A love of reading is a lifelong gift

The gift of books for children at any time is a wonderful, important and valuable gift. The gift of a book sends a direct message to the child that you value reading. And there's truth in the adage that a book is the only gift you can open again and again, unlike so many other toys.

So, this holiday season make sure to include books for the special children in your life.

To simplify the seemingly endless choices in children's books, check out a breakdown of the best books for children by age-group.

Birth to age 2

"Lots of Lambs: A Touch, Feel, Flip, and Fun Book!" by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, 20 pages, $9.99 hardcover.

Lambs are everywhere in the jaunty little rhyming book that explores opposites. With many textures to touch and feel, flaps to lift or open, and a wheel to turn, this book will have little children engaged on every page.

"Gossie & Friends Gift Set" by Olivier Dunrea, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, 5 mini board books, 30 pages each and puzzle tiles, $14.99 boxed set.

Meet the irrepressible goslings Gossie, Gertie, Peedie, BooBoo, and Ollie and join them on their adventures.

Whether it's Peedie trying to find his lucky red baseball cap, BooBoo who eats some bubbles that cause a great surprise, or Gossie's beloved red boots that are missing, these five fun books with their simple story lines and endearing illustrations are certain to be a hit with toddlers time and time again.

"Go! Go! Go!" by Ladybird Books Ltd., illustrated by Fiona Land, Scholastic, 2012, 12 pages, $10.99 board book.

Get ready to read about things that go, go, go! Whether it's a train, an ambulance, a dump truck or a rocket, these and many other modes of transportation are featured through a colorful illustration, the corresponding word that identifies each one and additional brief text that encourages little hands to touch the different textures.

A great way to introduce the youngest readers to colors, object identification and more, this book is a learning gem.

Age 3 to 5

"A Flower in the Snow" by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Sophie Allsopp, Sourcebooks, 2012, 32 pages, $16.99 hardcover.

Luna and her polar bear friend, Bear, are the best of friends and do everything together. One day, Bear finds a beautiful yellow flower growing in the snow. Bear picks it, gives it to Luna, and Luna is very pleased. But when the flower finally wilts and the pedals fall off, Luna's smile disappears.

Bear is determined to find Luna another flower, and sets off to do just that. But despite how far Bear travels, he can't find a single flower. Meanwhile, Luna misses Bear very much and worries for his safety. When the two are finally reunited, they both realize that what they need more than anything is simply one another.

"The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare" by Sam McBratney, Candlewick, 2012, 66 pages, $16.99 hardcover.

Joined together in this lovely volume are four new stories about the exuberant young rabbit, Little Nutbrown Hare, and the wise and loving Big Nutbrown Hare. Exploring the world around them, the two discover exciting places, from the Hiding Tree and Cloudy Mountain to the Far Field, and learn that the best place of all is home.

"Katy Cat and Beaky Boo" by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick, 2012, 22 pages, $9.99 paper-over-board.

Boasting more than 40 flaps to lift, this cheerful book takes little children on a delightful experience of learning with Katy Cat and her friend Beaky Boo. A simple concept book that is filled with colors, sounds, numbers, object identificatio, and the fun repetitive game of trying to find Beaky Boo, children will love this playful approach to learning.

Age 6 and 7

"Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the 33 Bears and the Bliim and the Furniture and Lots More Variations" by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg, Candlewick, 2012, 50 pages, $17 hardcover.

This creative take on the traditional "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" story goes beyond anything you might imagine. Beginning with the classic story with a bit more modern language, each story that follows is a different (and very funny) variation of what Goldilocks is up to and the crazy things that happen to her.

Magical illustrations, pop-ups, tabs to pull and a book within the book combine to make this selection enchanting, funny and thoroughly enjoyable.

"Return of the Library Dragon" by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael P. White, Peachtree, 2012, 32 pages, $16.95 hardcover.

The librarian at Sunrise Elementary, Miss Lotty, has decided to retire after 557 years of faithful service. The students are upset that she is leaving, but there is more trouble on the horizon: someone has decided to remove all of the books from the library and convert everything to machines. The man in charge of making this transformation assures Miss Lotty this will be better than a traditional library and that soon kids won't remember what a book looks like. This infuriates Miss Lotty beyond her control, and she starts to turn into her dragon self.

