Urged on by TV advertising, kids clamor for Gymnast Barbie or the Dr. Dreadful Drink Lab, while books for young people go largely un-hyped. Luckily, youngsters of all ages love them anyway.
The San Fernando Valley is well-supplied with stores specializing in children's books and run by people with a passion for peewee-league page-turners. Three of these shops shared their suggestions for sure-fire holiday gift books, new and old. Some feature holiday themes, the rest have year-round appeal.
At Animal Cracker in Encino, owner Abbey Faranesh named a couple of favorites for preschoolers: the pop-up book "Worms Wiggle," by David Pelham, illustrated by Michael Foreman (Simon & Schuster $9.95), and "My Getting Ready for Bed Book" by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Mavis Smith (Harper & Row, $13.95).
For 4- to 8-year-olds, Faranesh likes Douglas Wood's "Old Turtle," with pictures by Chang-Khee Chee (Pfeiffer-Hamilton Publishers, $17.95 hardcover), a fable about a wise turtle who promotes understanding of the earth and its creatures. She also recommends Natalia Romanova's "Once There Was a Tree" (Dial, $13.95 hardcover), a story about the life force of trees, with illustrations by Gennady Spirin.
For the same age group, there's also the whimsical "Fanny McFancy, A Passion for Fashion," by Patricia Thackeray, with pictures by Sandra Forrest (Green Tiger Press, $12.95 hardcover).
Among her holiday picks for 4- to 8-year-olds is "The Wild Christmas Reindeer," written and illustrated by Jan Brett (Putnam, $14.95 hardcover). For older children, she suggests the adapted-for-TV classic "Sarah Plain and Tall," by Patricia MacLachlan (Harper, $3.50 paperback).
For young people with poetic inclinations, she offers the anthology "Talking to the Sun" (Henry Holt, $22.50 hardcover), which is illustrated with paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Another good source of children's reading material is Lewis for Books in Reseda, which stocks electronic titles as well as traditional books. "Demand is growing for CD-ROMs," says owner Nancy McMillan.
The field is young, but one of McMillan's early favorites is "Planetary Taxi," by Robert Mohl and Margo Nanny (Voyager, $39.95 CD-ROM), in which children ride through the galaxy and learn about various heavenly bodies. She is also excited about two just-released CD-ROMs: the educational adventure "Science Navigator" (McGraw-Hill, $149.95) and "Peter and the Wolf," a new take on the ever-popular tale, which is also available in book form. (Time Warner, $58.95 CD-ROM, $29.95 hardcover).
For purely literary pleasure, McMillan notes that "the Jan Brett books are very popular for ages 4 and older, and even really young children will enjoy her marvelous illustrations." Among the titles McMillan cites are Brett's latest, "Town Mouse, Country Mouse" (Putnam, $15.95 hardcover) and "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (Putnam, $3.95 hardcover).
For first- and second-graders, McMillan recommends Judy Barrett's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," illustrated by Ron Barrett (MacMillan, $3.95 paperback).
The 10- to 13-year-old crowd, McMillan reports, loves R.L. Stein's Goosebumps mysteries. These include "The Girl Who Cried Monster" (Scholastic, $3.25 paperback). "They're a little scarier than Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys," McMillan says, "but kids love them."
Toddlers can cut their teeth--literally--on "Hey Diddle Diddle," written and illustrated by James Marshall (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $5.95), says Christy Meisner of Burbank's Secret Garden Book and Toy. "It's a board book with a rattle built into it," she says.
Meisner recommends three books with both read-aloud and read-it-yourself appeal for the 3- to 8-year-old set: "The Roly-Poly Spider," written by Jill Sardegna, illustrated by Tedd Arnold (Scholastic, $13.95 hardcover); "A Tooth Fairy's Tale" by author-illustrator David Christiana (Farrar Strauss, $16), and "Pigsty," by author-illustrator Mark Teague (Scholastic, $13.95 hardcover).
For kids 6 and older, Meisner suggests "Ship of Dreams," written and illustrated by Dean Morrissey (Abrams, $17.95 hardcover), about a little boy who stays up to meet the Sandman. She also recommends "The Book That Jack Wrote" (Viking, $14.99 hardcover), illustrated by Daniel Adel, written by John Scieszka, who wrote "The Stinky Cheese Man." Meisner calls the new book "a madcap variation on 'The House That Jack Built.' "
Two of her holiday favorites are "A Taxi Dog Christmas," by Sal and Debra Barracca, with pictures by Alan Ayers (Dial, $14.99 hardcover), and "The Christmas Star," by writer-illustrator Marcus Pfister (North-South, $16 hardcover).
Holiday-themed or not, kid-lit critics agree that many of the best books for youngsters deliver an uplifting message. Even in a traditional format, they can be highly interactive and still have the power to captivate long after that mechanical bunny's batteries are dead.
Where and When
Location: Animal Cracker, 17330 Ventura Blvd., Encino.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Call: (818) 986-0264.
Location: Lewis for Books, 7119 Reseda Blvd., Reseda.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Call: (818) 343-5634.
Location: Secret Garden Book and Toy, 204 N. Victory Blvd., Burbank.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Call: (818) 842-4503.