Great Books To Give Your Little Ones

A recently released children's book tells the story of how Duke Ellington brought swing to the holiday classic, 'The Nutcracker.' Also, Texan vampires go up against werewolves and were-armadillos in a popular young adult novel. These are just some of the books that top librarian Loriene Roy's list of holiday books. She speaks to host Michel Martin.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Switching gears now, for the past week, we've been giving ideas for gifts and gadgets for this holiday season. And we know that some people might still be looking for a last-minute Hanukkah or Christmas present, so since we love our books, we thought we'd share some ideas for books, too, especially for children and young adults.

We've asked our favorite librarian, Loriene Roy, to stop by with a few ideas for books she can recommend this holiday season. Loriene is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, School of Information, and a past president of the American Library Association. She is also founder of a national reading club for Native American students, a cause dear to her heart since she's also Native American, and she's with us once again now.

Welcome back, Loriene. It's so good to hear from you.

LORIENE ROY: Well, it's always good to hear from you, Michel.

MARTIN: Let's start with a couple of children's books. The first one you recommended is actually based on an album, so let's see if we can recognize it. Here it is:

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEANUT BRITTLE BRIGADE")

MARTIN: That was "Peanut Brittle Brigade" from the Duke Ellington album, "Nutcracker Suite." That's a Christmas jazz interpretation of the famous "Nutcracker."

Why do you like the book, "Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite," by Anna Harwell Celenza?

ROY: Well, for several reasons. One, is the pictures are so wonderful and vibrant and you put that CD in as you're reading that book. You're going to smile because you'll recognize the "Nutcracker Suite" and you won't recognize it. It is so lively. You know, bringing back big band jazz and Ellington, as really the most important composer in jazz history, it doesn't look like this part of his history and contribution is as well known.

Last night, I looked at Grove online, you know, the first stop for music information and I read his biography. There was no mention of the "Nutcracker Suite," so you feel like you're part of some big event in music history and listening to it, you know, a family experience. You should get the book just for the CD if nothing else, but the illustrations are terrific and really a story written by someone who's a musicologist and a music historian.

MARTIN: The other children's book you brought along is "The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood," by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Sioux, meaning S-I-O-U-X, meaning Sioux, the Native American tribe. Tell us what it's about.

ROY: Yeah, this is a really touching story. It's autobiographical, so you're learning about Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve's own childhood during a, you know, harsh winter, her growing up. And these gift boxes and that was, for me, the real selling point. They called them East boxes, standing for the East, boxes coming from churches from the East. And, actually, my own family received those boxes and, sometimes, I received clothes from the donation boxes when I was growing up. So I thought, you know, this is a great connection to my own childhood, too.

MARTIN: Tell us a little bit about the story, if you would.

ROY: Well, in the story, Virginia's living in her reservation area in South Dakota with her family. Her father's a minister and the children are walking through the snow to the school and, you know, it's a blowing, blizzardy day and they're looking forward to these boxes of clothing arriving from the East. And what she really needs is a new coat and the boxes arrive and, of course, there is a beautiful coat in there, but her mother says, you know, other people really need this coat more than you and so, you know, self-sacrificing, she makes sure that this beautiful coat goes to someone who really does deserve one, but Virginia and her brother, who was also looking for cowboy boots, also receive a nice surprise for Christmas.

MARTIN: And what age group do you recommend for this book?

ROY: Well, I think you could start with even preschoolers like kindergarteners on up, but the pictures are very lovely, evocative. If you like South Dakota, you know, a family Christmas book. I'm saving it for the grandchildren I hope to have someday. So it is a beautiful book.

MARTIN: And it is a beautiful book, but I also love the fact that you don't have to be a member of the Sioux Nation. It's the kind of story that I think many people can feel. Does that make sense? I mean, no matter your background, it's just the sense of what it takes and it really is the feeling of the season that you really want something and to then to take a minute to think about other people.

ROY: Yeah. It is that story of - what is a community all about and how do you express that? And when you plan to do this and when you're just called on to make a decision, even at any age of a person's life.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Our favorite librarian, Loriene Roy, has dropped in to share some of her favorite books for children and young adults this holiday season and, you know, I did mention earlier that you're joining us from Austin, Texas, where some great young adult authors are emerging.

One of them is Cynthia Leitich Smith and you have with you one of her books, "Tantalize," but this is a little - how can I put it? Not for the youngest child, right?

ROY: The Austin - people know Austin for its live music scene, but many people know Austin as this really hub for writing and Cynthia has been leading this movement, especially for young adult writers and children's writers and so we're so proud of her. But I love her series about vampires and, you know, if you like "Twilight," this would be a perfect read-alike, but you don't have to like "Twilight" to really love "Tantalize."

And this is the graphic novel version of "Tantalize," so it's a book that might appeal to reluctant readers, to people who really are visual thinkers and especially to boys. Mother of a son, I'm always looking for books that would appeal to boys and, of course, talking to you with a little bit of an allergy throat, two of the characters in Cynthia's "Tantalize" also are having trouble with their allergies, so I feel very sympathetic.

MARTIN: Exactly. And she's also a Native American, right?

