The Baltimore Sun

With the Christmas season just around the corner, here are some recently published children's books that come highly recommended: THE ALPHABET FROM A TO Y WITH BONUS LETTER Z! Steve Martin and Roz Chast Flying Dolphin / 64 pages / $17.95/ Ages 9 - 12

The ABCs have never had it so good. Created by two of today's wittiest, most imaginative minds, The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z! is a sheer delight from A to Z. In 26 alliterative couplets, Steve Martin conjures up much more than mere apples and zebras. Instead we meet Horace the hare, whose hairdo hides hunchbacks, and Ollie the owl, who owed Owen an oboe. Roz Chast contributes the perfect visual settings for Martin's zany two-liners. Her instantly recognizable drawings are packed with humorous touches both broad and subtle.

FANCY NANCY Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser HarperCollins / 32 pages / $15.99/ Ages 4 - 8

For Nancy, there's no such thing as too, too much; she loves her frilly bedroom, her lace-trimmed socks and her pen with a plume. Nancy teaches her family how to be fancy, too. Then following Nancy's lead, the fancied-up family heads for a festive night out (at the local pizzeria). A messy food mishap puts a damper on Nancy's joy, but her supportive family and the "I love you" at bedtime smooth everything out.

THE WALL Peter Sis Farrar, Straus & Giroux / 56 pages / $18 / Ages 9 - 12

A memoir of growing up under communism, in which Sis uses diary entries and memories of his childhood in Czechoslovakia along with his beautifully detailed drawings to tell the story of political upheavals he's experienced. He concludes his tale with an apologetic note about how hard it is to tell the truth.

VELMA GRATCH AND THE WAY COOL BUTTERFLY Alan Madison Schwartz & Wade / 40 pages / $16.99/ Ages 4 - 8

A charming entomological story. The third sister in the Gratch family struggles to find something that will distinguish her from her extraordinary older sisters and hits on butterflies. The book captures what hard work it is to study something complex and how miraculous it is when you realize the subject has become part of you. A great deal of the magic in the book comes from Kevin Hawkes' lively illustrations.

JABBERWOCKY Lewis Carroll and Christopher Myers Hyperion Books for Children / 32 pages / $15.99/ Ages 9 - 12

Pulsing with vibrant color, this imaginative interpretation of Carroll's classic nonsense poem takes it out of the pages of Through the Looking Glass, into a contemporary urban setting and onto the basketball court. The most intense middle verses involve a young man challenging the fierce, enormous Jabberwock on the court. Sources: School Library Journal, American Library Association Booklist, Publishers Weekly

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