and pages of ideas for holiday giving
have the continued growth of the Rachael Ray empire based
on the canard that you need a mere half-hour in which to prepare
worthy food; we have a cookbook co-authored by creepy good
ol’ boy Jeff Foxworthy. We even have a cookbook devoted to
the chlorine-enhanced sweetener Splenda.
So where do you turn to get the best advice on recent cookbooks?
Right here. And I actually try out recipes from the books
I like best. But my favorite tomes go beyond recipes to give
history, sociology and, if the author is really good, compelling
All of which are combined in my favorite food book of the
year: Pig Perfect by Peter Kaminsky (Hyperion).
He starts out in search of the perfect ham and travels through
France and Spain, among other international stops, before
rooting through some of this country’s specialty farms and
producers. Along the way, we get a history of pork production
(explaining why the supermarket stuff is so terrible) and
nine excellent recipes. It’s a book so breezily written that
you’ll be surprised to discover how much you learn.
Some definitive texts have reappeared. La Bonne Cuisine
(10-Speed Press) goes back some 80 years, and long has
been considered the classic guide to French cookery—but with
the housewife in mind, so it’s less intimidating than Escoffier.
This is the first English translation of a book that inspired
the likes of Madeleine Kamman, who wrote the intro. More than
1,000 recipes tell you everything you need to know to turn
out splendid meals, fancy or plain.
The Italian equivalent may be The Silver Spoon (Phaidon
Press), a relative youngster at 55 years old. A recent revision
is the basis for this translation, which tops out at about
2,000 recipes, all fairly straightforward. Start with your
sauces, then move through antipasti, soup, pasta, meat and
fish—14 sections in all, with few illustrations, no freewheeling
stories, but 1,264 solid pages.
Cuisines of Spain (10-Speed Press) is brand new, but
Teresa Barrenechea’s guide is a thoroughgoing tour of that
country and its varied, fascinating approaches to food. Lots
of narrative in a weighty book with handsome photos, and more
than 250 recipes, many of which came from some of that country’s
best chefs. And it’s geared toward home cooking, so fetch
out that paella pan.
beautiful volume from 10-Speed Press, again aimed at the home
cook, is Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh. The title
refers to a Japanese approach to balancing all aspects of
a meal, including flavor, nutrition and the sheer aesthetics
of it. Andoh knows her stuff well enough to balance the book
with insights into the life and culture of Japan, so that
when you do take one of the 140 recipes, your heart and soul
will be in it.
American food writer Mark Bittman wrote the only book (How
to Cook Everything) that gives The Joy of Cooking
a run for its money; his latest, titled (with similar restraint)
The Best Recipes in the World (Broadway Books),
presents more than a thousand recipes that clearly originated
elsewhere but have been skillfully adapted for use in your
home. It’s an excellent companion to his other book (and,
for that matter, the many more he’s written) and shares the
same amusingly opinionated, easy-to-follow style.
The most impressive attempt I’ve seen to reimagine the way
we eat—and, therefore, the way we cook—is The New American
Plate Cookbook by the American Institute for Cancer
Research (University of California Press). Cut back on the
meat! screams the book, yet it does so with charm and wit
and a healthy dose of science. A couple of hundred recipes
play up the goodness of those grains and beans and such that
we know we should be eating, and it looks more than appetizing
in the photos. And it works: My version of the curried sweet
potato and apple pilaf has become a household staple.
Sometimes you have to get back to basics, and the most basic
of foods is bread. Artisan Baking by Maggie
Glezer is a new paperback issue (Artisan Press) of a five-year-old
book, so if you missed it before it, grab it now. I can’t
imagine that there’s anything left out of this award-winning
guide, which starts in the wheat fields to explain how even
the harvesting and milling have profound effects on the bread.
Follow this guide and you’ll be turning out New York-style
bialys in no time.
