From an epic journey in the Norwegian bush to a junior jaunt through the music industry, Metro’s holiday book picks for kids focus on accomplishment, whether it’s mastering a new skill or overcoming the odds.

Give your eight- to 12-year-old one of these good reads, marking 2009 highlights in youth publishing.

Learn to Speak Music
Author: John Crossingham
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Price: $19.95 (paperback)

The language of music is universal and in this fully-illustrated and informative guide, Toronto-based musician John Crossingham (who plays with Broken Social Scene) is your MSL guide to reaching rock star status. Aimed at fostering kids’ inspiration and innate musical ability, the motivating manual covers all the technical bases from choosing an instrument, forming a band and recording, to hands-on marketing techniques like designing T-shirts and concert posters. Simple and entertaining language paired with tips from Canadian pros like Metric’s Emily Haines, Ron Sexsmith and Feist, and accompanying playlists will prime performers of any age and experience.

Odd and the Frost Giants
Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper
Price: $19.99 (hardcover)

For the followup to his Newbery Medal-winning novel, The Graveyard Book, English author Neil Gaiman enters the winter-touched ancient forests of Norway, accompanied by scenic illustrations by Brett Helquest. After the death of his father and an accident that crippled his own leg, it seems young Odd is stuck in a run of bad luck. But he becomes a good omen for Asgard, city of the gods, when he discovers he may have what it takes to liberate it from the occupying Frost Giants. With the help of a bear, fox and eagle he meets along the way, Odd uses quick thinking and a brave face to topple the Frost Giants and return Asgard to its rightful inhabitants.

Grown-Ups Are Dumb (No Offense)
Alexa Kitchen
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Price: $11.50 (paperback)

She’s bold, she draws, she writes ... and she’s only 12 years old. Massachusetts-based Alexa Kitchen, “the world’s youngest professional cartoonist,” has published comic books since age five and her latest collection takes aim at absurd moms, dads and adults everywhere. Mixing one-off strips with series character cartoons featuring female protagonists like That Molly Kid, Hurricane Abby and Kathy Ford, Kitchen’s comics reflect her own kid-common daily experiences. Young readers will easily relate to Kitchen’s clever stories involving school frustrations (complete with bossy teachers), the difficulty of “simple” instructions and annoying siblings, all accompanied by her exaggerated, entertaining illustrative style.

The Odds Get Even
Natale Ghent
Publisher: HarperTrophy Canada
Price: $14.99 (paperback)

Paranormal scares meet a trio’s endeavour for vengeance in the latest tale from multiple award-winning Woodstock, Ont.-reared, Toronto-based author Natale Ghent. The namesake of the three Odd Fellows precedes them. Outsiders in school, Boney, Itchy and Squeak have long been fodder for humiliation, usually at the hands of class thug Larry Harry. But their shared seclusion has paved a common ground for friendship, which they often enjoy while plotting in Boney’s backyard tree house. Finally fed up, the Odd Fellows decide to retaliate against Larry Harry using a haunted mill as the tool to squash his “tough guy” status. Using action and vibrant visual description, Ghent fashions a fun comeuppance narrative.

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