Kids books: For the little darlings, pages to gobble in glee

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      Grumpy Bird
      (By Jeremy Tankard. Scholastic, 28 pp, $15.99)
      Bird is having one of those days, and nothing, not even companionship from Sheep, Rabbit, and Raccoon can help–at least for a while. The cartoonish ink drawings won over my kids, allegedly too old for Grumpy Bird's charms. This was their favourite book.

      (By Chris Tougas. Orca Books, 27 pp, $19.95)
      Victoria writer-illustrator Chris Tougas has about as much fun building a book-length punch line for the expression "When pigs fly" as it's possible to have. His chick-bots ("incredibly strong") and horse-bot ("holy horse-power"!) are hilarious and will reward long periods of scrutiny. To kick-start imaginative drawing sessions, Mechanimals is worth every penny.

      Princess Pigsty
      (By Cornelia Funke, with illustrations by Kerstin Meyer. Translated by Chantal Wright. Scholastic, 24 pp, $20.99)
      Cornelia Funke, a German kid-lit superstar, does a lively job of retelling a classic: the princess who doesn't want to be pampered. But it's really illustrator Kerstin Meyer who steals the show with vibrant watercolours that make the pigsty seem like the hippest hang in the kingdom.

      A Dog Needs a Bone!
      (By Audrey Wood. Blue Sky Press, 27 pp, $20.99)
      Of course you've wondered what your dog gets up to while you're out. As far as writer-illustrator Audrey Wood is concerned, the answer is simple: dreaming of that moment when you return, bone in hand. The simple rhymes are sweet and the pictures are detailed. See how many bones you can find in every crayon-on-brown-paper spread.

      The Magic Beads
      (By Susin Nielsen-Fernlund, with illustrations by Genevií¨ve Cí´té, Simply Read Books, 29 pp, $19.95)
      Show-and-tell is coming, and seven-year-old Lily has nothing to bring. Lily, you see, is living at a women's shelter because her dad has a temper. Susin Nielsen-Fernlund–a local screenwriter (Alice, I Think)–keeps the social-work factor low while speaking with honesty and charm about the many colours that bravery comes in. A portion of sales goes to the Vi Fineday Family Shelter.

      Ryan Heshka's ABC Spook Show
      (By Ryan Heshka. Simply Read Books, 52 pp, $14.95)
      Vancouver artist Ryan Heshka's love for old horror movies, 10-cent magazines, and stuff you send away for from the back pages of comic books is obvious in this Halloween-themed ABC book. Every page is beautiful, and the expressions of the ghosts, ghouls, and monsters are priceless. See the Mad Scientist pull the lever on the red alien squid ("Boys, this is it!")! Quake at the terrible hunger of the Imp ("Red-Itchy-Scaly")! Tremble at the electric-voodoo beams from the eyes of the Bat ("High-Voltage Fun")! If only the pages were twice as big”¦

      Looking for Loons
      (By Jennifer Lloyd, with illustrations by Kirsti Anne Wakelin. Simply Read Books, 29 pp, $19.95)
      Looking for Loons perfectly distills the magic of an early-autumn cottage porch, watching the world wake up. Silence disturbed only by lake animals, coolness in the air before the day's heat starts up, it's a wonderful hold-your-breath instant that seems to stretch while dew drips off the branches, and inside, bacon sizzles. Local artist Kirsti Anne Wakelin's exquisite watercolours span every shade of fall's palette, with delicate tableaux of stillness and possibility.

      The Witch's Child
      (By Arthur Yorinks, with illustrations by Jos A. Smith. Abrams, 30 pp, $20.95)
      Arthur Yorinks's The Witch's Child turns the brothers Grimm upside down by having a witch fashion her own child out of straw. Jos A. Smith's eerie illustrations–all tangles, brambles and glowing red eyes–further the story's menacing tone, before it gives way to the necessarily happy ending.

      The Discovery of Dragons: New Research Revealed
      (By Graeme Base. Abrams, 41 pp, $23.95)
      Australian Graeme Base revisits his 1996 The Discovery of Dragons, inventing a fourth explorer, "a man lacking nothing except normal intelligence, moral fortitude and a full compliment [sic] of toes on his left foot". Among the beautifully illustrated new dragons is the Masked Mountie Monster, a "shy and rarely-seen creature" spotted by our hero on his sojourn to Vancouver, where he has found work as an extra in The Mystery of the Mysterious Mountie Murder Mystery. Now that's scary.

