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Review: Best children’s books for Christmas

Anna C. Swain, author of Animas Animal Adventures: Durango to Silverton, will be at Maria’s Bookshop on Friday night to sign copies of her book.

Wow! It’s that time of year again. Hopefully, Santa’s sleigh will be filled with books that will charm and engage young readers. Here are some stellar choices that will enchant all year long:

For the younger readers or listeners, Animas Animal Adventures: Durango to Silverton by Anna C. Swain is a lovely picture book illustrated by the author. Swain is a local resident whose husband encouraged her to write down the rhymes she created to soothe her baby daughter. The story is told in first person and starts in the morning at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad station as the engine leaves Durango for Silverton. As the day unfolds, many familiar features along the way are shared with readers. Special attention is given to the creatures that populate the land, water and air. This book should appeal to everyone who loves our hometown and its beautiful surroundings.

Australian Aaron Blabey has created Thelma the Unicorn, which is a humorous take on the “be careful of what you wish for” maxim. Thelma is a little horse with a big dream; she wishes she were a unicorn. Her best friend, Otis, likes her just the way she is. When Thelma sees a carrot on the ground, she playfully ties it on her head and says she is a unicorn. A startled truck driver sees her and runs off the road. The truck is carrying paint and glitter, don’t you know, and Thelma tuns into a pink, sparkly unicorn. Fame and fortune follow, and Thelma enjoys all her success until all the fans following her around become old. Plus, she misses Otis. It is then she realizes what is really important. This is a fun read for little ones.

The Koala Who Could written by Rachel Bright and illustrated by Jim Field is set in Australia. In this sweet rhyming tale, Kevin the Koala likes his daily routine up high in his tree where he feels safe and sound. All the life that goes on down below is a little too much for him. Wombat, the kangaroos and dingoes want to include him in their fun and games, but Kevin’s life continues the same, until one fateful day when Kevin’s world literally collapses. What happens next is a surprise. This cute story shows youngsters that change doesn’t have to be scary but can be exciting and fun.

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat is a remarkable book on many levels. Santat, a previous Caldecott Medal winner, has written and illustrated a creative and masterful continuation of the famous fairy tale. So, what happened to Humpty Dumpty? He was kind of repaired, but he still has cracks in his shell and he no longer climbs up his favorite wall to watch his beloved birds flying around. He can’t even sleep in his bunk bed or reach his favorite cereal at the store because he now has a severe fear of heights. Humpty uses binoculars to see his flying friends but it is very unsatisfactory. He finally is inspired to create paper birds, and after many failures, he builds a beautiful bird plane that flies high and soars. After the plane falls over the wall, Humpty must face his fears to get it back. What happens next is shocking and totally unexpected. Readers might have to reread the last pages to fully grasp what has happened. In the end, this is an amazing and inspiring story that will impact and inspire both children and adults. This should garner Santat another Caldecott Medal.

For the more experienced readers,The Explorer by Katherine Rundell is a great adventure book populated by only five characters. At the beginning, four young children board a small airplane in Brazil and are flying with a lone pilot over the Amazon when the pilot collapses and they crash into the jungle. Fred is the oldest, next is Con, a girl with a severe attitude problem. Then there is Lila, 12, older sister to 5-year-old Max, who is an ill-tempered boy who hardly ever minds anyone, especially when he is scared. Being in a wild jungle with no food or water and no adults to help is the scariest experience any of them has known. Fred has read a lot about the Amazon and the many explorers who have been there, so he has some knowledge about the surroundings. Also, Lila’s parents are scientists who are studying the Amazon. Survival is a constant struggle, and they finally decide to make it to civilization. On the way, they stumble on a hidden city in the heart of the jungle with a hostile inhabitant. Fred names him The Explorer, and as events unfold, he passes on lessons to the children that profoundly affect them for the rest of their lives. This is a great, poignant story that both parents and children can enjoy.

For the more mature teen reader, The Chaos of Standing Still by Jessica Brody is a powerful, knowledgeable tale that shares the drama of youth, tragedy and the fight to move forward in the face of terrible loss. Eighteen-year-old Ryn (Kathryn) is circling the Denver airport in a blizzard on her way home to San Francisco. After finally landing safely, Ryn is desperately trying to get a flight. It soon becomes clear that she and thousands of stressed-out passengers and airport employees are stranded. No one is getting out. A precocious child prodigy, Troy, points out to Ryn that the second law of thermodynamics will happen and this natural disaster will end in chaos. Rather quickly, Ryn meets a group of wildly different people who all lead to her experiencing another life-changing event. The first event was the death of her BFF, Lottie. Brody takes readers back and forth in time. First in present time, then back to Lottie and Ryn’s relationship and finally to Ryn’s sessions with her therapist. The new people include a young man she calls Muppet Guy, a fast-food worker named Siri (named long before Apple ruined her life, according to her) and the young Troy. This book is wonderful and multilayered, messy, complicated and would even bring adults to tears with its impact. Santas who need presents for teens take note.

These books are only a few of the great choices available this holiday. So head out to Noel Night and stock up and give Santa a helping hand. Happy Holidays.

Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.

if you go


Durango author Anna C. Swain will be signing copies of her new book Animas Animal Adventures: Durango to Silverton


Noel Night, 5-7 p.m. today


Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main Ave.

More information:

Visit www.mariasbookshop.com.