Best Books for Kids Into Lego Robots, Arty Lizards, Human Pets

The cover jacket of "Art & Max" by David Wiesner. Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group via Bloomberg

Jackie Robinson, a despondent bird and a boy who wants to be a television chef star in some of the season’s stand-out picture books for children.

Artistic Lizards

“Art & Max” by David Wiesner (Clarion, $17.99). Wiesner is known for wonderfully imaginative wordless books, such as the Caldecott winners “Tuesday” and “Flotsam” and my own favorite, “Sector 7,” in which a boy is whisked off the Empire State Building to a cloud-making factory. His new book has words, making it easier for a read-aloud, and the art is as strikingly detailed as ever.

Art is a serious artist who just happens to be a lizard. His friend Max wants to paint, too -- which Art thinks is ridiculous. Any kid who ever looked at a Jackson Pollock painting and said, “I can do that!” will enjoy this colorful journey through the history of art.

Bear Loves Boy

“Children Make Terrible Pets,” by Peter Brown (Little, Brown, $16.99). When Lucy, a frisky bear in a pink tutu, finds an adorable little boy in the forest, she begs her mother to let her keep him.

“Lucille Beatrice Bear!” Mama Bear scolds. “Don’t you know that children make terrible pets?”

Like mothers everywhere, though, she soon gives in. It will make kids laugh to see an animal dragging a human around, dressing him up for tea parties, carrying him in a pouch like a kangaroo. The multi-media artwork, including hand-lettered dialogue on construction-paper word balloons, gives the book a solid, old-fashioned feel.

Chef in Training

“Cooking With Henry and Elliebelly,” by Carolyn Parkhurst. Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Feiwel & Friends, $16.99). Henry is a 5-year-old Mario Batali in training, pretending to have a cooking show with his little sister. As he patiently tries to demonstrate raspberry-marshmallow-peanut butter waffles with barbecued banana bacon, Elliebelly insists they wear pirate hats and tries to insert her doll into the proceedings.

The story is told entirely in dialogue, Henry’s in small black type and Ellie’s in BIG RED LETTERS that match her wild hair. Their mother remains in the wings, offering typically unhelpful Mom-like comments.

Lego Robots

“Cool Robots,” by Sean Kenney (Holt, $12.99). The Lego fanatic on your gift list will love this book, which features directions for building a variety of robots. Pictures of futuristic houses, hovercrafts and a big circular space station provide additional inspiration.

Welcome to Brooklyn

“Jackie’s Gift,” by Sharon Robinson. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Viking, $16.99). When baseball legend Jackie Robinson moved to Brooklyn in 1948, not everyone was happy to have a black family on the block. Young Steve Satlow, a Dodgers fan, welcomed the Robinsons with a bowl of cherries, and was soon friendly enough to help decorate their Christmas tree. When Robinson heard the Satlows didn’t have a tree of their own, he decided to return their kindness by bringing one over as a gift -- not realizing they were Jewish and didn’t celebrate Christmas.

This lovely book is written by Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, who wasn’t born at the time but says she grew up hearing the story.

A Book With Panache

“13 Words” by Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman (Harper, $16.99). What do “convertible,” “panache,” “mezzo-soprano” and “haberdashery” have in common? They’re four of the 13 words the ever-droll Snicket combines in this tale of a despondent bird and her friend the dog’s attempts to cheer her up. Kalman’s candy-colored pictures add to the surreal fun.

Mother Goose

“Tomie dePaola’s Mother Goose,” by Tomie dePaola (Putnam, $25.99). It’s surprisingly hard to find a perfect book of Mother Goose rhymes; this might be it. DePaola includes all the familiar ditties along with discoveries like “Three wise men of Gotham/ Went to sea in a bowl/ If the bowl had been stronger/ My story would have been longer.”

The illustrations are simple and colorful, surrounded by lots of white space, and the book is laid out beautifully: full-page poems alternate with shorter ones that go together in funny ways -- “Hickory Dickory Dock/ The mouse ran up the clock” is paired with rhymes about rats and cats.

To buy these books in North America, click here.

(Laurie Muchnick is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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