Picture Books

MiloMilo's Hat Trick
Jon Agee (Hyperion/di Capua)
Agee scores big with clever line drawings and a gently humorous tale about a struggling magician who cannot pull a rabbit out of a hat. Surprising plot twists throughout give this picture book a magic all its own.

My Car
Byron Barton
With just a few words per page, Barton conveys simple car facts as he follows Sam at the wheel, then supplies an ending with a twist. The chunky blocks of color and minimalist text will withstand countless readings.

Philip Booth, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick)
As Booth introduces a veritable railroad lexicon in a rhythm reminiscent of a train rolling over tracks, Ibatoulline presents a detailed visual composite of a mid-20th-century community through which the train briefly passes, examining the same crossing from a multitude of angles.

Two Little Trains
Margaret Wise Brown, illus. by Leo and Diane Dillon (HarperCollins)
Each spread chronicles the parallel journeys of the titular trains. On the left, a streamlined train stretches against expansive vistas while, on the right, a toy wooden locomotive travels on familiar domestic turf (the side of a tub, the tiles of a kitchen counter), locations wittily chosen to mimic the path of its mammoth modern counterpart.

Waiting for Wings
Lois Ehlert
A brief rhyming text and cheery tone invite readers to explore the full and half pages that form this brilliantly designed book-within-a book. The caterpillars' emergence as elegant butterflies unfolds in a glorious array of cut-paper collage artwork.

Olivia Saves the Circus
Ian Falconer
Using the same day-in-the-life format as Olivia, his show-stopping debut, Falconer unveils the heroine's elaborate description of her summer vacation--as sole performer in the center ring of the big top. Readers will be cheering "Encore!"

Imaginative Inventions
Charise Mericle Harper
(Little, Brown/ Tingley)
This edifying volume explains how such everyday items as gum, roller skates and potato chips came to be, describing each item in doggerel verse. With its crazy-quilt visual patterns, bouncy stanzas and fun facts, this collection of miscellany zigzags between informational and whimsical.

Goodbye Mousie
Robie H. Harris, illus. by Jan Ormerod
Harris's sensitively rendered narrative successfully tackles a child's first encounter with death, through the eyes of a preschool-age boy after the loss of his beloved pet. As the boy moves from anger to acceptance, Ormerod's fluid pencil lines underscore the vulnerability of the boy and the poignancy of his story.

My CarFannie in the Kitchen
Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Nancy Carpenter
Prepared to perfection and served up with style (in seven brief "courses"), this historical nugget imagines an interlude in the life of cookbook pioneer Fannie Farmer, through the eyes of a girl for whose family Fannie has been hired as a mother's helper. Carpenter's irreverent illustrations spoof Victorian decorum.

Kipper's A to Z: An Alphabet Adventure
Mick Inkpen
(Harcourt/Red Wagon)
Inkpen eschews a formulaic abecedarian approach and introduces the letters in inventive ways, giving his volume a rollicking spontaneity and a comic plot that plays up the order of each letter.

A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems
Edited by Paul B. Janeczko, illus. by Chris Raschka
Crisp black words on white backgrounds do double-duty as concepts and physical objects in these 30 concrete poems by various authors, while Raschka works in tandem with each poem's design. He and Janeczko provide an uncluttered, meditative space for the picturesque language.

What Pete Ate from A-Z
Maira Kalman
A loose story line emerges as Kalman paints affectionate portraits of the unstoppable canine hero, the 26 now-missing (digested) objects and their disappointed owners. Her exaggerated alliteration and fabulous gouaches brim with glamour.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
Barbara Kerley, illus. by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press)
A 19th-century artist, visionary and enthusiastic showman takes center stage in this dazzling picture book. As creator of the first-ever life-size models of dinosaurs, Hawkins gave the world a glimpse of the land before time. Kerley suffuses her text with a sense of wonder and amazement, a tone well-matched by Selznick's lush, dramatic illustrations.

Desser the Best Ever Cat
Maggie Smith
In this affecting tribute, a girl unspools her cat's life history while weaving in the milestones of her own young life. The artwork imbues the cat with expression and personality while remaining true to the animal's nature. With its agile balance of humor and pathos and its emphasis on the importance of both treasuring memories and beginning anew, this book is for anyone who has ever loved a pet.