Did you save room for dessert? Chocolate: The Sweet
History (Collectors Press) is everything I ever wanted
in a guide to that addictive substance. There are recipes,
but they’re in the back of this absorbing history of chocolate
and the confection industry. Did you know, for instance, that
Whitman’s was the first American company to wrap its boxes
in cellophane? It’s that detailed, and author Beth Kimmerle
kept me reading far longer at a stretch than I would have
Finally, the handsome book for your favorite foodie. Boulevard:
The Cookbook (10-Speed Press, who else?) celebrates
San Francisco’s Boulevard, the restaurant, with a gorgeous
book that shares 75 recipes for finished plates—sides and
everything—covering a range of meats and fish and vegetables
as anchors. They’re detailed, they’re difficult, but the photos
are so mouth-watering that you’ll have to give them a try.
From the Best-Seller List
2005 East Bay Express
Giving best sellers as gifts is fun, but it’s fascist. Sure,
it’s easy. But so is donning a uniform. And sure, it feels
like tapping into a hot trend. But so does cheering a dictator.
Sure, since books are cerebral they seem to be deeper, more
personalized gifts than mattress pads, say, or trowels. But
really, when everyone at the office is talking about Blink,
isn’t that a bit totalitarian? How is reading the exact same
words at the exact same time as all your friends not
like marching in lockstep?
Fifty thousand books are published every year in America.
That means fifty thousand authors boned up on something or
other so that you wouldn’t have to, and spent whatever time
it took to spin 50,000 riffs on 50,000 topics. Yet you only
hear of about 10 or 20 books a month. As sleighbells jingle
this year, break the chains. Give those 49,760 also-rans a
chance. Because wouldn’t your loved ones really rather
read about reincarnation and tequila than about boy wizards
and not thinking of an elephant?
For the hypochondriac on your list, Peter Steele’s Doctor
on Everest (Raincoast, $16.95) and Jonathan Kaplan’s
Contact Wounds (Grove, $24) make even fistulas
seem picayune. As a doctor on an Everest-climbing expedition,
Steele treated hemorrhaging retinas, broken bones, and hypothermia.
An injection isn’t an injection until you’ve had one on ice—or
at 28,000 feet. South African surgeon Kaplan headed a combat-zone
hospital in Angola, land of a hundred thousand land-mine victims.
He describes blasted flesh with elegiac precision.
It takes more than just one jarhead to bring a war home. Embedded
with U.S. battalions on the blazing frontlines in Fallujah,
ex-Marine Bing West leaves no grenade unturned in No
True Glory (Bantam, $25). Having served with the Army
Waterborne, novelist Christian Bauman plumbed his own past
to write Voodoo Lounge (Touchstone, $14), a
depth-charge of a love story set during the U.S. invasion
of Haiti. And San Francisco poet Alan Kaufman plumbed his
years in the Israel Defense Force for his gorgeously
gritty novel, Matches (Back Bay, $13.95). “There’s
no feeling in the world more exciting than making a combat
assault on an enemy target by helicopter,” muses Sgt. Maj.
Eric Haney in his memoir Inside Delta Force
(Bantam, $14), about the elite counterterrorist unit bent
on finding out what makes bombers tick.
Nostalgia gets a little less dorky than usual with Melanie
Rehak’s informative ode to Nancy Drew, Girl Sleuth
(Harcourt, $25); TV scriptwriter William Froug’s funny-cynical
memoir How I Escaped From Gilligan’s Island
(Popular, $29.95); and France’s all-time best-selling children’s
novel, Nicholas (Phaidon, $19.95), first published
in 1959 and now available in English—in which Asterix
creator René Goscinny conjures a school- ditching, soccer-loving,
cigar- smoking scamp.
Who doesn’t love someone who loves gloating over America’s
shame? Score big with that person with Slavery in New
York (New Press, $25), compiled by that city’s historical
society, because yes, people were property there for 300 years.
Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and Duke University
history professor John Hope Franklin started fighting for
civil rights in 1934, spurred by a Tennessee lynching; his
autobiography Mirror to America (Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, $25) shows where we’ve been.
Science kills, but you can’t live without it. Mark Essig’s
Edison & the Electric Chair (Walker,
$15) tracks the nuts and bolts behind the death penalty; Diana
Preston’s Before the Fallout (Walker, $27) follows
radium from Marie Curie to Hiroshima.
