2004 Gift Guide - Books

Best books of 2004


Judy Belanger


Over this past year, I’ve put several books aside that caught my attention for one reason or another. Sometimes because they were different. Other times because the author was a favorite of mine. The pile keeps changing as new ones arrive. It was really hard to limit myself to what you find below, but I hope you’ll enjoy the selection.

HUMPTY DUMPTY AND OTHER NURSERY RHYMES, by Kenny Retorre and Francesca Ferri, Silver Dolphin, $15.95; ages 4 and under.

Humpty Dumpty is a soft cloth egg with a string that can be tied to a crib. He has a squeaker in his tummy and when the chord is pulled he plays a lullaby. The egg opens to reveal eight different pages of nursery rhymes held together with a Velcro closure. This is a good way to start telling those nursery rhymes to very young children.

THE TURN-AROUND, UPSIDE-DOWN ALPHABET BOOK, by Lisa Campbell Ernst, Simon & Schuster, $15.95; ages 3-6.

Each page contains one block letter on a black background. By using your imagination when you look at each letter its shape can remind you of many things. The white words around each square describe what Ernst sees. Using J for Judy, the author sees an elephant’s trunk, a candy cane and a monkey’s tail as the book is turned around. Play a game with your children and see what other images you see for each of the letters in the alphabet.

CHICKA CHICKA 1 2 3, by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson, illustrated by Lois Ehlert, Simon & Schuster, $15.95; ages 3-7.

All the numbers climb up the tree following in sequence from 1 to 20. At this point, the numbers climb counting by 10 until they reach 90 and then comes 99. The bumble bees come and chase all the numbers out of the tree following the same pattern. When 0 comes along, it meets number 10 to make the number 100. All the numbers come back out and 0 is the hero. Many school math programs use “0 the hero” as part of their kindergarten curriculum. The front pages contain the numbers from 1 to 20 while the back pages count through 100. Martin and Sampson have created another fun concept book with the addition of Ehlert’s paper collages.

MISTER SEAHORSE, by Eric Carle, Philomel, $16.99; ages 4 and up.

Most children know that the male seahorse carries the eggs until they hatch. In this book they will be introduced to other kinds of fish fathers who take care of the eggs, including the tilapia, stickleback and pipefish. As Mr. Seahorse travels around through the water, children are introduced to other fish who hide behind plants represented by acetate overlays. Carle’s painted tissue paper collages are a fun way to learn about these various fish.

MY KINDERGARTEN, Rosemary Wells, Hyperion, $16.99; ages 4-6.

Even though school has been in session since the fall, it is not too late to enjoy the activities and fun starting from the beginning of the school year in Miss Cribbage’s class. The December pages give some ideas for the various holidays celebrated during the month. The book includes suggestions for activities with math, science, language, community, art, music and holidays. What fun to go through that very important first year of school with your child.

WILD ABOUT BOOKS, by Judy Sierra, pictures by Marc Brown, Knopf, $16.95; ages 4-8.

Molly McGrew, by mistake, drives the library bookmobile into the zoo. She pulls out a Dr. Seuss book and starts to read. Soon all the animals come to hear what she is reading, get books and discover what fun it is to read. The story is told in rhyme. It’s amusing to see how the selection of books is matched to the various animals. What book would you give to the snake to read? After awhile the animals decide to open their own “zoobrary.”

FAIRYTALE NEWS, by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins, Candlewick Press, $15.99; ages 4-8.

When Old Mother Hubbard finds the cupboard bare, she sends her son, Jack, out to get a job. Mrs. Tattle is very happy to hire him as a paperboy. The two-page spread shows a map of the village where all the fairytale and nursery rhyme characters live. It’s a challenge to identify all the houses and figure out who lives where. When mom reads the paper she discovers cows are selling for a good price, so Jack is sent to town to sell Daisy. Along the way he meets a man who gives him magic beans for the cow. You know the rest of that story, but the giant gives Jack a coin each day when he delivers the paper. The pocket in the back of the book contains a copy of the newspaper. Children should be familiar with the stories to enjoy the articles in the paper.

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (40TH ANNIVERSARY), by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Knopf, $22.95; ages 5 and up.

This new edition is printed in a larger format on colorful pages with 160 pictures and spotted artwork throughout. Charlie was the most popular of all of Dahl’s books. A new movie version with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka is scheduled for release in summer 2005. Check out the official Dahl Web site at www.roalddahl.com.

THE TRAIN OF STATES, by Peter Sis, Greenwillow, $17.99; ages 6 and up.

A visit to Circus World Museum in Barbaroo, Wis., inspired this book. Each page depicts a circus wagon. The wagons in the book are in the order the states were admitted to the union. Each wagon is decorated with its state capital, nickname, motto, tree, flower, bird, important people or picture, and the date the state was admitted to the union. Illinois, for example, along with all the state facts, has a picture of presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and the Chicago skyline.


This year marks the 100th birthday of Dr. Seuss. This book has been compiled as part of the celebration and contains 13 of his most popular stories, including A Cat in the Hat. Each story has an introduction written by a cross section of people, including his widow, Audrey Geisel. Interesting photos and artwork are placed throughout the book, which also has a list of all of the books he wrote and biographical information about Theodor Seuss Geisel. The whole family can enjoy this book.

AMERICAN MOMENTS: SCENES FROM AMERICAN HISTORY, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Bruce Strachan, Henry Holt, $18.95; ages 9-12.

The author has selected 18 significant events from history spanning the years starting with Thanksgiving in 1621 and ending with 9/11. Burleigh gives a brief history of each event with a little more information in the end notes. Using clay, wood and paint, Strachan has created appealing three-dimensional pictures. While the facts are true, the author tries to emphasize the thoughts and emotions of the people involved in each of the historical moments. 

Judy Belanger is Chicago Parent’s children’s book reviewer and 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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