Boing Boing Gift Guide 2009: Kids! (part 1/6)

Mark and I have rounded up some of our favorite items from our 2009 Boing Boing reviews for the second-annual Boing Boing gift guide. We'll do one a day for the next six days, covering media (music/games/DVDs), gadgets and stuff, kids' books, novels, nonfiction, and comics/graphic novels/art books. Today, it's kids' books!

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook (Eleanor Davis): The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook is Eleanor Davis's kids' comic glorifying science, invention, and the joys of personal exploration. Julian Calendar is a bright 11-year-old who has moved to a new school where he is determined to fit in by masking his voracious intellect, but instead he finds himself (gladly) fallen in with two other science kids -- Greta Hughes, a "bad kid" with a reputation and Ben Garza, a "dumb jock" who shines on the basketball court but chokes on tests. Both kids are, in fact, natural scientists (as is Julian), but they aren't the right kind of smart to get ahead in school. Full review | Purchase

The Donut Chef by Bob Staake. It's the story of a chef who opens a donut store that becomes a big hit. But then a rival donut chef opens a store around the corner, and the two chefs compete by making increasingly elaborate donuts with flavors like "cherry-frosted lemon bar, peanut-brickle buttermilk, and gooey coca- mocha silk." Full review | Purchase

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon: Jim Ottaviani's new science history graphic novel, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, is a fast-paced, informative recounting of the events beginning with the launch of Sputnik, the first human-made satellite on Oct 4, 1957, to the first human landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. Full review | Purchase

The Day-Glo Brothers I absolutely loved Chris Barton's true story about the two brothers who invented fluorescent paint and Day-Glo paint in the 1930s. Full review | Purchase

Night Cars (Teddy Jam): Teddy Jam and Eric Beddows's 1988 classic picture book Night Cars has me absolutely charmed. It's a beat-poetry story of a little boy who drifts in and out of sleep while, on the commercial road below him, cars and people pass by in the night. I read this book to my daughter every night before bed. Full review | Purchase

The Pet Dragon: A Story about Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters, is the story of a little girl who gets a baby dragon, then loses it and goes looking for it. Chinese characters are cleverly placed over some of the things. What a fun way to learn the written Chinese language! Full review | Purchase

Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld): Leviathan is set in an alternate steampunk past, in which the powers of the world are divided into "Clankers" who favour huge, steam-powered walking war-machines; and "Darwinists," whose hybrid "beasties" can stand in for airships, steam-trains, war-ships, and subs (they even have a giant squid/octopus hybrid called the kraken that can seize whole warships and drag them to their watery graves). Full review | Purchase

The TOON Treasury of Classic Children's Comics is a massive anthology of old comic book stories for kids, and is a big hit around our house. My six-year-old loves it so much she reads it to herself. The oversize format and 350 pages make for a delightful reading experience. Full review | Purchase

It's Useful to Have a Duck (Isol): It's Useful to Have a Duck is the English translation of the delightful Spanish kids' board-book "Tener un patito es util," by Isol. It's an accordion-fold book that you can read from either end -- read from front to back, it tells the story of a boy who found a rubber duck that he loves but uses roughly, sitting on it, drying his ears with it and leaving it in the plug-hole when he's done with his bath. Read back to front, though, the story becomes "It's Useful to Have a Boy," and it tells the same story from the duck's perspective -- the boy "rubs my back," "waxes my beak" and when its all done, the duck finds "my little sleeping hole." Full review | Purchase

The New Brighton Archeological Society by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Weldon is one of the very best all ages graphic novels in years. It proves that there can be an outlet to introduce kids to the world of picture-based story telling without pandering to them or horrifying their innocent sensibilities. Full review | Purchase

Ariel (Steven R Boyett): I first read Steven R Boyett's novel Ariel in 1983: I was twelve years old, and I was absolutely, totally hooked.