The Journey
Sarah Stewart, illus. by David Small
An Amish girl makes her first visit to a city in this graceful and understated work by the collaborators of The Gardener. The simplicity and economy of the prose reflect the heroine's lifestyle and outlook, just as serene scenes of the Amish countryside effectively underscore the contrast with the bustling urban setting.

The Three Pigs
David Wiesner
This inventive version of the pigs' tale starts off traditionally enough, but when the wolf begins to huff and puff, he blows the pigs right out of the illustrations. Wiesner's brilliant use of white space and perspective evokes a feeling that the characters can navigate endless possibilities--and that the range of story itself is limitless.

Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart
Vera Williams (HarperCollins/Greenwillow)
Through a pastiche of poems and pictures, Williams presents a moving and timeless portrait of two young sisters in a struggling family. She balances weighty themes with lighthearted moments, all connected by the deep bond between the siblings.

Some from the Moon Some from the Sun: Poems and Songs for Everyone
Margot Zemach (FSG)
From the book's cover to the brief autobiography at its end, the artist's versatility shines. The diverse array of rhymes plays up Zemach's ability to capture a wide range of moods and styles, perspective and subject matter. Her consistent palette unifies the book artistically so that the variety of styles coheres rather than distracts.


Heaven Eyes
David Almond (Delacorte)
A trio of children set out from their riverside orphanage, and their vessel gets stuck in the mire on the Black Middens, where they meet Heaven Eyes, a ghostlike girl with webbed hands. Possessing a rare understanding of human frailties, impulses, desires and fears, Almond boldly explores the gray area between reality and imagination, and the need to construct one's own legends in order to survive.

The Rag and Bone Shop
Robert Cormier (Delacorte)
Cormier's final novel, published posthumously, offers an in-depth study of two complicated characters: a renowned interrogator, who holds a perfect record extracting confessionals from criminals, and a reclusive 12-year-old boy suspected of murdering his seven-year-old neighbor. The author raises chilling questions about the fine line between truth and deception.

Love That Dog
Sharon Creech (HarperCollins/Cotler)
Creech here examines the bond between a boy and his dog to create an ingenious homage to the power of poetry and those who write it. As in any great poem, the real story surfaces between the lines and, in this case, at the urging of his teacher, behind the scenes.

The Rag and Bone ShopWhale Talk
Chris Crutcher (HarperCollins/Greenwillow)
Crutcher's gripping tale of smalltown prejudice delivers a frank, powerful message about social issues and ills via narrator T.J., a natural athlete with a darkly ironic voice, who forms a swim team of outcasts. The gradual unfolding of the characters' personal conflicts proves to be as gripping as the evolution of the team's efforts, as Crutcher lays bare the superficiality of the high school scene.

Coram Boy
Jamila Gavin (FSG)
In the great tradition of Dickens, British author Gavin contrasts the desperate existence of city dwellers in the 18th century with the privileged life on country estates. The author moves easily in and out of various characters' points of view, and never shows her hand as the disparate threads of her narrative join together into a seamless whole.

Adèle Geras
With exceptional grace and energy, Geras recreates the saga of the Trojan War by delving into the hearts and minds of the women of Troy. Mythology buffs will savor the author's ability to embellish stories of old without diminishing their original flavor, while the uninitiated will find this a captivating introduction to a pivotal event in classic Greek literature.

Adele Griffin
Griffin once again examines the nuances of adolescent relationships in this suspenseful novel about a magnetic, mentally unstable freshman and the hold she maintains over a new girl in town. With shades of the psychological eeriness and taut suspense of Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, this is a riveting cautionary tale.

Karen Hesse (Scholastic Press)
Hesse weaves together 11 distinct narrative voices to create a moving account of the Ku Klux Klan's encroachment on a small Vermont town in 1924. Told completely in verse, her quietly powerful novel addresses the inevitable loss of innocence that accompanies the fight for social justice.

Lord of the Nutcracker Men
Iain Lawrence
In this thought-provoking novel, a toy-maker travels to France to fight in the Great War and sends his son letters, each accompanied by a carved wooden soldier. In a series of scenes that unflinchingly convey a child's conflicting feelings of omnipotence and vulnerability, the boy grows to fear that his staged battles with the soldiers are somehow affecting his father's life at the front.

Belle Teal
Ann M. Martin
(Scholastic Press)
This honest and moving novel takes readers back to the era of the civil rights movement in the rural South, to share the experiences of a poor white fifth-grader when her school becomes integrated. Martin evokes the aura of hatred and fear permeating a small community as skillfully as Belle Teal's empathy for her African-American classmate, Darryl.

