Irresistible reads for every age

Stories that will pry even the most reluctant readers away from their gadgets.

By Connie Matthiessen

Children Make Terrible Pets

By Peter Brown
Little Brown Books for Young Readers (Hachette Book Group), September 2010, $16.99
Ages 4-8

Lucy, a bear, really wants to keep the little boy she finds in the woods, but her mother has reservations. "Children make terrible pets," she warns. But Lucy persists and is permitted to keep her pet boy, whom she names Squeakers. The result? A whirlwind of adventures — fun and not so fun — for Lucy and Squeakers. Clever and heartwarming, Children Make Terrible Pets will delight youngsters.

Bottom line: A clever twist on a familiar experience.

The Odious Ogre

By Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer
Michael di Capua Books (Scholastic), September 2010, $17.95
Ages 4-8

Almost 50 years ago, Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer collaborated on the classic The Phantom Tollbooth. They've finally teamed up again for The Odious Ogre. In this tale a fearsome ogre terrorizes and snacks on villagers, and everything is going along just fine (for him) until he meets a girl who isn't afraid of him. The ogre tries repeatedly to scare her, but she sees only the best in him and treats him with kindness (and muffins and tea). Feiffer's wonderful drawings of the ogre and his befuddled reaction to his gentle adversary will engage kids and grownups alike.

Bottom line: Juster and Feiffer team up again in this modern fable.

It's a Book

By Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), August 2010, $12.99
Ages 5-7

It's a Book is a timely tribute to reading and books in the electronics age. The message is disguised as a conversation between a book-loving gorilla and a tech-obsessed donkey — with a kicker ending kids will love. Brought to you by Lane Smith — the author and illustrator of the best-selling John, Paul, George and Ben — the illustrations are simple and endearing, the tone understated and humorous.

Bottom line: Kids will love this timely take on books versus gadgets.

Art and Max

By David Wiesner
Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), October 2010, $17.99
Ages 5-8

David Wiesner may not be a household name, but many parents will recognize his work, which includes Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam — all winners of the coveted Caldecott Medal. In Art and Max, Wiesner explores the creative process through companions Arthur and Max — one an accomplished artist, the other an aspiring one. The result is funny, profound, and beautifully rendered in Wiesner's stunning illustrations.

Bottom line: A beautiful look at friendship and the artistic process.

The Nightwood

By Robin Muller
Tundra Books, October 2010, $18.95
Ages 5-8

Robin Muller's otherworldly illustrations lend this Celtic folktale a magical quality that will enchant young readers. The Nightwood tells the story of Elaine, who is lured into the forest by elfin music. There she meets Tamlynne, a young knight in the court of the Elfin Queen, and the two fall in love. Their determination to be together exposes them to danger and difficult choices that make this book hard to put down.

Bottom line: Young readers will be enchanted by this elfin folktale.

Big Nate series

Big Nate: In a Class by Himself and Big Nate Strikes Again
By Lincoln Peirce, Harper Collins Children's, March and October 2010, $12.99 each
Ages 9-12

Big Nate has large ambitions — and an even larger personality that will grab readers from the first page. Despite his conviction that he's destined for greatness, the day doesn't start out well for our hero: His father gives him gruesome-looking oatmeal for breakfast, he forgot to study for a test, and one of his teachers is threatening him with summer school. In Big Nate Strikes Again, he faces still more daunting obstacles with the same endearing bravado. Lincoln Peirce's irreverent perspective, amusing sketches, and rollicking pace will make this an instant favorite.

Bottom line: Big laughs abound in the Big Nate series.

The Clock Without a Face

By Gus Twintig
McSweeney's Books, May 2010, $19.95
Ages 9-12

Both you and your child will have a blast with this intriguing, beautifully illustrated, and oddly shaped mystery book. The mystery concerns the theft of the emerald numbers on a huge clock. Readers will find the clues hidden in the elaborate illustrations of The Clock Without a Face. "Twintig" is a pseudonym for Scott Teplin, Mac Barnett, and Eli Horowitz, and the result of their collaboration is wholly original — and hard to put down. This volume was published by McSweeney's Books, which was founded by acclaimed author Dave Eggers.

Bottom line: The Clock Without a Face is hip, hypnotic, and wholly orginial.

Search for WondLa

The Search for WondLa

By Tony DiTerlizzi
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, September 2010, $17.99
Ages 9-12

Eva Nine, who was raised by a robot in an underground sanctuary, is forced above ground when her home is destroyed, and so begins her quest to find fellow humans. The Search for WondLa has an Alice in Wonderland quality — indeed, author Tony DiTerlizzi cites the influence of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Wendy, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on his work. The illustrations offer entry into a bizarre yet beautiful space-age land, populated by strange, often frightening creatures. DiTerlizzi, who co-created and illustrated The Spiderwick Chronicles, calls his new book a "fairy tale at its heart," despite its futuristic trappings.

