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Bundles of holiday learning gifts

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By Claire Green, Parents' Choice President

A Poodle in Paris
Ages: 5 and up
Producer: The Secret Mountain
CD Price: $24.99

A delightful collaboration between the author, singer-songwriter Connie Kaldor, and illustrators Fil & Julie. The colorful storybook, with its mixed-media illustrations, has stand-alone charm, as do the witty songs, led by the book's text about poodle chanteuse Le Grande Fifi, star of Le Bow Wow club. Against a big, pop orchestra sound and individual instrumentals, Kaldor's smooth vocals are often reminiscent of Jessica Harper's warm honey alto. The songs paint vivid, comic pictures of ducks and dogs, rubber boots and rainy skies, sibling solidarity and a party at the zoo. Highlights include "Monkeys in the Trees in India," which has a notable English music hall flavor and "I Love That Dog," a clever tribute to canine charisma, sung in dead-on, Le Bow Wow torch-song style. © Parents' Choice

Because of Winn-Dixie
Ages: 8 and up
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Hardcover price: $15.99

Although she lives in the Friendly Corners Trailer Park, 10-year-old Opal has no friends. She and her preacher father have moved to Naomi, Florida, for her father's new job. Here, on an errand to the local grocery store, Opal acquires a unique friend, a large brown stray that she names for the store Winn-Dixie. The dog proves to have exquisite taste in people; Winn-Dixie charms his way into everyone's heart. Kemie Nix © Parents' Choice

Because of Winn-Dixie is also available as an audio book. Performed by Cherry Jones, it is produced by Listening Library. ($18.00)

The Canine Connection: Stories About Dogs and People
Ages: 10 tp 14
Author: Betsy Hearne
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's/Margaret K. McElderry
Hardcover price: $15.95

A car thief makes the mistake of choosing a vintage Mercedes - left running - in the parking lot of a mall. Unbeknownst to the thief, the car is occupied by Clara's two dogs and her old grandmother. In 12 short stories, the author writes with insight into dogs and their sometimes worthy and sometimes not, human companions. The parts the dogs play in the lives of their people are touching (literally), comforting and frequently amazing. Young dog lovers, and even those who are not, will enjoy these stories immensely for reasons as varied as the characters in them. Kemie Nix © Parents' Choice

Glen Terrier Puppet
Ages: 5 and up
Manufacturer: Folkmanis, Inc.
Price: $24.00

So convincingly real is this Glen terrier puppet, our young dog handlers were prompted to consult the AKC website for information. From that source, here is some of what they learned. "The Glen of Imaal terrier, named for the region in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland where it was developed long ago, is a medium-sized working terrier. Longer than tall and sporting a double coat of medium length, the Glen possesses great strength and should always convey the impression of maximum substance for size of dog...This is a working terrier, which must have the agility, freedom of movement and endurance to do the work for which it was developed.... In general, they [terriers] make engaging pets, but require owners with the determination to match their dogs' lively characters." Folkmanis' other realistic dog puppets include bichon frisé, golden retriever and a variety of Labrador retrievers. © Parents' Choice

River Crossing 2
Ages: 8 and up
Manufacturer: Think Fun
Price: $9.99

In the original River Crossing game, the challenge is to help a hiker cross a river full of alligators, snakes and piranhas. The only available resources are a few planks of various lengths, and some tree stumps standing in the river bed. Unfortunately, their number and location do not enable a direct crossing. It is necessary to move and reposition planks to bridge the gaps between stumps, thus creating a maze-like path to the opposite river bank.

If you've mastered River Crossing and you're ready for new challenges - 40 to be exact - lace up your hiking boots and get ready. River Crossing 2, the sequel, is anything but a watered-down version of the original. Ten solo-hiker crossings, 15 mid-river dog rescues, and 15 hiker and dog crossings will test thinking and problem-solving skills. Don't forget to put the vitamins in your trail mix.© Parents' Choice

Comments from readers

"Amazing treasure of information and finds!!! Thank you for taking the time to put it together. "