For lap listeners, bedtime storytelling and young readers, here are eight new, recommended picture books this holiday season.
“A Squiggly Story”
A little boy knows the alphabet, but can’t write words. His big sister encourages him: “Every story starts with a single word, and every word starts with a single letter…” The boy’s story may be mostly squiggles, but the door has opened to imagination unlimited. Andrew Larsen’s spirited text blends seamlessly with the childish (and just right) cartoon artwork by Mike Lowery, a professor of illustration at SCAD Atlanta. (Ages 3-7. Kids Can Press. $16.95).
“We Found a Hat”
This season’s sleepy-time standout, so sly and sweet, features two turtles who find a hat in the desert. Because they both want it, they decide to leave it alone. They watch the sunset, trying not to think about the hat, and then drift to sleep. One turtle is “almost asleep,” then “all the way asleep” – and dreaming there are two hats. This is a third “hat” storybook from Jon Klassen, a master with a magic touch. This “Hat” is destined to be a classic. (Ages 4-8. Candlewick Press. $17.99)
There are untold numbers of picture-book adaptations of “The Nutcracker” and many are cheesy or tedious. This one, based on the version choreographer George Balanchine created for the New York City Ballet, is the one to grab. It has a lovely tone and the right amount of text. Valeria Docampo’s exquisite paintings in alluring color combinations seem alive with expression and graceful movement. When the Sugarplum Fairy spins fast before flying into the arms of her cavalier, it’s “all so deliciously marvelous.” (Ages 4-8. Little Simon/Simon & Schuster. $17.99)
“Pirate’s Perfect Pet”
Invoke your best pirate voice and have a whale of a time reading this rollicking story aloud. If Captain Crave intends to be the best possible pirate, he still needs a couple of key things – like a peg leg and a pet. Howl along with him as he hunts for the perfect pet. If we’re lucky, a creature might bite his foot off. Bright and goofy, the acrylic and oil illustrations from North Carolina artist Matt Myers add heaps of yo-ho-ho to Beth Ferry’s zany yarn. (Ages 4-8. Candlewick Press. $15.99)
“Ada Twist, Scientist”
Second-grader Ada Twist has “all the traits of a great scientist.” She can’t stop asking questions. “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? / Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?” Another super-fun story with a worthy purpose from author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts, the same team behind “Iggy Peck, Architect” and “Rosie Revere, Engineer.” (Ages 5-7. Abrams. $17.95)
“Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis”
As a boy in Southern Alabama, Rep. John Lewis figured he would become a preacher. The chicks and hens on his family’s farm were his first “congregation.” He told them Bible stories, and they “swayed to the rhythm of his voice.” When they clucked back, young John knew that meant “amen.” Author Jabari Asim has rendered a touching and inspirational tribute to the tireless Georgia activist-congressman. And there’s much to admire in the museum-quality impressionistic watercolor scenes by E.B. Lewis (no relation). (Ages 5-8. Nancy Paulsen Books. $17.99)
“Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life”
Author Ashley Bryan, recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, acquired a slave-era document that included among an estate’s assets 21 steeds ($9 a head) and 11 slaves ($100 for a man named Qush, $175 for a girl named Athelia, etc.). Nothing is known of the 11, but the document inspired Bryan, now 93, to craft fictional biographies through beautiful poems in the voice of each person accompanied by vibrant illustrations with collage elements. In terms of concept, beauty and emotional power, one of the best books of the year. (Ages 6-10. Atheneum. $17.99)
“Seven and a Half Tons of Steel”
Honoring the 15th anniversary of 9-11, this true story follows a steel beam from the ruins of the World Trade Center to its future purpose. The seven-and-a-half ton beam was shipped to New Orleans, melted down and then molded into the bow of the mighty warship USS New York, which bears the crest: “Never forget.” Kids interested in big ships, the military and history will be engrossed. The atmospheric paintings, by Atlanta artist Thomas Gonzalez, do much to elevate author Janet Nolan’s story. (Ages 6-10. Peachtree. $17.95)