A Step from Heaven
An Na
(Front Street)
In her mesmerizing first novel, Na traces the life of Korean-born Young Ju from the age of four, when she arrives in America, through her teenage years, concluding her story just a few weeks before the heroine leaves for college. The journey, crafted like a memoir, is an acculturation process--at times wrenching, at times triumphant and always absorbing.

The Other Side of Truth
Beverley Naidoo
Sade, the 12-year-old protagonist of Naidoo's sophisticated and emotional novel, must flee her native Nigeria with her brother after their mother is killed. The inclusion of actual events makes Naidoo's story all the more poignant, while the immediacy of the parallel story, in which Sade must deal with similar obstacles on a smaller scale, makes the novel accessible.

FA Gift from Zeusair Weather
Richard Peck (Dial)
Thirteen-year-old Rosie Beckett hilariously relates what happens when she and her two siblings, who live on a farm, visit the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Peck's unforgettable characters, cunning dialogue and fast-paced action will keep readers in stitches as he captures a colorful chapter in American history.

Susan Shreve
Feisty, resourceful Blister describes the slow unraveling of her family after her mother delivers a stillborn baby and slips into a deep depression, and her father moves the family from their farmhouse to a cramped city apartment. With a tightly woven plot, entirely convincing characters and flashes of humor from the determined 10-year-old narrator, Shreve again proves herself an inspired and inspiring storyteller.

A Gift from Zeus: Sixteen Favorite Myths
Jeanne Steig, illus. by William Steig
Kudos to the Steigs, who employ colloquial prose, agile rhymes and art brut imagery to retell Greco-Roman myths. Like Ovid's The Metamorphoses, this zesty volume is a Pandora's box of hubris, lust and homicide.

The Land
Mildred D. Taylor
(Penguin Putnam/Fogelman)
Taylor's gift for combining history and storytelling shines through as she deftly explores double standards in the South during the years following the Civil War, via two key relationships in the childhood of Paul-Edward Logan, a boy of mixed race. Even the book's most wrenching scenes convey the hero's determination, wisdom and resiliency--which, along with the land, become the Logan family legacy.

Every Time a Rainbow Dies
Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins)
Williams-Garcia paints a sympathetic portrait of 16-year-old Thulani, who witnesses a rape while tending his beloved rock doves on the roof. After he helps the young woman home, he cannot stop thinking of her; the author honestly conveys the mix of emotions the hero feels. With its layered, understated language and complex yet truthful characterizations, this novel will hold the attention of sophisticated readers.

True Believer
Virginia Euwer Wolff (S&S/Atheneum)
Eight years after the publication of her groundbreaking Make Lemonade, Wolff surpasses herself with this sequel. LaVaughn once again narrates in blank verse as she begins the 10th grade and explores several pivotal issues of puberty, including sexuality and faith. In delving into LaVaughn's life, the author unmasks the secret thoughts adolescents hold sacred and, in so doing, lets her readers know they are not alone.


The Good FightThe Good Fight: How World War II Was Won
Stephen E. Ambrose (S&S/Atheneum)
Veteran adult historian Ambrose hits the mark with this patriotic photo-survey of America's involvement in World War II. His highly visual and textually concise approach makes clear the war's immense scope. Haunting and powerful full-page and inset photographs bring each subject to life.

Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People
Bonnie Christensen
With a folksy, sometimes plaintive narrative befitting her subject, Christensen delivers a handsome picture-book biography. Mixed-media paintings reminiscent of woodcuts depict Guthrie as an overall-clad boy and sinewy, kind-faced man while the hand-lettered lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land" dance across the tops of the pages.

Meltdown: The Race Against Nuclear Disaster at Three Mile Island: A Reporter's Story
Wilborn Hampton (Candlewick)
Hampton's compelling account of the 1979 Three Mile Island crisis both objectively portrays the history of nuclear energy leading up to that day and offers an engaging, personal perspective. Readers are left pondering weighty ethical questions about the future of atomic power.

Woody GuthrieWe Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History
Phillip Hoose
Hoose's impressive survey places young people at the center of every event that shaped America, from 12-year-old Diego Bermúdez who sailed with Christopher Columbus in 1492 to high school junior Claudette Colvin who refused to give up her seat in 1955 Montgomery, Ala., nine months before Rosa Parks. The actions of these young people will inspire readers to realize that they, too, can play a part in making history.