Worst Case Scenario

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I've been thinking about what I want to share with you for the holiday season and there is so much and so little time that it's been hard to narrow it down ... After thinking it through a bit, my hope is to get you the following in the next week, which is cutting it a little close, but that's the best this tired mama can do, I'm afraid. (Super big apologies for completely and utterly missing Hanukkah. The good news is I shouldn't miss it for another 80,000 years or so.) 

So, on my front burners are picture and chapter books that I can't live without, a recap of the best of 2013 for kids (picture and chapter books) including the best of the best, adult books of 2013 that you must buy for gifts (or for yourself), and graphic novels for kids ... and that's probably the best I can do without staying up all hours. If you're thinking, why in the world is she doing this -- well, it's purely selfish ... I love to talk books and I really love to write about them and I'm not good at shutting up. Ask my husband.

For today I want to present you with the books that I have found essential to my collection over the last 15 years, both as a children's librarian, and as a parent. I looked through my books (yes, a positively gluttonous amount) and thought about if I could take maybe 30 of them with me and had to give up the rest (horrors), which would they be? Worst case scenario, see? So, without further blathering, here they are. These are the books that you should make sure Santa buys for your kid, with publisher blurbs, because I'm lazy and short on time. They transcend gender and some, even age, and are essential to a basic collection:

For the littles (18 months to 4 years old):

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Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman

Good night, Gorilla.
Good night, Elephant. 
It's bedtime at the zoo, and all the animals are going to sleep. Or are they? Who's that short, furry guy with the key in his hand and the mischievous grin?
Good night, Giraffe.
Good night, Hyena. 
Sneak along behind the zookeeper's back, and see who gets the last laugh in this riotous good-night romp.

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Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

In a great green room, tucked away in bed, is a little bunny. "Goodnight room, goodnight moon." And to all the familiar things in the softly lit room--to the picture of the three little bears sitting in chairs, to the clocks and his socks, to the mittens and the kittens, to everything one by one--he says goodnight.

In this classic of modern children's literature, beloved by generations of readers and listeners, the quiet poetry of the words and the gentle, lulling illustrations combine to make a perfect book for the end of the day.

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A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

Winner of the 2012 Randolph Caldecott Medal

This New York Times Bestseller and New York Times Best Illustrated Book relates a story about love and loss as only Chris Rashcka can tell it. Any child who has ever had a beloved toy break will relate to Daisy's anguish when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog. In the tradition of his nearly wordless picture book Yo! Yes?, Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka explores in pictures the joy and sadness that having a special toy can bring. 

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Bark, George by Jules Feiffer

"Bark, George," says George's mother, and George goes: "Meow," which definitely isn't right, because George is a dog.

And so is his mother, who repeats, "Bark, George." And George goes, "Quack, quack."

What's going on with George? Find out in this hilarious picture book from Jules Feiffer.

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One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root and Jane Chapman

Down by the marsh,
by the sleepy,
slimy marsh,
one duck
gets stuck in the muck . . .

Can two fish, tails going swish, help? What about three moose, munching on spruce? Bright, spirited illustrations by Jane Chapman enhance this one-of-a-kind counting tale by Phyllis Root - a feast of sounds and numbers that will have listeners scrambling to join in the slippy, sloppy fun.

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Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers and Marla Frazee

Every day, everywhere, babies are born. They're kissed and dressed and rocked and fed--and completely adored by the families who love them. With an irresistible rhyming text and delightfully endearing illustrations, here is an exuberant celebration of playing, sleeping, crawling, and of course, very noisy babies doing all the wonderful things babies do best.

 

For the slightly less little (ages 4-7):

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems 

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It's getting dark, but the pigeon won't go to bed! Will you let him stay up late?

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Max's Christmas by Rosemary Wells

Max has plans to stay up late to see Santa Claus, but his big sister, Ruby, wont let him. “Why?” asks Max. To which Ruby replies everyone’s most despised answer: “BECAUSE!” So Max takes matters into his own hands and sneaks into the living room to wait for Santa on his own. Will Santa still show up? What will he say if he sees Max up waiting for him?

 

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In the Rain with Baby Duck by Amy Hest and Jill Barton

It's a rainy, rainy day, and Baby Duck hates rain. Mrs. Duck says she's never heard of a duck not liking rain. But then Grampa Duck and Baby Duck come down from the attic with a little umbrella and rubber boots that belonged to . . . whom? . . . Mrs. Duck! Baby Duck grabs them up with glee and goes outside to play. This ducky story—wonderfully illustrated with watercolors full of tender expression—will have every puddle jumper wishing for rain.

