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Thinking About Getting Your Child a Book? How About a Classic

New takes from the area's book experts on some old favorites.

Trying to decide what to get your child for the holidays can be a monstrous challenge.

But when it comes down to it, the solution can boil down to one word: classics.

Of course there are other options as well, and three experts in what youngsters like to read recommended some books that might keep kids - and their parents - glued to the leaves after the holiday.

Settling on a book for a child usually boils down to several factors, according to Iris Yipp, an owner of the Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park: whether the child's a good reader, the child's age, whether they like fiction or non-fiction, whether it's for a boy or a girl.

One genre that will keep children - and their parents - engaged is the classic children's book.

"Youngsters are still reading the classics, and they probably rely on adults to introduce them to the classics by reading aloud," she said. "It's one way of getting kids and parents to spend time together."

Books that fit the bill include two standards by Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yipp said there are adventures in Tom Sawyer to keep youngsters interested and it's a fun read.

Another is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A classic of English children's literature, it focuses on the life of an orphan girl whose discovery of a neglected garden transforms her and everyone around her. There are a variety of editions with different artists to decide from, Yipp said.

If children love fairy tales, there are beautifully illustrated books that will not only get youngsters into reading but also good art. Paul Zelinsky has adapted and illustrated Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel and they're quite striking, Yipp said. 

"They're beautifully illustrated. The gold on the page (in Rapunzel) is done in a painterly style," she said. 

If parents are just getting their children into poetry, one good recommendation is And the Crowd Goes Wild: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems by Carol-Ann Hoyte, Heidi Bee Roemer and Kevin Sylvester. "There's some good stuff in there," Yipp said. "They'll appreciate it."

Children interested in mythology can indulge in Rick Riordan's series about half huma children of gods and goddesses.

If all else fails, there's also the Phantom Tollbooth, a children's adventure novel written by Norton Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer. This classic last year celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Classics are coming back reimagined in some different ways. Books and technology have combined to turn classics into stories that can grab teens and open the door to reading others, said Regina Townsend, the Forest Park Public Library's youth services outreach librarian who also orders books and does  programming for teens.

Frankenstein now comes with an iPad app. The book is word heavy, but the technology adds to the experience and provides for some good, gory pictures, Townsend said.

Alice in Wonderland with original illustrations by the author Lewis Carroll also can be enhanced with an iPad app.

A new book that also relies on technology to engage the reader is Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral. The story is told through words, photos and has a CD playlist. But readers are not just reading words on a page; the whole story is being visualized. An app is available so readers can rearrange the story itself.  Readers, Townsend, can experience and recreate the story.

Classic fairy tales also have been adapted for a futuristic world. Take Cinderella as an example. She's turned into Cinder, an android who loses her foot instead of a shoe. The book is Lunar Chronicles #1 by Marissa Meyer and is set in a futuristic China.

Series set in dystopian societies continue to be popular, Townsend said. These include:

  • Divergent by Veronica Roth, set in Chicago.
  • Gone, by Michael Grant, set in a fictional California town.

Young adult books are great reads for adults, too, Townsend added. Readers don't have to go far to get them hooked; they don't pull any punches.

"They can be as gritty as adult books, they're just as romantic, and the plot lines are phenomenal.

Susan Kunkle, manager of youth services at Forest Park, has some suggestions as well.

  • Three Ninja Pigs, written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat.

For new parents or for people who want to get a gift for a friend who is a new parent, Kunkle recommends the 125 Brain Game series by Jackie Silberg. These are super popular, she said.

To find other suggestions check out the Oak Park Public Library's list of teen fiction suggestions and the River Forest Public Library teen blog.

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