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Originally published Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 6:00 AM

'Bigger Than a Bread Box' among tasty new novels for kids

Kids' books: New offers include "Secrets At Sea," "The Cheshire Cheese Cat," "When Life Gives You O.J.," "The Grand Plan to Fix Everything" and "The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True."

Scripps Howard News Service

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Good novels abound this year for young readers. Here's a closer look:

• Twelve-year-old Rebecca's world has fallen apart. Her parents have had a huge argument, and now Rebecca is being forced to travel from Baltimore with her mom and 2-year-old brother Lew to live at her grandmother's house in Atlanta.

It seems like the only thing that could help is a bit of magic, and that's just what Rebecca gets in "Bigger Than a Bread Box" (Random House, $16.99, ages 8-12).

Author Laurel Snyder cleverly mixes realistic fiction with fantasy as Rebecca discovers that things she wishes for — clothes, lip gloss, etc. — magically appear in a red bread box she found in her grandmother's attic. Smitten by the power of the magic, Rebecca never stops to think where the items actually come from until it's almost too late. By then, however, Rebecca realizes that what she truly wants — and needs — would never fit in the shiny red bread box.

Snyder's story is compelling, and Rebecca is a totally believable middle-schooler as she's torn between her desire to be popular and her instinct to do the right thing.

• Readers don't have to know anything about Charles Dickens to appreciate "The Cheshire Cheese Cat" (Peachtree, $16.95, ages 8-12), although the book, subtitled "A Dickens of a Tale," does feature numerous references to the novelist and his books that Dickens fans will enjoy.

But any reader will devour this story of how an alley cat named Skilley moves into a popular London inn, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, and develops a highly unlikely friendship with a mouse name Pip. For Skilley has a secret: he abhors the taste of mice and much prefers to eat cheese. The Cheshire Cheese thus seems the perfect place for Skilley until his nemesis, an evil cat named Pinch, comes on the scene, determined to rid the inn of its mouse inhabitants.

In short, punchy chapters, authors Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright tell a rollicking tale of friendship and skullduggery. Another bonus: Barry Moser's expressive line drawings, which are scattered throughout the book.

• Eleven-year-old Dini is a huge fan of the Bollywood movies made in India, especially the ones starring the beautiful Dolly Singh. Dini knows all the lines and all the songs, and loves to see her own life as a Bollywood script.

Then Dini's mom makes a drastic change in that script with her announcement that she's landed her dream job — in India. Suddenly, Dini and her parents are packing up to leave their Takoma Park, Md., home to head off across the globe.

In "The Grand Plan to Fix Everything" (Atheneum, $16.99, ages 8-12), author Uma Krishnaswami tells how the ever-resourceful Dini finds her Bollywood groove in her new home.

Krishnaswami takes a perennial theme — moving away from home — and gives it fresh life with her breezy writing style and a story that weaves together a number of seemingly disparate threads. But it's Dini who steals the show as she works to create her own Bollywood-inspired happy ending.

• The Cranston family home has two sets of inhabitants, one composed of humans and the other of mice. For years, the humans and the mice have generally coexisted, with the mice generally careful to keep out of the humans' sight.

One day, however, the humans decide it's time to travel to England to search for an eligible bachelor for their oldest daughter, Olive. The mouse family, including Helena — the book's narrator — and her three siblings, decide to sneak aboard the ship and travel along with the human family.

So begins "Secrets At Sea" (Dial, $16.99, ages 8-12) by Richard Peck, who won the 2001 Newbery Medal for "A Year Down Yonder." (The Newbery Medal is given annually by the American Library Association to the best-written children's book.) Peck, a master at blending memorable characters, humor, history and page-turning stories, is in top form here as he details the high-seas adventures of both the humans and the mice.

• Author Gerald Morris offers the latest book in his "Knight's Tale" series with "The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True" (Houghton Mifflin, $14.99, ages 7-10). The series is a comic riff on the King Arthur legends, and in this book Sir Gawain the True gets a lesson in courtesy and friendship. It may sound preachy, but Morris is never didactic as he hilariously details Sir Gawain's adventures with the giant Green Knight. The energy-filled illustrations by Aaron Renier further broaden the humor.

Two more great choices:

"Toys Come Home" (Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $16.99, ages 6-10) is the latest in a wonderfully readable series written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul Zelinsky, who won a Caldecott Medal — the top award for children's-book illustration — in 1998 for "Rapunzel."

• In "When Life Gives You O.J." (Knopf, $15.99, ages 8-12), author Erica Perl combines humor and drama to tell the story of 10-year-old Zelly Fried's desperate campaign for a dog.

Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.

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