UI group compiles gift guide for children's books

The University of Illinois has published a guide for shoppers in the market for children's books.

Beyond classics such as "The Little Engine that Could," or well-known books such as the "Harry Potter" series, what else is out there?

Deborah Stevenson, the editor of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books at the University of Illinois, compiles an annual Guide Book to Gift Books. The 2008 guide is available online at http://bccb.lis.uiuc.edu/gb2.

The guide provides short descriptions of more than 300 of the best and most recent books published in four age groups: picture books for infants, toddlers and preschoolers; books for primary-grade readers (6- to 8-year-olds); books for middle-grade readers (9- to 11-year-olds); and young adult titles (12- to 18-year-olds).

Stevenson and her colleagues compiled the guide from their full book reviews of the past year, adding more than 100 new books to the 2008 edition.

Here are some of Stevenson's favorite books for 2008.

For pre-schoolers: "Beep Beep" and "Choo Choo," by Petr Horácek. Two board books about a car trip and a train ride, respectively. Both make clever use of design, according to Stevenson. "'Beep Beep' has die-cut holes for the windows of a house and 'Choo Choo' uses them to form the entrance and exit of a tunnel," Stevenson said.

For picture-book lovers: "The Chicken of the Family," by Mary Amato, for its lively, absurd story and illustrations, Stevenson said.

For middle-school readers: "Rachel Vail's 'Lucky' is a story that's very topical given the current economic conditions. It's about a teenage girl whose mother loses her job, and the effect that has on her family and her comfortable lifestyle. I would compare Vail's style to Judy Blume – in fact, she might even be her successor," Stevenson said.

For nonfiction readers: "Ann Hodgman's 'The House of a Million Pets' really stands out. It's an account of the author's experiences of sharing her home with pets ranging from the usual – dogs and cats – to the decidedly unusual – prairie dogs and pygmy mice. I'm also impressed with Jack Prelutsky's 'Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry,' a humorous, creative book that encourages and inspires children to write simple poems."

Stevenson and her colleagues at the Bulletin read an estimated 1,500 titles of new books each year.

The Bulletin and the Center for Children's Books are part of Illinois and its Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

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