Bottom line: A fairy tale with a futuristic bent — bizarre and beautiful.

Storyteller

Storyteller

By Patricia Reilly Giff
Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), September 2010, $15.99
Ages 9-12

Award-winning author Patricia Reilly Giff brings the Revolutionary War to life in Storyteller, which weaves together the stories of Elizabeth, a contemporary girl, and her ancestor Eliza, who grew up during the American Revolution. Elizabeth finds a picture of Eliza, and the past becomes as real as the present once she begins to see the world — and the reality of war — through Eliza's eyes.

Bottom line: The Revolutionary War is anything but history in the beautifully crafted Storyteller.

The Candymakers

By Wendy Mass
Little Brown Kids (Hachette Book Group), October 2010, $16.99
Ages 10-14

In The Candymakers, four lucky 12-year-olds have been chosen to compete in a renowned national competition to see who can create the best-tasting candy. The contestants are all very different, and they all very much want to win, but as the story unfolds, they realize that winning may not be as important as friendship — and the lessons they learn along the way.

Bottom line: A delicious tale about competition, camaraderie, and confections.

Reckless

By Cornelia Funke
Little Brown Kids (Hachette Book Group), September 2010, $19.99
Ages 11-14

In her latest book, Cornelia Funke (the author of the Inkworld series and Dragon Rider) has created another fantasy world. This time the setting is the Mirrorworld, where Jacob Reckless must go to find his brother. There he faces dark magic as well as fairies, unicorns, and scary gingerbread houses. Funke, who has won countless awards for her work, never condescends to young people — which is probably why her books are so popular. In Reckless, the world her characters inhabit is dark, as are the hearts of her villains, and her protagonist faces a life-or-death struggle to survive.

Bottom line: Readers looking for happily ever after should probably look elsewhere.

Adios, Nirvana

Adios, Nirvana

By Conrad Wesselhoeft
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2010, $16
Ages 14 and up

Jonathan, the protagonist of Adios, Nirvana, is in bad shape: Since his twin brother's death, he's lost all interest in life. A poet and gifted guitarist, he is beginning to lose his grip on reality and flunking in school. But Jonathan's posse — teenagers and adults alike — have his back and are determined to pull him through. Teen readers will appreciate this book's honest examination of real-life issues — and its heavy metal soundtrack.

Bottom line: Dark and complex, Adios, Nirvana is for young adults who like their angst.

Devil Dog

Pulp History series

Devil Dog by David Talbot, illustrated by Spain Rodriguez
Pulp History (Simon and Schuster), October 2010, $19.99
Ages 14 and up

Shadow Knights by Gary Kamiya, illustrated by Jeffrey Smith
Pulp History (Simon and Schuster), October 2010, $19.99
Ages 14 and up

The publication of these books signals the debut of Pulp History, an exciting new series that uses graphic novel techniques to tell the stories of real-life superheroes. Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America chronicles the life of Smedley Butler, a U.S. general who exposed a 1930s Wall Street plot to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal reforms. Shadow Knights: The Secret War Against Hitler describes the courage of the ordinary men and women, organized by Winston Churchill's government, who parachuted into Nazi territory and sabotaged the Third Reich.

Pulp History celebrates heroes whose feats are even more astonishing than performing magic or leaping tall buildings in a single bound: They fight for what they believe in. David Talbot and Gary Kamiya, both veteran journalists, make history crackle in these brilliantly illustrated volumes. Even the most jaded teen will find them difficult to resist.

Bottom line: Historical heroes get the comic-book-cool treatment in these graphic novels.

Mockingjay

Mockingjay

By Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press, August 2010, $17.99
Ages 15 and up

Mockingjay is the last installment in the best-selling Hunger Games trilogy, which has avid fans of all ages. The books tell the story of Katniss Everdeen, a scrappy and resourceful teenage girl who grows up in the ruined remains of what used to be North America. In the course of the earlier books, Katniss becomes a reluctant rebel against a pitiless and oppressive regime. Mockingjay manages to keep up the riveting pace set in the first two volumes, and fans of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire will not be disappointed. Reviewers have compared the trilogy's futuristic setting, ingenuous plot, and suspenseful narrative to 1984, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Harry Potter series.

Bottom line: Hunger Games fans will not be disappointed by this thrilling, intense installment.

Connie Matthiessen is an associate editor at GreatSchools.