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Picks and Pans Main: Children's Books

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Best Bets for the Younger Set

The Sweet Far Thing
by Libba Bray



The concluding volume in this trilogy, which began with 2003’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, will sate the appetite of many a voracious reader—a thick, engrossing book that melds fantasy and historical fiction while posing provocative questions about power, femininity, friendship and desire.

Gemma Doyle and her classmates at an English finishing school are preparing for their society debut, but they’re ambivalent about it. That’s because while the curriculum centers on skills proper ladies should master, the real pull of Spence Academy lies beneath the school grounds. In an underworld called the Realms, Gemma learns that her birthright is to become high priestess of a secret society—and her clique feels a freedom they’ll never enjoy as Victorian wives. Bray brings turn-of-the-century London to life as she weaves Gemma’s struggle over her dual roles—one corseted, one not—with the leading issues of the day: voting rights for women, fair wages, even fashion as the Spence girls embrace bloomers, the latest trend for genteel bicycle riding. This is a rare treat that offers a bit of everything—romance, magic, history, Gothic intrigue—and delivers on all of it in 819 beautifully crafted pages.

The Chronicles of Narnia
Pop-ups by Robert Sabuda



From the moment the giant rendition of Narnia’s great lion Aslan rises up off the first page, it’s obvious that pop-up master Sabuda has done it again. Based on C. S. Lewis’ classic series, the book also includes a glittery winter wonderland, a near life-size rendition of Reepicheep the mouse and lots more. It’s a gem—and a fine way to whet readers’ appetites for the originals.

Pictures from Our Vacation
by Lynne Rae Perkins

AGES 5-8

This refreshingly honest account of a cross-country trip begins with Mom giving each of her kids a camera to record events, the first shot being (of course) an accidental photo of the young narrator’s feet. Newbery winner Perkins delivers a child’s eye view of a typical family vacation, complete with rainy days, boring drives, long-lost relatives and, ultimately, warm memories of time spent together.

Night Shift
by Jessie Hartland


AGES 3-8

What happens after your parents make you go to bed? A lot, actually. Hartland takes the young and curious on an after-hours tour, visiting museum guards, donut bakers and others who toil while we sleep. With illustrations that are bright, witty and detailed (Bowie and Monk are on the overnight DJ’s playlist), Night Shift justifies staying up for one more story.

Different Like Coco
by Elizabeth Matthews

AGES 5-8

“At a time when France was the center of all that was wealthy, grandiose and fashionable,” Gabrielle Chanel was born poor and skinny. Orphaned by age 12, she learned to sew in a convent, eventually getting a job with a tailor, where she realized her dreams of glamour and transformed herself—along with couture. With its emphasis on prizing individuality, this is a delight—and a must for would-be designers among the Fancy Nancy set.

A Box Full of Kittens
by Sonia Manzano

Illustrated by Matt Phelan

AGES 3-7

Author Manzano has learned a few things about kids from all those years playing Maria on Sesame Street. Ruthie, who longs to be a hero, is determined to help her very pregnant Aunt Juanita—until she comes across the irresistible newborns of the title. Phelan’s watercolors depict Ruthie’s urban neighborhood as a vibrant, friendly place where kids can thrive.

Casey Back at Bat
by Dan Gutman, Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

AGES 4-8

Legend has it that Negro League great Josh Gibson, playing in Pittsburgh, once hit a home run that didn’t come down until the next day—in Philly. Inspired by that tale, Gutman created a sequel to baseball’s best-known poem. What happens when Casey, whose strikeout robbed all the joy from Mudville, gets his next at-bat? Out of this world.

Fred Stays with Me!
by Nancy Coffelt

Illustrated by Tricia Tusa

AGES 3-6

The narrator spends some nights with Mom, some with Dad. But no matter where she is, her loyal, occasionally troublesome pup, Fred, is by her side. Tusa’s sepia-toned artwork portrays the delightfully affectionate relationship between a girl who’s had to contend with lots of change and her ever-faithful dog. The effect is charming—and how often can you use that word when the subject is divorce?