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Last Minute Presents Deliver the Gift of Reading

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These gift-worthy books for young readers are carefully chosen and sure to please.

"Curious Critters" by David FitzSimmons; Wild Iris Publishing; 32 pages; $19.99.

Photographer FitzSimmons knows that common animals' colors, textures, shapes and personalities are all that's needed to entrance youngsters. In "Curious Critters," FitzSimmons presents extremely clear, up-close photographs of lobsters, blue jays, salamanders, katydids and more against stark white backgrounds, so the animals "pop" in astonishment.

Brilliant colors and intense details will make animal lovers out of anyone who peruses this coffee table worthy tome. FitzSimmon's short vignettes about each creature are fun, intriguing and researched by national science education standards. A two-page spread of life-size silhouettes asks readers to identify "critters," find changes, test geometry skills and has readers figure out what various colors represent. The book also has a web site, curious-critters.com, with additional resources, puzzles, coloring pages, e-cards, teacher aids and stories about the making of the book.

A super cool gift for children ages 4 to 8, "Curious Critters" will arouse the nature lover in everyone.

"Moomin and the Birthday Button" by Tove Jansson; Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers; 28 pages; $12.99.

Tove Jansson's classic "Moomin" books are surreal and whimsical tales with plenty of magic, sure to please both boys and girls. This new picture-book tale stars the hippo-like Moomintroll, who rushes off to show a new birthday gift to his friends. His pals, however, including Snorkmaiden, Sniff and Snufkin, are too busy to pay attention.

All is well again when Moominmama and Moomintroll decorate a birthday cake, and the friends show up with a handmade treasure chest decorated with pebbles and shells.

Simple but charming, it comes with adorably humorous and unique illustrations. Jansson's tale captures perfectly the sensitive concerns and joys of young children.

"The Worst-Case Scenario, Ultimate Adventure: Mars" by Hena Khan, David Borgenicht and Robert Zubrin; Chronicle Books; 204 pages; $12.99.

In this cool, adventurous book, readers can choose between 24 possible endings to survive journeying to Mars.

Readers learn they are handpicked to join an international crew to help Mars Base 1 prepare for its first wave of settlers. Their mission is part graphic novel, part page-turning adventure. As readers move through each story, they are prompted to make choices about how to survive and accomplish their mission.

A great choice for reluctant readers — middle school boys and kids who are really into non-fiction and learning about outer space — this mod book rocks. Also available in the series, "The Worst-Case Scenario, Ultimate Adventure: Everest."

Also cool for this audience, "Mischief Maker's Manuel" by John Hargrave, (Grosset & Dunlap; $14.95). It looks like a spy guide full of pranks, contraptions, tricks and experiments, all with a mischievous but educational and fun nature.

"Llama Llama Nighty-Night" and "Llama Llama Wakey-Wake" by Anna Dewdney; Viking/Penguin; 14 pages and $5.99 each.

The super popular Llama Llama books are now in board-book form with these two charmers, one for morning, one for bedtime. A sweet gift for any baby or toddler, Dewdney's colorful sturdy set features rhyming tales, one to introduce the day, the other to say "nighty-night" to it. Best of all, the books follow the llama through the routines most tots do to start their day and finish it, which makes getting there much easier.

"Walking with Henry: The Life and Works of Henry David Thoreau" by Thomas Locker; Fulcrum Publishing; 32 pages; $9.95.

Kids can learn quite a bit from the works of Henry David Thoreau. An incredibly beautiful ode to the nature writer, Locker's tale offers easy selections of Thoreau's works and a timeline of his life. A beautiful introduction to nature, "Walking with Henry" showcases mountains, sunsets, waterfalls and creeks — all as Thoreau experienced them. The book features great comparisons of nature to truth, beauty and goodness.

A lovely, affordable gift picture book, "Walking With Henry" is awe-inspiring and organic.

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

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