Heroism such as Pippi's, quiet and unflinching, prevails in many of this year's titles as well: an Iowa farm girl risks her life to rescue victims of an 1881 train wreck; the young Frederick Douglass defies his oppressors; village women living on the outskirts of a rain forest in India thwart the developers who are clear-cutting their life-sustaining trees. High spirits abound too, in the tales of a mutt who renovates the doghouse of his dreams, a sea monster with a penchant for rescuing swimmers, and a boy who resorts to good-natured bribery in order to free Brooklyn from a punishing drought.
Home Lovely written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow, $15) A resonant, memorable tale of new beginnings, centered on a child who transforms the plot around her house trailer into a garden lush with melons and tomatoes. A fairy godfather, in the form of the mail carrier, comes bearing petunias. Could I choose but one title from 1995, it would be this book, shining with a grace all its own.
Pond Year by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Mike Bostock (Candlewick, $13.95) Waiting for muskrats, scouting for salamanders: a page-turning account of two friends, "wiggly little girls" up to their knees in mud, exploring the inner life of algae and frogs' eggs.
A Walk to the Great Mystery written and illustrated by Virginia A. Stroud (Dial, $14.99) Over the wooden bridge and into the woods with Grandmother, a Cherokee medicine woman and kindred spirit of hummingbirds and pine trees. A lilting excursion into the ineffable, and into Native American tradition.
Valentine by Carol Carrick, illustrated by Paddy Bouma (Clarion, $14.95) On a bitter February afternoon, a girl and her grandmother gather in a woodstove-warmed kitchen to nurse a newborn lamb back to life. Certain to be another classic from Carrick.
Listen for the Bus by Patricia McMahon, photographed by John Godt (Boyds Mills, $15.95) The chronicle of David, a boy who "likes big dogs and listening to the train" and who happens to be blind, off for his first week of kindergarten. A testament to courage, with splendid photographs.
Waiting for Filippo: The Life of Renaissance Architect Filippo Brunelleschi written, with illustrations and pop-ups, by Michael Bender (Chronicle, $19.95) A foray into 15th-century Florence and the life and times of the sculptor, engineer and architect who created the dome atop the Duomo, with magnificent three-dimensional drawings.
Ten Flashing Fireflies by Philemon Sturges, illustrated by Anna Vojtech (North-South, $14.95) A clever counting book and an evocation of childhood's deep, dark summer nights, when dreams are as thick as stars.
Fernando's Gift / El Regalo de Fernando written and photographed by Douglas Keister (Sierra Club Books, $16.95) The author traveled "deep inside the rain forest in Costa Rica" to document the life of a family committed to saving that country's remnant of old-growth tracts. Superb natural history, featuring English and Spanish text.
The Last Dragon by Susan Miho Nunes, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet (Clarion, $14.95) Above a noodle factory, in a small apartment, a miracle unfolds: during the summer that a boy visits his great-aunt in San Francisco's Chinatown, he rescues a faded silk dragon from a shop window. A rare, wonderful story about the riches of an ancient culture, with refulgent watercolors.