      Very Serious Children
      (By Caroline Adderson, with illustrations by Joe Weissmann. Scholastic Canada, 146 pp, $9.99)
      Vancouverite Caroline Adderson's debut for kids introduces brothers Nickelodeon Ha Ha Grant and Split A Gut Grant, sons of two clowns who don't do a very grownup job of rearing them. Middle readers will love the reversals here (fish for breakfast, popcorn for supper) and the fact that Nicky wants nothing more than to attend school and do homework. Charming.

      The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
      (By Peter Sí­s. Farrar Straus Giroux, 48 pp, $22.95)
      Noted illustrator-animator Peter Sí­s tells of his childhood in Czechoslovakia under Soviet rule. His style–meticulous black-and-white pen-and-ink drawing with scraps of colour–is well suited to this absurd time. The naiveté of diary entries from that period ("I have my passport with permission to travel to the West! Yippee! I'll go by train to Paris, cross the Channel, hitchhike to London and Liverpool”¦meet the Beatles?") is infectious. More from these storied years, please.

      Honey Cake
      (By Joan Betty Stuchner, with illustrations by Cynthia Nugent. Tradewind Publishers, 95 pp, $16.95)
      Honey Cake brings to life those fraught days in 1943 before the exodus of Jews from occupied Denmark. David Nathan dreams of a model train for his next birthday, but he receives a better gift when he and his family survive the flight to Sweden. Using everyday details, Vancouver teacher-storyteller Joan Betty Stuchner makes those long-past dark days seem scarily modern. Cynthia Nugent's illustrations, as always, add complexity and nuance.

      King of the Lost and Found
      (By John Lekich. Raincoast Books, 308 pp, $11.95)
      Governor General's Award nominee John Lekich (The Losers' Club) is a contributor to the Straight, and a friend. But I'd be remiss in not including his accomplished sophomore novel about Raymond Dunne, Grade-10 nerd with a heart of gold. Raymond is an unlikely hero: a fainter and a bleeder, a big believer in rules, he's more your sidelines type–until he conceives of his "steal and return" plan and makes friends with the brooding Jack Alexander. A shift in the second half sees the unlikely duo found a secret club and Raymond taste true rebellion. It's a compassionate work filled with Lekich's trademark gentle humour. But don't just believe me. The Toronto Star said, "It's a satisfying combination of seriousness, hilarity and something even sweeter–affection for human nature as it is."

      The Feathered Cloak
      (By Sean Dixon. Key Porter Books, 196 pp, $16.95)
      Toronto playwright Sean Dixon begins his Norse era trilogy with The Feathered Cloak, the story of Freya, her giant brother Rolf, and the disgraced falcon Morton. Set in 933, Cloak mixes history and legend, political upheaval with talking birds, and–just out of sight–are those Valkyries watching events unfold? Dixon is a master storyteller–his adult novel The Girls Who Saw Everything is a wonderful modern-day retelling of The Epic of Gilgamesh–and I can't wait for Book 2.

      A Perfect Gentle Knight
      (By Kit Pearson. Puffin Canada, 205 pp, $20)
      Kit Pearson is such an accomplished writer that even if A Perfect Gentle Knight didn't brim with surprising detail and events, her perfect grasp of child psyches would make it a page-turner. It's 1957 and the six Bell children are coping with their mother's death by falling deeper and deeper into the family game of pretend Camelot. But playing and healing are two different things, particularly for 11-year-old protagonist Corrie. The inevitable bruises of growing up are especially painful to witness here, as are the deep losses of childhood.

      (By Kenneth Oppel. HarperCollins, 330 pp, $21.99)
      Fans of Toronto superstar Kenneth Oppel's Silverwing trilogy won't be disappointed by this prequel to his bats-versus-birds saga, set in the early Paleocene epoch. The story centres on Dusk–a proto-bat with the unheard-of ability to not just glide, but fly–and Carnassial, an early mammal developing a taste for flesh. Neither can deny his unique inclinations; giving in will lead to exile, battle, and, for one of them, death. Satisfyingly, much of Silverwing's deep back story is also revealed.

      Kenneth Oppel appears at 7 p.m. tonight (October 11) at St. James Community Square. For tickets, $5, contact Vancouver Kidsbooks at 604-738-5335. Kit Pearson appears at the Vancouver International Writers Festival Wednesday and next Thursday (October 17 and 18). For tickets, $12, contact Ticketmaster at 604-681-6330.