Sick of the red, blue, and white? Young historian Diarmaid
Ferriter’s The Transformation of Ireland
(Overlook, $37.50) strides from starvation to U2 in nearly
900 pages. Wistful eyes gaze into eternity from the pages
of Mei Mei (Chronicle, $35), Berkeley
photographer Richard Bowen’s masterful assemblage of portraits
taken in Chinese orphanages; Amy Tan wrote its introduction.
Rifles, an abandoned missile base, ice-fishermen, and babes
on snowy streets bring our ex-enemy alive in Andrew Moore’s
stunning coffee-table volume Russia (Chronicle,
$40). Soy-sauce cheesecake, gropers attacking elevator operators,
a mom who strangles her 7-year-old because he won’t go to
school: Compiled from Japanese newspapers by Mark Schreiber,
Tabloid Tokyo (Kodansha, $12.95) bares the city’s
Hook-up hunters home for the holidays? In The Obscene
Chronicles (Outstanding!, $24.95), Michael Edwards,
Adam Steele, and Roger Cameron are as explicit as only ex-frat
guys can be about threesome etiquette, extracting chewing
gum from pubes, and ill-timed irritable-bowel-syndrome attacks.
For those who prefer pimpin’, Tariq “King Flex” Nasheed advises
playaz to hit on cosmetic-counter clerks, never spend more
than $20 on a first date, and wear mink, not macramé, in The
Mack Within (Riverhead, $13).
Hailing humankind’s eternal romance with photosynthesis, Tom
Turner’s Garden History (Spon, $44.95) is fabulously
detailed, and Olive Percival’s The Children’s Garden
Book (University of California, $24.95) is a charming
array of previously unpublished blueprints for garden design—and
an ascent into an enchanted old flax-and-sundial world; Percival
died in 1945.
world might be in tatters—but is there another one? Wraiths
roam a high school and shipyard in The Ghost Stories
of Alameda (Spellbinding Tales, $9), produced by the
Alameda Society for Paranormal Research. Lifelong psychic
Terry Iacuzzo can see your future, but remembers her past
in Small Mediums at Large (Perigee, $14.95),
a wrenching memoir, and kids remember stuff that happened
before they were born in Life Before Life (St.
Martin’s, $23.95), a scientific investigation of reincarnation
by University of Virginia child psychiatrist Jim B. Tucker.
Chicken sacrifice, blood sucking, and lucky mojo make an impression
on ungullible religion reporter Christine Wicker, whose Not
in Kansas Anymore (Harper San Francisco, $24.95) evinces
that magic is alive in America.
At war or in love, Shakespeare’s sweet princes and sniveling
moneylenders never go out of style. In Shadowplay
(Public Affairs, $26.95), Clare Asquith reads between
those iambic lines to find secret cries of political protest,
written at risk in an age of terror and torture (she starts
by recounting a priest’s disembowelment) that was a far cry
from the Renaissance Faire. Interpretations, synopses, tons
of backstory, and reviews of relevant CDs and films make Andrew
Dickson’s The Rough Guide to Shakespeare (Rough
Guides, $23.99) indispensable. Forgeries, etymologies, and
other trivia along with a built-in bookmark make David Crystal
and Ben Crystal’s The Shakespeare Miscellany
(Overlook, $14.95) a fun Bardic bathroom companion.
For a very jolly holiday, photographer Douglas Menuez’
dreamy Heaven, Earth, Tequila (Waterside, $39.95)
is an homage to an elixir and the Jaliscans who make and drink
it, while the pictures of pot, smiley-face bongs, and stoner
celebs in Tim Pilcher’s Spliffs 2 (Quick American,
$12.95) are so lush and bright you’ll think you inhaled.
All these and so many more await beyond the big tall separation-wall
of best-sellerdom. Don’t shop as a sheep would if sheep could
shop. For every post-holiday tête-à-tête about Freak onomics,
another fifty thousand are waiting to happen about hemorrhaging
retinas. And rifles. And cosmetic clerks.
trends, creative processes, barnstorming egos, wounded hearts,
high ideals, and dark secrets—welcome to the latest crop of
The perennials are back. The Beatles are well-represented
with, at the top of the list, a new biography by Bob Spitz.
