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Books: These gifts keep giving

What makes a good gift book? One that will be read, certainly, but also one that is likely to be reread as well. Here are my top picks for rereadable books published in 2009.

David Ezra Stein has been publishing books for three years, and his latest, "Pouch!" ($15.99, Putnam), is a triumph. Warm, emotion-filled watercolor illustrations and a brief text tell the story of a baby kangaroo's first forays out of his mother's pouch.

After announcing, "I want to hop!" he bounds back to his mother hollering, "Pouch!" when confronted by a bee, then a rabbit, then a bird. His timidity is finally overcome when he meets another joey just learning to interact outside the safety of its mom's pouch. A rewarding read-aloud to ages 2 to 5.

Mo Willems is the Dr. Seuss of the 21st century, and no beginning reader should miss his Elephant and Piggie books. In "Pigs Make Me Sneeze!" ($8.99, Hyperion), the 10th title of the series, Gerald the Elephant is convinced that his bout of sneezing is caused by an allergy to his best friend, Piggie. This can mean only one thing — the two must be apart forever.

Willems packs drama and humor into his brief text and spare drawings. Ages 4-7.

For chapter-book readers, there is "Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking and Other Natural Disasters," by Lenore Look ($18.99, Schwartz & Wade).

Second-grader Alvin, whose fears about school were hilariously chronicled in "Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things" ($5.99, Yearling), is back with a new reason to be anxious: His father is taking Alvin and his younger sister on a camping trip. Full of memorable, laugh-out-loud scenes. Ages 7 to 10.

Manhattan sixth-grader Miranda reads and rereads "A Wrinkle in Time" — the first clue that "When You Reach Me," by Rebecca Stead ($15.99, Wendy Lamb), is about far more than school, family and friends.

When Miranda starts receiving anonymous notes that seem to foretell the future, the reader becomes immersed in this unusual and compelling mystery. The surprises that are revealed at the end will send most readers straight back to the beginning to read the book again. Ages 10-13.

Finally, for older teens, I have two recommendations. For fans of "Twilight," there is "Shiver," by Maggie Stiefvater ($17.99, Helwig), the gripping story of Grace and Sam, who have shared a secret bond for years. In the winter, he has the form of a wolf and often appears in the woods near her home, seeming to watch over her. Finally, when Grace is 17, they meet when Sam has his human form, and their secret bond becomes a love affair. Their relationship is threatened by many things, not the least of which is that when it gets cold enough, Sam will turn into a wolf again and never turn back.

And for the anti-"Twilight" crowd, there is "Marcelo in the Real World," by Francisco X. Stork" ($17.99, Arthur A. Levine). Marcelo is at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum and has always attended a private school where he fits in well. His father, however, wants him to join the "real world" and insists that Marcelo work in his law firm's mailroom over the summer before his senior year. Here, Marcelo encounters illegal activity, sexual predators and a girl who shares his passion for music and being true to oneself. Marcelo's summer ignites change in unexpected places — he is not the only one who will never be the same again.

Susan Cassidy is a children's librarian with the Stanislaus County Library.

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