WASHINGTON — The following books are suitable for Christmas gift-giving.
Mother to the Poor: The Story of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta by Jung-wook Ko, illustrated by Seung-bum Park. Pauline Books & Media (Boston, 2008). 144 pp., $14.95.
This poignant story begins with a vignette of the Missionaries of Charity finding a young girl begging for her mother on the streets of Calcutta and then flashes back to Blessed Mother Teresa’s childhood. It tells of Mother Teresa’s kindness and follows her life, from discerning her vocation all the way through her funeral. Colorful, true-to-life illustrations show poverty, compassion and love and greatly enhance the story. A timeline and a glossary are added bonuses. Ages 8-11.
The Snow Show by Carolyn Fisher. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Orlando, Fla., 2008). 48 pp., $17.
The book is just plain fun! Designed as a TV or movie set, complete with little comments from the audience, the show — hosted by children named Snow White and Jack Frost — is a mini-science lesson. Readers can watch as a snowman evaporates, chills, forms clouds and turns into snow crystals. And while some adults might not appreciate the comparison of water vapor, an invisible gas, to a fart, it is part of the humor that will resonate with children. Nonreaders will love to have this read to them; some middle-grade readers might need help with a few of the scientific terms. “Deleted Scenes” at the end of the book includes a recipe for polar pops, and the final page even includes bloopers. Ages 5-10.
Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Orlando, Fla., 2008). 40 pp., $17.
The unlikely duo of Wilma and her young neighbor Parker embark on a plan to grow Christmas trees. This is a tale of patience, hard work, survival and more patience as the saplings and their growers go through a 10-year cycle to be fit as Christmas trees. Root’s colorful paintings bring this read-aloud story to life so that the reader will enjoy it as much as the child to whom it is read. Ages 3-7.
Ten Lucky Things That Have Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning by Mary Hershey. Wendy Lamb Books (New York, 2008). 230 pp., $15.99.
Just when fourth-grader Effie Maloney thinks life is pretty much perfect, things start to fall apart. One of her two best friends decides to leave St. Dominic’s to attend public school, where the sports are better. Her mother’s college friend Frank, now a priest, comes to live with the family for awhile, and Effie’s older sister turns super-pious trying to impress him. And Effie gets caught passing notes and gets in trouble with the substitute principal. In this first-person roller-coaster ride through fourth grade, young readers will find friendship, religion, kindness, meanness, romance, drama and humor. Hershey’s writing style has been compared to Beverly Cleary’s, and Effie’s discoveries about herself, friends and families will keep middle-grade readers turning pages. Ages 9-11.
Always With You by Ruth Vander Zee, illustrated by Ronald Himler. Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2008). 32 pp, $17.
This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Kim, a young Vietnamese girl orphaned during the war. U.S. soldiers took her to China Beach to stay with Ong and Ba Jones, whose “hearts must have been as big as barrels and filled with every color of the rainbow.” The book is based on a true story of a woman who now lives near Chicago; it will cause young readers to empathize with Kim, who feels safe at the orphanage. Ages 8-11.
Today Someone I Love Passed Away by Dianne Ahern, illustrated by William Shurtliff. Aunt Dee’s Attic (Ann Arbor, Mich., 2008). 82 pp. $19.95.
This book, complete with an imprimatur, is one of the best ways to teach children about how Catholics understand death. Danny is angry when he has to give up his room for his grandfather, who is coming to live with them. But after a playmate of Danny’s dies, his grandfather — who has been sharing his memories — patiently explains to the children about death, dying and eternal life. Danny finds he enjoys having his grandfather live with him, but when Grandpa dies, Danny must remember all the lessons he learned from him. Ages 8-up.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa by Jeanette Winter. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Orlando, Fla., 2008). 32 pp., $17.
With colorful pictures and simple prose, Winter tells the story of 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, who leaves Kenya to study in the U.S., only to return to her country to find the trees have been cut down for buildings. Women must travel farther to gather firewood, birds have no place to live and the country looks barren. Wangari begins, little by little, to help reforest her country, empowering women to plant the trees, despite skepticism and mockery from men. The colorful illustrations capture some of the beauty and simplicity of rural Kenya, and even the multicolored page backgrounds reflect the mood of the story of this famous environmentalist. Ages 3-7.
Adventures of St. Paul by Oldrich Selucky, illustrated by Zdenka Krjcova. Pauline Books & Media (Boston, 2008). 96 pp., $9.95.
What would a Pauline year be without a good adventure story about one of the Catholic Church’s most famous saints? Selucky and Krjcova combine talents for a vividly illustrated easy reader, including pages at the end that help with “How Do I Say That Word?” and “How Do I Say That Name?” Ages 7-9.
Everyday Prayers edited by Jennifer Frantz, illustrated by Renee Graef. HarperFestival (New York, 2008). 23 pp., $3.99.
Colorful, multicultural illustrations of children and small illustrations that substitute for words — reminiscent of Highlights magazine — make this little book of rhyming prayers ideal for preschoolers. The book includes prayers of thanks, praise and love. Ages 3-5.
My Bonnie Light Horseman by L.A. Meyer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Orlando, Fla., 2008). 448 pp., $17.
Meyer, a former naval officer, always delivers with his adventures of the impetuous Jacky Farber. Jacky, now a teenage girl and still a sailor at heart, finds herself forced to work as a spy during the French Revolution. Of course, mishaps and a series of coincidences put her at the heart of one of the biggest battles. An occasional curse word — these are pirates and soldiers, after all — and an initial undercover assignment as a dancing girl make this adventure appropriate for older readers. Ages 13-up.
Fraze is international editor at Catholic News Service and has been reviewing children’s books for more than 20 years.