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Originally published Saturday, December 12, 2009 at 7:02 PM

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Homegrown for the holidays: Kids' books by local authors and illustrators shine

Seattle-area authors have written and illustrated a treasure trove of books for children and teenagers, from a furry orange critter that takes over the Space Needle to the heartwarming saga of a dog and a soldier who find each other in Iraq.

Special to The Seattle Times

Young fans of dinosaurs, dogs, art, magic and even zombies will find children's books by local authors or illustrators to delight them this season.

Author Janet Lawler finds a creative twist on "The Night Before Christmas" by turning Santa into "Tyrannoclaus" (Harper, 32 pp., $17.99, ages 3-7). The titular dinosaur readies gifts for "tiny triceratops" and "baby pteranodons," only to face such challenges as a half-eaten list (an herbivore snack) and an exploding volcano. North Bend artist John Shroades' vivid mixed-media digital illustrations convey the urgency of the rainbow-hued, prehistoric creatures' task. (Despite Tyrannoclaus' large, pointy teeth — and the toothy smiles of some of his "dinosaur team" — they just deliver toys, with no munching on their dozing potential prey.)

Keep a tissue handy for "Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle" (Little, Brown, 48 pp., $17.99, ages 4 and up), which will likely be as popular with adult pet enthusiasts as by the book's young target audience. Kirby Larson, who lives in Kenmore, and Mary Nethery (the duo behind 2008's charming "Two Bobbies") teamed with Major Brian Dennis to share Dennis' incredible story of befriending and eventually adopting a dog during his service in Iraq. The nonfiction picture book, illustrated with color photos and interspersed with excerpts from Dennis' e-mails home, avoids personifying Nubs and lets the dog's actions — which include following Dennis 70 miles alone through the desert — genuinely impact the reader.

Nostalgic Gen-Xers can share a childhood favorite with the 35th anniversary edition of "Wheedle on the Needle" (Sasquatch, 30 pp., $16.95, ages 4-9). Washington native Stephen Cosgrove (who now lives in Austin, Texas) offers a whimsical explanation for the Space Needle's red blinking light: a Wheedle lives at the top. The Wheedle, a furry, bright orange creature, first searches for quiet by moving to the very top of Mount Rainier in this '70s picture book, illustrated by Robin James of Snohomish. When people encroach on his solitary spot, he grabs some clouds to use as a pillow and heads for a high spot in the city.

It would be hard to capture the scope and the fluid bizarreness of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí's buildings in a picture book. In "Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudí" (Henry Holt, 32 pp., $16.99, ages 5 to 8), Seattle artist Julie Paschkis instead focuses on the imaginative details in Gaudí's large works, emphasizing, as the architect himself did, his "smallest creations." Author Rachel Rodríguez's poetical text and Paschkis' vibrant, flowing gouache paintings highlight Gaudí's fanciful designs, where a roof "arches in a dragon's spine" and "hallways look like underwater caverns." An author's note provides more standard biographical information about Barcelona's most famous architect.

Seattle author Bonny Becker channels Ms. Frizzle and Mary Poppins with her chapter book, "The Magical Ms. Plum" (Knopf, 112 pp., $12.99, ages 7-10). When Ms. Plum sends one of her third-grade students into a supply closet for, say, a pencil, he or she might come out with a miniature horse or group of squirrels or a tiny monkey. With varying degrees of subtlety, the animals help students recognize a problem. Eric, for example, releases an obnoxious parrot with an even faster mouth than he has, showing him the importance of staying quiet. Other students learn to make friends and be positive, but discover they can't speak about their magical experiences on the playground. Amy Portnoy's black-and-white drawings help young readers visualize the unusual classroom.

Pair Tony Medina's "I and I, Bob Marley" (Lee & Low, 44 pp., $19.95, ages 9 and up) with a CD of the reggae icon's music, so young readers can better understand the power of Medina's biographical poems and the stunning acrylic paintings of Port Townsend artist Jesse Joshua Watson (the dramatic cover painting alone is nearly worth the cost of the book.) Poems, supported with extensive biographical information in an author's note, trace Marley's life from his childhood in Jamaica to his growth as a musician and activist to his early death from cancer. Watson's bold paintings capture the energy of a crowded dance floor as well as Marley's quiet moments of reflection.

"Ghost in the Machine" (Scholastic Press, 206 pp., $14.99, ages 11-13) by Walla Walla author Patrick Carman should hook even reluctant readers with its blend of first-person journal and online videos (accessed with passwords from the book). The sequel to "Skeleton's Creek" (published earlier this year) isn't the best-written literature, but readers who enjoy a mystery will follow teenagers Ryan and Sarah as they investigate a gold dredge where at least two workers died. The novel is styled as a handwritten journal with lined paper and "taped" notes and pictures.

Cross "Buffy the Vampire Killer" with "The Matrix," throw in a few zombies and a comic book, and you might end up with the head-tripping "Fade to Blue" (Little, Brown, 202 pp., $16.99, ages 14 and up) by Seattle author Sean Beaudoin. Sophie Blue, a Goth high schooler on the brink of her 18th birthday, and Kenny Fade, a popular basketball player, both feel strange and paranoid, but can't figure out why. It turns out there is good reason, with a menacing Popsicle truck and a deranged Nurseadding to the mystery of just who — and what — Sophie Blue is. The book's comic-book centerpiece (by illustrator Wilfred Santiago), occasional cursing and ambiguous ending should make this book appeal to those hard-to-shop-for, too-cool teens.

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