Christmas is a time of giving, and what could be a better gift than one that gives both delight and inspiration?

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/12/2018 (1093 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Christmas is a time of giving, and what could be a better gift than one that gives both delight and inspiration?

A book for a preschooler can be a window into a new world, or a chance to share precious time with a favourite caregiver. For an older child or teenager, it can be an opportunity to be alone, to be enthralled, or amused, or informed.

So forget those Black Friday or Cyber Monday purchases under your tree. Pick a book for your favourite young reader and your gift will not only last until next Christmas — it may even be passed on to be enjoyed by others. Here are just a few suggestions for young readers of all ages.

Ages 1-5

If your youngest reader is a dinosaur fan, try Dino-Christmas by Michigan author Lisa Wheeler, and with illustrations by Barry Gott (Lerner Publishing, 32 pages, $26, hardcover).

Wheeler writes in rhyming verse as she depicts more than a dozen different kinds of dinosaurs getting ready for Christmas: "Diplo decks the halls with ease / hangs tinsel on the Christmas trees / Triceratops is feeling merry / lights up every topiary." Wheeler has made a career out of Dino story books, including Dino-Dancing.

Ohio artist Gott has added plenty of brilliantly coloured pictures of the dinosaurs at play.


Right in line with feminist awareness, Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, by Virginia writer Sue Fliess and with illustrations by March Chambers (Two Lions, 32 pages, $24, hardcover) is a picture book that will especially appeal to little girls.

When Santa comes down with a cold and threatens to cancel Christmas, Mrs. Claus steps in to deliver presents worldwide. Despite tornadoes and snowstorms, leaking fuel and a collision with a wayward duck, Mrs. Claus perseveres and gets the job done. Chambers’ pictures are big and bold.


We’ve all been told no two snowflakes are alike. But what if they used to be identical? What if their differences are due to a mistake somewhere in the clouds?

U.K. author Lou Treleaven poses this scenario in her picture book The Snowflake Mistake (Maverick, 32 pages, $24, hardcover). Written in rhyming verse, it tells how Princess Ellie, left in charge while the Snow Queen is off on another mission, speeds up the snowflake machine and causes it to break down. Her solution? Make the snowflakes by hand with assistance from helpful birds. Treleaven even gives directions for readers to make their own snowflakes.

Boston artist Maddie Frost has scanned various textures and papers to make her attractive pictures.


With a plot that seems like a combination of Cinderella and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Los Angeles authors (and partners) Scott Icenogle and Sean Hayes, both of Will and Grace television fame, have written Plum: How the Sugar Plum Fairy Got her Wings (Simon and Schuster, 48 pages, $24, hardcover).

Plum is raised in an orphanage where she is mocked and ignored, but owing to her sweet nature, she is adopted by the King of the Land of Sweets. Her presence rescues the land from a depression that has caused everything to sour ,and restores a multitude of sweets. As her reward Plum is granted her wings.

Despite its rather trite story, L.A. artist Robin Thompson’s charming illustrations make this an attractive book for young readers.

 

Ages 5-8

For an early chapter book that is fun to read and delightful to look at, try Houndsley and Catina Through the Seasons by James Howe, with artwork by Marie-Louise Gay (Candlewick, 184 pages, $11, hardcover).

A compilation of four previous books by New York author Howe, the adventures of friends Houndsley the dog and Catina the cat are illustrated with Montreal artist Gay’s charming watercolours.


When Judy Moody thinks she’s related to the Queen of England she plans a royal tea party, but is upset when no one arrives.

In Judy Moody and the Right Royal Tea Party by California writer Megan McDonald (Candlewick, 160 pages, $20, hardcover), Judy’s young brother Stink and her classmate Jessica manage to save the day

Fun illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds make this latest addition to the many Judy Moody books attractive to early readers.


Probably the ultimate in dinosaur books, Dinosaur: A Photicular Book by Dan Kainen and Kathy Wollard (Workman, 24 pages, $35, hardcover) uses 3D technology that makes the eight dinosaurs presented seem to menace and move.

There is plenty of detailed information about each dinosaur, but it’s the "moving pictures" that accompany it that gives this volume a boost. All the most well-known dinosaurs are here — including Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops — as well as a few lesser-known species such as Parasaurolophus.

Kainen, who lives in New York, is both an artist and inventor, while Kathy Wollard is a science journalist living in Ohio.

 

Ages 9-12

For a feel-good story from two-time Newberry award winner Kate DiCamillo, consider Louisiana’s Way Home (Candlewick, 240 pages, $20, hardcover).

Louisiana has lived with her grandmother all her life and become used to her eccentric ways. But when her grandmother wakes her in the middle of the night and insists they drive to Georgia, Louisiana only wants to go back home to Florida and her friends Raymie and Beverly.

Things become serious when her grandmother disappears, and Louisiana is left alone in a motel room with no money and only her exceptional voice to rely on.

Louisiana’s mixture of ingenuity, honesty and self-reliance win the day, as she attracts a fun-loving boy, a compassionate woman and a helpful pastor to assist her. Her character was first introduced in DiCamillo’s prior novel, Raymie Nightingale. DiCamillo, born in Philadelphia, now lives in Minneapolis.


After the success of Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs we have a home-grown novel for mid-teens written from the viewpoint of another four-legged friend.

Winnipeg writer Larry Verstraete introduces Coop the Great (Great Plains, 160 pages, $12, paperback), an aged dachshund whose bravery and intelligence are much greater than his size.

Coop is adopted from an animal shelter by Mike, a widower who lives alone with a cat named Lucy. When Mike’s two grandchildren move in after their mother leaves an abusive husband, life becomes complicated for Coop. Eventually he is the only one who can go for help when Mike and the children are in a car accident.

