2003 Gift Guide


Books too good to overlook By Judy Belanger


As the regular book reviewer for Chicago Parent I use a monthly theme. When I have read enough books in a category, I write about them. So far, I think it has been working for me-I hope you agree. I also read books that don't seem to fit in a category. Books I really enjoyed reading. This special review is "books too good to overlook," including some from my favorite authors.

NAUGHTY LITTLE MONKEYS, by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Henry Cole, Dutton Books, $15.99, ages 3-7. Mom and dad are going out for the evening. Now everyone knows that you don't leave little monkeys home alone; that is just asking for trouble. These 26 little monkeys, just enough to go through the alphabet, won't disappoint you. They are already getting into trouble before you even see mom and dad drive away. Each monkey adds some mischief to the mess, depending on the name, in alphabetical order. Everything they do, is, of course, the kind of things all little children try at least once, such as cut their own hair, get into mom's makeup and jewelry and track mud into the house. When mom and dad arrive home, they can see the group still monkeying around through the windows. The next day they all head to the zoo, for a fun day, of course. Cole's pictures bring the book to life. What a fun way for little "monkeys" to learn the letters of the alphabet. Parents and children, as they go through the alphabet, can add a few of their own experiences to the list.

TOOT & PUDDLE: CHARMING OPAL, by Holly Hobbie, Little Brown and Company, $15.95, ages 4-8. Toot and Puddle, two little pigs, have been friends in several other books by Hobbie. Now Opal, Puddle's cousin, comes to pay them a visit. One day while swimming, Opal loses her first tooth. Luckily, Toot is able to find the tooth on the bottom of the pond. Everyone begins to wonder if the tooth fairy will know that Opal lost a tooth and where to find her. Losing that first tooth is always an exciting experience for a child, a good one to share with Opal.

THE GRAVES FAMILY, by Patricia Polacco, Philomel Books, $16.99, ages 4-8. The Graves Family moves into the old house on Park Street in Union City and the first thing they do is paint the house blood red. (Polacco explains there really is a house like this one in Union City, Mich., where she lives.) Everyone in town thinks the family is strange, and nobody wants to visit the new neighbors. Seth and Sara Miller, from across the street, do visit one day and meet Ronnie, the oldest of the five Graves children. The Miller children figure out that the Graves family really is different. Mr. Graves is an inventor and the house is full of unusual items. While many of Polacco's books are based on a serious event from her family heritage, this one is all fun and includes a magic hair formula for all bald-headed men and a visit from Christopher Joel to judge the best decorated house in town. It just goes to show, everyone in town doesn't have to be like everyone else.

BABAR'S MUSEUM OF ART, by Laurent de Brunhoff, Abrams Books for Young Readers. $16.95, ages 4-8. Georges Seurat gave us a famous painting, "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte." Now imagine this same painting, but with elephants instead of people. That is exactly what de Brunhoff has done along with many other famous works. The old railroad station in Celesteville has been standing empty. Babar and Celeste think it would be a good idea if they found a new home for all the art they have collected over the years-and wouldn't the railroad station make a fine museum? Adults will recognize many of the famous paintings throughout the story as children are introduced to art appreciation that will make a visit to the Art Institute more meaningful. What fun school art teachers will have with this book. The pictures are part of a traveling show that will be in Chicago at the Art Institute through Feb. 18, 2004. ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE, by Rebecca Piatt Davidson, illustrated by Anita Lobel, Greenwillow Books, $15.99, ages 5 & up. In the format of the "House That Jack Built," this cumulative poem by Davidson introduces the reader to nine Shakespearean plays. The characters are shown on each two-page spread with a quote from one of the plays. Lobel has added to the charm with her illustrations. The end includes background information on William Shakespeare and a note from Lobel with information on her background in the theater. There also is a small picture with a sentence about each play, and all the characters are labeled. More books are being written about Shakespeare and his plays, and this book serves as an introduction for readers.