ROY: Yeah. Cynthia's also a Native person. Right. Muscogee Creek. And so it's great to see her work and she's written picture books and now this very successful series. "Tantalize" is the first, followed by "Eternal" and then "Blessed" is the third of the series. And "Diabolical." That's the title that's going to come out next month in January.

MARTIN: And it is important to mention that this is a gothic fantasy. It is aimed at the older teen. Fair to say, right, Loriene? And so...

ROY: That is fair.

MARTIN: ...this is not really for the younger child, so parents should be aware of that.

ROY: That is fair and, you know, vampires are not nice people, so if you're familiar with "Twilight" and other books like that, you know, they're not going to be surprising, but it's gothic, it's dark. But it also has humor. There's romance, very sweet romance, and there's controversy and there's justice issues and bad boys don't always get away, but you're not quite sure.

And the main character, Kieren, is a hybrid wolf. He's good. He's really smart. He treats people very well, but you want him to succeed, but the odds are really rough in an environment where you do have vampires and werewolves and were-armadillos, were-vultures, were-bears and were-opossums. I mean, that's a tough environment.

MARTIN: It does sound tough. You have one more young adult book to tell us about. "Sass and Serendipity," I think this is by Jennifer Ziegler.

ROY: Jennifer Ziegler, one of our great Austin writers. I love "Sass and Serendipity," in part - I'm the oldest of eight and I have five sisters and so this is a story of sisters. In many ways, Daphne is my sister Della and I am the cranky older sister, Gabby, in this book.

They are experiencing the same family, but differently. And, of course, as teenagers, there are the challenges of first love, denying it, avoiding it, dealing with it. There is images of proms and my sister went to prom, I think, four times and I never did. I mean, this brought back my family to me.

MARTIN: That's so messed up. I'm sorry.

ROY: Yeah. It's set in a little town outside of Austin, so I read it for the local connections and it's - you know, a family also, family going through separation and divorce. So, you know, it isn't all sweet, but the girls learn a lot and they become closer.

MARTIN: And forgive me for asking this question, but I know people would ask you. Who would particularly enjoy this book? Boys, girls, both, you think?

ROY: I think both would. I think girls would enjoy reading about the characters, especially Daphne's focus on apparel and events and just their differences. But there are some strong male characters. A young man named Mule and he comes across as everyone's good buddy and Prentice is sort of a dark shadow of a boy you're not quite sure whether you can trust him or not. And I think both ages would like it, although I do think it could have a big draw for the younger female reader.

MARTIN: So finally, we can't leave the adults out. Is there something that you're just really excited about for adults? And I understand that, you know, you can't pick one thing for adults because there's such a wide range of tastes and interests as there are among kids, of course. But is there something you're just dying to get into your friends' hands?

ROY: Well, I don't always read, you know, the latest, but I pick up on what people have been reading and I just finished Erik Larson, whom we all know for "Devil in the White City" and I really love "Thunderstruck." If you like solving a real life mystery along the way with scientific discovery, "Marconi and the Wireless." That's terrific.

I've read recently David Oshinsky's book on "Polio: An American Story," and I love that, too. And you see FDR's influence. Where did the March of Dimes come from, anyway? Sabin and Salk, their characters, and how were their contributions.

And I'm reading a novel by the author of the book we know and the movie based on it, "Whale Rider," and this book just came out about a month ago. This is a historical novel, but set in New Zealand with an episode that speaks to nonviolent, peaceful resistance that a lot of people in this country don't know about, but it did influence, subsequently, Gandhi's nonviolent resistance and also Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work and so...

MARTIN: And what's this book again?

ROY: Pardon.

MARTIN: Tell us the title again.

ROY: "Parihaka Woman."

MARTIN: "Parihaka Woman." Okay. Fantastic. OK. So is there anything that you want Santa to bring you that you have not gotten yet?

ROY: Oh, gosh.

MARTIN: Since we have connections, you know. We have Santa on speed dial.

ROY: Santa on speed dial? Well, Santa, bring me Johnny Depp. But if that doesn't work out, I'll take any book and I'll be very happy.

MARTIN: Okay. Loriene Roy is the past president of the American Library Association. She's also a professor at the University of Texas at Austin's School of Information and she was kind enough to join us from member station KUT on that school's campus.

Loriene Roy, thank you so much for joining us and happy holidays to you.

ROY: Same to you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Just ahead, singer/songwriter Tori Amos has won a claim for songs that have her finger on the pulse of what's happening right now, but for her 12th album, she started a love affair with classical composers.

TORI AMOS: My husband would come and say, okay. Isn't it time for a nightcap? Look at the stars with your husband. And I'd say, I'm still with the dead guys.

MARTIN: Tori Amos on her new album, "Night of Hunters." That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARRY")

AMOS: (Singing) Love, hold my hand. Help me heal with the dawn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Serving in the war on terror, they search for bombs, wear flack jackets and ear buds, shimmy down helicopter cables and parachute to find suspected terrorists. They are no ordinary soldiers. They are dogs and they are fierce.

LISA ROGAK: The dog is able to do the job of at least 10 humans.

MARTIN: Author Lisa Rogak on her book, "Dogs of War," next time on TELL ME MORE.

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