Tick, tock, tick, tock, how many shopping days left? Oh, but don’t worry, there’s a book for anyone on your list. Coffee table books, picture books, novels for sinking into, comics for brightening up a winter’s day — here are some of this year’s top choices. Ask for them at your local bookseller.
• The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World, 2nd edition, by the editors of Lonely Planet (2010, 448 pages, hardcover)
This is an update of a book whose first edition was published in 2004. It is huge and heavy and glossy and perfect for the person who would settle in at a library table to tour the world by browsing oversized pages. Each humongous two-page spread covers a single country — so, yes, Ireland gets the same as the U.S. gets the same as Ghana gets the same as everyone else — showing a map, some photos, and not just vital statistics but useful information — such as what book to read, what movie to watch and what food to eat to get a taste of the country. Good for curious-about-the-world types. Pair with a gift membership to the nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory (www.mountwashington.org, 800-706-0432 ext. 230), which includes a magazine subscription and free tours.
• Here There Be Monsters: The Legendary Kraken and the Giant Squid, by HP Newquist (2010, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 73 pages, hardcover).
“Actually all squid are head-foots. Their scientific name is the Greek word cephalopod (cephalo for ‘head’ and pod for ‘foot’). Squid were originally called this because they seemed to have only two obvious parts: the head and the feet, with no body in between. … Even snakes, which have no limbs, have a face people can relate to: eyes, mouth, and nose all on the front of a head. Insects, despite their small size, seem normal to us because their head and feet and mouth and eyes are all in the right places. … But cephalopods are an entirely different story.” He’s right. Look at the pictures. This book is published under a children’s imprint, but it’s not for the squeamish or for beginning readers. Lots of words on the pages, many of them complex and describing things like the properties of ammonia and the behavior of architeuthis. But the pictures… shudder. Truly fascinating, one way or the other, and edifying if you care to really dig in. Shaped like a standard hardcover picture book, Here There Be Monsters talks about legends and lore — it includes small excerpts from Moby Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and a variety of artwork — but it’s also a nonfiction book about real squid — how whales eat them, how scientists study them, etc. Altogether, it kind of reads like an extended National Geographic article. Pair with a salamander T-shirt from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (www.wildnh.com).
• Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee, by Chris Van Dusen (2010, Chronicle Books, hardcover).
The previous two Mr. Magee books were A Camping Spree and Down to the Sea — so, yes, these are rhyming books? Mr. Magee is a new skier; his dog in his backpack, he starts at the edge of a backwoods slope and pushes off. But there’s a moose. And therefore wackiness ensues. Dusen’s bold gouache painting has deep color, good contrast, and plenty of detail to reward the attentive. (Dusen illustrated the Mercy Watson series written by Kate Dicamillo.) The illustrations combine warmth with slapstick and super-expressiveness in the characters to drive the story. An excellent wintertime storybook for lovers of the silly. Pair with some ski gear or a gift card from McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester (622-6159, mcintyreskiarea.com).
• Goldilocks and the Three Bears: A Tale Moderne, by Steven Guarnaccia (2010, Abrams, hardcover)
The text does not depart from the standard story; it’s Goldilocks straight up, as handed down through the ages. What’s new and different is the artwork and a few details. These bears eat chili, not porridge. Papa wears a beret and carries a clarinet. And the bears’ home is a split-level decorated with hip designer furnishings — which are cataloged in the endpapers: one of the chairs is Arne Jacobsen’s “Egg” chair from 1957; there’s Isamu Noguchi’s chess table from 1947, and a quilt of British designer Terence Conran’s “Chequers” fabric from 1951. It’s all very jazzy. Pair with some funky items (toys, notecards) from the gift shop at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, www.currier.org.
• Harry Potter Film Wizardry by Brian Sibley et al. (2010, Collins Design, hardcover)
For the starry-eyed Harry Potter fan, the one who dressed up in Potter glasses and stood in line at midnight outside the bookstore for the new releases, the one who already has a Daniel Radcliffe poster on the bedroom wall, Warner Bros. offers this behind-the-scenes treasure trove. Why does Rita Skeeter not have three gold teeth in the film, as she does in the book? How did they make Fawkes the phoenix so real? How’d they film Hogsmeade? Answers to these questions and many more you didn’t know you had are to be found here, via comments from the actors, directors and artists who created the films, and accompanying set shots and diagrams. Each page is lushly filled out with text, photos and illustrations, plus plenty of pullout extras, like a program for the Yule Ball from Goblet of Fire, a copy of one of Professor Umbridge’s proclamations and even a marauder’s map. Give with gift certificates to your favorite local theater, for when the final film installment comes out in July 2011.
