Finding five or six books that fit into a monthly theme is not difficult. The trouble begins when I find a book I really like but it doesn't fit into any of the categories. I've solved the problem by saving them for my annual "best of" column. So here it is. The following books are among those that I consider my favorites for 2006. I hope they'll become your favorites, too.
THE AMERICAN STORY: 100 TRUE TALES FROM AMERICAN HISTORY, by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by Roger Roth, Knopf, $34.95; ages 6 and up.
If there is such a thing as a coffee table book for children, this would fit that category. The book starts in 1565 with the establishment of St. Augustine as the first city in North America, continues through 358 pages and ends with the presidential election of 2000. In between, the other 98 tales detailing prominent events in history are given three or four pages each. An index helps readers find specific events and an extensive bibliography lists the books the author used in her research. I don't know just how a person picks 100 tales from four centuries of history, but the Windy City is included for the Great Chicago Fire and St. Valentine's Day. This book is an enjoyable way for children to learn about American history.
WHO WON THE WAR?, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Delacorte Press, $15.95; ages 9-12.
It's been 13 years and 11 books since Phyllis Reynolds Naylor began her series about the Hatford boys and the Malloy girls. The series got its start when Mr. Malloy accepted a one-year exchange football coaching position at a college in West Virginia and the family-mom, dad and three girls-moved there from Ohio. They became the neighbors of the Hatfords with their four boys. Thus began the competition, rivalry and teasing between the two families.
Most of the pranks backfire as these books progress, one for each month of the year. In spite of the teasing and tricks that take place, the kids really do enjoy each other's company. In this book, the final one of the series, the year of teaching is complete and the girls are moving back to Ohio. The moving van is packed and on its way. But wait, we're only half way into the book. What can possibly happen to fill up the rest of the pages? Storms and power outages in Ohio keep the Malloys from returning home for just a few more days. We are left with the question, Who Won the War?
WINSTON THE BOOK WOLF, by Marni McGee, illustrated by Ian Beck, Walker & Co., $16.95; ages 4-8.
Winston is hungry for a book and knows he can find one at the library, but the sign on the door says "No Wolves Allowed." So he eats the sign and proceeds into the library. The librarian and the security officer chase him. Winston meets Rosie, a girl wearing a red hooded shirt and carrying a basket, who tells him to follow her. Rosie teaches Winston to read so he can enjoy words in ways other then eating them. Disguised as a grandma, Winston becomes the story lady at the library.
UNO'S GARDEN, by Graeme Base, Abrams Books, $19.95; ages 4-8.
One afternoon Uno arrives in the forest and decides that this is where he would like to live. Unfortunately, others feel the same way and the town grows rapidly, crowding out animals and plants. As you turn the pages of the book you are asked to find animals, plants and buildings. It isn't long before you realize that the more buildings that go up, the less room there is for animals and plants. Through his illustrations, Base combines a finding book with math concepts to help children understand the endangered environment.
TRAINS: A POP-UP RAILROAD BOOK, by Robert Crowther, Candlewick Press, $17.99; ages 6 and up.
All aboard! This brand new book provides younger children with an introduction to the world of the great trains of history. It moves forward through time to the streamliners and the modern trains of today. Pull tabs, pop-ups and lifting flaps reveal additional information, including the inside workings not only of engines but passenger cars as well. Call grandpa and have him come over to share his memories of riding the train. It might even be followed with a trip to South Elgin or Union to visit one of the local train museums.
LOOK CLOSER: ART MASTERPIECES THROUGH THE AGES, by Caroline Desnoëttes, Walker & Co., $18.95; ages 6 and up.
Eighteen famous masterpieces are included in this book featuring artists from the 14th century to the present. A list of features is given for each piece of art, followed by background information. Also included is a palette of the colors used in the picture. Information about each artist tells about their works, including their style. Among the artists are by Monet, Gauguin, van Gogh, Seurat, Picasso and Chagall.
THE COW WHO CLUCKED, by Denise Fleming, Henry Holt, $16.95; ages 3-6.
When Cow wakes up one morning, she discovers that instead of her usual moo, all she can say is "cluck." "And off she went" to find her moo. These words are repeated throughout the book as Cow ventures around the farm meeting a bee, a cat, a fish, a duck, a mouse, a snake, a squirrel, an owl and finally, as she heads to the barn, she finds a hen who says "moo." Children not only will learn the animal sounds, but enjoy the delightfully illustrated pictures created by Denise Fleming. Visit her Web site, www.denisefleming.com, for a list of other books she has created, activities related to her stories and instructions on how to create pulp pictures like those in her illustrations.
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.