Bear On The Train, by Julie Lawson, with illustrations by Brian Deines. (Kids Can Press, $14.95; grades K-2.) In this implausible but exquisitely illustrated book, a bear climbs onto a grain-filled hopper car and, after eating his fill, falls asleep and rides the rails all winter long. A young boy who saw the bear climb aboard waits by the tracks each time the train passes, imploring the creature to get off. Lawson’s poetic narrative is lively, filled with rhythm and rhyme, but Deines’ oil paintings of the train, bear, and mountain landscape steal the show.
26 Fairmount Avenue, written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $13; grades 3-4.) This chapter book from dePaola, his first, is filled with the humor and affection that are the hallmarks of his autobiographical picture books for younger children. Recounting his ‘30s era childhood in Connecticut and the travails that his family faced building a house, he spins funny vignettes and paints warm portraits of his Irish mother, his Italian father, and his beloved grandmothers-characters from his earlier books such as Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, Now One Foot, Now the Other, and Tom.
The House Book, by Keith DuQuette. (Putnam, $15.99; grades K-1.) From floors and walls to doors and windows, DuQuette gives young listeners a tour of the key elements of a house. He also shows how houses of various shapes, sizes, and colors make up neighborhoods and communities. Though this is pretty basic stuff, the author’s simple verse and vivid watercolors will grab readers and probably teach them something, too.
Manuela’s Gift, by Kristyn Rehling Estes, with illustrations by Claire Cotts. (Chronicle Books, $15.95; grades K-2.) When the title character, a young Hispanic girl, doesn’t get the dress she wants for her birthday-her hard-pressed parents can manage only a spruced up hand-me-down-she takes her disappointment to the barn. There she sees her birthday piñata and daydreams that it is filled with the many things her family needs: eggs so her mother can make tortillas, rain so her father’s crops will grow, a horse so her weary grandmother won’t have to walk. Gradually, she comes to appreciate that there is no greater gift than a close, caring family. Cotts’ bright, folkish paintings are a fine match for this sensitive, bittersweet story.
Adventures Of Blue Avenger: A Novel, by Norma Howe. (Henry Holt, $15.95; young adult.) On his 16th birthday, David changes his name to “Blue Avenger” and assumes the role of modern superhero. Sporting a blue vest and a blue towel wrapped sheik-like around his head, Blue sets out to do good and champion the underdog. His adventures are hilarious-he knocks his school’s principal into a swimming pool to save her from a swarm of bees and devotes a great deal of thought to perfecting the lemon meringue pie.
Unbroken: A Novel, by Jessie Haas. (Greenwillow, $15; grades 5-7.) Orphaned when her mother is killed in an accident, 13-year-old Harriet moves to the farm of strict and cold Aunt Sarah. Eventually, Harriet discovers the source of her aunt’s antipathy toward her-Harriet was conceived out of wedlock, something Sarah could not abide-but when the girl is injured while taming a young colt, a new relationship develops between the two. Haas portrays the characters of Harriet and Sarah beautifully and without sentimentality. The novel, which is set in 1910, was inspired by the real-life story of a girl orphaned in 1889.
A Beautiful Place On Yonge Street, by Don Trembath. (Orca, $6.95; young adult.) While attending a young writers’ camp, 16-year-old Harper is captivated by the tall and beautiful Sunny. As he spends the summer riding the emotional roller coaster of his first serious romance, a crisis rocks his family. Snappy dialogue and likable characters make this an entertaining read.
--Barbara Hiron and Blake Hume Rodman