The Beatles (Little Brown, $29.95), eight years
in the making, runs more than 900 pages. Myths are laid bare,
inaccuracies corrected; and new shadings make this the new
standard bearer. Continuing his all-encompassing series, Bruce
Spizer’s The Beatles Solo on Apple
(498 Productions, $50) is a five-pound feast and presents
in full color every sleeve and label, many print ads, and
plenty of history and facts. Yoko Ono has edited a sweet collection
of essays and anecdotes, Memories of John Lennon
(Harper Collins, $24.95). It includes those who never met
him (a sprawling entry from Jello Biafra, one line from Dennis
Hopper), those who’d you expect (Chuck Berry, Donovan, Elton
John), and some lesser-knowns who had meaningful vantage points
(session drummer Andy Newmark).
Dead for as long as the Fab Four have been disbanded, Jimi
Hendrix continues to be a figure whose musical powers remain
undiminished. Room Full of Mirrors (Hyperion,
$24.95) is a new examination of his life by Charles Cross.
This is an apt title, as Hendrix was a man of many contradictions,
and there was a profound divide between his pubic and private
As befits his moniker, The King (Black Dog,
$75) is not only the largest book on Elvis Presley, but is
one of the largest books currently available, period. The
only other books this big are atlases. At 15 by 17 inches,
it’s big enough for an infant to roll around on, though the
embedded rhinestones spelling out the title may chafe their
tender skin. Making optimum use of the scale, the photos—especially
of Elvis performing—practically leap out into the room. Elvis
by the Presleys (Crown, $24.95) ties
in with a recent television documentary. Its strength is in
the straightforward presentation of some of the more mundane
artifacts from his life. There are images of such things as
his slot car from the 1960s (as well as unopened packages
of spare parts), a look at the inside of his guitar case,
a handwritten football play, and a boot with the mud he personally
acquired, still on it. By focusing on such nonspectacular
items, it creates a human-scaled portrait of the man.
Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan (DaCapo, $29.95) is
a book of previously unpublished images by Douglas R. Gilbert.
He was on assignment for Look magazine and spent a
week with Dylan in Woodstock, Greenwich Village and at the
Newport Folk Festival. The buzz was growing, but this was
just before he broke out big-time. Editors decided he looked
too unkempt for a family publication and never used any of
these, not even the one of him watching Dean Martin on television!
20 Years of Isis (Chrome Dreams, $19.95) is
the second volume collected from the longest running magazine
devoted to Bob Dylan. Fan-based but scholarly, it finds refreshing
angles and corners otherwise missed or ignored by mainstream
media. Minutiae at their most delicious. Wicked Messenger
(Seven Stories, $16.95) is Mike Marqusee’s examination of
the culture and politics of the ’60s that was the environment
in which Dylan ascended to popularity. This is an expanded,
revised and retitled version of Chimes of Freedom from
a couple years ago.
Musicians writing their own books can be a dubious matter,
but there are some rare exceptions, now including Nick Mason.
His Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd
(Chronicle, $29.95) is a friendly and straightforward narrative
woven through a dazzling array of imagery from his archives.
One need not even be a fan to admire the stunning range of
style and design that the band both sprung from and pushed
to new heights.
Peter Guralnick’s new book on the life and music of Sam Cooke,
Dream Boogie (Little Brown, $27.95) demonstrates
again that the journeys that this author takes to understand
the human impulses to sing and perform make for some of the
finest literature on the subject. He makes it clear that,
while Elvis caught the world’s attention, it’s the less celebrated
Cooke who influenced most of the singing that came after him.
If he had done nothing more than coin the phrase “Champagne
for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends,” Tom Waits
would be worthy of consideration. Add to that 30 years of
recorded works, and it’s time to sit down with Innocent
When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader
(Thunder’s Mouth, $16.95). Editor Mac Montandon has combed
through 30 years of interviews and articles, piecing together
nearly 400 pages that move forward with the rhythmic kick
and stagger of a Waits album.
a Little Dream of Me: The Life of Cass Elliot (Chicago
Review, $24.95) by Eddi Fiegel follows the unhappy adolescence
of Ellen Cohen into her successful (but still largely unhappy)
life in the Mamas & Papas as Mama Cass, and her early
death a few years later at the age of 32. She was friends
with Keith Moon, who was also exuberant in public but troubled
in private. Instant Party (Chrome Dreams, $19.95)
creates a multifaceted and complex portrait of the man as
author Alan Clayson looked through as many windows as possible.
