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Book gift ideas for children at the holidays

For The Baltimore Sun

Don't you love giving books as gifts?

Books are just the right price to buy as Hannukah gifts and for lucky nieces and nephews. Bonus: They're easy to wrap. And your happy recipients don't need to know this, but substantial research has found a strong correlation between owning books and academic achievement.

In a study titled "Scholarly Culture and Academic Performance in 42 Nations," sociologist Mariah Evans writes, "A home with books is an integral part of the way of life encourages children to read for pleasure and encourages discussion among family members about what they read, thereby providing children with information, vocabulary, imaginative richness, wide horizons, and skills for discovery and play."

So while visits to the local library are a must, some books should be bought, not borrowed.

Plus, as the gift-giver you get the pleasure of selecting a book, leafing through beautiful illustrations and stunning pictures in the bookstore. You can try out the pop-ups in a gorgeous item like "Snowflakes: A Pop-Up Book" by Jennifer Preston Chushcoff or glean a quotable factoid or two from a nonfiction compendium like "Mad About Monkeys" by Owen Davey.

The best books to give are the ones that they'll read more than once. If you can find a boxed set of your child's favorite series, that's a great choice. Examples include the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid Collection" or the set of 28 "Magic Tree House" books that comes in a treehouse-like box. Or try a new take on a classic, like the North South Books edition of Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Books," with new illustrations by Aljoscha Blau. The Harper Design edition of "Peter Pan," which includes delightful interactive illustrations by the Minalima design group, will be opened again and again.

Rona London, children's specialist at the Ivy Bookshop, also advises gift-givers to think about long-term appeal. She suggests "Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes," published by Candlewick. This anthology, which features 76 artists, is a gift to parents as well as their baby.

"When you look for a book for a child, you really want longevity — a book like this has the potential to stay on a bookshelf for a really long time," London says.

An illustrated anthology that introduces readers to a variety of thinkers as well as artists is "Dreams of Freedom: In Words and Pictures." Published in association with Amnesty International, this book pairs quotes from human rights champions like Malala Yousafzai and the Dalai Lama with art ranging in tone from mischievous to mystical.

The staff of The Children's Bookstore in Roland Park offers a few seasonal suggestions.

"People want tradition at the holidays, and luckily there are always beautiful new editions of the stories everybody knows," says owner JoAnn Fruchtman. Sales associate Suzie Manger likes "Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenberg" by Amanda Peet and "Miracle on 133rd Street" by Sonia Manzano ("Maria" from Sesame Street) for their updated take on familiar holiday stories.

Both Fruchtman and Manger praise "Snow Rabbit," a wordless book, for its magical happy-sad story. Artist Camille Garoche created dreamy 3-D paper illustrations for this atmospheric fable.

Imaginative journeys make great book gifts for slightly older readers. The oversize "Atlas of Adventures" by Lucy Letherland and Rachel Williams promises "A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun festivities from the four corners of the globe." It's a visual feast, stuffed with interesting info and a great way to get lost for a few hours.

Where can you see a moonlight rainbow? How does a whirlpool form? You'll learn all this and more from your fact-obsessed youngster if she receives a copy of "Superstats: Extreme Planet" by Moira Butterfield as a holiday gift.

It's also a good idea to match kid with book. For the Minecraft maniac, you can choose the unusually constructed "Minecraft: Blockopedia" by Alex Wiltshire, while a fashion buff will be fascinated by "Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History" by Sarah Albee. The budding chef will enjoy "Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!)" by Deanna Cook, which teaches basic techniques in an entertaining way. Lots of color photos of kids cooking make these instructions seem attainable as well as appetizing.

The Lego books from No Starch Press, like "Lego Architect" by Tom Alphin, feature instructions for building projects that are interesting but not outrageously complicated, and give kids great ideas for what to do with their existing blocks once they've completed the kit projects. "Architect" serves up great pictures of real buildings as well as recreations by Lego masters.

Fans of Rick Riordan's new book, "Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard," will want a copy of "Treasury of Norse Mythology" by Donna Jo Napoli. Napoli's conversational tone keeps these ancient stories fresh and fun, and the graceful illustrations with gold accents make the book a luxurious gift.

Science buffs and outdoors types will sink into "Cabinet of Curiosities: Collecting and Understanding the Wonders of the Natural World" by Gordon Grice. Longtime collector Grice offers step-by-step instructions for preserving a turtle shell or or safely dissecting an owl pellet, and everything in between. Sharp photographs and antique illustrations enliven every page of this well-organized book, which is sure to become a resource for years to come.

You can give books to more kids than just the ones on your list, too. Organizations like FirstBook (wegivebooks.org) and Reading is Fundamental (rif.org) take monetary donations in order to distribute thousands of books to children in low-income communities every year, helping to break the cycle of illiteracy for kids in poverty.

Paula Willey is a librarian at the Parkville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. She writes about children's and teen literature for various national publications and online at unadulterated.us. She can be reached at pinkme@gmx.com.

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