12 books for youngsters on your holiday gift list

"The Strange Birds of Flannery O'Connor: A Life" by Amy Alznauer and Ping Zhu is one of 12 books for children and teens we recommend for holiday gifts this year.
Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books
"The Strange Birds of Flannery O'Connor: A Life" by Amy Alznauer and Ping Zhu is one of 12 books for children and teens we recommend for holiday gifts this year. Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Recommendations for readers age 2 to teenager

The gift-giving season is right around the corner. With that in mind, we’ve sifted through the newest books for kids and teens to come up with a dozen we recommend for the youngsters on your holiday list.

Courtesy of Peachtree Publishers
Courtesy of Peachtree Publishers

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Eek!: A Noisy Journey from A to Z.’ As tykes greet letters from A to Z in this playful picture book by Julie Larios and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, they get one word befitting each letter that’s especially fun to say. “Oops” for “O” and “varoom” for V, for example. Fetching ink-and-gouache art dances across the pages, offering lots to ponder. A raccoon getting ice cream says “num-num” for the letter “N.” Two pages later, a scoop of ice cream from another cone goes “plop” for “P.” From “achoo” to sleepy-time “zzzzz,” guaranteed giggles are tucked into the ABC lesson. For little learners. (Ages 2-6, Peachtree Publishers, $16.99).

Courtesy of Prestel Junior
Courtesy of Prestel Junior

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Credit: Handout

‘That’s Good, That’s Bad.’ Oh, how we loved this crafty 1963 gem by Joan M. Lexau and illustrated by Aliki back in the ’70s. It’s the story of a boy who might’ve been eaten by a tiger, if not for capturing the beast’s attention by telling him a story about how he’s on the run from a rhino. As the boy reveals the episode step by step, the tiger comments “that’s good,” or “that’s bad.” Storytelling, you see, has the power to save one’s life. For adventure lovers. (Ages 3-7, Prestel Junior, $17.95).

Courtesy of Hyperion
Courtesy of Hyperion

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Credit: Handout

‘I Want to Sleep Under the Stars.’ Mo Willems, responsible for the terrific Elephant & Piggie series, hits the high notes again for beginning readers. Zoom Squirrel wants to sleep under the stars for the first time. His squirrel friends Wowie, Bim, Blink and Flink are eager to help. But how can Zoom bask in the experience when his friends won’t shut the heck up? These 85 sturdy, busy pages are filled with cartoony art, cool facts, clever wordplay and nutty comedy. For early and reluctant readers. (Ages 4-8, Hyperion, $12.99)

Courtesy of Candlewick
Courtesy of Candlewick

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Credit: Handout

‘Julián at the Wedding.’ Love, acceptance and joy radiate from exquisite watercolor-and-gauche scenes in this storybook saluting gender freedom and identity by Jessica Love. For his special role in the wedding of two women, young Julián is dressed up in lilac that swishes and swirls. Julián befriends the flower girl who gives him her crown of red petals, and together they flit off for make-believe play in a house made of blue feathers (a nearby willow tree). For the LGBTQ friendly. (Ages 4-8, Candlewick, $16.99).

Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books
Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor: A Life.’ In pitch-perfect harmony, writer Amy Alznauer and artist Ping Zhu honor the life of the prominent Georgia author and her affinity for the feathered species. Zhu’s painted scenes wow the eyes with dazzling color, fiddling marvelously with perspective and filling super-large, thick-stock pages. By studying something closely, such as the chickens and peacocks on her Milledgeville farm, O’Connor could always find “some hidden strangeness, making it beautiful and funny and sad all at the same time.” (Which could also describe her fiction.) This nuanced and multilayered effort includes extra biographical material. For art lovers. (Ages 4-9, Enchanted Lion Books, $18.95).

Courtesy of Silver Dolphin Books/Printers Row
Courtesy of Silver Dolphin Books/Printers Row

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Credit: Handout

‘Aesop’s Fables.’ A big bang for your holiday budget, this gorgeous work by Suzie Brooks and Amanda Enright is more than a foot tall and boasts 148 artistically striking, durable pages filled with adorable critters. From “The Tortoise and the Hare” to “The Fox and the Crow,” seven classic fables are retold in prose that bounces and sparkles. Along with fun and frolic, you’ll get valuable morals, such as “if you are kind to others, they will be kind to you, too,” from “The Lion and the Mouse.” For a family keepsake. (Ages 6 and up, Silver Dolphin Books/Printers Row, $17.99)

Courtesy of Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books,
Courtesy of Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books,

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Credit: Handout

‘Saucy.’ When Becca finds a sick piglet just 15 filthy inches long, she begs her parents to let her keep it. But what happens when Saucy grows to 600 pounds? Newbery Medal and National Book Award winner Cynthia Kadohata spins a joyful tale of what happens when Becca introduces her new pet into her zany household. The storytelling zips along, while Marianna Raskin’s expressive illustrations add heart and humor. For animal lovers. (Ages 8-12, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, $16.95).

Courtesy of Holiday House
Courtesy of Holiday House

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Credit: Handout

‘Brother’s Keeper.’ “Creeping out of the woods, mothers and grandmothers stood frozen on the roadside, clutching their chests as if trying to catch all the broken pieces of their hearts. Small children were rooted to the ground calling out for Mama … Bullets whizzed past. Bodies fell … We had no choice. We had to go.” Georgia author Julie Lee makes her debut with a pulse-racing escape story set in North Korea during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Beautifully written and inspired by true events (Lee’s mother’s), the tale follows a 12-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother on their harrowing journey through warfare. For history and high drama buffs. (Ages 8-14, Holiday House, $17.99)

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children's Books
Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children's Books

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Credit: Handout

‘The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.’ Sandy Tolan delivered “The Lemon Tree” for adults in 2006. Now she’s adapted her story about an “unlikely friendship” framed by unrest in the Middle East for younger readers. At different times, Bashir Khairi, a Palestinian man of Arab heritage, and Dalia Eshkenazi Landau, an Israeli woman of Romanian Jewish descent, each lived in the same stone house in Israel with a lemon tree out back. Bashir’s family was forced to flee in 1948, when he was 6. Almost 20 years later, he returns to meet 19-year-old Dalia. Their true story is quite rare, often difficult and always enlightening. For those interested in learning about conflict. (Ages 9 and up, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, $19.99).

Courtesy of Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins
Courtesy of Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins

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Credit: Handout

‘Punching the Air.’ National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi teams up with Georgia-based Yusef Salaam, one of the “Exonerated Five” in the 1989 Central Park jogger case and now a prison reform activist, in this lyrical story that pulsates with truth and urgency. The novel unfolds in the voice of Amal, 16, a talented artist whose life is upended when he is wrongfully incarcerated. For budding activists. (Ages 14 and up, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, $19.99).

Courtesy of Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Courtesy of Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

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Credit: Handout

‘Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel.’ When his older brother is shot and killed, Will is angry and itching to avenge his brother’s death. But the chips are stacked high against him. Several hundred gritty ink-and-watercolor scenes by Danica Novgorodoff illustrate this powerful story from Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. For graphic novel fans. (Ages 14 and up, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, $19.99).

Courtesy of Page Street Publishing Co.
Courtesy of Page Street Publishing Co.

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Credit: Handout

‘Not Your #Lovestory.’ Macy hopes her YouTube channel will make her famous. But when her video goes viral, she learns that’s not always a good thing. Filled with contemporary references, this fast-paced, humorous story by Sonia Hartl is firmly planted in relatable themes for teens, from the angst of social media to problems in the romance department. For social media savvy teens. (Ages 14 and up, Page Street, $17.99).

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