• Sugar and Ice, by Kate Messner (2010, Walker)
A very well-written novel for any preteen girl who’s feeling pressure to excel or who’s struggling to find her own path. But also a good choice for any preteen girl dealing with the with preteen-girl social jungle. Eighth-grader Claire Boucher is given a scholarship to a prestigious Lake Placid skating camp — that she never even asked for. While parrying attacks from mean girls on skates, she has to work her way through her own fears and desires and figure out what she really wants for herself. Which she does, with a good amount of poise for an eighth-grader. I missed the novel after I finished reading it. Claire’s story will win you over. Pair with some skating gear or a promise to accompany your giftee to public skating in your town this winter.
• George Washington’s America: A Biography Through His Maps, by Barnet Schecter (2010)
This is a hefty coffee-table book to make an American history buff salivate. If you took just the text, you’d have a thoroughgoing biography of Washington with many selections from his writings. But what you’ve got here is that plus maps galore, maps whose originals Washington owned, including some he referred to in his writings and some he made himself. Schecter uses the maps to show us, in contemporary context, where Washington was going on his various travels and military campaigns — what the world was like for him and how he moved in it, and how his plans were limited by his cohort’s knowledge of geography. The maps are from the famed Yale Collection, and the endpapers describe the originals, e.g. Map 16, by Thomas Jefferys, is from 1775, hand-colored, 16½ by 24 inches, a horizontal map folded in half. Pair this with a gift from the New Hampshire Historical Society (6 Eagle Square, Concord, nhhistory.org) such as a pewter zipper pull in the shape of a moose, $7, made by Hampshire Pewter of Wolfeboro, or a gift membership to the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance (nhpreservation.org).
• Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Comics 1946-1948, by Bob Montana (The Library of American Comics, IDW Publishing, 2010, hardcover)
— who was a graduate of Manchester Central High School. See a full review in the Oct. 14-20 issue of The Hippo at www.hippopress.com. Give with a stack of current Archie comic books and an “I have issues” T-shirt from Double Midnight Comics and Collectibles (245 Maple St., Manchester, 669-9636, dmcomics.com).
• How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu (2010, Pantheon, 239 pages, hardcover)
So the guy travels through time and ends up shooting himself in the leg which prevents him from stopping himself from seeing himself and shooting himself in the leg so now he’s stuck for eternity in this loop of chasing himself and stopping himself only his chasing self doesn’t know it. And this is the sort of thing that happens when you work on building a time machine in the garage with your dad. Anyway, it’s some seriously cool mind-bending sci-fi, of which there is too little lately. Not too dark, not too heavy, not too hard and not too soft. Give with some goodies from the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center’s gift shop (2 Institute Drive, Concord, 271-7828, starhop.com) — or, if you’re feeling flush, help your giftee adopt a star at the Center for $125. That includes two passes to Tonight’s Sky viewings and your star’s name (you choose, up to 20 characters, subject to approval) projected during every Tonight’s Sky for one year
• Naturally Curious: A Photographic Field Guide and Month-by-Month Journey Through the Fields, Woods, and Marshes of New England, by Mary Holland (2010, Trafalgar Square Books, 474 pages, paperback)
What this might lack in completeness it makes up for in local relevance. Browse through it to see what animals live in New England, or check the index to find a particular favorite. Browsing taught me that the American Marten is a weasel (given the name, I would’ve guessed bird), but sadly there’s no picture. A targeted search taught me some fun facts about my neighbors, the chipmunks: during winter, they don’t hibernate, but they take two-week naps punctuated by snack breaks. Though it’s not particularly a kids’ book, this would be a good gift for the budding naturalist in your life, the young person who likes to explore local swamps and ponds and commune with the animals. Inexpensive companion gift: a “bugs of New Hampshire” T-shirt or a year’s subscription to NH Wildlife Journal (wildnh.com, or stop at Fish and Game headquarters at 11 Hazen Drive in Concord between 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. weekdays). Expensive companion gift: for $500, sponsor a peregrine falcon nest and join NH Audubon biologist Chris Martin as he visits the nest and monitors bird health (e-mail kpalfy@NHaudubon.org or call Kathy, 224-9909, ext. 310).