Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gift Books for Curious Kids...and their Grownups

It's almost Christmas and if you are still looking for a great gift to give to your young readers, or even if you aren't, here are some wonderful suggestions for curious kids and they work well for adults. too. As always, these selections have all been kid-tested and approved.

Hey, Baby! A Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Stories from Nature’s Nursery by Stephanie Warren Drimmer
2017, National Geographic Kids, 192 pages, age 5+
It has always been my belief that God made ALL babies so cute that no one could resist them, and reading this book, I am even more convinced that this is so. Young readers can take a trip about the world and meet some real sweeties up close and personal. The eight sections of this book celebrate babies from the mountains and the plains, river and rain forests, little one that live in the jungle and on the savannas, even babies from the desert and coast, and littles from forests and streams, tropics and peaks, ice and snow, and finally babies found in the oceans and seas. Hey, Baby! is as entertaining as it is informative and the facts provided are age appropriate and are sure to spark all kinds of conversations. Kids will learn all about the habitats of each baby animal, what they eat and even the kind of noise they make. There are lots of brilliantly colored photographs of each baby, as well a poems and stories, like a legend from the Kalahari desert called  “How the Zebra Got It’s Stripes” and from Siberia  comes ”How the Walrus Came to Be.” My favorite poem is “The Giraffe” by Jen Agresta, because giraffes and elephants are my favorite animals. This is a wonderful choice for younger readers and especially for animal lovers.

Ultimate Space Altas by Carolyn DeCristofano 
2017, National Geographic Kids, 160 pages, age 8+
This is a book that is an excellent choise for a novice who knows nothing about space or a budding astronomer/astronaut who wants to learn more about the final frontier. It is divided into seven sections, beginning with a short orientation on how to get the most out of this book. The next section covers what to expect to see in space from the vantage point of earth at different times of the day, night, month, season. Next, learn all about Observing Space, followed by the Inner Solar System, the Outer Solar System, Our Galaxy and Beyond, Mapping Space, and finally Space Fun. Each section includes detailed color photographs and maps to help readers develop a better understanding of space and navigate themselves around the night sky, and there are also fun games and activities kids can do. I practically grew up in the Hayden Planetarium in NYC, so I loved this book. Of course, we have learned a lot more about space since I was young and this book covers it all. The Ultimate Space Atlas will literally take readers on a fun and illuminating imaginary journey through the universe.

Ultimate Dinopedia by Don Lesser, illustrated by Franco Tempesta
2017, National Geographic Kids, 296 pages, age 7+
Dinosaurs continue to fascinate us - they were here, then they were gone. Who were they? How did they live? Where did they live? What did they eat? What happened to them? And how many different kinds of dinosaurs do we know about? If your young readers are curious about these creatures from our prehistoric era, this is the book that will probably answer all of their questions. There is even a section of the great dinosaur hunters and what it is like to be out on a dig looking for dino remains. Kids can learn about more that 600 different dinosaurs, each one includes a quick fact box that includes name, meaning of name, period it lived in, where it lived, found fossils, and length. These quick facts are followed by more detailed information and fun facts, as well as a detailed, full-color illustration of each dinosaur in it’s natural habitat. At the end of the book, there is an extensive Dino Dictionary and Glossary. Kids will find familiar dinosaurs as well as some that may be new to them, but each and every one is fascination to learn about. 

Curious Constructions: A Peculiar Portfolio of Fifty Fascinating Structures by Michael Hearst, illustrated by Matt Johnstone
2017, Chronicle Books, 112 pages, age 8+
Remember how in the book Madhattan Mystery by John J. Bonk, Lexi and her brother Kevin were introduced to the Whispering Arch in Grand Central Terminal? Well, that arch is just one of the curious constructions found in this book that is chock full of construction oddities found around the world. Other curious constructions you will discover are cathedral termite mounds. These mounds are made of mud, plant matter, termite saliva, and feces, and can be over 13 feet tall - all done to allow the cathedral termite to live a cool life underground, far from the hot sun in northern Australia. Or how about the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculptures every January. Harbin is in northern China and it’s a pretty cold place (right now, it’s -6° F, and 53 in NYC). My Kiddo wanted to teach in Harbin until she found out how cold it is, but she did go see the ice sculptures and said they are breathtaking. Of course, there is Stonehenge in England, one of the oldest and still most mysterious of constructions in the world. How did they ever get those heavy rocks on top of the heavy rocks to long ago. If these are kinds of things that fascinate your young readers, this is an ideal book for them, particularly if you have a budding engineer or even a Legos aficionado (as I have). All the curious constructions are illustrated in a flat, nostalgic color palette that adds to their mystery.