Verstraete, a former science teacher who has written a host of non-fiction as well as fiction books for children, manages to convey a feeling of love and caring in the household even though we never leave Coop’s perspective. Special for dog-lovers.


Guelph resident Eric Walters is unchallenged as one of the most prolific authors of children’s books in Canada. For his 100th novel he has written Elephant Secret (Puffin Canada, 272 pages, $22, hardcover).

Thirteen-year-old Samantha (Sam) lives with her father in a sanctuary for abused or retired working elephants. She has such a close connection to her charges that she’s been called "Elephant Girl" at school.

When Woolly, a baby elephant, is born in the sanctuary and the mother dies, Sam develops an even closer relationship to him — a bond that is threatened when the unusual parentage of Woolly is revealed.

Both a plea for better treatment of elephants and a description of their possible future with experimental breeding, Walters’ novel has more facts and less action than most of his previous works. However, his characterization of Sam and his connection with an elephant’s feelings and motivations are both impressive.


Susin Nielsen of Vancouver has written six hard-hitting novels featuring troubled teenagers. Her latest, No Fixed Address (Tundra, 280 pages, $21, hardcover) concentrates on the homeless problem in her home city and is her best offering yet.

Nielsen’s story describes just how easily a family with few resources can go from being relatively stable to completely chaotic. Twelve-year-old Felix lives alone with his divorced mother. After she loses three jobs in a row they end up living in a camper van with no bathroom facilities, minimum cooking space and little heat. Only when Felix demonstrates his abilities in a quiz show is there hope on the horizon.

With a surprise ending and sympathetic but realistic treatment of both Felix and his mother, this is a highly recommended book for mid-grade readers.


The consequences of a dramatic rise in sea level by melting ice fields are explored in Australian author Mardi McConnochie’s dystopian novel The Flooded Earth (Pyjama Press, 336 pages, $20, hardcover).

Living in the country of Dux 40 years after a world-wide flood, twins Annalie and Will are anxious to find their father, Spinner, who has been arrested by the Admiralty, the new government authority. Joined by Annalie’s friend Essie and a former slave, Pod, they commandeer Spinner’s boat, the Sunfish, and set out for remote islands to which they believe Spinner has fled.

Facing storms, pirates, gun battles and boat troubles, this adventurous quartet provide plenty of action and suspense. Especially good for sailors or would-be sailors.


Young readers who have a yearning for travel and a love of the unusual will enjoy Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco (Workman, 112 pages, $29, hardcover).

Thuras was co-founder in 2016 of the Atlas Obscura travel books. This volume jumps from Iceland to Chile and Ethiopia to Russia and onwards to examine everything strange — from volcanoes to underground caverns and from fruit bats to goats who defy gravity.

Two locations in Canada are included: the Diavik Diamond Mine in Lac De Gras, N.W.T., and the bottle houses in Wellington, P.E.I.

Designed to pique the curiosity of any reader, the authors include information on travel gear and choices of transportation. Calgary-born, Seattle-based Joy Ang adds plenty of striking illustrations.

 

Young adult: 13 and up

S.M. Beiko is a Winnipeg writer and freelance editor whose young adult novels feature high fantasy mixed with complex mythology. Children of the Bloodlands (ECW press, 500 pages, $23, hardcover) is the second book in her series, The Realms of the Ancient, and follows Scion of the Fox.

It’s highly recommended that Book 1 be read first or the complex adventures of Roan, who has acquired the Calamity Stone, which both protects and inhibits her, will require considerable explanation. Roan and her friends confront the monster Seela, who epitomizes evil, and must battle a multitude of malevolent forces. Meanwhile, a mysterious plague threatens to take over the children of Edinburgh, possibly wiping out a generation.

A special feature of this series is the important role the city of Winnipeg plays as the setting for much of the story. It’s fun to hear about familiar streets and parks.


Thoughtful young adults will appreciate A Heart in a Body in the World by Seattle author Deb Caletti (Simon and Schuster, 368 pages, $24, hardcover). Annabelle experiences a terrible tragedy when gun violence takes both her best friend and her boyfriend. She feels immense guilt for her part in it and decides to run away: from Washington state to Washington, D.C., to confront lawmakers in the nation’s capital.

Annabelle must combat depression, fatigue and nightmares, but also experiences hope, forgiveness and strength as she faces "The Taker" and starts a whole new chapter in her life. With recent events in the U.S. making this a particularly relevant story, the book will resonate with teens on both sides of the border.


Game of Secrets by Victoria writer and family doctor Kim Foster (Sky Pony Press, 356 pages, $24, hardcover) is a fine addition to the historical fantasy genre.

Set in 1887 in Queen Victoria’s London, Felicity is a flower seller in a city market when she is plucked off the street as a recruit for the Greybourne Academy, a training ground for super-spies who have exceptional abilities.

With plenty of excitement, action, fantasy and romance, Foster’s young-adult novel clearly depicts the colour but also the depravity of the city. Although she knows their family is "tainted" Felicity must learn to access her special powers of strength and cunning as she pits herself against aristocrat Julian Blake to be the best candidate in the Academy.

When she finds herself alone in the cellars under the British Museum on the day of Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Felicity must discover a way to diffuse a bomb before it causes inestimable harm to British royalty and aristocracy.

Helen Norrie loves giving books for Christmas and hopes you will too.

If you value coverage of Manitoba’s arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow the Free Press to deepen our reporting on theatre, dance, music and galleries while also ensuring the broadest possible audience can access our arts journalism.
BECOME AN ARTS JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.