a Wolf at the Door, by Zöe B. Alley, illustrated by R. W. Alley (Roaring Brook; ages 5-9). A sassy wolf prances and dances his way through five well-known but freshly told folktales. -- KJ

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas, by Viviane Schwarz (Scholastic; ages 4-8). After his mother mends his tattered favorite pajamas, Timothy the cat finds himself endowed with awesome strength. -- EW

The Way Back Home, by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel; ages 4-8). A small round-headed boy finds an airplane in his closet, takes it out "for a go" and ends up out of fuel, stuck on the moon. Enter a Martian, friend and rescuer. -- EW

Zen Ties, by Jon J Muth (Scholastic; ages 4-8). The giant panda-philosopher Stillwater and the kids from Zen Shorts return in another light-filled, pun-happy romp, joined this time by the big panda's mini-me nephew.-- EW

FOR PRE-TEENS

Bird Lake Moon, by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow; ages 10-14). A ghost and more than one mystery hover in this quiet, affecting novel set on Wisconsin's Bird Lake and starring a heartsick 12-year-old boy. -- EW

Black Stars in a White Night Sky, by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sherwin Tjia (Wordsong; ages 10-14). These playful verses pass the true-poetry test: They show the world in a new light. -- EW

Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster; ages 10 and up). A memorable portrayal of a 13-year-old slave girl caught up in the Revolutionary War and hungry for freedom. -- Mary Quattlebaum

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean (HarperCollins; ages 10 and up). Raised by ghosts, a living boy puts his cemetery skills to good use when "fading" into the background at school -- and tracking down the man who murdered his family. -- MQ

Little Leap Forward, by Guo Yue and Clare Farrow, illustrated by Helen Cann (Barefoot; ages 8 and up). Handsomely illustrated and brimming with sensory details, this slim autobiographical novel gives readers a boy's-eye view of the Cultural Revolution. -- AMN

Masterpiece, by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Henry Holt; ages 8-12). A creative beetle and a quick-thinking boy unravel a mystery involving art forgery and theft. -- MQ

The Other Side of the Island, by Allegra Goodman (Razorbill; ages 9-12). This beautifully written novel is a dystopian page-turner, using well-worn tropes to confront adult issues such as authoritarian government and global warming. -- Elizabeth Hand

The Trouble Begins At 8, by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow; ages 9-12). A buoyant account of Mark Twain's early years, the inspiration for so much of his immortal fiction. -- AMN

The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum; ages 10 and up). In an East Texas bayou, the fate of an ancient serpent entwines with those of a bitter man, a lonely hound and two kittens in this lyrical tale about the power of love. -- MQ

The Way We Work, by David Macaulay with Richard Walker (Houghton Mifflin; ages 10 and up). Macaulay's ingenious drawings convey the grand interdependence of our bodily systems. -- AMN

FOR TEENS

After Tupac and D Foster, by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam's; ages 12 and up). In this slender, note-perfect novel, two pre-teen girls in 1990s Queens dream of the wider, wilder world they glimpse in the music of their hero, the sad-eyed rapper Tupac Shakur, and in D, the new girl in the neighborhood. -- EW

The Book of Jude, by Kimberley Heuston (Front Street; ages 12 and up). While the rest of the family doesn't mind being uprooted to Prague for a year, Jude reacts oddly from the start. A remarkable inside account of mental illness unfolding. -- EW

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart (Hyperion; ages 12 and up). A girl named Frankie takes on the next generation of the old boys network in this smart, snappy novel set in a prep school. -- MQ

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; ages 12 and up). In a grim future, a girl struggles to survive in a televised government-mandated contest. Her competitors to the death: 23 other teens. Big themes fuel this gripping novel. -- MQ

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow (Tor; ages 12 and up). This topical thriller stars Marcus, 17, whose tech-savvy defense of civil liberties subverts a police state. Fast-paced and funny. -- MQ

Nation, by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins; ages 14 and up). A classic "Robinsonade," a book in which characters are marooned on a desert island and create a little civilization of their own. Terrific, thought-provoking book, and it ends wonderfully. -- Michael Dirda

My Most Excellent Year, by Steve Kluger (Dial; ages 12 and up). Baseball's just one strand in the portrait of a memorable ninth-grade year that unfolds via the diary entries, e-mails and IM chats of three precocious Boston public school kids. -- EW

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