Paul Zollo’s Conversations With Tom Petty (Omnibus,
$24.95) delivers exactly what the title promises. While this
is not a biography, the interviews do explore the trajectory
of his life and career. Gram Parsons has been the subject
of a biography previously, but Grievous Angel
(Thunder’s Mouth, $15.95) is a collaborative work by Jessica
Hundley and Gram’s daughter Polly Parsons. The narrative intersperses
interviews with musicians, both contemporaries and followers,
along with photos and other mementos. Kevin Chong’s Neil
Young Nation (Greystone, $16.95) finds the author,
on the verge of turning 30, more or less following the route
Young took some 40 years prior as he embarked on his musical
career. By turns travelogue, cultural critique, and biography,
it’s anchored by the author’s love of Young’s music and a
desire to understand his place in the world.
1/3, the series of paperbacks devoted to individual
classic albums, has just added another six to its impressive
list. These include the Band’s Music From Big Pink,
which is actually a novella by John Niven, as well as more
traditional examinations of Springsteen’s Born in
the USA, Bowie’s Low, MC5’s Kick
Out the Jams, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the
Aeroplane Over the Sea, and DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing
(Continuum, $9.95 each).
By Voices, A Brief History (Black Cat, $16) by James
Greer has a subtitle suitably mirroring the syntactical proclivities
of Robert Pollard, the now-defunct band’s leader: “Twenty-One
Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll.”
Spin: 20 Years of Alternative Music
(Three Rivers, $19.95) jumps through the decades like a hopped-up
channel surfer, capturing the cultural sprawl that passed
by during their watch, rendered in an appropriately vivid
spray of color and fonts. They also turn the camera on themselves,
mocking dozens on their own cover choices and reveling in
some of their more arch stands by including letters from disgruntled
(Chronicle, $40) is a stunning array of Jim Marshall’s photographs.
From iconic images of Monk to a pensive performance shot of
Elmo Hope, King Pleasure and Jon Hendricks grinning at one
another, and Eric Dolphy lost in his thoughts backstage, they
all radiate warmth. Kansas City Jazz, (Oxford,
$32) by Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix, not only explores one
of the key cities that gave rise to jazz, but is a look at
the changing fortunes and circumstances of a once-powerful
metropolitan center. For younger readers, there’s Jazz
A-B-Z (Candlewick, $24.95), a beautifully designed
introduction to 26 jazz artists, in the form of an album of
78s. It moves along on the bebop cadences of the poetic narrative
by Wynton Marsalis and the illustrations by Paul Rogers, and
is completed by carefully distilled biographical entries by
Lincoln Center jazz archivist Phil Schaap.
Ken Emerson, having written numerous books on American popular
music, has turned to the famous Brill Building with Always
Magic in the Air (Viking. $25.95). The numerous duos
(Leiber-Stoller, Bacharach-David, Mann-Weil, Goffin-King,
Pomus-Shuman, etc.) were the final flowering of songwriters
as separate entities before the ’60s saw the dawning of performers
as self-contained units, covering all the bases themselves
(sometimes to their detriment). The American
Songbook (Black Dog, $34.95) by Ken Bloom celebrates
75 years of American singers, songwriters and their songs.
Grand in scale, it’s rich with photos and ephemera, bios,
data, reminiscences, and anecdotes.
Finally, two books that are rife with a central ingredient
to rock & roll: attitude. The Rock
Snob’s Dictionary (Broadway, $12.95), by David Kamp
and Steven Daly, is filled with brief descriptions of the
reference points that pop up regularly in the writings of
music critics and the party chatter of high-fallutin’ collectors.
It covers everything from Rickenbacker guitars to vocoders,
Americana to Tropicalia, and David Ackles to the Zombies.
