Great tales, for kids of all ages, that stood out on the shelf this year. -- Sonja Bolle
"What Can A Crane Pick Up?," by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Mike Lowery (Alfred A. Knopf)
Combining toddler-pleasing elements -- silliness, a bouncy rhyme scheme, the ever-popular subject of trucks and a wacky illustration with each turn of the page -- this read-aloud book easily becomes a shout-along. "Can a crane lift men in business suits? Yes! And a load of cowboy boots. Cowboy boots or even a COW. A cow? But HOW?" Ages 1-5.
"The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare," by Sam McBratney (Candlewick)
Anyone who adored "Guess How Much I Love You," McBratney's father-son love letter, will be delighted with this collection of four short stories about Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare. After big adventures and a little risky business, it's always good to come home to a cozy burrow. Ages 3 and older.
"Sleep Like A Tiger," by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin)
Sumptuous illustrations and elegant word choices turn the familiar complaint -- "I'm just not sleepy!" -- into something special. Snails "curl up like cinnamon rolls inside their shells," "bears are mighty sleepers," and although the little girl isn't tired, it feels good to be nice and clean, the sheets feel crisp, and . . . zzz. Ages 4-8.
"The Town Mouse And The Country Mouse: An Aesop Fable,"retold and Illustrated by Helen Ward (Templar Books)
After a visit from his city cousin, country mouse grows "less certain of his contentedness," and goes to try the delights of town. Ward's paintings make a symphony of gold -- from the faux-gilt cover, to the sun-drenched hues of the meadows, to the glow of the city's brass elevator doors and nighttime windows lit from within. Ages 4 and older.
"I, Too, Am America," by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster)
In this happy pairing of verse and pictures, the illustrator has added a new dimension to a few Langston Hughes lines by making "the darker brother" who narrates a Pullman porter, an image with great nuance in American history. Ages 4-8.
"Malcolm At Midnight," by W.H. Beck, illustrated by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin)
Everyone thinks Malcolm the new classroom pet is a sweet mouse, but he's actually a rat. The honorable Malcolm wishes to come clean about his identity, but first he'll have to rehabilitate the reputation of his kind, taking to heart the motto of the classroom pets' society: "A critter reveals his true self at midnight." Ages 9-12
"Three Times Lucky," by Sheila Turnage (Dial Books)
In the kind of North Carolina town where the reverend has a son named Thessalonians, an irresistible Southern narrator -- a literary descendant of Scout Finch of "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- Mo LoBeau announces this novel's mystery from behind the counter of the Tupelo Diner: "There's been a murder and we're out of soup." Ages 10 and older.
"There Is No Dog,"by Meg Rosoff (Putnam)
Rosoff's premise in this cheeky (some might say blasphemous) novel is that God is a teenage boy. That would explain a lot, wouldn't it? The creator is surly and self-involved, has little attention span and even less ability to sort out the mess he set in motion. He also has occasional flashes of brilliance and joy. Ages 12 and older.
"Reached," by Ally Condie (Dutton)
In the final book of the "Matched" trilogy, we hear all three voices of the triangle Condie established when the perfectly controlled Society mistakenly paired our heroine, Cassia, with the mysterious Ky, as well as with her properly intended mate, Xander. Ages 12 and older.
"Code Name Verity," by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)
A young Scottish woman taken prisoner in occupied France spins out her confession to her Nazi interrogators. Like Scheherazade, a narrator in desperate straits, she constructs her story cleverly. Is she indeed confessing? Is she dissembling to prolong her life? Is she lying to give her partner time to complete their mission? Ages 14 and older.
"Feedback," by Robison Wells (HarperCollins)
The second book in the "Variant" series about a creepy experiment masquerading as a boarding school. Wells' idiosyncratic, detached yet intense writing style takes on added interest when his novels are paired with his blog (robisonwells.com/category/my-life), in which the author chronicles his mental illness. Wells suffers from OCD -- not, he emphatically states, like "picky people who like to keep their desk tidy" -- but a violence-prone version of the real thing. Even if it were another fiction, it all makes fascinating reading. Ages 13 and up.
Will Sparrow's Road," by Karen Cushman (Clarion Books)
Will Sparrow, sold by his father to an innkeeper for ale in Elizabethan England, escapes the worst fate he can imagine -- being forced to work as a chimney sweep -- and takes to the road armed with nothing but his wits. Karen Cushman's lively historical novels for children are always packed with vivid detail, but this is the first time she has made a boy her main character. Ages 10 and up.