Given that there's no new Wii this season, you may just have to suck it up and give some picture books to the preschooler in your life. You don't think that's sexy? Where do you think Nintendo learned about rich visuals, sustained narrative, and happy endings? If you're shopping for an older kid, visit the archives at Straight.com for October's roundup of teen lit–and here's one more: Click (Scholastic, $20.99) is an omnibus mystery written by a who's who of kid-lit stars. Ten chapters by writers as diverse as Roddy Doyle, Deborah Ellis, Nick Hornby, Gregory Maguire, and David Almond bring the past of an unusual photographer to life. Bonus: proceeds benefit Amnesty International. Merry Christmas.
Ben's Bunny Trouble (By Daniel Wakeman, with illustrations by Dirk Van Stralen. Orca Book Publishers, $19.95) Ben's mum says it's bedtime, but he's got other plans. Once she's in bed, Ben loads up a snack and a map of the galaxy, and takes his bike and his bunnies on a tour of the stars. This wordless picture book packs a huge story of belonging into its lighthearted illustrations, and little details will delight patient searchers on every page. (Just looking at the rabbit-shaped spacesuits makes me happy.) In the end, everyone ends up in the right place–even Ben, safe back home in bed.
All Aboard for Dreamland! (By Melanie Harby, with illustrations by Geraldo Valério. Tradewind Books, $16.95) There are many sights to be seen from the train to Dreamland in San Francisco lyricist Melanie Harby's first book for kids. On past Groggy Grove, up to Snuggle Cove, the train continues, carrying its load of increasingly sleepy passengers. Vancouver illustrator Geraldo Valério's vibrant paintings are dynamic enough to cheer up the hardest time of the day, when the lights go off, the giggles end, and night has come again.
Welcome Song for Baby (By Richard Van Camp. Orca Book Publishers, $9.95) A board book welcoming babies from a fellow who six years ago was writing about teen agers getting drunk? Well, we're all getting older, as Richard Van Camp reminds us with this lullaby for the newest earthlings. It's a charming, simple text: "The sun rises for you/The earth welcomes you/We raise our hands to you/You have made the world beautiful again", with lovely images to accompany it. I'm glad the babies are racially diverse, but it's a pity they're stock images when local babies are everywhere. Everywhere!
The Day it All Blew Away (By Lisa Cinar. Simply Read Books, $19.95) Emily Carr grad Lisa Cinar has created an appealing story about difference. Mr. Tadaa likes to go out for walks and such, but he's got a problem: "His head was very big, and MUCH too huge for his tiny hat." Every time he meets an acquaintance, he's expected to tip his tiny hat; you can see what a problem this might be. Meanwhile, a hat named Ahh "was unnaturally large for his occupation" and couldn't tip without throwing his owner right off. One day Mr. Tadaa and Ahh crossed paths. "I know what you might think would have happened," writes Cinar. But the resolution to this lively pen-and-watercolour story is a bit unexpected. The gorgeous, zany pictures will inspire drawing and craft sessions, not to mention some furious hat-tipping the next time you go out. Tadaa!
Clancy With the Puck (By Chris Mizzoni. Raincoast Books, $21.95) Hockey fans will be pleased to see Clancy With the Puck under the tree–even after they get to the end and discover that the nail-biting ending isn't a happy one. It's the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Hogtown Maple Buds are down 3–4, with four seconds on the buzzer, when their saviour appears: "Clancy strode across the ice; the crowd roared overhead." Animator Chris Mizzoni brings Dirty Thirties hockey to life with a helmetless Clancy taking the final penalty shot. "Down came his stick with fearsome might, a blur of puck and snow." Does he tie up the game? Well, if you've read "Casey at the Bat" you'll know how this ends, but look at the bright side: at least it's only Hogtown. Note: purchase price includes an animated short on DVD by author Mizzoni.
Ridin' Dinos with Buck Bronco (By George McClements. Harcourt, $18.95) "It all started when I brought home some loco-lookin' eggs that I found in my back field," explains Buck Bronco, and it's not long before Buck's got his hands full with a passel of dinosaurs that need mountin', saddlin', and ridin'. Dinosaur facts are mixed into this hop-along tale, and author McClements's mixed-media collage illustrations are as fun and silly as Buck's down-home advice for how to yee-haw on a kentrosaurus.
The Simpsons Handbook: Secret Tips From the Pros (Harper, $49.95) Here it is, the big-ticket item for those misguided tots who think you can actually make a living drawing poorly proportioned caricatures all day. Ah, youth. But as Matt Groening reminisces in the introduction to this how-to doorstopper, world domination takes practice: "Eventually, those crude grade-school scribbles grew more polished and refined, resulting in that crude grown-up cartoon powerhouse we all love and worship, 'The Simpsons.'" Many secondary characters from the world of The Simpsons are here in diagrammatic splendour, with the first half devoted to the many moods and bulging-eyeball variations of the family itself. It's instructive about how to render the Simpsons in a dozen easy steps, but proceed with caution: some things, once seen, can't be unseen: Marge's sisters Patty and Selma without their hair on add up to a profoundly disturbing experience.
The Girls' Book: How to Be the Best at Everything (By Juliana Foster, with illustrations by Amanda Enright. Scholastic, $11.99) and The Boys' Book: How to Be the Best at Everything (By Dominique Enright and Guy Macdonald, with illustrations by Nikalas Catlow. Scholastic, $11.99) All right, these aren't strictly speaking illustrated books, but they have pictures on every page, so lighten up already! The 90 entries, usually under a page long, explain techniques for activities that range from the silly (how to win a staring contest) to the useful (how to give yourself the perfect manicure), and from the old-fashioned (how to look after baby chicks) to the bizarre (how to survive an alien invasion)–and that's just the one for girls. Boys learn to ollie, to hoot, to avoid being eaten by a bear, and to hypnotize a chicken. Something for everyone–and a few for us all.
With magically stunning photorealistic illustrations, The Moon Rock tells the high-fantasy tale of a boy who gets caught up in a civil war on the moon .
The Moon Rock (By Boriana Todorov, with illustrations by Vladimir Todorov. Simply Read Books, $19.95) In this Jules Verne-ish story of high fantasy, young Elliot is sent to live with his grandfather after a fire destroys his family home. The old man is a stranger to him, but it's his grandfather's space memorabilia that most attracts Elliot, particularly a fragment of moon rock that calls to him. Soon, Elliot is on the moon itself, torn between sides in a civil war that seems to turn on where he places his loyalty. Boriana Todorov's lengthy storytelling (the book is 110 big, dense pages) is exciting, if wooden, but Vladimir's photo realistic illustrations–many of them two-page spreads of impossible, medieval magic mixed with Victorian high science–are extraordinary. Vladimir Todorov has worked on such films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Polar Express, and Beowulf, and it shows. What a stunning piece of work.