Lucy Cousins, of Maisy Mouse fame, has retold eight fairy tales in "Yummy!" (Candlewick Press: $18.99, ages 3-8) -- a title that refers to the Big Bad Wolf menacing Red Riding Hood. Cousins gives old stories new vitality -- but it's her wolves and foxes that steal the show. Jerry Pinkney spares the words in "The Lion and the Mouse" (Little, Brown: $16.99, ages 3-6), his visual retelling of Aesop's fable about the lion who releases a mouse and is later rescued by him. His paintings are magnificent, and their detail will require lots of study and discussion while the reader is curled up on a cozy lap.
For kids beginning to read independently, "Horrid Henry" by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky: $4.99 each, ages 4-9) arrived from England this year, importing sophisticated humor and a sly approach to storytelling. Not since "Nate the Great" has an early reader series created such a buzz. Kate DiCamillo, best known for her children's novels ("Because of Winn-Dixie," "The Tale of Despereaux"), this year completed her "Mercy Watson" series (Candlewick: $12.99 each, ages 4-8), about a pig with a passion for buttered toast. Mercy's many shenanigans conclude with an adventure that brings together all the crazy characters in "Something Wonky This Way Comes."
For older readers, "Fire" (Dial Books for Young Readers: $17.99, ages 14 and up) can stand on its own, although it is a prequel to "Graceling"; together they are a wonderful gift for any teen girl, even one who says she doesn't read fantasy. Like the "Twilight" series -- but better written -- these have crossed over to adult women, partly because of their romances.
Suzanne Collins followed up her gripping "Hunger Games" with the even more surprising "Catching Fire" (Scholastic: $17.99, ages 14 and up). This astonishing futuristic series might be described, entertainment industry-style, as "George Orwell meets reality television."
In nonfiction for older readers, two youth editions rival the charms of the wonderful adult books they were adapted from. In "Omnivore's Dilemma" (Dial Books for Young Readers: $9.99, ages 10 and up), Michael Pollan tracks down the sources of the food that goes into four very different meals -- for our food-obsessed world, it's a whole education between soft covers. You could easily argue that Bill Bryson's "A Really Short History of Nearly Everything" (Delacorte Press: $19.99, ages 9-12) would naturally be an improvement on his "A Short History of Nearly Everything" because brevity is its essence. Our shortened attention spans are one reason why children's books are increasingly crossing over to the adult audience -- that, and the fact that a perfectly satisfying read marketed as a Young Adult book sells for under $20, while an adult book often sells for $6 or $7 more.
Bolle's Word Play column appears monthly at latimes.com/books.