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Ginger by Charlotte Voake

A perfect tale for cat lovers—and for younger siblings. Ginger the cat lives a comfortable, well-tended life. But when a pesky kitten moves in, Ginger's days of ease are over. Now it seems he must share his bed and his meals with the intruder forever! What is a pampered cat to do? The award-winning Charlotte Voake knows all about cats and their peculiar ways, as every reader of this dear and funny tale will soon find out.

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Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

Once upon a time there was an old man and an old woman who were very lonely. They decided to get a cat, but when the old man went out searching, he found not one cat, but millions and billions and trillions of cats! Unable to decide which one would be the best pet, he brought them all home. How the old couple came to have just one cat to call their own is a classic tale that has been loved for generations.

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Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type. All day long he hears:

Click, clack, moo. 
Click, clack, moo. 
Click, clack, moo.

But Farmer Brown's problems REALLY begin when his cows start leaving him notes...Come join the fun as a bunch of literate cows turn Farmer Brown's farm upside-down!

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The Complete Adventures of Curious George by H. A. and Margret Rey

H.A. and Margret Rey introduced the world to Curious George, and the world has loved him ever since. The tales of this cheerful and resilent little heror have kept generations of readers enthralled and entertained. This lavish 70th Anniversary edition includes an introduction by Leonard S. Marcus, Publisher's Perspective by Anita Silvey, retrospective essay by Dee Jones with photographic album of Margaret and H. A. Rey, and the seven original tales of Curious George: Curious George, Curious George Gets a Medal, Curious George Flies a Kite, Curious George Rides a Bike, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, Curious George Takes a Job, and Curious George Learns the Alphabet.

Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller

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Once there was a caterpillar named Farfallina, whose best friend was a gosling named Marcel. They did everything together -- until one day, everything started to change.

This beautiful and touching story shows that even as life takes different turns, friendship endures.

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"Let's Get a Pup!" Said Kate by Bob Graham

There are lots of dogs of all shapes and sizes at the animal shelter. But Kate and her mom and dad know they want Dave the moment they see him. He’s small and cute and a perfect fit for the end of Kate’s bed. But then they see Rosy, who is old and gray and broad as a table. How can they take home just one dog when there are so many wonderful animals who need a home? Bob Graham creates an original, endearing family in a touching story that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere.

The Gingerbread Man by Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock

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A new rendition of a beloved classic. "Concisely written text and a jazzy refrain....You may have other versions on your shelves - make lots of room for copies of this one." - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review.

The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney

Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney enlivens the beloved fable with cheerful and classically beautiful illustrations, making this the ideal edition for every child’s library. "Perfect [for] sharing with one listener, or a crowd." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk! Sal and her mother a picking blueberries to can for the winter. But when Sal wanders to the other side of Blueberry Hill, she discovers a mama bear preparing for her own long winter.  Meanwhile Sal's mother is being followed by a small bear with a big appetite for berries! Will each mother go home with the right little one?

With its expressive line drawings and charming story, Blueberries for Sal has won readers' hearts since its first publication in 1948.

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For bigger elementary kids (ages 6-9):

Library Lion by Michelle Kudsen and Kevin Hawes

Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren't any rules about lions in the library. And, as it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. He makes a comfy backrest for the children at story hour. And he never roars in the library, at least not anymore. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how. Michelle Knudsen's disarming story, illustrated by the matchless Kevin Hawkes in an expressive timeless style, will win over even the most ardent of rule keepers.

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Your Favorite Seuss by Dr. Seuss

From his very first book to his very last book, here in one big volume are 13 classic Dr. Seuss stories, everyone’s favorites. All of the words and virtually all of the illustrations are included. Each story is prefaced by a short essay by someone whose life was changed by Dr. Seuss or who is simply an unabashed admirer. Also included are photographs of Dr. Seuss, memorabilia, and original sketches from his books. The stories included are: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetHorton Hears a Who!McElligot’s PoolIf I Ran the ZooHappy Birthday to You!Dr. Seuss’s Sleep BookYertle the TurtleThe Cat in the HatHow the Grinch Stole Christmas!Green Eggs and HamThe LoraxThe Sneetches, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

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The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Virginia Lee Burton won the Caldecott Medal in 1943 for her memorable picture book The Little House, a poignant story of a cute country cottage that becomes engulfed by the city that grows up around it. The house has an expressive face of windows and doors, and even the feelings of a person, so she’s sad when she’s surrounded by the dirty, noisy city’s hustle and bustle: “She missed the field of daisies / and the apple trees dancing in the moonlight.” Fortunately, there’s a happy ending, as the house is taken back to the country where she belongs.