LEON AND THE SPITTING IMAGE, by Allen Kurzweil, Greenwillow Books, $15.99, ages 8 and up. After the death of his father in a freak accident at a fireworks factory, Leon and his mother move into the Trimore Towers, a hotel that sometimes has unusual clientele, as it allows pets. Leon and his mom live there for free because she works the front desk. It is the beginning of the school year and Leon will be in fourth grade. On the first day of school he meets his friends, P. W. and Lily-Matisse, and they proceed to their classroom. All the children are shocked when the new fourth-grade teacher, Miss. Hagmeyer, enters the room. She is wearing a long black dress, covered by a black cape fastened at the neck with beads that look like eyeballs and black boots. Her pantyhose are the color of cooked liver. The students find out that she hears everything with ears shaped like giant mushrooms. This year's study will concentrate on the Middle Ages and stitching. Their theme for the year will be "a place for everything and everything in its place." If you liked "Sideway Stories from a Wayside School," you will be sure to enjoy the year with Miss Hagmeyer. A great read-aloud for fourth grade.

GRANNY TORRELLI MAKES SOUP, by Sharon Creech, Harper Collins, $15.99, ages 8-12. Rosie and Bailey have been friends for 12 years. They have always lived next door to each other, and were born one week apart. When they are 3, Rosie learns that Bailey can't see as well as she can. At age 5, it is hard for Rosie to understand that they will not be going together to the same school for kindergarten. As they grow up, they have their differences. Whenever Granny comes to visit, she has such a wonderful way of helping the children understand friendship and ways to work out their problems. She just keeps talking about her experiences the whole time she is cooking. Everyone should be so lucky to have a Granny Torrelli come to visit. Another sure winner from Creech.

BOYS IN CONTROL, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Delacorte Press, $15.95, ages 9-12. The Hatford brothers, (Josh, Jake, Wally and Peter) have always been friends with the Benson brothers, (Bill, Danny, Steve, Tony and Doug)-that is, until the Benson family moved to Georgia because their father was trading places with another coach, Mr. Malloy, for a year. The Hatfords just assumed the new family moving into the house would have boys, except who should arrive but the Malloy sisters, (Eddie, Beth and Caroline). Boys in Control is the ninth in this series of 12 books, one for each month of the year, where the Hatfords and Malloys keep turning the tables on each other, one scheme after another. Eddie, Jake and his twin brother Josh are in the same sixth grade class. Jake and Eddie are on the same potential championship winning baseball team. Caroline, an aspiring actress, writes a play for class and gets Wally to agree to help her by reading the other part in front of their fourth grade class. Poor Peter, being the youngest and in 2nd grade, often gets to do the dirty work for his older brothers. You don't have to read the books in sequence to enjoy the good, clean fun that is being plotted between these two families. It is so enjoyable to read a book where the only problems the kids are having is just being kids.

MILKWEED: A NOVEL, by Jerry Spinelli, Knopf, $15.95, ages 10 & up. It is autumn in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. The town is full of street urchins, Jewish orphaned children. One is a nameless Gypsy. Uri keeps an eye on him, tells him he should be called Misha and gives him background information so he can have an identity. Misha makes friends with Janina and starts stealing food for her family. The Jewish families are taken to an area called the ghetto, which is surrounded by a wall. Janina and her family are in this group so Misha follows along. Once inside, Misha finds a hole in the wall so he can still get out and steal food. Later, trains come and take all the people away. They think they are going to a better place. Misha decides it might be better to remain an unknown. Many schools include a curriculum unit on World War II. This is a poignant story about how one boy survived during that period.

THE GREAT ART SCANDAL: SOLVE THE CRIME, SAVE THE SHOW, by Anna Nilsen, Kingfisher, $16.95, ages 10 & up. City Gallery has a new exhibit opening tonight that contains 32 new paintings inspired by 21 modern art masterpieces. The trouble is the computer of the curator, Molly Adams, has been tampered with and the information to print the labels for the pictures has been lost. The reader is asked to help Molly by identifying the pictures created by each artist and which parts from the masterpieces were included in their works. The pages of the book are split in half. The bottom half contains the masterpieces with background information on each artist. The top of each page shows the new pictures which were drawn with details from the masterpieces. In case you get stuck figuring out who drew which pictures, the answers appear in the back of the book. Get your pencil, make you chart and have fun.




Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.



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