Lovers, Buggers & Thieves (Headpress, $19.95)
is delightfully sprawling and makes no apologies for its argument-inducing
stances. One chapter is accurately titled “Satan Yawns in
the Garden of Eden: Led Zeppelin vs. Iron Butterfly,” and
its author ends his intro by writing, “I’ve now come to accept
the contradictions I feel about these smoke breathing metal
dinosaurs clanking around in the junkyard of my mind.” Say
amen and ladle yourself another mug of the spiked eggnog.
it’s the season to be merry and jolly, then it’s not the season
to be giving books on politics or economics. It seems the
only people still writing on current affairs are maddened
Cassandras, driven crazy because things are turning out as
badly as they said they would, and clowns like Al Franken
or Bill Maher. However, there are a few excellent books out
there, and among them is George Packer’s The Assassin’s
Gate: America in Iraq. Packer, a hawkish liberal,
reports on the bureaucratic maneuvers that led up to the invasion,
and shows the horrific consequences of the endlessly bungled
war and its lethal aftermath. His is a dramatic and personal
account. For the larger, more Olympian view, look into The
Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East,
by award winning journalist Robert Fisk. At 1,000-plus pages,
it has all the historical breadth and depth you can ask for.
On the other hand, considering that these are holiday gift
books, you may want to put aside Iraq and turn to David McCullough’s
1776. That was a great year, and McCullough
is just the writer to present it in the most informative and
If you know somebody whose blood circulates only when reading
about how bad life is and how really awful it’s going to be,
there’s a book for that person, too. Social commentator James
Kunstler has written The Long Emergency: Surviving the
Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.
The scarcity of fuel and the effects of climate change are
only two of the many catastrophes coming together to change
for the worse the way we live, or so says Kunstler, an apocalyptic
writer who makes Malthus look like a starry-eyed optimist.
When it comes to economics, the jolly gift giver can safely
choose Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the
Hidden Side of Everything. Economics is usually
a dismal science, but economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen
Dubner have teamed up to produce a lively little book that
detonates a number of commonly held beliefs about the world.
“If morality represents how we would like the world to work,
then economics represents how it actually does work,” says
this book, and it dramatizes that premise in a number of very
entertaining ways. Another little book, but with a totally
different view of life, is Class Matters by
correspondents of The New York Times. (The work originally
appeared as a series in the Times.) Economics is an
extension of politics, but this book shows without bias how
class—money, education, profession and social standing—work
in our “classless” society. If you have a friend who hasn’t
noticed that the globe is now one big economic whole, then
an excellent primer, if you can stand the breathless writing,
is Tom Friedman’s The World Is Flat: A Brief History
of the Twenty-First Century. On the other hand, a
refreshing return to the past might be more soothing, in which
case hunt up Ron Chernow’s superb Alexander Hamilton,
the engaging story of our first economist.
promised my mother to pick up something for her at Wal-Mart,
I threw caution to the wind and decided to quickly check out
the toy section, on the off chance that something might catch
my eye as appropriate for my kids or their friends. Good God,
what was I thinking? Row upon row of depressingly plastic
and garish packaging met my eye. Even the “learning toys”
section, featuring mostly computerized or battery-operated
gizmos, seemed drastically devoid of anything resembling life,
imagination, creativity . . . fun.
grotesque were the Baby Einstein-type items, which proudly
proclaim how much they help with your little one’s development,
in much the same way a totalitarian government might pride
itself on how well it turns out worker bees. Have we, as a
society, really forgotten that plugging in a DVD of Miro-inspired
cartoons is not nearly as effective, in terms of one’s cognitive,
emotional and social development (not to mention quality one-on-one
time), as reading?
hopes that the dear readers of Metroland understand
the importance (and joy!) of reading, here are a handful of
suggestions for this year’s recommended books for gift giving
this holiday season:
Schmanukkah! by Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by LeUyen
Pham (Hyperion Books for Children, $16.99). With all due respect,
I have to say that, too often, I find children’s books about
Hanukkah to be, well, joyless in narrative and somber in illustrations.
One gets the sense that a parent, about to read one of these
tomes to his or her kids at bedtime, must preface the whole
production with something like, “OK, so now you’re
going to learn something.” A fabulous exception is Hanukkah,
Schmanukka!, which takes a Hebraic turn on A Christmas
Carol and in so doing, provides a marvelously entertaining
story as well as a reverent look at history, from the time
of the Maccabees to the tenements of immigrants in the New
World. Author Codell reminds us that good things happen from
a little remembering, and this indeed is a book worth remembering
at gift-giving time.
