I love children’s books.  Some of the best fantasy around is in the “Young Readers 9-12” section of your local bookstore or library.  Amazing illustrators lavish their skills on the picture-book set.  Children’s books teach values and expose kids to the wider world (past, present future and imaginary).  And many are just plain fun.

I know you, my book-loving readers, have equipped yourselves and your loved ones with the basics, so I am not recommending Harry Potter, Stellaluna, E. Nesbit, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, Imagine A Day, Rick Riordan’s Egyptian Gods trilogy, or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.   (Your cousins’ little ones have the REAL Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and your nieces have Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess already, right?   If not, you know what you must do!).

Here are some less widely known favorites, new and old, for the children’s book lovers of any age on your list.

Picture Books:

The Duchess Bakes a Cake–hilarious rhymes, charming 4 color line drawing illustrations.

Custard The Cowardly Dragon and Custard and the Wicked Knight–Ogden Nash for kids–need I say more?

When The Sky Looks Like Lace–Dreamy illustrations and inspired nonsense text.

The Seven Silly Eaters–Adorable story in rhyme, delightfully detailed illustrations by Marla Frazee.  Basically anything illustrated by Marla Frazee is a home run.

The Story of Holly and Ivy–This is what I’m giving the little girls on my list this Christmas.  Rumer Godden’s gentle, loving holiday tale of a little girl and a doll.

Middle Grades Books

Linnets and Valerians–A beautiful mysterious romp of a book, with magic bees, village witches and a mysterious overgrown house inhabited by a lady who only goes out at night and her pet monkey…I could go on about the adventures of the Linnet children, who go to live with their strict old schoolmaster Uncle Ambrose (and his owl, Hector) but you should really read them for yourself or to someone you love.

The Great Brain–Hilarious adventures of a set of turn of the century brothers, centered on the amazing Tom, who somehow always comes out on top.  Even funnier as Tom’s schemes are recounted from the point of view of an admiring (and sometimes resentful) younger brother.  There are several books in the series.

Understood Betsy–I adore this book, and rarely find anyone else who has read it.  Shy, overprotected Elizabeth Ann is coddled to stifling by her doting city aunts.  When a series of events force her to go live with the dreaded Putney cousins on their farm in Vermont, a new world and life open up for the child who is now Betsy.  She becomes resourceful, smart, caring and builds a life for herself.

Betsey-Tacy–for the younger end of this range, these books (there are sequels) are a great choice, full of friendship and mishaps.  One warning: written in an age when this was a sadly common fact of child life, a baby sister dies in one of the books.  Coward that I am, I always skipped that chapter when reading it to my daughter, for my sake as much as hers.

I hope you will add suggestions of your own in the comments.  This time of year we can all use all the help we can get!

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