Have you made your list, checked it twice and discovered there are still a few children who need that special gift? Think books! The choice is vast and endless.
1. "Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise," by Susan Blackaby, illustrated by Carmen Segovia
Turning the first double-spread of this beautifully illustrated story, we watch Brownie Groundhog prepare for her long hibernation. While Bunny nibbles layer cake, Brownie stifles a yawn. As she hurries off to hunker down till February, she cautions the fox not to wake her up and "don't eat Bunny. She's company." But the ladder is in Brownie's closet, and the trumpet, and a hammer. Brownie Groundhog is bound to notice their preparations.
Although Bunny and the fox have the best intentions, eventually Brownie is awakened, wraps herself in a warm robe and sleepily follows the fox and Bunny. Once outside, the three delight in the wintry surprise, a riot of color exploding off the pages. That's not the only delightful surprise in this follow-up to an earlier "Brownie Groundhog" adventure. The tiniest of details will make children and adults smile on every page. Story and perfect illustrations combine to make a gorgeous book to be read many times. A real treasure.
2. "If You Want to See a Whale," words by Julie Fogliano, pictures by Erin E. Stead and
3. "Hello, My Name is Ruby," by Philip C. Stead
These two picture books prove you don't need a lot of words to tell a memorable story. Together, at bedtime, they will delight any young child, making quiet dreams a possibility.
In Julie Fogliano's poetic text, a boy and his basset have lots of time to wonder, "Is that a whale?" They must wait, ignoring possible pirates, pelicans, and even roses. Stead's delicate illustrations bear looking at over and over, and not just for the tiny bird on each page. The lyrical, almost poetic prose will tickle the imagination of young readers.
"Hello, My Name is Ruby" is more whimsical, an imaginative friendship story. Although – just as happens even to the best of us in real life – not everybody wants to be Ruby's friend, she's a plucky little bird and seems to sing her way through heartbreak. Author/illustrator Philip Stead's bird beaks and spindly legs will make you smile as you follow Ruby around the animal world. With a bow to "Swimmy," one of my favorite classic children's picture books, he's placed Ruby as the tiny eye of an elephant in one spectacular illustration. Lio Lionni would be proud.
4. "Locomotive," by Brian Floca
A picture book for the ages. And by that, I mean a book that will still be read 50 years from now in who-knows-what format as well as one for readers from five to 105. You could spend days learning from just the endpapers of Locomotive, which is the history of the Transcontinental Railroad in maps and pictures, a timetable ("prices subject to change") and an illustrated explanation of steam power. But then you open the book to fascinating history and glorious prose: "Here is how this road was built, with a grunt and a heave and swing." Brian Floca has brilliantly boarded the train in Omaha with a family in awe of the clangs, the huffs, the hisses and the spit of the steam. Across the Great Plains, over the rickety, rickety, rickety Dale Creek Bridge – slowly, four miles per hour. All the way to Sacramento. What a journey!
Side note: I wrapped this one for a five-year-old and his dad. But I don't think I can give it up. Another one's on the way.
Augusta Scattergood regularly reviews children's books for the Monitor.