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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, December 2, 2007

Inspiring Books Help Young Readers Discover Holiday Joy

Each year around the holiday season, librarians are asked to recommend a book or two that would make a great present for a niece, nephew or grandchild. Here are three titles that will put joy into any young reader's heart. "Cinderella" has undergone another remake, thanks to Newbery Medalist Cynthia Rylant. Coupled with Mary Blair's original artwork for the 1950 Disney film, it has a distinctive retro look and feel.

This book is already grandchild tested: Cheryl Soper of the McCollough Branch told me her grandchildren love this new edition. Cinderella has an underlying message of realizing our hopes and dreams. With that in mind, could we wish anything more for our loved ones?

Don't let the hefty size of Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret deter you from delving into the story. One of the most publicized books of 2007, Selznick's 500-plus page book is a bit of an enigma.

Not entirely a novel and not entirely a picture book, the book is immensely fascinating and hard to put down. Selznick takes his readers to Paris in the 1930s where orphaned Hugo secretly lives in a train station caring for the station's many wall-mounted clocks. Keeping up the pretenses, lest he jeopardize his meager "home" in the station, Hugo continues the exacting work until one day when ..

Part of Selznick's plot involves Hugo's discovery of a robotlike mechanical man, hearkening to the work of real-life artist Georges MZlis and his collection of automata In Selznick's words, "I imagined a boy finding those machines in the garbage, and at that moment, Hugo and this story were born." This work of exceptional creativity is not to be missed.

No holiday list would be complete without one story that reflects the true spirit of the season. Great Joy, Newbery Medalist's Kate DiCamillo's first picture book, is such a wonder. Visual clues provided by Bagram Ibatoulline's paintings suggest a 1940s setting, as readers are introduced to Frances, a child who looks out her apartment window and watches an organ grinder and his monkey entertain the passers-by. Frances wonders where they go at night. Do they have a place to stay? Are they safe and warm? Frances asks her mother about such matters but her replies are unsatisfactory.

" .. I'm sure they go somewhere Everyone goes somewhere." That night, Frances tiptoes to the window and finds the man and his pet shivering in the falling snow. "Look at me .. look up here . " Frances wishfully telegraphs to the man. And he does, doffing his cap to her.

The next morning Frances asks her mother if the musicians could come for dinner. Mother says no because they are strangers. But Frances is not to be deterred. When leaving for church, Frances runs to the man and says, "I'm going to be in the Christmas play tonight. .. I get to wear wings, and I have one line to sayEyou can come [It's] at the church .. you both can come"

Later, when her big moment arrives, Frances suffers stage fright, the carefully rehearsed line forgotten until .. the church doors open and there framed in a golden glow are Frances's new friends just in time to hear, "Behold! I bring you tidings of Great Joy!"

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.