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Children's Books

Growing market offers numerous themes

Web posted on: Friday, October 02, 1998 2:08:58 PMEDT

ATLANTA (CNN) -- It's a book market that grows as fast as the readers it aims to educate.

The children's book industry is a $2 billion-a-year business of increasing competition and novelty.

One look at book shelves this fall and buyers can be overwhelmed. But to help pick the perfect book for a child you know, we've put together a list of the latest releases, from fairy tales to lessons on life.

Animal adventures

As usual, animals play a popular role in many children's book this season -- from fictional puppy adventures to an educational book on polar bears.

"Little Puppy Adventures" is a series of four books for young readers -- "Lost and Found," "At The Seaside," "Nobody Wants To Play," and "Treasure Hunt." The books are written by Jenny Millington, depicting puppies in situations familiar to children.

"Where Are You" is another young children's book about a puppy that sets off on a supermarket adventure. Anyone who has taken a young child to the grocery store will know the impetus of this story. Written by Francesca Simon and illustrated by David Melling, "Where Are You" was called "a real charmer" by Publisher's Weekly.

"Bear In the Square" by Stella Blackstone and Debbie Harter is a finding game for young children. Written as a poem, each page asks readers to find an shape -- stars, dioamonds, hearts, zigzags.

"Animal Orchestra," meanwhile, teaches kids to count, from one conductor to ten flutes. Illustrations feature such wild kingdom members as a cello-playing elephant and a trumpet-blowing lion.

There are plenty of animal books for older children, as well. "The Time of the Lion" is a generational tale about an East African boy who befriends a lion. The story reveals the sacredness of lions as mythic creatures, and man's friend.

"Come Meet Muffin" marks the debut of acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates into the children's book market. Her tale depicts the adventures of the lost cat Muffin, and is illustrated by Mark Graham's 23 oil paintings.

"Polar Star" by Sally Grindley and John Butler follows a polar bear family from the birth of two cubs, to their dangerous battle for survival in an icy artic world. "Polar Star" also features a list of polar bear facts.

"The World of Dinosaurs" by James Gurney is an educational look at the creation of the U.S. Postal Service's stamp series featuring dinosaurs. More than detailing how stamps are created, this book takes readers back to a world when dinosaurs ruled the planet.

Mystical presence

Mystical themes are not forgotten on this season's book shelves. From variations on classic nursery rhymes to dragons and princesses, children have their choice of escape.

"The Magical Moonballs" by Laura L. Seeley is a richly illustrated poem about moon balls that cascade to earth and brighten their surroundings.

"The Dragons Are Singing Tonight" by Jack Prelutsky and Peter Sis is a collection of poems about dragons. The books asks children to believe in the mythical beast, "or they won't believe in you." Prelutsky is a veteran of the children's book market, having appeared in more schools and librabries than he can count.

"The Barefoot Book of Princesses" is an anthology of folk tales from Africa, Persia, North America, and Denmark. Each story depicts a princess in unique surroundings, each overcoming challenges as she grows up. "The Barefoot Book of Pirates," meanwhile, provides the same treatment for stories from the high seas.

Folk tales of various subjects are collected in "Tales of Wisdom and Wonder," a collection of stories from around the globe, including "Monkey and Papa God" (Haitian) and "The Sheperd's Dream" (Irish).

"The Traveler: A Magical Journey" by James Keller follows the adventure of the bored Tor as he discovers new worlds with each new step. The book's text is reflected in Daniel Page Schallau's illustrations, which bring Keller's imagination to life.

James C. Christensen's "Rhymes and Reasons" puts an interesting spin on Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Christensen uncovers the inspiration for 72 familiar rhymes. For instance, readers can learn that "Little Miss Muffett" was based on Patience Muffett, daughter of British entomologist Dr. Thomas Muffett, who studied spiders in the 17th century.

Perhaps not as mystical, but certainly whimsical, "Willie & the World Wide Web" by Steve Geissen and Vuthy Kuon takes an updated approach to a little boy's adventure. The character of Willie spends a night in cyberspace, discovering and learning on innocent Internet sites and chatrooms.

"If the Earth Were A Few Feet In Diameter," by Joe Miller and Wilson McLean takes an interesting approach to passing a powerful message of environmental responsibility. The story imagines what would happen if Earth were the size of a large beach ball, floating in a field. In the book, people consider the globe a sacred gift, and take great care to protect it from any harm.

Family and friends

Trials between family and friends are important themes in the children's book market.

"Gettin' Through Thursday" is an honest look at a household celebrating life's simple pleasures: an exceptional report card brought home by the adolescent main character, Andre.

"Grandmother's Song," by Barbara Soros and Jackie Morris, is the story of a young girl's enduring relationship with her grandmother and how it affects her later in life.

"Hurricane" is a timely look at a family in Puerto Rico that finds itself in the path of a huge storm. The adventure follows the progress of the hurricane as it ravages the coastline, and the family as they head to the safety of a storm shelter.

Every family must deal with loss, and "When Someone Dies" by Sharon Greenlee and Bill Drath aims to help children cope with tragedy. Greenlee says she wants children to learn to deal with death as a part of life, so they can pass on what they have learned to their children.

Adolescent fantasy has always been a popular market, and two popular titles on bookshelves this fall are "Off The Rim" and "My Teacher Is An Alien."

"Off The Rim" by Fred Bowen and Ann Barrow follows the story of Chris, who longs to be a basketball star and gets help from his friend and her mother.

"My Teacher Is An Alien," meantime, is the best-seller by Bruce Coville. It's now in tape form, read by Liza Ross.

Holiday titles

Some publishing companies are capitalizing upcoming holidays, including Halloween and Christmas.

"Monster Munchies" by Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans is a Dr. Seuss-like counting book about monsters that eat everything in sight. From one to 20, the monsters grow in number and appetite.

"13 Monsters That Should Be Avoided," meanwhile, is a monster reference book in poetic form. Keeping the topic light, author Kevin Shortsleeve and illustrator Michael Austin tell young readers the characteristics of such monsters as the "Hedge-Standing Snit," the "Rare Re-Arranger" and "Thumple-Haired Land Ants."

Classic Christmas tales are given a new twist this year in two books -- "Santa, My Life and Times" and "A Christmas Carol In Prose."

Created by Martin I. Green and Bill Sienkeiwicz, this is a lavishly illustrated memoir of St. Nick, detailing his days as a good-hearted teen when he was discovered by elves, his first moments with the future Mrs. Claus, and his present job of spreading presents and good will around the world.

"A Christmas Carol," meanwhile, is the abridged version of the classic Charles Dickens story. The book, illustrated by Russ Flint, reacquaints readers with Scrooge and his life-altering night before Christmas.

There's nothing like a book that will teach kids a new activity, and what better time than the end of a stellar baseball season to give kids a book about America's pasttime. "Kirby Puckett's Baseball Games" offers 34 activities to improve children's fundamentals of the grand ol' game. The book even comes with the "Pucket Practice Ball," which is color-coded to teach kids how to grip different pitches.

If you know a child that isn't interested in athletics, "Planet Origami" might be a popular choice. The book teaches the art of "cosmic paper folding," offering secrets to creating paper suns, galaxies, space fighters, and more. The book includes a section of origami paper.


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