Way, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson
Talbott (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99). What a glorious, multigenerational
history of a family amid a backdrop of the history of black
people in America is Show Way. Like the patchwork quilt
that its protagonists work to show the way, the story provides
a rich tapestry of meanings within meanings, and the many
roads that lead to freedom. This is a particularly rich book
to read aloud.
The Book of the Secrets of Merlin, Being a True Account of
Wizards, Their Ways and Many Wonderful Powers, as
told by Master Merlin (Candlewick Press, $19.99). The imaginations
at Candlewick Press continue to outdo themselves, following
up the insanely fantastical books Egyptology and Dragonology
with Wizardology. Ripe with folklore and good old-fashioned
story telling, and full of delightful pull-out tabs and booklets
and what-have-you featuring potions and warnings, etc., this
is a magical book that should have your budding Merlin occupied
and fascinated for hours on end. Professor Dumbledore would
Did They Hide My Presents? by Alan Katz, illustrated
by David Catrow (Margaret K. McElderry Books, $15.95). Tired
of hearing the same old Christmas carols over and over? Try
singing them with the new, oh-so irreverent words penned by
Alan Katz in Where Did They Hide My Presents? What
kid won’t delight in singing, to the tune of “The Little Drummer
Boy,” “Dance, they told me/I’m the Sugarplum; A Nutcracker
fairy and I feel so dumb/I hope I don’t fall down and land
on my bum. . . .” There’s a hint of Dr. Seuss in these ditties,
and that’s never a bad thing.
ABZ, by Wynton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers
(Candlewick Press, $24.99). OK, so maybe you want your kids
to have a greater appreciation of music than, say, putting
silly rhymes to holiday chestnuts. If your family’s got a
yen for jazz, there can be no finer selection that Wynton
Marsalis’ Jazz ABZ, which includes biographical sketches
of greats like Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, Jelly Roll Morton,
etc., but features a corncupia of poem styles (list poem,
word play, meter play, preached poem, etc.) and illustrations
that foster a dizzying array of visual styles, all of which
speak to the incredible richness and diversity of this musical
style. Heck, forget what the kids want—I’m keeping this baby
the Great Mountains, a Visual Poem about China, by
Ed Young (Chronicle Books, $17.95). Like Jazz ABZ,
the visual style of this book contributes greatly to the evocation
of mood and substance. The paper-collage illustrations combine
to convey the many aspects of China and form a poetic picture
of that land’s mystery and enchantment.
at Christmas, by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark
Buehner (Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99). Ultravivid
illustrations depicting what snow people do when we’re not
looking enhance this adorable story about, well, what snow
people do when we’re not looking.
Square, A New York State Number Book, by Ann E. Burg,
illustrated by Maureen K. Brookfield (Sleeping Bear Press,
$16.95). Who knew that milk is the official state beverage,
or that there are 108 stitches in a baseball (as opposed to
88 in a softball), or that the New York state quarter features
11 stars because this state was the 11th to join the Union?
So many factoids, so much history, so well presented—that’s
Times Square, a book that should make its way to any
child’s shelves, no matter where he or she resides.
Under That Hat? by David A. Carter (Red Wagon Books,
$13.95). A terrific option for very little aspiring readers,
Who’s Under that Hat? features charming riddles whose
punchlines are found under a series of flaps. Expect repeated
presentations of this bound-to-be-favorite.
Gift of Nothing, by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown
and Company, $14.99). Don’t let the sparseness of its illustrations
deceive you: The Gift of Nothing glories in the play
of words and confounded expectations. Take, for instance,
the meaning of nothing, and how, when looked at another way,
it can mean everything. . . . But I’m giving away the plot.
A real charmer for all ages.
Tale, by Robert Sabuda (Little Simon, $26.95). Hands
down, the winner for the absolute most beautiful book this
year, Winter’s Tale features spectacular pop-up “illustrations”
featuring all manner of wildlife, amid a backdrop of simple,
Gift Guide Home