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Picture Books for Holiday Giving

           As the holiday gift-giving season kicks into high gear, we’re all looking for presents that will bring joy to the recipients without breaking the bank. The $16-18 average price of a children’s hardcover picture book may seem daunting at first, but not when you compare it to the price of toys. Considering how many times a picture book is read and re-read (say, a million in the case of “Goodnight Moon”), the cost per reading is quite low. And, of course, you are helping your child build reading skills for the future, and having fun doing it!

           Among the picture books published this year, the following stand out for their gift-giving potential.
 
          “City Dog, Country Frog” by Mo Willems, pictures by Jon J Muth. $17.99. When City Dog moves to the country one spring he meets a Country Frog who says “he’ll do” for a friend. As the seasons pass, their friendship grows, until one spring Frog is gone. The lessons Frog taught him help Dog to find a new friend. Understated text, brilliantly simple watercolor illustrations, and an ending that will bring a tear to your eye. Ages 5 and up.
Shark vs. Train” by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld. $16.99. Two boys paw through the toy chest and come up with the perfect combatants. Who will win? The train does better at roasting marshmallows, but the shark’s teeth are sharp and ready to bite. Cartoony drawings and lots of action for kids 4-8.
 
          “Chalk” by Bill Thomson. $15.99. Three friends walk to a nearby playground where they pull out their colored chalks and start to draw on the blacktop. Next thing they know, their drawings come to life, and the velociraptor’s teeth are frighteningly sharp! Super-realistic drawings accompany a wildly imaginative wordless story for kids 4-8.
         
          “Animal Crackers Fly the Coop,” “egg-secuted” by Kevin O’Malley. $16.99.   What do cows do for entertainment? They rent mooovies! If groaners like this appeal to your kids, then this is the book for them. O’Malley recasts the story of the Brementown Musicians with Hen, Dog, Cow and Cat, all aspiring comedians, who find life on the farm is not all it’s cracked up to be. Ages 6-9.
 
          “Sleepy, Oh So Sleepy” by Denise Fleming. $16.99. Hypnotic text paired with oversize, softly colored illustrations show animals getting more and more sleepy as night approaches. Panda, ostrich, lion, and, on the last page, a human baby snuggle up with parents and close their eyes. Perfect at bedtime for ages 2-5.
 
          “Flora’s Very Windy Day” by Jeanne Birdsall. $16.00. When a big wind snatches up her annoying little brother Crispin, Flora reluctantly goes after him. Despite the entreaties of the wind, the cloud, and the man in the moon to keep the little boy for their own, Flora finds herself standing up for Crispin and bringing him safely back down to earth. Funny, sly, and warmhearted storytelling for ages 4-6.
 
          “Clever Jack Takes the Cake” by Candace Fleming. $17.99. As Jack sets out for the castle with a birthday cake for the princess’s tenth birthday party, one thing after another goes wrong. Arriving with only the “reddest, juiciest” strawberry from the top of the cake, Jack has to think fast to explain himself.   Ages 4 and up.
      
 
First published in the Free Lance-Star on December 6, 2010.