Wrap up these books this holiday whether the kids were naughty or nice

  • Sharyn Vane
  • Special to the American-Statesman
12:00 a.m. Friday, Dec. 8, 2017 Insight and Books
Natalia and Lauren O’Hara wrote “Hortense and the Shadow” (Little, Brown, $17.99).

Perhaps you want to give something that will last longer than the latest electronic gadget. Maybe you just want to keep your young ones reading over winter break.

Whatever your motivation, the solution beckons on these pages — new titles that entertain, inform and engage: Your holiday gift list starts here.

Hortense finds her shadow tiresome. It constantly trails after her through the woods: “Everywhere she went, it went. Everything she did, it did.” So with a bit of help from a carefully timed dash through a window, she sets her shadow free. At first, Hortense delights that “the days are bright as the first winter snow.” But as she discovers in the deceptively complex “Hortense and the Shadow” (Little, Brown, $17.99), there’s a reason (and a benefit) to the darker side of things. Written and illustrated by sisters Natalia and Lauren O’Hara, this wintry adventure recalls fantasy stories like “The Wildwood Chronicles” as well as classic fairy tales. (Ages 4-8)

It’s snowing on Christmas Eve, and young Marie is enjoying the sights and most definitely the sounds of the party at her house – jazz with Miss Addie singing and Uncle Cab playing the piano. Post-revelry, she dozes off under the lights of the Christmas tree with her new gift – a nutcracker. So begins the Jazz Age-set “The Nutcracker in Harlem” (HarperCollins, $17.99), T.E. McMorrow’s reinvented version of the familiar holiday story. Marie battles the mouse army with her newly discovered skill at drumming. Illustrated by James Ransome, this interpretation infuses Marie with the confidence she needs to join in to music-making in real life. (Ages 4-8)

Christmas is just five days away, and the five Vanderbeeker children should be considering what waits under the tree. But their parents have told them their persnickety landlord won’t be renewing their lease, and come New Year’s, the family will need to move from their beloved brownstone. Cue the ingenuity of “The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99). This debut novel from Karina Yan Glaser harkens back to the big-family adventures of series like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy siblings. Isa, Laney, Oliver, Jessie and Hyacinth have ideas about how to win over Mr. Beiderman; the corresponding reality often goes awry. (Ages 7 and older)

Most students know about Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Maya Angelou. But what about pilot Bessie Coleman? Or social psychologist Mamie Phipps Clark? Educator Augusta Savage? Artist Vashti Harrison offers mini-biographies and portraits of 40 notable African-American women in “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History” (Little, Brown, $16.99). A book-length version of an experiment Harrison started on her Instagram feed for Black History Month, “Leaders” collates profiles of both famous and not-so-famous pioneers in the arts, politics, sciences and history. It’s an accessible, readable bite-size look at women left out of many retellings of history. (Ages 8-12)

Oscar Indigo just wanted to help his team. Down by a single run and with their star player suffering from an injury, the Wildcats are forced to rely on perennial benchwarmer Oscar. With the final moments of the game ticking away, he uses his secret weapon – a gold watch that stops time for just the few seconds he needs to fake a game-winning home run. But there are consequences to using that watch, as he discovers in David Teague’s “How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe (And Put It Back Together Again)” (HarperCollins, $16.99). As Oscar learns how to repair the tiny rips he’s caused in the space-time continuum, he also discovers that character matters just as much as action. (Ages 8-12)

Political debate is undeniably charged these days. In “Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights and the Flaws That Affect Us Today” (Peachtree Publishers, $19.95), Austin writer Cynthia Levinson and University of Texas constitutional law scholar Sanford Levinson link current political skirmishes such as gerrymandering and the Electoral College’s impact on the 2000 presidential election to the prescriptions set forth in the document. The husband-and-wife team’s topical, well-researched arguments, rendered in inviting, accessible prose, have collected raves from critics as well as a robust touring schedule that includes a talk Saturday at the National Archives. Debate aficionados and political science students (and the educators who teach them) will particularly enjoy this informative volume. (Ages 10-14)

Marcos can’t wait to get out of Maesta, the tough Tampa neighborhood he lives in — especially to escape his laissez-faire mother and her abusive boyfriend. When he’s chosen for a special after-school class (along with his crush Amy) it’s a step toward a future he previously could only dream of. In “The Closest I’ve Come” (HarperCollins, $17.99), debut author Fred Aceves depicts the ups and downs of the high-schooler’s life with an insider’s eye, from Marcos’ insecurities to his troubled relationship with his mother to his friends who also are trying to find their path – some on the wrong side of the law. Aceves masterfully sketches Marcos’ world with telling, gritty detail; it’s equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful. (Ages 14 and older; some explicit language and references to teen sex)

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is destined to become Empress one day – but only if she embraces the violent magic that runs in her heritage. Julie C. Dao’s lush debut “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” is a dark fairy tale that explores the divide between fate and choice. Xifeng loves Wei, the warrior who urges her to escape the cruelty of life with her aunt Guma. Yet she is torn between her loyalty to Guma — who has fearsome powers of her own — and her fierce desire to make her own life with Wei, far from the poverty of their home village. Magic, love, destiny and the lure of power all play roles in Xifeng’s journey, inspired by that of the evil queen in “Snow White” and buttressed by the detailed scene-building in ancient Asia. (Ages 14 and older; some blood and gore)

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