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Charlotte's Web by E. B. White and Garth Williams

Charlotte's Web is the story of a little girl named Fern who loved a little pig named Wilbur—and of Wilbur's dear friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider who lived with Wilbur in the barn.

With the help of Templeton, the rat who never did anything for anybody unless there was something in it for him, and by a wonderfully clever plan of her own, Charlotte saved the life of Wilbur, who by this time had grown up to quite a pig.

How all this comes about is Mr. White's story.

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The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

Ralph the mouse ventures out from behind the piney knothole in the wall of his hotel-room home, scrambles up the telephone wire to the end table, and climbs aboard the toy motorcycle left there by a young guest. His thrill ride does not last long. The ringing telephone startles Ralph, and he and the motorcycle take a terrible fall - right to the bottom of a metal wastebasket. Luckily, Keith, the owner of the motorcycle, returns to find his toy. Keith rescues Ralph and teaches him how to ride the bike. Thus begins a great friendship and many awesome adventures.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Willy Wonka's famous chocolate factory is opening at last!

But only five lucky children will be allowed inside. And the winners are: Augustus Gloop, an enormously fat boy whose hobby is eating; Veruca Salt, a spoiled-rotten brat whose parents are wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde, a dim-witted gum-chewer with the fastest jaws around; Mike Teavee, a toy pistol-toting gangster-in-training who is obsessed with television; and Charlie Bucket, Our Hero, a boy who is honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the wildest time of his life!

And for the oldest elementary kids (ages 8-10):

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

Here in the attic of Shel Silverstein you will find Backward Bill, Sour Face Ann, the Meehoo With an Exactlywatt, and the Polar Bear in the Frigidaire. You will talk with the Broiled Face, and find out what happens when someone steals your knees, you get caught by the Quick-Digesting Gink, a mountain snores, and they’ve put a brassiere on the camel.

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Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan, and when 10-year-old Bud decides to hit the road to find his father, nothing can stop him. Winner of the 2000 Newbery Medal, and the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award.

Bud's journey, punctuated by Dickensian twists in plot and enlivened by a host of memorable personalities, will keep readers engrossed from first page to last. -- Publishers Weekly

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Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

When ten-year-old India Opal Buloni moves to Naomi, Florida, with her preacher father, she doesn't know what to expect. She is lonely at first--that is until she meets Winn-Dixie, a stray dog who helps her make some unusual friends. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal begins to let go of some of her sadness and finds she has a whole lot to be thankful for.

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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

How can a fairy's blessing be such a curse?

At her birth, Ella of Frell was given a foolish fairy's gift—the "gift" of obedience. Ella must obey any order given to her, whether it's hopping on one foot for a day or chopping off her own head!

But strong-willed Ella does not tamely accept her fate. She goes on a quest, encountering ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, fairy godmothers, and handsome princes, determined to break the curse—and live happily ever after.

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The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

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Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.

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The Wanderer by Sharon Creech

"The sea, the sea, the sea. It rolled and rolled and called to me. Come in, it said, come in."

Thirteen-year-old Sophie hears the sea calling, promising adventure and a chance for discovery as she sets sail for England with her three uncles and two cousins. Sophie's cousin Cody isn't sure he has the strength to prove himself to the crew and to his father. Through Sophie's and Cody's travel logs, we hear stories of the past and the daily challenges of surviving at sea as The Wanderer sails toward its destination—and its passengers search for their places in the world.

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A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

What happens when Joey and his sister, Mary Alice — two city slickers from Chicago — make their annual summer visits to Grandma Dowdel's seemingly sleepy Illinois town? August 1929: They see their first corpse, and he isn't resting easy. August 1930: The Cowgill boys terrorize the town, and Grandma fights back. August 1931: Joey and Mary Alice help Grandma trespass, poach, catch the sheriff in his underwear, and feed the hungry — all in one day. And there's more, as Joey and Mary Alice make seven summer trips to Grandma's — each one funnier than the year before — in self-contained chapters that readers can enjoy as short stories or take together for a rollicking good novel. In the tradition of American humorists from Mark Twain to Flannery O'Connor, popular author Richard Peck has created a memorable world filled with characters who, like Grandma herself, are larger than life and twice as entertaining.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

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All Harry Potter knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley — a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry — and anyone who reads about him — will find unforgettable.

For it’s there that he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him… if Harry can survive the encounter.

Stay tuned for more gift suggestions as I recap the best of adult books for 2013 next.