Santas visit is upon us, and many parents and friends of young readers are in search of the perfect gift for deserving girls and boys. Here are a few suggestions that will bring education, fun and laughter.
The first book is The Porcupine Year by award-winning author Louise Erdrich. This is the third book in a trilogy that started with The Birchbark House in 2002. Omakayas is a 12 year-old Ojibwe girl whose family starts on an arduous journey to find a new home because white settlers have displaced them. It is 1852, and Omakayas family had to leave their beloved home near Lake Superior and are traveling north and west to join with some distant relatives. Erdrich based this engaging series on her own family history.
The story begins with Omakayas brother, Pinch, finding a young porcupine in a tree. While trying to retrieve the critter, Pinch gets covered in quills, and the baby animal finds a home on his head. From this point on, Pinchs new name is Quill. These and other adventures by family members teach about the culture while entertaining readers. Erdrich does a wonderful job of describing the daily life of the family, picking berries, hunting, scraping hides and drawing the reader into the action. This charming chapter book is illustrated by the author with delightful pencil drawings at the beginning of each section.
At the end of the book, there are several additional features that include a map depicting the familys journey, an author interview and suggestions for related activities and crafts that enrich the reading experience. This trilogy would be a welcome addition to a young scholars library.
Snow Play by Birgitta Ralston is a perfectly timed resource for parents; just look outside the window at all that white stuff. This book offers 27 projects for winter fun. The introduction tells how to use the book and what tools are needed for the projects. There are good color photographs that help illustrate the directions. Each project lists the time frame needed to complete the project, how many people are needed and the type of snow to use. It has a snowflake scale to show the difficulty level of each project.
Ralston introduces readers to basic techniques, how to choose a location, making snow bricks, making a mound, and she especially focuses on snow safety. Some examples of projects include Curious Creatures, Magical Lights and Adventurous Spaces. At the end of the book, Ralston lists snow festivals around the world, as well as 20 in the United States, and Durangos own Snowdown is included.
Another book that inspires and educates is Of Thee I Sing:A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama with paintings by Loren Long, an award-winning illustrator. This book was finished in 2008 before Obama became president, and politics have nothing to do with this beautiful book. It is an ode to 13 U.S. citizens, past and present, who have helped to shape our nation. Abraham Lincoln, Cesar Chavez, Jackie Robinson and Helen Keller are just a few of the people included.
Of Thee I Sing is framed as a letter to Obamas young daughters. He starts each section with the phrase, Have I told you? The end of the question is how smart or brave or creative are you? He then uses one of these citizens to illustrate that characteristic. He ends the books by pointing out how all these people helped make our nation great and how the United States is made up of people of all faiths, cultures and races with many different attributes. The words are spare but powerful, and the illustrations are absolutely wonderful, making this a great present. All proceeds from sales of the book go to a scholarship fund for children of fallen and disabled U.S. service personnel.
Art & Max, written and illustrated by David Wiesner, is a lighthearted tale of two lizards, although one may be a horned toad. This picture book is beautifully illustrated with bright colors and great detail. Arthur is an accomplished artist, and Max cant wait to paint, too. When Max doesnt know what to paint, Art suggests himself as the subject of Maxs painting. When Max paints Art and not his canvas, the results are unexpected and amazing. The book is a delightful tale of creative process, and children are sure to love it.
Ending the list is Its a Book by Lane Smith, another picture book for children of all ages, especially tweens and teens. With only two main characters, a donkey and a monkey, and a guest appearance by a mouse, this book is a major laugh. Kids will enjoy it again and again. Here is a brief example. The donkey,who loves technology, asks the monkey about the book in his hands. Can it text? Blog? Tweet? No, its a book. This book is clever and entertaining.
These books are only a few of the choices available to give to children this season. Books do so much for childrens imaginations, and the time spent reading together builds families and memories that last forever.
Leslie Doran is a local freelance writer whose book reviews have appeared in The Denver Post, numerous magazines and other publications. Reach her at sierrapoco@ yahoo.com.