Originally published Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 6:02 AM

Kids' books that stand out from others on the shelf

Kids' books: A list of this year's memorable books for children and teens.

Scripps Howard News Service

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As a book reviewer, I receive as many as 2,000 children's and teen books each year from publishers.

Of those books, I can read carefully only a fraction — maybe a couple of hundred titles annually. But I skim many more, and, of course, I try to keep up with what is popular among the young readers in my library and what other reviewers are highlighting.

In the midst of all of this reading, a few books for children and teens become my favorites each year. They're the ones that I found most memorable as a reader, reviewer and children's/teen librarian at a public library.

This year, four books stand out from the crowd for me. First, for sheer genius, you can't beat "Press Here" (Chronicle Books, $14.99, ages 2 up), written and illustrated by Herve Tullet.

Tullet's brief text is paired with a series of yellow, red and blue dots highlighted on white or black pages. These are not interactive dots — they're just flat, two-dimensional images on the page — but Tullet's amazing creativity helps readers make them interactive as they "press" a dot, then turn the page to find two dots, etc. Readers are urged to shake and tilt the book to make things happen to the dots; by clapping at the dots, for example, they "grow" huge when the reader turns the page.

If you're looking for one book to entertain a wide variety of ages, "Press Here" is the one. It likely would be a top contender for the Caldecott Medal, awarded annually by the American Library Association (ALA) to the best-illustrated children's book, but Tullet is a French citizen living in France, thus making him ineligible for an award given only to American citizens or residents.

Chris Raschka, the author/illustrator of another of my favorite 2011 books, however, is eligible for the Caldecott Medal, and his newest book, "A Ball for Daisy" (Schwartz and Wade/Random House, $16.99, ages 3-6), is one of my top picks for the 2012 Caldecott Medal, which will be announced Jan. 23.

Raschka, who won the 2006 Caldecott Medal for "The Hello, Goodbye Window," uses his trademark loose-lined illustration style to tell the story of Daisy, a dog whose beloved red ball is popped by another dog at the park one day. Daisy is grief-stricken at the loss — Raschka's illustrations are a marvel of emotional intensity conveyed in just a few lines of watercolor and ink — but Daisy perks up when she receives a new ball, a blue one, from the other dog's owner. Young readers will love Raschka's story for the way it mirrors the ups and downs of their own days, while readers of all ages will cheer the happy ending.

My top choice for the Newbery Medal, given annually by the ALA to the best-written children's book, is "Okay for Now" (Clarion, $16.99), written by Gary Schmidt. Although the book is aimed at readers ages 10-14, I've handed it to adults who have absolutely loved the powerful Vietnam-era story.

Schmidt is a two-time Newbery Honor winner, and in this book he connects several disparate story strands, including an exploration of a young bully's family background and his efforts to change his life, and the ethics of a town's decision to raise money by selling off pages of a copy of "Birds of America" by artist John James Audubon.

Schmidt weaves these story threads and others into a narrative built around images from "Birds of America;" an image from the book is presented at the opening of each chapter. Schmidt uses the images as a reflection of what's going on in the life of his emotionally and physically battered protagonist, a middle-schooler named Doug Swieteck, who was first introduced to readers in Schmidt's Newbery Honor book, "The Wednesday Wars."

"Okay for Now" isn't a perfect book, but it is a memorable one that will long resonate with readers.

It seemed author/illustrator Brian Selznick couldn't possibly push the boundary of the novel further than he did in the Caldecott Medal-winning "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." But Selznick's newest book, "Wonderstruck" (Scholastic, $29.99, ages 8-12), goes even further and is my fourth top favorite for 2011.

While "Hugo" tells one story in words and pictures, "Wonderstruck"tells one story in words, another story — set 50 years previously — in illustrations, and then brings the words, illustrations and stories together at the book's conclusion. It's a tour de force that highlights themes of loss, grief and reunion.

Here are some other books I also enjoyed:


• "The Money We'll Save" (FSG, $16.99, ages 4-8), written and illustrated by Brock Cole;

• "Neville" (Schwartz and Wade/Random House, $17.99, ages 4-7), written by Norton Juster and illustrated by G. Brian Karas;

• "I Want My Hat Back" (Candlewick, $15.99, ages 4-7), written and illustrated by Jon Klassen;

• "Bone Dog" (Roaring Brook, $16.99, ages 4-8), written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann;

"Sing to Your Baby" (Community Music, $19.95, ages birth-2), a book and CD set written by Grammy Award-winning musicians Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer and illustrated by James Nocito;

"Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator" (Baltzer plus Bray/HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 4-7), written and illustrated by Mo Willems.


• "Buzz Boy and Fly Guy" (Scholastic, $5.99, ages 4-6), written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold;

"Dodsworth in Rome" (Houghton Mifflin, $14.99, ages 4-7), written and illustrated by Tim Egan;

"I Broke My Trunk" and "Should I Share My Ice Cream?" (both Hyperion, $8.99 each, ages 3-7), written and illustrated by Mo Willems.


"G-Man: Learning to Fly" (Image Comics, $9.99, ages 6-12), written and illustrated by Chris Giarusso;

• "Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking" (TOON, $12.95, ages 4-7), written and illustrated by Philippe Coudray;

• "Zita the Space Girl: Far From Home" (First Second, $17.99, ages 7-12), written and illustrated by Ben Hatke;

• "Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers" (Blue Sky/Scholastic, $9.99, ages 6-10), written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey;

• "Ghostopolis" (Graphix/Scholastic, $10.00, ages 8-12), written and illustrated by Doug TenNapel.


• "The No. 1 Car Spotter" (Kane Miller, $5.99, ages 7-10), written by Atinuke;

• "The Unforgotten Coat" (Candlewick, $15.99, ages 8-12), written by Frank Cottrell Boyce;

• "Dead End in Norvelt" (FSG, $15.99, ages 10-14), written by Jack Gantos;

• "Eight Keys" (Wendy Lamb/Random House, $16.99, ages 8-12), written by Suzanne LaFleur;

• "The Apothecary" (Putnam, $16.99, ages 8-12), written by Maile Meloy;

• "Lucky for Good" (Atheneum, $16.99, ages 8-12), written by Susan Patron;

• "Young Fredle" (Knopf, $16.99, ages 8-12), written by Cynthia Voight.

HYBRID NOVELS (Mix of words and pictures):

• "Darth Paper Strikes Back" (Amulet, $12.95, ages 8-12), written and illustrated by Tom Angleberger;

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever" (Amulet, $32.95, ages 8-12), written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney.


"Everything On It" (Harper, $19.99, ages 8-12), written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein.


"Beauty Queens" (Scholastic, $18.99, ages 14 up), written by Libba Bray;

• "Wisdom's Kiss" (Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, ages 12 up), written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock;

"Between Shades of Gray" (Philomel, $17.99, ages 12 up), written by Ruta Sepetys;

• "Blink and Caution" (Candlewick, $16.99, ages 14 up), written by Tim Wynne-Jones.

Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at

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