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There are thousands of children's books published each year and it's almost impossible for a well-meaning parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle to select the best choices from the ones that get a lot of hype.

So on The Early Show, Valerie Lewis, owner of Hicklebee's bookstore in San Jose, and author of Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children, gives some of her picks.

Reading with your children can stimulate their brains and improve their language skills. It can be one of the most important activities a parent does with children. Besides it's fun and brings the whole family together.

Here are some of Lewis' suggestions:

Don't Make Me Laugh by James Stevenson

This book is for the preschooler in the family. "This is for the impish child," Lewis says. "Kids align with the characters immediately." The book begins with a warning to children "not to laugh" and continues with a number of interactive vignettes.

Here is a brief passage from the beginning of the book:

"How do you do? I am Mr. Frimdimpny. I am in charge of this book. I make up the rules. If you wish to read this book, you must follow the rules. Here they are. Are you listening?

Rule number one says: Do not laugh!
Rule number two says: Do not even smile. If you laugh or smile, you have to go back to the front of the book! It's that way!"

Simply Delicious by Margaret Mahy

Simply Delicious

This book is for the preschool to 5-year-old set. Lewis loves the language of the book - great sounds and rhythms for reading aloud, she says.

It is the story of Mr. Minky who buys a "double-dip-chocolate-chip-and-cherry ice cream with rainbow twinkles and chopped-nut sprinkles" for his little boy and has to take it home riding his bike through the forest. Along the way, many animals want the ice cream as Mr. Minky acts to thwart their attempts.

Here is a brief passage from Mr. Minky's story:

"'I love the look of that double-dip-chocolate-chip-and-cherry ice cream with rainbow twinkles and chopped-nut sprinkles,' tweedled the toucan. 'Simply delicious!' And it dived and darted at the ice cream."

The Sea-Thing Child by Russell Hoban

This book is for kindergartners, and first, second and third graders. "Every once in a while you find a book so beautifully written that you want to read it aloud," Lewis says. "That is thi book. The text creates great pictures in your mind. The book is about 'being ready' and breaking out on your own. It's about taking action and being in control."

Here is a brief passage:

"The wind was howling, the sea was wild, and the night was black when the storm flung the sea-thing child up on the beach. In the morning the sky was fresh and clean, the beach was littered with seaweed, and there he lay - a little black heap of scales and feathers - all alone."

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman

This book is recommended for those in grades 1 through 4. "Paul Fleischman is a genius," says Lewis. "This book is getting a lot of 'prize attention.' Its message is: 'Be your own person.'"

It's the story of a boy who doesn't fit in. He's a nerd, who doesn't like sports and what other kids like. During summer vacation he creates Weslandia, a new civilization, in his back yard. By the end of the book, he's a cool person with no shortage of friends.

The Magic Show by Mark Setteducati and Anne Benkovitz

This is can be a multiperson gift, a great family present. "This is the book to give to the kid who can't wait to take it to their room, learn the tricks and then come back and entertain the family - perfect for the performer in the family," Lewis explains.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud, Not Buddy

This is recommended for kids in the fourth grade and older. "This is one of the most outstanding novels of the year," Lewis says. It's set in Flynt, Mich., in 1936.

Bud's parents are deceased. He never knew his father. Bud travels from foster home to foster home in Charles Dicken's fashion.

Eventually he gets into an abusive foster parent situation, and runs away into some potentially dangerous situations.

Bud sustains himself with rules that he calls, "Rules and things," such as:

Rule No. 83 is "If an Adult Tells You Not to Worry, and You Weren't Worried Before, You Better Hurry Up and Start 'Cause You're Already Running Late."

Bud is a survivor, and the book does have a happy ending. The book paints a picture of the struggles of everyday African-Americans in the Depression. And the kicker is that although this work is fiction, some of the characters are based on the author's grandparents.

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The last two selections are series books. Lewis knows that the Harry Potter craze has left some kids more interested in reading. The following series, although very different, are good reads for kids.

Sammy Keyes Series by Wendelin Van Draanen

These books are appropriate for students in fifth grade and older. "Nancy Drew, watch out!" Lewis says. "Sammy Keyes is a girl detective who is very smart and clever." She believes that these are really good reads for the girls on your list.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickety

This series is for kids in the fourth grade and up. "I cannot believe how mean these books are," Lewis says. "But, there are two kinds of kids. If you're interested in stories with happy endings, these books aren't for you."

"But if you like stories that are kind of twisted, these books are great," she says. "These books have no happy endings, no happy beginnings. The three children in the book are magnets for misfortune," she says.

"Their parents die in a fire that also destroyed their house. They are forced to live with a mean uncle who is after their inheritance....But the kids always survive the misfortune and go on to encounter more," she adds.

Lewis, who is also the chairperson of the Children's Issues Committee for the American Booksellers' Association, may be reached at Hicklebee's, 1378 Lincoln Ave., San Jose, Calif., 95125, or by calling 408-292-8880.

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