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Children's books for all ages

Clockwise from top left: LEVI STRAUSS GETS A

Clockwise from top left: LEVI STRAUSS GETS A BRIGHT IDEA by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); THE THIRD GIFT by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Clarion Books) and HEART AND SOUL: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray; shown open). Credit: Photo by Chris Ware

Sometimes children's books are entirely too good to be just for kids. Why deprive the adult population? While "Kimonos" by Annelore Parot (Chronicle Books, $17.99; all ages), an activity book that teaches kimono lore through traditional Japanese kokeshi dolls, would make a delightful present for a little girl, it would also be an exquisite hostess gift. Or simply deliver greetings via "Send-a-Story" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $4.99; all ages) -- miniaturized versions of popular children's books in the form of multipage greeting cards -- and you'll never again go empty-handed to a holiday party. The "Send-a-Story" line includes Marla Frazee's delightful "Santa Claus: The World's Number One Toy Expert" and Naomi Howland's Hanukkah story, "Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat."

Any bookseller will report that they see lots of older folks at this season, looking for presents for the grandkids. The child-narrator of "Grandpa Green" by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook, $16.99; ages 5-9) knows his great-grandfather's history as the story illustrated in the topiary shapes the old man cuts in his fantastic garden. Grandpa Green may not remember as well as he once did, but his artistic shears have remembered for him, and have left a playground for the children to discover.

"All These Things I've Done," a novel for ages 12 and up by Gabrielle Zevin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99), has a wonderful grandmother character who, even bedridden and sustained by machines, keeps close tabs on the crime family of which she should have been boss. Among the many things she explains to her extremely capable granddaughter is an expressive piece of slang -- "OMG!" -- from her youth in the early 21st century. It's a sly and entertaining novel with hidden depths.

Another fantastic fictional grandparent acts as catalyst in Ally Condie's engrossing trilogy in progress. In "Matched" and "Crossed" (Dutton, $17.99; "Matched" also $9.99 in paperback; ages 12 and up), society has carefully erased all traces of history, ostensibly to promote safety and stability, but in reality to separate people from any causes worth fighting for. An underground devoted to preserving human wisdom puts these books in the tradition of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

More straightforwardly addressing the beauty of family history and the preservation of culture is Kadir Nelson's gorgeous "Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans" (Balzer & Bray, $19.99; ages 9 and up), a book that invites the important historical question: On whose shoulders do I stand?

Still on the topic of history, though not concerning grandparents -- unless the grandparents in question happened to profit from the California gold rush or the schmata trade (Yiddish for "the clothing business) -- is "Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea" by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99; ages 5-9), the true story of how a failed gold seeker made his fortune by noticing that frontier clothing wasn't tough enough to stand up to mining work. The resulting pants are still popular a century and a half later.

For younger readers, it's always thrilling to consider the rich life of the imagination: When Jon Agee's narrator buys a pet in "My Rhinoceros" (Scholastic, $16.95; ages 3-8), he is so disappointed, he consults a rhinoceros expert, who informs him that rhinos only do two things: "Pop balloons and poke holes in kites." Who knew that these talents could be put to such splendid use? "King Jack and the Dragon" by Peter Bently and illustrator Helen Oxenbury (Dial, $17.99; ages 3-5) and Dennis Nolan's wordless picture book, "Sea of Dreams" (Roaring Brook Press, $16.99.; ages 3-7), make epic adventure out of staple childhood construction projects -- building a fort and fashioning a sand castle, respectively.

Several charming books tell tales of the holiday season: "Balloons Over Broadway" by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99; ages 4-8) recounts how an inspired puppeteer dreamed up the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. A mid-19th century heat wave and the heated atmosphere of abolitionist politics inspire a Southern church organist to write a song about pure, innocent, snowy holiday cheer in "Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be" by John Harris, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Peachtree Publishers, $16.95; ages 6-10). And in "The Third Gift" (Clarion Books, $16.99; ages 6-9), Newbery-winning author Linda Sue Park ("A Single Shard") teams with magical illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline ("The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane") to tell a story that answers a question generations of children have asked about those visitors who followed the star to the manger in Bethlehem: What the heck is myrrh, anyway?

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