A hilarious book with a cautionary message about the value of electronics, this story is awesome.

"Toads on Toast" by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Colin Jack, Kids Can Press, 2012, 32 pages, $16.95 hardcover.

Fox was bored with his daily routine of going to the pond, catching a fat toad, boiling it and eating it. He needed a change.

When Fox went to the cookbook store, he was amazed at how many recipes he found for toads. But each recipe specifically called for small, young toads, not the large ones he had been eating. So that evening, Fox caught a large sack of young toads, but as he was about to make his dinner, Mother Toad came flying in through the window to save her children. At first Fox couldn't be convinced not to fry up the little toads, but eventually Mother Toad persuaded Fox to try her secret delicious recipe for Toad-in-a-Hole (that doesn't have a thing to do with toads)!

Age 8 and 9

"I Don't Believe it, Archie" by Andrew Norriss, illustrated by Hannatt Shaw, David Fickling Books, 2012, 124 pages, $12.99 hardcover.

Odd things are always happening to Archie, and sometimes they are especially odd. For example, on the way to mail a letter, a piano rolls down the street, traps a girls driving her mother's car, then a truck carrying a load of gravel buries the car. A sequence of further bizarre events has Archie miraculously saving the day and making a new friend, Cyd, the girl in the car.

Cyd thinks Archie's odd adventures are exciting, and wants to hang out with him to witness more. And just like Archie said, it is a week of one crazy thing happening after another.

"How to Be a Detective: Search for clues, analyze the evidence, and solve the case!" by Dan Waddell, illustrated by Jim Smith, Candlewick, 2012, 22 pages, $19.99 hardcover.

For kids who think they might want to be the next Sherlock Holmes, this fun book gives budding detectives the low-down on how to become just that. With hilarious illustrations combined with engaging, fast-paced text and loads of flaps to lift, extra booklets within the book, an ink pad for taking fingerprints and the equipment and instructions to make your own periscope, this choice provides hours of awesome fun.

"I Have a Dream" by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Schwartz & Wade, 2012, 34 pages, $18.99 hardcover.

Almost 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed our nation and gave one of the most important speeches in American history. He called on Americans to join him in his dream for freedom and equality and peace for all Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, their religion, their age. Dr. King's speech deeply moved Americans across the country then, and continues to do so today.

Paired with the magnificent paintings of Kadir Nelson, this offering is as stirring as it is important. This marvelous selection comes with Dr. King's speech in its entirety at the back of the book and an audio CD of Dr. King's speech as was heard on August 28, 1963.

Age 10 and 11

"Behind the Bookcase" by Mark Steensland, illustrated by Kelly Murphy, Delacourt, 2012, 265 pages, $16.99 hardcover.

When Sarah's Grandma Winnie dies, she and her family move to her grandmother's home for the summer to fix it up and sell it. This isn't something Sara thinks will be remotely interesting, but not long after their arrival Sarah discovers an unfinished letter her grandmother wrote which describes strange things happening behind the bookcase.

Sarah's decides to investigate and what she stumbles upon is beyond her wildest imaginings - a strange and often frightening place called Scotopia where shadows come from. Befriended by a talking cat named Balthazat, she is lured into this dangerous world. Encountering some helpers along the way, it rapidly becomes clear that not everyone is to be trusted and that Sarah must be the one to rescue her brother Billy, her newfound friends and a world she hadn't realized she was destined to save.

"Will Sparrow's Road" by Karen Cushman, Clarion, 2012, 216 pages, $16.99 hardcover.

Elizabethan England finds young Will Sparrow alone, hungry, penniless and barefoot. His father had sold him for a beer, and before he could be sold again (this time, as a chimney sweep), Will runs away, declaring, "I care for no one but myself and nothing but my belly!" Careful to avoid detection and capture, Will encounters some colorful characters in his quest to find food and shelter-some of those people turn out to be liars. Vowing never to trust anyone again, it's lucky for Will that he can't keep his own promise.

