The holiday season is fast approaching and I want to give you a head start on wonderful books to consider for gift-giving. I have set these aside all year as my favorites, many of which I will be giving as gifts. Toys break, clothes wear out, but books can last a lifetime and be passed on to future generations. Because I am reviewing so many books, my reviews will be much shorter than usual.

Interactive books

Pulling tabs, opening flaps, intricate pop-ups and being a part of the unfolding story holds the attention of readers of all ages.

Hello Honeybees (Hannah Rogge, illustrated by Emily Dove, Chronicle Books, 2019, 16 pages, $11.99) introduces two bees on pop-out ribbons that are used to fly through this attractive and accurate tale of the life and work of honeybees. The young reader will appreciate the colorful illustrations and die-cut shape of the book.

Lucy Cousins has created many tales about the ever-popular Maisy. Maisy’s Farm (Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press, 2019, 14 pages, $8.99) shows the activities and animals on a farm and the last pages form a barn with pop-out characters and animals so the child can create a personal story. I have watched my grandchildren play with a similar Maisy book, so can attest to the fun and inventiveness children have with them.

Pop-Up Jungle (Ingela P. Arrhenius, Candlewick Studio, 2019, 28 pages, $12) is an example of the simplest pop-up for young readers. Each double page spread is one object, beginning with a riverboat taking the reader through the jungle of animals and plants. Designed for the size of young hands, the pop-ups are colorful and fun.

One of the most creative alphabet books I have seen, among a plethora of such books, is Alphabet Street (Jonathan Emmett, illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius, Nosy Crow, 2019, 14 pages, $17.99). The book opens out to more than eight feet with a fold-out, lift the flap alphabet story. The front side takes one on a walk down the main street of a town, with cleverly named shops such as Elegant Fashions, Queen’s Restaurant, and Yackety Zack’s. The back of the fold-out is a scene of parks, homes, etc. with animals and objects that can be named and alphabetized.

Badaboom Badabump! (Bartelemi Baou, illustrated by Xavier Deneux, Twirl, 2019, 20 pages, $19.99) includes one book and eight thick die-cut play pieces. Gorilla is bored and decides to go play with his friend Zebra. Along the way, he collects other friends who also want to play badaboom badabump. They come to a wide river and in crossing it, another game is created. This book is great for the imaginative child who wants to not only be a part of the story, but to create additional stories.

A spring visit to Dinosaur World in Glen Rose sparked my interest in My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs (Owen Davey, Candlewick Studio, 2019, 30 pages, $16.99). Each spread is a single pop-up dinosaur with the name and proper pronunciation. I wish I had this as we were wandering through the park and I was trying to pronounce the names. It is a wonderful introduction to numerous dinosaurs, as there are no distractions from the beast itself.

Disney’s movie, The Lion King, was a big hit this summer. The teacher in me loves the extension that Savanna Animals (Sophie Dussauois, illustrated by Aurslie Verdon, Twirl, 2019, 16 pages, $16.99) can make to this popular movie, as every animal in the movie is in the book in an informational setting. Beginning with day on the savanna, fold out pages use labels and short text to depict the animals and plant life, with flaps and pull-tabs to increase the interaction. Pop-ups, pull-tabs, wheels, and flaps are used on succeeding pages to depict baby animals, the watering hole, time to hunt, and night on the savanna.

This is a real winner! Older readers will pore over The Ultimate Book of Planet Earth (Anne-Sophie Baumann and Patrick Graviou, illustrated by Didier Balicevic, Twirl, 2019, 16 pages, $21.99). With more than 45 flaps, pop-ups, pull-tabs and fold-outs, this oversized book takes us on a journey around the amazing planet Earth. We see our planet within the solar system, movements of the Earth, volcanoes, a fold-out timeline of the ages of our planet, the water cycle and weather — a truly stunning book.

Picture books

So many picture books are published each year that it is hard to choose among them. However, The Scarecrow (Beth Ferry, illustrated by the Fan Brothers, Harper, 2019, 48 pages, $18.99) is the best I have read in years. Truly unique and beautiful, it touches the heart without being the least manipulative.

Scarecrow lives in a field through many seasons. All he knows is that he is alone, never having a friend. One day a baby crow falls out of a nest. Scarecrow breaks his pole to lean over and rescue the baby bird: “He tucks him near his heart of hay.” But when the season ends the crow flies off, “Broken heart, broken pole, Nothing fills the empty hole.” Crow comes back to stay, raising babies in the nest near Scarecrow’s heart of hay.

Gorgeous illustrations use a muted palette to depict the seasons, perfectly complementing the text told in verse. Local author, Katy Beebe, held a large audience of children and adults spell-bound as she read her new book, Thunder Trucks (Cheryl Klein & Katy Beebe, illustrated by Mike Boldt, Hyperion, 2019, 40 pages, $17.99) at the Emily Fowler Library. Afraid of a storm? Just imagine that the sky is filled with large trucks having fun creating rain, thunder, hail and lightning, and when they are done playing, they head off for a rest. Told in a joyful rhyme with bold, colorful illustrations, this will be a favorite.

The Stevens sisters, who have a Texas background, are masters of the tall tale. The Donkey Egg (Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, 48 pages, $17.99) does not disappoint. Fox tricks bear, whose farm is a wreck because all he wants to do is sleep, into buying a watermelon under the pretense it is a donkey egg. The rollicking tale that follows is joyful in both text and illustration, with fox being the fool in the end. The book left me laughing, and I won’t spoil it for you by telling you more.