A World of Information by Richard Platt, illustrated by James Brown
2017, Candlewick Studio, 64 pages, age 8+
This oversized book (10.70”x14.60”) packs a lot of information covering 30 different topics on two page spreads each. Inside you will find information about things like the Atomic Structure, Music Notation, and The Layout of an Orchestra. For fact-loving kids, this book is a real smorgasbord of food for the brain (and much of it will be talked about at the dinner table, no doubt). Actually, what’s really nice about this book is that it will appeal to adults as much as to children. I found some many of the topics really fascinating, especially finding out about natural phenomena like the Neap & Spring Tides, since my favorite place in the world to be is the seashore. Not only did I get a better understanding of how and why the tides happen, but I even learned some facts about how the tides have affected history (or almost did anyway). Each page has a cream colored background, with a frame and text in one color per page, in a variety of old fashioned flat colors. So if you or your young reader have ever wondered about Time Zones & Tectonic Plates, The Anatomy of a Bicycle, and other interesting things, this is the book for you.

Bet You Didn’t Know: Fascinating, Far-out, Fun-tastic Facts 
2017, National Geographic Kids, 192 pages, age 8+     
This is the perfect book for kids who like to know a lot of interesting facts and, yes, some trivia, in smaller units of information not requiring long explanations. Each topic includes 10 fun facts about it with full color illustrations over a spread of two pages. I found that my younger readers were really able to get into this book since the information nuggets are small, simple, and manageable. And they had a lot of fun trying to best each other about who had the most interesting, serious, or wacky information while the older kids also took in the same facts, but were a little more thoughtful about what they read and more than once went online to find out more a subject. I also noticed that even my reluctant reader was interested in, for example, Mummy Facts to Unwrap and Icky Facts to Creep You Out. How do you know when kids like a book? When they pour over it again and again, which is exactly what happened with this book. Did anything really bother them? Yes, the section on spiders and the one on bats, and while they aren’t keen on them after reading the 10 facts, they aren’t as scared. Interestingly, my son-in-law, who grew up in China and for whom English is a second language, loved this book. It isn’t the kind of info one finds in language classes, and it is perfect for second language learners because of the pictures, the large print, and the clear presentation. He said he really felt like he walked away knowing more about the world in English - including what a Twinkie is.

Knightology: A True Account of the Most Valiant Knights by Dugald A. Steer
2017, Candlewick Press, 30 pages, age 10+ 
I’ve always loved the literature of the medieval period, so much so that one summer I dragged my young Kiddo around Europe, going from castle to castle. And while that was fun, what was missing was knowing and understanding just what life was like for the men who were knights and squires. And here is a book that gives young readers just that kind of information, beginning with a chapter called The Way of the Knight, covering The Nine Rules of Knighthood, and what chivalry was in theory and practice. From there, readers move on to the Crusades: who participated and why, where they took place (including a map) and even a Crusaders castle. Then there is in depth information about training to be a Squire, Arms and Armour used by knights, A Knight’s Horses, and his Castle, Castle Defenses, Jousting and Tournaments, Battle and Sieges, Hunting and Feasting, Hero Knights of History, Hero Knights of Legend, and finally The Greatest Night of All (and no, it isn't King Arthur, as I had guessed). Each section is done on a two page spread, with lots of flaps to pick up and see even more information. Each page is realistically illustrated, and many even have the illuminated images along the edge of the paper, in the same manner that manuscripts in the medieval ages were done. This is really a beautiful, well-researched book. My personal favorite part if the book, though, involves finding the clues located throughout that lead to the Holy Grail, making this a true quest book, and questing was definitely part of a knight’s life.   

Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated Jeffrey Alan Love
2017, Candlewick Studio, 240 pages, age 10+
My Kiddo loves myths, especially Norse myths, so I asked her to take a look at this book and tell me what she thought. And she loved it. From the introduction to who was who in Norse mythology and the retelling of 20 tales to the glossary 222 pages later, this is a book that relates the stories of the Viking gods and goddesses as they should be told in all their drama. Myths are the exaggerated stories we tell ourselves about who we are, so themes of creation, power, love, betrayal, good and evil are common to all countries, and that is certainly true of the Vikings, and Crossley-Holland retells the stores of Odin, Thor and Loki as they reflect these themes, all told in a foreboding but beautifully lyrical and very powerful prose. The acrylic and ink illustrations are done with dark silhouetted figures (matching the mood of these tales), with minimal touches of color against a snow white background on heavy paper. The dusk jacket features a black and white illustration depicting figures from Norse mythology against a giant ash tree, the Yggdrasil, the Viking version of the tree of life. This is a great book for fans of Norse myths, like my Kiddo, or for readers just finding their way in to this most interesting of subjects.

I'd like to thank Media Master Publicity for providing all the National Geographic books for review.
I'd also like to thank Candlewick Studio for sending me copies of their books for review.
I'd like to thank Chronicle Books for sending Curious Constructions for review.

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