Meaningful children’s books make great gifts

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2019

By Deirdre Parker Smith

From the revered British illustrator, a modern fable for all ages that explores life’s universal lessons, featuring 100 color and black-and-white drawings.

With just  a few shopping days left, here are some of the year’s best books for children of all ages. Many deal with the difficulties of childhood, as well as the joys of imagination and friendship.

“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse,” written and illustrated by Charlie Mackesy.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the mole.

“Kind,” said the boy.

Mackesy offers inspiration and hope in uncertain times in this beautiful book based on his famous quartet of characters. “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse” explores their unlikely friendship and the poignant, universal lessons they learn together.

Radiant with Mackesy’s warmth and gentle wit, the book blends hand-written narrative with dozens of drawings, including some of his best-loved illustrations (including “Help,” which has been shared over one million times) and new, never-before-seen material. A modern classic in the vein of The Tao of Pooh, The Alchemist, and The Giving Tree, this charmingly designed keepsake will be treasured for generations to come.

It is the Barnes and Noble Book of the Year.

“Another,” by Christian Robinson.  Robinson’s first book as both author and illustrator is a wordless story about a girl and her cat who discover a portal into another world, where children and pets encounter mirror versions of themselves.

“Hold Hands,” by Sara Varon. Varon’s goggle-eyed creatures, identifiable as rabbits, elephants, ducks and other creatures, wear clothes, ride the bus, go on play dates and to day care, all while demonstrating the many uses of hand-holding.

“Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story,” by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Using brief statements, Maillard creates a powerful meditation on fry bread as “a cycle of heritage and fortune.” Martinez-Neal’s wispy art features a group of six children alongside descriptions of the food that range from the experiential to the more conceptual, and spare poems emphasize the variable dish — and its complex history — in terms of provenance and culture.

“The Undefeated,” by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. A poetic tribute to African-American resilience, proclaiming joy and pride in the accomplishments of artists, athletes, leaders and thinkers, along with a sober acknowledgment of the suffering of a people.

“New Kid,” by Jerry Craft. The protagonist of this graphic novel is an art-loving seventh-grader who is starting at a fancy private school, where he is one of the few African-American students.

“Queen of the Sea,” by Dylan Meconis. This graphic novel set on a remote island in a world that is, and is not, 16th-century England, takes inspiration from the real-life rivalry between Mary Tudor and her sister Elizabeth.

“Thirteen Doorways: Wolves Behind them All,” by Laura Ruby. In this National Book Award finalist, a teenager living in a Catholic orphanage in Chicago during World War II shares space with the ghosts that haunt the place.

“The Downstairs Girl,” by Stacey Lee. In 1890 Atlanta, Chinese-American Jo Kuan lives secretly in abolitionists’ quarters underneath the publisher of a failing newspaper. After overhearing their wish for an “agony aunt,” she offers her services anonymously, voicing her thoughts in a cleverly written column that addresses many forms of prejudice. A captivating novel that celebrates the strengths and talents of marginalized people in any age.

“The Last True Poets of the Sea,” by Julia Drake. In a strong debut loosely based on “Twelfth Night,” 16-year-old party girl Violet’s family splinters after her brother Sam’s suicide attempt. Violet is exiled to Lyric, Maine, where she gains interest in the history of her ancestors, the town’s much-celebrated founders. Drake’s funny, character-driven novel considers themes of mental illness, family history and love.