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Graphically Appealing Picture Books for Young Artists

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Kids today have oodles of artistic interests. These new books are gorgeous and interesting visually, and they also present fascinating topics.

"Animalium," curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom; Big Picture Books/Candlewick Press; 95 pages; $35.

A worthy gift book, for sure, this "museum" of pages showcases more than 160 beautiful animals and explains, as on the plaques of museum walls, how they've evolved. Beginning with blue and cream liner papers peppered with fabulous penciled sketches, the oversized, heavy tome begins with an attention-getting preface featuring a curious giraffe.

From here, the subtly colored (but realistically tinged) pages are organized first by "Invertebrates," "Fish," "Reptiles," "Birds," "Amphibians" and "Mammals" and further by creature type — "Flying Insects," "Habitat: Coral Reefs," "Birds of Prey," "Elephants." Clear, appealing fonts describe all sorts of pertinent animal information, while a "key to plate" explains what's in the pictures.

Gorgeously drawn with lifelike details, "Animalium" delivers what it promises: "Enter here to explore the animal kingdom in all its glory."

"Photos Framed" by Ruth Thomson; Candlewick Press; 61 pages; $18.99.

One of the more fascinating picture books I've encountered recently, this "fresh look at the world's most memorable photographs" gets readers to slow down, inspect and learn. From portrait photographs of Pablo Picasso and Louis Daguerre to nature photography (Sunflower No. 4, The Horse in Motion), photography as art (Warhol's Marilyn Diptych, Hockney's Pearblossom Highway #2) and 11 documentary photographs, the content is sound.

What Thomson does next is to clearly explain what's going on in each photograph, introducing the photographer and adding "photo thoughts." She blows up details so kids will pay close attention and zooms in with more explanations. In Migrant Mother, Thomson asks readers why the Depression-era mother gazes into the distance in the photograph. She explains the destitute state of farm workers in the 1930s, getting readers to understand the power of photographs.

A fabulous effort.

"Cast Away on the Letter A" by Fred; Toon Graphics; 45 pages; $16.95.

Philemon, one of France's most beloved comic-book adventurers, stars in this Toon Graphics tale, as he falls into a well, lands in the Atlantic Ocean and begins a wild and whimsical journey. With lots of absurdity and a fantasy world akin to Alice's Wonderland or Dorothy's Oz, the Philemon tales are madcap and zany, perfect for kids bogged down by beginning-of-school work.

First created in 1972, the hilarious adventures of teen Philemon resonate with today's kids, with the graphic novel genre being uber-hot right now. The colorful mod graphics are action-packed, with lots going on in each strip, and the comic-book tale is witty and fantastically fun.

"The World of Mamoko in the Time of Dragons" by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; Big Picture Press/Candlewick; 16 pages; $17.99.

"The World of Mamoko" is a series of wordless picture books with pages peppered completely with whimsical characters. "In the Time of Dragons" is a medieval tale: The king has been kidnapped, a fair maiden needs assistance, and Robin Hoof's arrow has gone astray.

Young children help save the day by spotting each character from page to page to discover a feast of stories waiting to be told. They'll also search for horns, swords and arrows, and collect coins and mushrooms on every page.

With adorable, unique characters with names like Mystical Miss Tubb, Jasper Fuggle-Hop and Royal Standard-Bearer Edwin Clench, "The World of Mamoko" is a feast for the eyes, as kids learn to focus and use their imaginations.

"Color for Baby" by Yana Peel; Big Picture/Candlewick; $21.99.

Four foldout mini-concertina galleries showcase 44 artworks appropriate for babies, from works by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Henri Matisse and more. Each foldout "book" focuses on a color — there's one of blue artwork, another red, yellow and then green. Smart and colorful and worthy of showing to baby as a book or of displaying on a dresser, this art set makes a primo baby shower gift.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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