Here's the premise: one day at 4:30 PM, the world Changes. Complex technology (anything beyond a simple machine) stops working. Magic starts working. Planes fall out of the sky, dragons take wing. Chaos wracks the world. Riots. Starvation. Murder. Full review | Purchase

Blueberry Girl (Neil Gaiman): Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess's Blueberry Girl is a beautiful, affirming, inspiring picture book based on a poem that Gaiman wrote for Tash, Tori Amos's daughter (who is also Gaiman's god-daughter). The poem is a set of benedictions for girls, wishes for a realistically joyful life where what pain that comes only serves to make the pleasure sweeter. Vess (a well-known fantasy artist) has a distinctive style that gives the book much of its charm. Full review | Purchase

The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization (Daniel M Pinkwater): The Neddiad concerns the cross-country migration of Neddie Wentworthstein, who one day mentions to his war-enriched shoelace-magnate father that he'd like to eat in the Brown Derby in Hollywood (because, hey, restaurant shaped like a hat!), prompting his father to realize that he, too, had always dreamt of dining in a hat. The family immediately moves to Los Angeles, taking the train, and Neddie loses the family in Arizona, meets a shaman, is given a holy relic, meets a cowboy and a ghost and a best friend, finds his way to Los Angeles, and saves the world. Full review | Purchase

The Education of Robert Nifkin (Daniel M Pinkwater): Here's the setup: it's the mid-fifties and Robert Nifkin has just moved from suburban California to Chicago with his Eastern European immigrant parents (his father is a notorious Polish gangster who was thrown out of Warsaw by his fellow Jews, as the Gentiles were too scared to talk to him). He is sent to Riverview High, a kind of prison camp for geeky kids, and there he rests for the first half of the book, enduring a season in Hell. Full review | Purchase

ABC3D (Marion Bataille): It's called ABC3D, and it is an unbelievably witty and well-made pop-up ABC book, produced by Marion Bataille. It's one of those books that could only be a book -- there's no way this could be an ebook or a movie (though the little video above gives you an idea of the thing, it's a poor substitute) or an audiobook or whatever. This is the apotheosis of book, something you have to put between covers to really, really appreciate. Full review | Purchase

Free to Be...You and Me (Marlo Thomas): Free To Be... You and Me was one of my favorite movie/record/books when I was growing up. Marlo Thomas's 1972 project brought together an all-star cast to perform songs, poems and sketches that challenged gender stereotypes and delivered a fundamentally humane, loving message about being who you are and not being constrained by society's expectations. Full review | Purchase

Mommy? (Maurice Sendak): Mummy? is a practically wordless, six-page popup that follows the travails of a little boy who's looking for his mother in a castle full of monsters. The left panel shows junior saying "Mommy?" and the right panel shows a leering monster; flip it up and see how the boy has defeated it. Mommy?'s dimensionality is fabulous -- the monsters explode in all directions, portrayed in fabulous grisly style that's a cross between Big Daddy Roth and Marc Davis's Haunted Mansion ghouls. Full review | Purchase

Other installments:

Part One: Kids
Part Two: Media
Part Three: Gadgets
Part Four: Nonfiction
Part Five: Fiction
Part Six: Comix, Art Books, etc


  1. I finally caught up with The Secret Science Alliance and thought it was a good read–smart, fun, & funny.

    ABC3D is very cleverly done…. Tomie DePaola had a popup book out this year too, which was as clever but much much more detailed and complex; reading that one was a process of continual amazement.

    I may have just tired of Neil Gaiman, but I’ve thought his last several picture books were slight (though I really liked Wolves in the Walls).

    Also: you misspelled “Maurice.”

  2. Thanks guys. I always mess up presents for my friends’ kids. My only difficulty is that I can’t decide which of these to buy. A much better problem to have.

  3. I got ABC3D for my Godson last year. He loved it…except he *swore* that the W was missing, and couldn’t be convinced otherwise (I wasn’t going to make it easy on him by just telling him strait out what was the gag).

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