When you take the time to match a book with the interests of that certain youngster on your holiday list, you just might become a champion giver to rival Santa. We’ve sifted through the fall releases to help you get started.
‘Bridge of Clay’
Marcus Zusak (“The Book Thief”) is back at last with a family saga that took him nine years to write. Wonderfully captivating and with a huge heart, it is a story of great scope and emotional depth that will bring tears to the eyes of older kids and adults alike. Told by Matthew, one of five brothers in “a family of ramshackle tragedy,” it jumps back and forth in time, honing in on the fourth brother, Clay. “Everything happened to him,” writes Matthew on the old typewriter he has literally dug up in a yard hundreds of miles from home. “We were all of us changed through him.” (Ages 14 and older, Knopf, $26)
‘What If It’s Us’
Atlanta author Becky Albertalli (“Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens”) was paired with Adam Silvera (“They Both Die at the End”) to co-write this refreshingly realistic story about two teen boys who notice each other in a post office, sense a connection, but fail to exchange numbers. Will the universe help them somehow find each other? This romantic comedy is filled with cool, present-day vibes and banter. Albertalli writes one character and Silvera the other, creating two distinct voices to tell a story that rings true to the core. (Ages 14-18, Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen, $17.99)
‘Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down’
For fans of the supernatural Netflix series that’s become a worldwide phenomenon, here is the official and instantly indispensable companion to the show shot in Atlanta. The hefty tome by Gina McIntyre is enticingly jammed with color photos, character profiles, a wealth of background material and treats such as a removable pocket-sized International Morse code guide. The book was designed to appear as if used, complete with stains, scuffs and used book price sticker from Melvald’s General Store in Hawkesville, Ind., where Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) works. (Ages 12 to adult, Del Rey, $36)
Put six kids together in a room, every week, with no adult — and sooner or later they’re going to say stuff. They’re going to talk about what’s weighing on them, from race and immigration issues to a dad in prison. Author of National Book Award winner “Brown Girl Dreaming,” Jacqueline Woodson’s writing soars yet again in this intricate, introspective story that will get under your skin and stab your heart. (Ages 10 and older, Nancy Paulsen Books, $17.99)
Journalist-author Carl Hiassen usually folds an ecological issue into his crafty plots. This one has wildlife concerns, such as an endangered panther. Billy hasn’t seen or heard from his father since he was 3 or 4. His mom doesn’t seem to know what his dad does for a living. When school lets out for the summer, Billy figures out how to get himself on a plane from Florida to Montana, determined to know his father. As ever, the real Hiaasen fun is in the casual attitude, terrific characters and ingenious, fast-paced storytelling. (Ages 9-14, Knopf, $18.99)
‘Lulu the Broadway Mouse’
Especially for young theater bugs, here’s a charming tale about a saucy mouse who lives with her family in New York City’s “jaw-droppingly fabulous” Shubert Theatre. This lightsome fantasy and valentine to Broadway theater puts readers amid backstage hustle and bustle. A performer herself, author Jenna Gavigan knows the scene so well, you can practically smell the greasepaint. (Ages 8-12, Running Press Kids, $16.99)
‘The Book of Boy’
Boy is a humpbacked outcast with unusual abilities and profound goodness. In this epic adventure, Boy becomes servant to a pilgrim named Secundus. Together they embark on an amazing adventure-quest across Europe that’s positively medieval. Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s prose is old-fashioned flowery, but also fun, enchanting, fitting. A perfect choice for a middle-grade reader who likes historical fiction, magical realism, mystery and a rich story centered on good vs. evil. (Ages 8-12, Greenwillow, $16.99)
‘Pete the Cat’s 12 Groovy Days of Christmas’
That hipster feline with droopy eyes who stars in books and an animated TV series sprung out of a 2006 self-published book penned by Eric Litwin. Now Pete the Cat’s antics are produced by original artist James Dean and his wife Kimberly of Savannah. Sung to the tune of the Christmas ditty, the lyrics are designed to make kids howl over “four far-out surfboards,” “five onion rings” and “10 sloths a-sleeping.” The bright illustrations bursts with joy and juicy details. (Ages 4-8, HarperCollins, $12.99)
‘Carmela Full of Wishes’
Carmela spots a dandelion growing through the pavement and blows on it. She has so many wishes, how can she pick one? She wishes her father’s (immigration) papers will get fixed so he can return home. She wishes her mother could sleep in one of the hotel beds she tidies for a living. From author Matt de la Pena and illustrator by Christian Robinson, the award-winning talents behind “Last Stop on Market Street,” comes this timely story that has what a classic requires: great heart, lyrical prose and dynamic art that perfectly suits the story and tone. (Ages 4-8, Putnam, $17.99)
Wrestler-turned-entertainer John Cena launches a new series illustrated by Howard McWilliam about believing in oneself and sticking to it, even if you get “bashed and smashed.” Elbow Grease is the baby truck in the demolition derby. Other competitors include Flash (faster), Pinball (smarter) and Tank (tougher). Kids will go ape over the super-bright, action-packed scenes and they’ll surely love repeating phrases that shout off some pages: “Crack-a-lack-a” and “Boom-Shocka-Lock-A!” (Ages 3-7, Random House, $17.99)
‘Dream Big, Little One’
“Dream big, little one, there’s so much you can do. Just look at all the leaders who came before you.” Vashti Harrison pares down her bestselling “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History” into a very classy board book. Nicely detailed artwork pays tribute to 18 trailblazers, including astronaut Mae Jemison, singer Ella Fitzgerald and that all-around phenom, Oprah Winfrey. The quality is well above the usual. (Ages 0-3, Little, Brown, $8.99).
‘House: First Words Board Books’
For the price, this artfully designed boxed set by Michael Slack makes an impressive gift. Lap listeners open the front door of the handsome case designed like a house. Inside are five small, super-sturdy board books tucked into the home’s interior walls. Each one is devoted to a room in a decidedly mid-century modern house: living room, bedroom, garage, kitchen, bathroom. An object appears on each page, plus the corresponding word, like “sofa,” “sink” or “toothpaste.” Each striking mini book ends with an overall portrait of that room, reinforcing the objects and words. (Ages 0-3, Chronicle, $18.99).
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