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The Ultimate Buyer's Guide for Purchasing Kids Book Pages

Deborah Stevenson, the editor of the Guide to Gift Books, says the guide is designed "with gift-giving in mind - with the notion that people like to give different kinds of books, just as young people like to read different kinds of books."

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - If the part of your brain that controls gift-book-shopping for children hasn't clicked into gear yet, fear not. Experts in children's literature at the University of Illinois can jump-start the process with a comprehensive list of warm and fuzzy, cool and hip books for any kid on your list.

Whether you are looking for a cheerful picture book, an absorbing nonfiction title or a pulse-pounding novel, the experts offer shoppers hundreds of recent titles with their just published 2007 edition of Guide Book to Gift Books. The guide is organized by age level and includes brief annotated remarks about every book.

Now available online, downloadable and free, the Guide Book is an annual project of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. The Bulletin and the Center are both at Illinois and part of its Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

The editors receive some 5,000 new trade books for young people every year; they publish reviews for about 900 of them in 11 issues of their bulletin a year. For the annual guide, the old and out-of-print books are purged and more than 100 new titles are added, bringing the total number of titles to about 300.

"This isn't just a skimming off of the best books," said Deborah Stevenson, the editor of the guide.

"It's a list specifically designed with gift-giving in mind - with the notion that people like to give different kinds of books, just as young people like to read different kinds of books. For example, do you want to be the uncle who gives the sarcastic funny books? Do you like giving books that you might enjoyably share with your granddaughter? Do you know nothing about your old college roommate's kids, except that they're crazy about animals? You should be able to find something here."

The range in topic and theme is, indeed, huge, for example: From Jacob Berkowitz's "Jurassic Poop: What Dinosaurs (and Others) Left Behind" and Susan Goodman's "Gee Whiz! It's All About Pee," to Mary Hogan's "The Serious Kiss" and Alex Bradley's "24 Girls in 7 Days."

Stevenson has her own favorites.

"I'm really smitten with Emily Gravett's 'Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear,' " she said. "It's absolutely ingenious, but not remotely complicated. It's basically a triumph of cozy, kid-appealing minimalism."

One of Deborah Stevenson's favorites is Emily Gravett's "Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear." "It's absolutely ingenious, but not remotely complicated. It's basically a triumph of cozy, kid-appealing minimalism."

Come to think of it, it's been a great year for animal-related nonfiction, she said.

"Two that I continue to enjoy are Jane Harrington's 'Extreme Pets!' which is a breezy, browsable outing totally on the side of the kid who wants to bring home a snake/sugar glider/tarantula, and Ann Hodgman's 'The House of a Million Pets,' which I think of as the contemporary answer to Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals,' except that Hodgman is a grownup making up for lost childhood time on the pets. Her book is affectionate, wise and extremely funny."

Stevenson also feels that Trenton Lee Stewart's "The Mysterious Benedict Society" is a high-spirited, fantastical adventure for middle-schoolers, "with a carefully selected group of kids going up against an evil, brainwashing force. It's got some clever intricacies and bright humor without losing sight of its main theme."

As for new trends in kiddie lit, Stevenson has noticed several:

• Graphic novels are coming into their own as an accepted genre from traditional publishers.

"We had a pile of good ones this year, ranging from inventive wordless texts to clever biographies to books that employed graphic and regular text alternately," Stevenson said. "We're also seeing a lot of graphic-novel adaptations of popular texts - such as 'The Babysitters Club.' Those last generally aren't that stellar, so it's not what I'd term an exciting trend, but it is a trend."

• There also are a lot more "looong books these days," she said.

" 'Harry Potter' proved that hundreds of pages won't put off a readership, so authors are gleefully taking advantage of the greater scope."

• It also has been a "free-for-all" on Beowulf, Stevenson said. "I believe we totaled five versions by the end of the year. Several of them were quite good, especially a couple that employed the aforementioned graphic-novel format, but we're about 'Beowulfed-out' now."

• Over the last couple of years the librarians at the BCCB have received "tons of Greek mythology as a basis for fiction. Esther Friesner's 'Temping Fate' is an example that's in the guide. While you can't tell from the description, there's also N.D. Wilson's 'Leepike Ridge,' a dandy contemporary adventure tale, which is slyly based on 'The Odyssey.' "

What's the next frontier in children's literature?

"Hey, if I knew that, I could make a fortune!" Stevenson joked. "But I'd like to see another nonfiction surge, as it wasn't one of nonfiction's better years. I'd like to see more early chapter books, as that's a fairly slender field, especially when you sift for quality."

Stevenson explained that for readers who've moved beyond the "I Can Read Books" but aren't yet ready for Harry Potter, "so, basically, grades 2 to 4, depending on proficiency and inclination," usually next move up to "chapter books."

"Chapter books usually have bigger print and include illustrations to break the pages up. The 'chapter books' moniker comes, I believe, from the fact that it's the reader's first big experience with actual chapters."

Stevenson said that Mary Amato's "Please Don't Write in This Book" is a good example of a chapter book, even though it's divided by date entries rather than chapters.

"It's a delight," Stevenson said. "It has big print, generous white space and art to liven up the pages, but it's a 'real book' in thickness and event, and thus, a big developmental achievement for the young reader daring to venture beyond the beginning readers."

She said this title is "particularly appealing in its humorous combination of kid voices and its 'insiderly' feeling for the reader, who's looking at the writing notebook shared - and not always amicably - by kids using their class's Writing Corner."

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The Ultimate Buyer's Guide for Purchasing Kids Book Pages

The buyer's guide: Hersh, L. S: 9780970586506: Amazon.com: Books


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