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March 11, 2015
Latter-day Books
Sweet Reads for Babies and 'Tweens
by Laurie Williams Sowby

With 18 grandkids, I’m always on the lookout for good books that will foster or continue an interest in reading and good literature.

Utah publisher Gibbs Smith has a series based on the premise that it’s never too early to introduce the classics. It does it with simplicity and charm in its BabyLit board books, with 18 titles to date.

For example, Frankenstein’s Monster is used to illustrate parts of the body in Little Miss Shelley: An Anatomy Primer; Little Miss Austen presents A Counting Primer with characters and places from Pride and Prejudice; and Little Master Baum offers A Colors Primer with words and illustrations from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Little Master Twain teaches camping vocabulary via Huckleberry Finn.

Written by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver, these durable books ($9.99) are a clever concept and a winning way to begin a love of literature.

As kids grow, we want to find books that fit their interests or encourage them to develop new ones. There’s plenty in the way of kid-friendly popular novels (some of the old Newbery winners are perennial gems), but engaging non-fiction appropriate for the middle school/junior high age slot is harder to come by.

Bart King to the rescue. A longtime Oregon middle school teacher with an evident sense of humor, he has his finger on the pulse of ‘tweens. He’s firmly focused on that audience in two great books for kids that age. He speaks their language, tells their jokes, and offers scientific background as well as advice for things like B.O. and acne.

The Big Book of Boy Stuff is chock full of things like camping survival tips, lists of great books to read, instructions for making rockets and creating lightning, ready-made insults, and recipes for “man food” ranging from simple and edible to gross and disgusting (but still edible). An entire section is devoted to practical jokes. I can see my 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old grandsons devouring this book.

At the behest and with the aid of his five sisters, King also produced the fabulous Big Book of Girl Stuff, which I plan to give to my granddaughters. I laughed out loud at some of the jokes and the practical instructions on how to potty in the great outdoors (in the “Emergencies” section).

Lacking the edginess of teen magazines, it covers things like fashion, boys, manners, hobbies, hair and makeup, babysitting, and spending money with pragmatism and humor. One part explains how advertisers lure buyers with various tactics.

There’s great advice on having a friend and being one, with emphasis on avoiding and not being “mean” girls. Good conversations with parents and good relationships with siblings are also covered (thanks, I suspect, to the author’s having grown up in a family of nine kids).

King credits his vast sources in a long bibliography in both books, but cautions that some of the activities may be dangerous and should have adult guidance or approval. Good idea: For one thing, adults may be as delighted with these books as the kids are. Both are from Gibbs Smith 2014, $19.99 for about 300 pages of info, laughs, creative inspiration, and good reading.

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