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'Wonderstruck' and more wonders for kids

Children's book reviews on:

Children's book reviews on: "Every Thing On It," "The House that Baba Built," "The Bippolo Seed," and "Bumble-Ardy." Photo Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara

Brian Selznick has been experimenting with storytelling in words and pictures. His 2008 "Invention of Hugo Cabret" was the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal -- traditionally given for a picture book -- because of the way his tale moved seamlessly back and forth between text and eloquent, full-page picture sequences.

In "Wonderstruck" (Scholastic, $29.99, ages 9 and up), Selznick tells two separate stories -- one in words, the other in pictures -- and entwines them. Like a deft film editor, he sews together moments of resonance between the two stories: A single flash of lightning will punctuate the thoughts of two characters widely removed in space and time. Selznick has a passion for secrets, magic, puzzles and the like. This book goes behind the scenes at the American Museum of Natural History, and although the reader knows that the story lines, taking place 50 years apart, must somehow come together, the final twist is still a surprise.

Sometimes things don't go perfectly, even for superheroes, and this is what Michael Chabon's high-energy hero knows in "The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man" (illustrated by Jake Parker; Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 4-8). He may be "basically awesome," he may be called upon to "school" villains, sometimes he may just "have to smash into things," but when things go awry and Awesome Man gets angry, "it is not a pretty sight." "I might hurt somebody, or destroy a city or something." Then he has to get himself in a "ginormous Awesome Power Grip" -- which "calms me right down so I can think again." He calls his canine sidekick to bring him a snack (a "thermovulcanized protein-delivery orb"), and then he's ready to exercise his powers again. Awesome Man's "astonishing secret" may be his identity as a regular kid, but the real revelation -- one that parents of any "highly active" child will appreciate -- is how a superhero manages his superabundant energy.

Three longtime giants of children's literature have new books out, all three fresh and fabulous, although two are posthumous publications.

"The Bippolo Seed" (Random House, $15, ages 4-8) contains seven little-known stories that Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, published in magazines from the late 1940s to the late '50s -- a decade that saw the publication of the "Horton" books, "The Cat in the Hat" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Readers young and old will see shades and hear echoes of other stories by Seuss, who died in 1991, while the more scholarly can enjoy Charles Cohen's essay on the development of the Seussian style.

"Every Thing on It" (HarperCollins, $19.99, ages 5-10), is a new collection of witty and whimsical poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, who died in 1999. This is no mere grab bag of leftovers; it's more of what we loved -- and never enough for his devoted readers! Here Silverstein offers his own, characteristically irreverent, epitaph-cum-inspiration: "When I am gone what will you do? / Who will write and draw for you? / Someone smarter -- someone new? / Someone better -- maybe YOU!"

Maurice Sendak may have slowed down in the picture-book department -- before "Bumble-Ardy" (Michael Di Capua/HarperCollins, $17.95, ages 4-8), his last with wholly original text and pictures was 30 years ago -- but he is as mischievous as ever. Bumble-Ardy, a pig about to turn 9 years old, has never had a birthday party, so he decides to take matters into his own hands -- er, trotters. The ensuing shindig recalls the Wild Things' rumpus. No one rhymes like Sendak: "Except just then dear Adeline, / Who finished work at half past nine / And hurried home so she could dine / With Bumble on his birthday nine / And found a mob of swilling swine, / Began to shriek and shake and whine."

This fall sees the publication of two captivating memoirs by Asian-born author-illustrators who have brought their distinctive visions to the world of American children's book publishing. Allen Say, born in Japan in 1937, is the author of the 1994 Caldecott winner, "Grandfather's Journey" and many other books about the Japanese-American experience. Quoting an old Japanese saying, "Let your dear child journey," Say tells the story of his relationship with his mentor in "Drawing From Memory" (Scholastic, $17.99, ages 10 and up). Ed Young has written many children's books and illustrated scores of others, including the recent books "Wabi Sabi" and "Tsunami." Born in China in 1931, Young tells his story through memories of all the things that happened in, around and to his father's house in "The House Baba Built: An Artists's Childhood in China" (Little, Brown, $17.99, ages 10 and up).


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