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Read Local

This holiday season, look to authors in and around the Capital Region to please your little literati By Laura LeonWhen Albanians—the kind that live right here, not in the Balkans—give thanks for the reasons they love the area, they mention things like its proximity to places like Manhattan, the Adirondacks, Montreal, Boston or the Cape. They talk about the relatively modest cost of living, and, due to its being the state capital, the fairly steady local economy. But, still, they’ve left out one of the best-kept secrets, which is that this region has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to writers who call the greater Capital Region home.

This year, when choosing books for the young ones in your life, consider one of the many penned by local authors that are listed below. Not only are they all excellent choices, sure to please more than a few on your gift list, but they provide that extra bang for the buck: inspiration. How wonderful a thought is it for a young reader to know that this magical book he or she is reading was written by somebody who lives in the very next town, or who teaches at his or her very own school!

Somewhat reminiscent of the magic of Richard Scarry, Moove Over! (by Karen Magnuson Beil, illustrated by Paul Meisel, Holiday House, $16.95) is bound to delight youngsters beginning to count. Vivid and colorful illustrations featuring all manner of animals, including a duet of ducks, a herd of kids on a class trip and an obnoxious cow with no sense of bus etiquette, complement enjoyable verse that’s all about counting by twos. It includes an endsheet with more counting-by-two fun.

One of this year’s true “must haves” is Your Favorite Seuss (compiled by Janet Schulman and Cathy Goldsmith, designed by Molly Leach, Random House, $34.95). This giant book is a treasure featuring, as the subtitle says, 13 Seuss classics. What’s especially nice is that some of those collected are not so obvious, such as The Sneetches, McElligot’s Pool and If I Ran the Zoo. This is a real “sharer” book, as it includes grown-up friendly forwards to each story by other renowned children’s-book authors and childhood experts, such as Barbara Bader, John Lithgow, and Stan and Jan Berenstain, on just why Theodore Geisel is important to them.

Make Way for McCloskey: A Robert McCloskey Treasury (Viking, $25) is another of this year’s “must haves,” celebrating some of the most memorable characters and images in 20th-century children’s books, all via the imagination of Robert McCloskey. The book includes an in-depth look, by Leonard S. Marcus, at the writer-artist himself, a notorious speller who “stumbled upon an art form that allowed him to build on his natural gifts as a storyteller, to experiment with composition and design, and to have his artwork seen.” McCloskey was among the first great children’s author-illustrators who did not look down upon his subject audience, as is evidenced with the great care and sly understatement of works such as Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, and lesser known works such as Lentil and Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man.

“The skin I’m in will always be just a covering. . . . It cannot tell my story.” Bell hooks and illustrator Chris Raschka, the collaborators of Happy to be Nappy and Be Boy Buzz, have come up with Skin Again (Jump at the Sun Hyperion Books for Children, $16.99), an inspiring story poem that celebrates all that makes us unique and different, while acknowledging our shared hope and heart. This is a story that’s even better read out loud, so share it.

Barbara Lehman’s fascination with maps is contagious in The Red Book (Houghton Mifflin Company, $12.95), a charming little book that tells the tale of two children, on opposite sides of the equator, who find out about each other in an ingenious way. Somewhat reminiscent of the classic One Monday Morning in the way it evokes the magic of a child’s imagination amid a bleak urban landscape, The Red Book is that best kind of story: Its ending is really another beginning.

One of the best Hanukkah books to come around in years, A Confused Hanukkah (by Jon Koons, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, Dutton Children’s Books, $16.99) celebrates the Festival of Lights with grace and humor. Told in the manner of a classic fairy tale, it involves what happens when, in the absence of their rabbi, the villagers of Chelm forget how to observe the holiday, which results in a cross-cultural mix-up that is funny without resorting to caricature.

Just when we were wondering what ever became of our old friend Karen Pandell, whose works include the tot fave I Love You Sun I Love You Moon, we noticed her Where’s Stretch (illustrated by Jill McElmurry, Candlewick Press, $9.99) a charming lift-the-flap book about a family’s search for Stretch the dachshund on wash day. Little ones will delight in trying to ascertain just where that pooch could be.

A great book for beginner readers, 26 Big Things Small Hands Do (by Coleen Paratore, illustrated by Mike Reed, Free Spirit Publishing, $16.96) celebrates little people’s abilities while it underscores the alphabet. Written by local Coleen Paratore, this is a hope-
affirming story that avoids being precious by deft use of a joyous combination of words, color and spirit.