Wild Horse Annie: Friend of the Mustangs (Tracey Fern, illustrated by Steven Salerno, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019, 40 pages, $17.99) is a picture biography of Velma Bronn Johnson, who was given that name as a cruel jest, but adopted it with pride. Growing up loving wild mustangs, she made it her life’s mission to save them from slaughter and capture. Despite disability from polio, she attended meetings, went to the legislatures of her state and the United States and proudly saw President Dwight D. Eisenhower sign into law the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The author was a member of the Wild Horse Annie “pencil brigade” of children who flooded Congress with letters on behalf of the wild animals.

Young adult

The Dungeons and Dragons phenomenon has lasted for decades. The Mad Mage’s Academy (Matt Forbeck, Candlewick Entertainment, 2019, 122 pages, $16.99) is one of a series of books that allows the reader to make choices as the book is read. In this iteration, you are an elf rogue charged with stealing the spell book of the Mad Mage, Halaster. At each turn, you must make a choice and accept the consequences of this “Endless Quest.”

I must admit that my love of libraries led me to read Sorcery of Thorns (Margaret Rogerson, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2019, 456 pages, $17.99). Elizabeth, an orphan, has grown up in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries. The libraries are filled with magical grimoires that are alive with power and can wreak many forms of havoc if loosed. Her greatest wish is to become a warden, protecting others from these tools of sorcery. She becomes involved in trying to foil a plot to burn down the libraries, and in the process learns much about herself. A little romance and a lot of action keep one turning the pages rapidly.

Adult non-fiction

Written by a born and bred Texan, 100 Things to Do in Texas Before You Die (E.R. Bills, Reedy Press, 2018, 178 pages, $18) is a must for every Texan. Those who have been here for generations will enjoy seeing how many things they have done and wanting to replace some entries with their own favorites, and newcomers should be given it as a gift so they know where and how to appreciate this very diverse state. Short essays and an occasional photo depict the 100 adventures, so pick it up and start exploring.

The movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will be in the theaters this fall, so it is a perfect time to read the biography, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers (Maxwell King, Abrams Press, 2018, 405 pages, $30). Rogers had an uncanny way of connecting with children. He gave them time and attention and his show was never rushed. He was uncompromising in the production of his show, and the results were magical.

Rogers touched so many lives, but he never let it go to his head. I saw a documentary in which he got off a train in Chicago and a woman recognized him and burst into tears. He went over to her, and in his gentle manner asked what was wrong. She sobbed that he had saved her life when she was a child. She lived in a very dysfunctional family and he made her realize that there were caring people in the world, so she set out to find them. I am sure there are many who have similar stories. The book is replete with information and stories about this good man.

If you are looking for a beautiful coffee table book Stargazing: Photographs of the Night Sky from the Archives of NASA (preface by Bill Nye, text by Nirmala Nataraj, Chronicle Books, 2019, 128 pages, $35) will fill the bill. Stunning photographs accompanied by brief text are perfect for browsing and enjoying. Part of the Welcome to the Museum series, Planetarium (curated by Chris Wormell and Raman Prinja, Big Picture Press, 2018, 96 pages, $35) will appeal to lovers of the universe regardless of age. The oversize format fits the majesty of the concept and the book explores space, the solar system, the sun, the night sky, the stars, galaxies and the universe. Photographs, drawings and essays combine to convey the wonders of the universe.

Arts & Letters

In this last section I am going to share the books of authors I had the pleasure of hearing speak this year through the Dallas Museum of Art “Arts and Letters Live” program.

Each speaker was excellent, and reading their books had even more meaning after getting to know them a bit.

Many are familiar with Rick Bragg from his essays in Southern Living magazine. He is funny, charming and a great storyteller. The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table (Rick Bragg, Knopf, 2018, 487 pages, $28.95) regales the reader with stories from his family that are centered around dishes his momma creates. Momma owns no cookbooks. Recipes are passed down through the generations and she cooks by dabs, tads and smidgens. The are 74 recipes of wonderful southern fare and even more stories to enjoy.

Margaret Atwood is a witty force of nature, dropping zingers about today’s world. Her book The Handmaid’s Tale has reached iconic status, and the sequel has been awaited for decades. The Testaments (Margaret Atwood, Doubleday, 2019, 419 pages, $28.95) is not what many expected, exploring the effect of Gilead 15 years after the previous book ends.

Told through the voices of three women we see Gilead in three perspectives. One is a privileged child of Gilead, Offred’s older daughter who was raised by a commander, another is a young woman from Canada who has marched in protest of the horrors of Gilead. The third is the only carryover from The Handmaid’s Tale, Aunt Lydia, implacable enforcer and keeper of secrets. It is a riveting tale, forcing us to look at the status of women in society.

Kristin Hannah is a warm, personable speaker, creating the sensation that she is speaking to each person in the audience personally. She is the author of my favorite novel of all time, The Nightingale, but was there to speak of her latest novel The Great Alone (Kristin Hannah, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018, 549 pages, $17.99). This is a harrowing tale of survival, set in the northwest and Alaska. Leni’s father suffers from PTSD, acquired in the Vietnam war. He cannot stay in one place for long and always believes the next place and job will be better, moving the family all over the northwest and landing in Alaska.

Survival is difficult in Alaska for anyone, as the hardship and loneliness of winter can affect even the most stable. How Leni and her mother survive, finding friends and supporters, is a tale of family, love and resilience.

You will find these books and more in the Denton Public Libraries. Our local Barnes & Noble store has created a display of these books, so stop by and peruse and possibly purchase.

JEAN GREENLAW is a specialist in literature and has been a reviewer for decades. She can be reached at j.greenlaw1@verizon.net.

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