As she always does, award-winning author Karen Cushman has crafted a wonderful story that is filled with unforgettable characters and wisdom, peppered with humor, all rolled into one magnificent, wholly satisfying read.

www.greatestbooksforkids.com

"Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt" by Clint Twist, illustrated by Ian Andrew, Diz Wallis, and Eloise A. Lambert, Templar Books/Candlewick, 2012, 30 pages, $19.99 hardcover.

Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt more than 2,000 years ago. Her intelligence, power and cunning immortalized her in many ways, and this fascinating book provides a detailed look at who she was, what issues she dealt with to protect her country from dominion by the Roman Empire, and the allies she fostered to accomplish her goals. Interspersed with fictional extracts of a memoir Cleopatra may have written and brimming with wonderful artwork and extra booklets throughout, this well-written, fast-paced book will have readers mesmerized by what they will learn about this powerful queen and the history of that time period.

Age 12 and older

"The Dogs of Winter" by Bobbie Pyron, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012, 312 pages, $16.99 hardcover.

Inspired by and based on a true story, Bobbie Pyron has written an incredible story of a small boy who, after his mother disappears, is abandoned on the streets of Moscow. With little clothing to keep him warm, nothing to eat, and no shelter, Ivan finds himself adopted by a pack of street dogs. The dogs protect him and become his family, and together they roam the city and countryside in search of food and warmth. Ultimately, theirs becomes a bond stronger than many human families.

"Dead Cat Bounce" by Nic Bennett, Penguin, 2012, 345 pages, $17.99 hardcover.

When Jonah Lightbody turns 12 years old, he joins his father on the trading floor of the aggressive London investment bank, Hellcat, for Bring Your Child To Work Day. The relationship between Jonah and his father is strained at best, so when the hotshot trader who calls himself the Baron offers to take Jonah under his wing for the day, Jonah's father reluctantly agrees. Little did his father know that the Baron would take a sincere interest in Jonah's abilities and, over the next several years (unbeknownst to Jonah's father) teach Jonah how to get rich fast.

Four years later, Jonah is in over his head. The Baron's interest in Jonah and his financial savvy have escalated, and the Baron wants Jonah as a part of a secret, evil organization that generates untold wealth illegally and has the potential to create global economic disaster. When Jonah's father realizes what is going down and the deadly stakes that are at play, the two are determined to uncover the clandestine organization and put an end to it.

"Son" by Lois Lowry, Houghton Mifflin, 2012, 393 pages, $17.99 hardcover.

Claire lives in a world where there are no choices, and she has no choice about being assigned a job as a Vessel - a Birthmother. Birthmothers carry a Product, and when the time is right, the Product is taken. But when Claire learns that her Product was a baby boy, she is overcome with a deep sense of loss; she doesn't feel the cold detachment like others in her community and refuses to forget him.

Escaping from that community, Claire finds a good life with kind, loving people who are nothing like those she left behind. But despite her good fortune, she still yearns to find her son, so she journeys on and makes a bargain with Tradesmaster - the embodiment of all evil disguised as a man. It is a dangerous bargain, but nothing will stop Claire from finding her son.

"'Who Could That Be At This Hour?' All the Wrong Questions" by Lemony Snicket, Little, Brown, 258, $15.99 hardcover.

Twelve-year-old Lemony Snicket is a new recruit to a secret organization whose mission is to uncover the truth and set things right. On his first assignment as an apprentice, Snicket is working under the direction of S. Theodora Markson, an agent of very poor ranking (as Snicket's research uncovers).

Their first assignment is in the bizarre town aptly named Stain's-by-the-Sea where a priceless item has been stolen and must be returned to the "rightful" owner.

"Rightful" is the key word here, since, in the author's usual style, the endless twists and turns on every page and often every line will have readers engaged, laughing, and trying to figure out what is really happening, from the first page to the last.

The first book in author Lemony Snicket's new series, "All the Wrong Questions," there is no doubt that this novel will be well received.

www.greatestbooksforkids.com

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