This year’s choice of gift for all newborns and soon-to-be-borns, Baby Goose (by Kate McMullan, pictures by Pascal Lamaitre, Hyperion, $15.99) is a lovely collection of nursery rhymes and baby poems whose quirky illustrations belie the sweet good nature of the collection. Featuring poems for morning time, travel, bath or water play and, of course, night night.

Why not get the kids in your life started with cooking by treating them to Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids (Lake Isle Press, $16.95), Ray’s infectious, easy-to-use reference on, well, fast cooking with kids. With kid-friendly titles such as “micro-way-cool green beans and bacon,” “blanket in a pig,” and “fish in a sack,” there’s got to something to please even the pickiest eater, let alone junior chef. Ray separates the book into age groups sections that highlight the importance, at times, of a GH (grown-up helper), and includes helpful insight such as “Keep your cool!” and “Why cooking rocks!”

In My Penguin Osbert (by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by H.B. Lewis, Candlewick Press, $16.99), Little Joe has come to realize that, in writing to Santa, he needs to be very specific; last year, when he asked for the race car of his dreams, he got one that matched in nearly every description, except for the fact that it was 3 inches long. So when he decides upon a penguin, he is particular, so much so that Mr. Claus has no choice but to deliver. But how long can a kid deal with a new friend’s penchant for cold, icy baths, and, perhaps worst of all, creamed herring for breakfast? Kimmel’s sly humor permeates this delightful new classic.

Looking at the price on Egyptology: Search for the Tomb of Osiris (written and illustrated by Joanna Sutherland, Candlewick Press, $19.99), this treasure trove of Egyptology, mapping, history, art, exploration and mystery, you’re bound to think you’ve stumbled onto some hidden bounty—either that, or the sales clerk really messed up. But no, this rich and imaginative tome by Joanna Sutherland is surprisingly affordable considering its ornate visuals. Sutherland tells the tale of auntie Emily Sands, long lost while exploring the ancient tombs of Egypt. This is perfect for the kid (or family) who loves exploring new worlds.

“Autumn used to be my favorite time of year. . . . Foolish to think I could be enough to make Ma want to stay if the leaves
couldn’t.” And so begins From the Lighthouse (Dutton Children’s Books, $16.99), a poignant coming-of-age story by Liz Chipman (full disclosure: She is my children’s museum-room teacher at TOAST). As seen through the eyes of 13-year-old Weezie Bloom, life on the Hudson reflects the seasons and the constant ebb and flow of the water itself. From the Lighthouse has the lush, evocative narrative of books from another time, back when language meant so much more than just plain old words.

Following in the steps of Time Stops for No Mouse and The Sands of Time, No Time Like Show Time (by Michael Hoeye, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $14.99) returns mouse watchmaker and detective Hermux Tantamoq to the, well, spotlight, as he is enlisted by impresario Fluster Varmint to solve a mystery. Flush with an array of dazzling characters, with equally notable names (Brinx Lotelle! Linka Perflinger!), No Time is one of those bedtime tales that has kids begging for just one more, and then another, chapter.

Juxtaposing current school-budget cuts and coming-of-age angst, The Last Holiday Concert (by Andrew Clements, Simon & Schuster, $15.95) is a lovely story about what happens when a town decides it shouldn’t spend taxpayer dollars on music and art teachers, and a sixth grader has to step into the void. Out of utter chaos, infighting, compromise, idealism and finally, a fragile peace, the sixth-grade concert comes to fruition; but hanging in the balance is the question, will there be anymore? Clements blends a fine storyline with underlying questions about the tension between popularity and leadership.

E-mails and instant messaging have hit the youth-lit. circuit, which isn’t a bad thing if you consider Lauren Myracle’s creative, goofy ttyl (Amulet Books, $15.95), about a trio of 10th-grade girls who find out that wrestling with typical teenage monsters like style faux pas, math, junk-food cravings and, of course, boys, can take a lot of friendships. Told entirely in instant messages, this just might be the first bedtime story that your precocious youngster reads to you!

Janell Cannon has transformed “uncuddly” critters such as bats (Stellaluna), snakes (Verdi) and yaus (Little Yau: A Fuzzhead Tale) into creatures whose uniqueness even the youngest reader can appreciate and even admire. Unlike some writers whose continuation on a theme gets boring and formulaic, Cannon has somehow found new inspirations with each outing, none more so than in Pinduli (Harcourt, Inc., $16), in which she transforms a hyena into something far different than what we remember in The Lion King. This marvelous story examines the power of words, and the ability to turn something into an advantage, making for an empowering, enchanting book.


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