Take a fresh look at some age-old classics, or stash away some ideas for family fun. It’s a bumper year for children’s gift books, and the stars of this year’s crop include something new for Harry Potter fans, a Star Wars extravaganza and an ingenious offering from David Macaulay for budding engineers.
There’s something extra special about passing along your favorite books to a new generation of young readers. Classic children’s tales really are gifts that keep on giving.
Whether you’re a longtime Harry Potter fan or are introducing a new reader to the series, check out the superbly illustrated edition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Award-winning British illustrator Jim Kay has created more than 100 illustrations for this gorgeous book, full of colorful visualizations of Harry’s first adventure. Kay didn’t have an easy task, as so many fans already have fully formed images of these beloved characters and scenes. Never fear: His art glimmers with all the excitement, joy, mystery and thrills of this magical tale. Rowling has given her approval, saying she loves “his interpretation of Harry Potter’s world,” which “moved me profoundly.” This special edition features an attractive layout with text that’s easy on the eyes, a bonus for young and old alike, making it perfect for reading aloud. Avid Potter fans will want—no, need—to add this book to their collections.
Another classic tale gets a redo with Gillian Cross’ retelling of Homer’s The Iliad, with striking illustrations by Neil Packer. The duo previously collaborated on The Odyssey, and both books make an excellent introduction for middle schoolers discovering these ancient tales for the first time. Cross’ text is riveting, elegant and accessible, bringing epic battle scenes to life: “The Greeks threw huge rocks down onto them, but the Trojans replied by hurling bigger stones at the wall. They flew like snow in blizzard, clanging against helmets and shields and covering the ground.” Packer’s artwork is contemporary, colorful, dramatic and just right for luring in a preteen audience. A helpful introduction, an informative afterword and a reference spread showing the names and faces of major characters and their allegiances are also included.
Tales from the Brothers Grimm features the artwork of famed Swiss poster designer Herbert Leupin. After taking the advertising world by storm in the 1940s, the late graphic artist began illustrating fairy tales. Leupin’s legacy is given new life here, and his illustrations are indeed poster-worthy. These nine fairy tales include classics like “Hansel and Gretel” and “Snow White,” along with less familiar choices such as “Hans in Luck” and “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids.” As noted in the book’s epilogue, Leupin infused his illustrations with humor and a magical glow, and most importantly, he made sure that when “danger threatens . . . children are not just afraid but also have something to laugh at.” Leupin’s creations burst with personality and color, and children as well as adults will delight in these offerings.
MOVIE NIGHT MADNESS
Star Wars fans eagerly awaiting the release of The Force Awakens will want to get their hands on Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know. This is a book made for perusing and quizzing fellow enthusiasts, with graphics galore and numerous statistics, quotes, questions and trivia. Do you know what a nerf herder is, or the name of Hondo’s favorite ship? My favorites are the “Peek behind the scenes” tidbits, such as the fact that Han Solo was a big green alien in the original rough draft. Who knew that a termite infestation in George Lucas’ house inspired the buzzing swarm of Geonosians, and that he brought in specimens for his art designers? An index helps readers keep track of all of these facts and figures.
Planning a family movie night can be challenging, but things just got easier with 101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up: Be Your Own Movie Critic—The Must-See Movie List for Kids. Instead of trying to strong-arm your kids into watching an old favorite of yours, just hand them this book and let them decide. Suzette Valle’s interactive guide is aimed at third- to seventh-graders, but there’s something for everyone in a wide range of categories that includes everything from classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and Toy Story to discussion-provoking choices like Life Is Beautiful and Super Size Me. Each page-long entry contains a synopsis, rating and run time, a variety of fun facts and space for viewers to make notes about their own reactions to the film. (A few classics, like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music, get two-page spreads.) Natasha Hellegouarch’s illustrations and graphics add just the right touch of color and fun.
LESSONS THEY’LL LOVE
David Macaulay, celebrated for his best-selling The Way Things Work, has created a unique exploratory adventure in How Machines Work: Zoo Break!. First, it’s a story about two animals, Sloth and Sengi (a little elephant shrew), trying to break out of the zoo. More than that, however, it’s an interactive pop-up book that brings six simple machines to life in a wonderful way: wedge, wheel and axle, lever, inclined plane, screw and pulley. Sloth and Sengi try to put these simple machines to work, and the book succeeds grandly as both a fun story and an educational experience just right for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum. Macaulay is a Caldecott Medal winner and a MacArthur Fellow, and his trademark humorous illustrations hold everything together with spreads that are equally intriguing and enlightening. A glossary at the end helps solidify the scientific concepts, while the madcap ending is perfectly pulled off.
Kids of all ages will enjoy SENSEational Illusions, an engaging book filled with quick and quirky activities to test your senses, as well as simple scientific explanations for each. Readers will find a variety of optical illusions, including a large pop-up sculpture with three hidden animals waiting to be found. There are scratch-and-sniff quizzes and directions for easy taste tests that require only simple ingredients. Experiments involving touch and balance include two mazes to be completed with one finger at the ready and both eyes closed, as well as a maze full of booby traps to be navigated by three small ball bearings (included). Chock-full of fun, it can be enjoyed solo or with buddies. Either way, it’s sure to be a hit.
Planning a road trip? Bring along The 50 States, a large book of fact-filled maps that allows young geographers to get lost in the many details. A two-page spread for each state includes the map, an introductory overview, a chart of key facts (capital, largest city, etc.) and a timetable of memorable moments in history. Also included are brief mentions of famous people from each state, from familiar faces to contemporary notables. Alabama’s pages spotlight Rosa Parks and Helen Keller, as well as track-and-field athlete Carl Lewis and actress Octavia Spencer. Author Gabrielle Balkan’s research and writing draws readers in with a fun mash-up of history, geography and pop culture, while Sol Linero’s illustrations make every spread a delight. I even learned a few new tidbits about my beloved West Virginia.
If you need to occupy a preschooler or an early-elementary student, grab a copy of Making Faces!: Star in Your Own Works of Art by Jacky Bahbout and illustrated by Momoko Kudo. This large, placemat-sized drawing pad has a simple, silly concept: Each page has a hole in the middle and contains drawings and a theme (party time, clown, soccer player, dragon, etc.) to which young artists can add their own details. The page titled “Moose on the loose!!!” encourages youngsters to draw their own antlers and add extra trees to the forest. Once complete, kids can tear out the page, put their face in the hole and pose for a photo. This is a great choice when waiting for restaurant meals and appointments, a creative alternative to video and phone distractions. Send the photo to Grandma and everybody’s happy!