It's that time again for traditional foods and family rituals that grow richer with each passing year. And this is the second year I'm offering suggestions for the best children's books for holiday gifts.(Check out last year's list here.)
To curate that list, I've returned to Hicklebee's Book Store in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood where co-owner Valerie Lewis takes kid's books very seriously.
Lewis and her staff have built a marvelous children's book museum at the bookstore. The walls are covered with original art by book illustrators, and touchstone objects from kids' books, like the spiderweb from Charlotte's Web, and the blue jeans (or their facsimile) from the Traveling Pants series signed by author Ann Brashares.
Lewis found a theme in this holiday list ranging from picture books to young adult fiction. They're stories about people who solved problems.
Outfoxed by Mike Twohy
This is the first children's book from Mike Twohy, a New Yorker cartoonist. A hungry fox in search of his dinner invades a hen house one night and grabs a duck instead of a chicken. But the duck is sly enough to convince the fox that he's really a dog. Tactics include peeing on the rug. The fun here is in the young reader (listener) getting the joke before Fox. Ages 4-8.
The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins
This picture book, with beautiful illustrations, is based on the life of a Northern California woman named Katherine Olivia Sessions. Hopkins has found an inspiring proto-feminist in Sessions, who graduated with a botany degree from UC Berkeley, and then became an influential horticulturalist in Southern California, introducing drought-tolerant trees to the arid landscape of San Diego's Balboa Park. Ages 5-10.
Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer
Nasreddine (or Nasrudin) is a legendary figure in Middle Eastern folk tales. He's often a bit of a fool who proves deep practical and spiritual wisdom. Here Nasreddine is just a boy learning the ways of the world. He's faced with the challenging problem of finding approval from some villagers. His father's wisdom saves the day. Ages 5-9.
Crabtree by Jon & Tucker Nichols
This picture book is kind of a Where's Waldo for common objects. Alfred Crabtree has lost his false teeth. The only way to find them is to organize his cluttered house, which is full of odds and ends like candy, a pencil, a plunger, a yapping dog or two, a rubber band or three, and broken furniture, all pictured on various pages of the book. Crabtree comes from San Francisco's own McSweeney's McMullens Kids Books.
Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt
This mystery-adventure tale is a kind of Home Alone, featuring a 12-year-old boy named Max. His parents are actors and they leave him behind when they sail to India. Did they mean to abandon him? Have they been kidnapped? Max gets help from his librarian grandmother, but decides to stay independent and begins using the theatrical crafts learned from his parents to earn money as a finder of lost things. The first book of a planned trilogy. Ages 8-12.
Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan
Historical fiction featuring a boy named Henry, who becomes friends with a young Buster Keaton in a Michigan resort town in 1908. Henry wishes for the adventurous life in show business, while Buster but yearns for a simpler life more like Henry's. Ages 9-12.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
This story features the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one of the Brothers Grimm. Their collections of folk-tales are told to children, but are pretty blood curdling. In Far Far Away, the ghost of Grimm watches over young Jeremy Johnson Johnson but isn't as effective as he might be. Ages 7 and up.