The great thing about a bookstore at holiday time is that it's a one-stop shop. You can find gifts for everyone, bookish and non-bookish alike. And remember that even when there are no young people in the plans, a well-chosen children's book can make a creative, thoughtful, or even ironic hostess gift.
"Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads"
"Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads" (Bob Shea and Lane Smith) is the gift for households in which kids clamor: "Do all the voices!" The mayor of Drywater Gulch is in desperate straits when "hope" rides into town -- "Slowly. On a tortoise. Give him a minute." "What makes you a sheriff?" asks the mayor. "I know a really lot about dinosaurs," answers Kid Sheriff. The good guys are fun to read, the ruffians more so, and even the bystanders have their own voices; ages 5-8; $17.99 from Roaring Brook Press.
"Shooting at the Stars"
"Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914" (John Hendrix) is a picture book based on a real event during World War I, an English soldier writes to his mother about the extraordinary thing that happened on Christmas Eve 1914: British troops, hunkered in their muddy trenches, heard the Germans singing "Silent Night." The next day, men from both sides met in the middle to celebrate and recover their dead. The following day, they were enemies again, but the memory of that experience lives on; ages 7-12; $18.95 from Abrams.
"I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Dreidel"
"I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Dreidel" (Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by David Slonim), can be read -- or better, sung -- to the tune of "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly." This droll ditty is filled with clever rhymes and holiday references ("I know an old lady who swallowed a brisket. A twenty-ton brisket! She thought she could risk it"). As if this weren't silly enough, the winsome illustrations for some obscure reason parody famous works of art -- including, inevitably, "The Scream;" ages 4-8; $17.99 from Arthur A. Levine Books.
"Percy Jackson's Green Gods"
Rick Riordan owns Greek mythology these days, so having his fictional hero, Percy Jackson, retell the old stories in "Percy Jackson's Greek Gods" (illustrated by John Rocco) is a great idea. As a son of Poseidon, Percy has an insider's knowledge, and his personal history with the gods gives his telling a certain 'tude, with chapter titles such as "You Gotta Love Aphrodite" and "Zeus Kills Everyone." This volume belongs on the shelf next to the D'Aulaires' collection, almost its twin in size, shape and indispensability; ages 8-12; $24.99 from Disney/Hyperion Books.
"The Right Word"
"The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus" (Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet) is for word-lovers, and what better gift than a celebration of wordslinger extraordinaire Peter Mark Roget, the boy whose secret habit of making lists to comfort himself grew into the ubiquitous thesaurus. "Words, Peter learned, were powerful things. And when he put them in long, neat rows, he felt as if the world itself clicked into order;" ages 6-10; $17.50 from Eerdmans Books.
"Chik Chak Shabbat"
"Chick Chak Shabbat" (Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker) is not specific to Hanukkah, but it's a charming story of the meaning of the Sabbath meal. "Every Saturday, a wonderful smell wafted from apartment 5-A," the tale opens. The enticing fragrance comes from Goldie's cholent -- a stew cooked slowly overnight in a Jewish household where tradition forbids work from sundown to sundown. What happens one week, when Goldie is too sick to make the cholent, proves that comestibles are not the most important ingredient in a shared meal; ages 3-6; $15.99 from Candlewick Press.
"Hansel and Gretel"
With "Hansel and Gretel," Neil Gaiman, an intrepid storyteller, teams with illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti to tell this Grimm's tale the way it should be told: fiercely and beautifully. Before the happy ending -- the coda that contains reconciliation and riches -- there is the moment at the knife's edge, when Hansel and Gretel know they have just barely survived great danger: "They clung to each other tightly, in the sunshine, the brother and the sister;" ages 7-12; $16.95 and $29.95 (deluxe hardcover) from Toon Graphics.
"Once Upon an Alphabet"
"Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for all the Letters", by Oliver Jeffers is a smorgasbord, serving up a story for each letter and offering a taste of many literary delights. There is word play ("Victor the Vanquished") and alliteration galore (a yeti, a yak and a yo-yo: point proven). There are visual jokes (a cup broken in "C" is repaired in the background of a later story), anachronisms (an item lost in "S" is found earlier in "O") and rhymes that get stuck in your head; ages 5-8; $26.99 from Philomel.
"Harriet the Spy"
"Harriet the Spy: 50th Anniversary Edition" (Louise Fitzhugh) is a children's classic that includes small essays of appreciation by writers including Judy Blume, Lois Lowry and Gregory Maguire, all of whom make the case that Harriet isn't just a feisty 11-year-old girl, nosily stalking her New York neighbors: She is the embryonic form of every writer with a sharp eye, an inquiring mind and a well-filled notebook; ages 8-12; $17.99 from Delacorte Press.
"Before After" (Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui) is a wordless picture book, pairs illustrations and lets readers figure out the relationship between them. Some pairings are natural (a bare tree in winter + a spring tree in leaf), some are not (a deck of cards + a house of cards) and a few are frankly existential (a rocking horse in the morning + a rocking chair in the evening); ages 4-8; $19.99 from Candlewick Press.
"The Pushcart War"
First published in 1964, "The Pushcart War: 50th Anniversary Edition" (Jean Merrill, illustrated by Ronni Solbert) is one of the great children's classics, the tale of how a dispute between delivery truck drivers and pushcart vendors blossomed into full-scale armed conflict. Part of its charm is its old-New York quaintness, but the exciting story, set in the pressure-cooker of city traffic, is timeless; for all ages; $15.95 from New York Review Children's Collection.
An engrossing mystery set at Christmastime, "Greenglass House" (Kate Milford) is the perfect novel to curl up with on a chilly night, especially when your house is inundated with visiting relatives. Milo has been looking forward to a peaceful winter break, a time when his family's inn, perched on a lonely cliff overlooking a harbor, is usually deserted. But a parade of odd characters puts the innkeepers to work, provoking questions about the inn's history and reflections on what makes a family; ages 10-14; $17.99 from Clarion Books.