by Ann M. Colford

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

You may think you know the story of the Three Little Pigs - porkers, houses, a huff and a puff and one Big Bad Wolf - but that's just history's rendition of the tale. In order to be fair and balanced, you might want to check the Wolf Network, says author Jon Scieszka. Mr. Alexander Wolf claims it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding; he just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar from his porcine neighbors and he happened to have this nasty cold.

In David Wiesner's version, the pigs escape their fate by climbing out of the two-dimensional fairy tale convention into the 3-D world between the pages. They make a paper airplane out of a page and cavort through other well-known narratives, getting chummy with a fiddle-playing cat and a friendly but imposing dragon who proves helpful when they have to return back home and deal with the wolf.

Last Stand: America's Virgin Lands by Barbara Kingsolver and Annie Griffiths Belt (Photographer)

Every holiday needs a good coffee table book. Though this one's been around for a couple of years now, it's worth a look, especially if you have a nature-lover with a penchant for contemporary literature on your gift list. Kingsolver taps her background in biology and her passion for natural places and photographer Belt uses infrared black-and-white film that's then hand-colored to give each image a nostalgic, almost otherworldly look.

The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas

The sophisticated language of the seasonal story comes straight from the King James Bible, but the illustrations by Julie Vivas will delight both children and adults. The Angel Gabriel, clad in unlaced work boots, gets hung up in a tree over Mary's head as she hangs out laundry, then he delivers his message from God to her as the two sit at a small table sipping from huge mugs of tea. As Mary and Joseph make their way along the precarious trail from Nazareth to Bethlehem, she is indeed "great with child." The people in Vivas' world are sometimes bumbling, often charming, but always real.

Fire in the Hole! by Mary Cronk Farrell

This novel, recommended for grades 5-8, comes from local writer Mary Cronk Farrell. After much research into the labor disputes in the Coeur d'Alene mining district a century ago, she crafted this tale describing the events from the perspective of 14-year-old Mick Shea, a boy who prefers books to his father's hard work in the mines. When federal soldiers arrest every man in town after union members dynamited the Bunker Hill concentrator, Mick must make some hard choices to ensure his family's survival. There's enough action here to keep young readers engaged while the historical background filters through.

American Smooth by Rita Dove

The Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate released her first collection in five years last month, just in time for local poetry lovers looking forward to her visit here in April as part of the Get Lit! literary festival. When she's not crafting elegant verse, Dove is also a musician and a competitive ballroom dancer and she brings the excitement and energy of the dance floor to these newest poems. Some draw inspiration directly from dance while others weave the themes of movement, display and drama more subtly.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Spending time guided by the gentle hand of Wendell Berry can be a transcendent experience for a reader. In his latest novel about Port William, Ky., Berry lets seventy-something widow Hannah Coulter tell her own story, from a hardscrabble Depression childhood through World War II to the end of the century. Rather than overtly exploring the Grand Themes of Literature, Berry has spent his career honing in on the innumerable stories contained in one small town and its inhabitants -- the rich stew of human experience that's all around us, if only we'd look.

Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx's stories are not for the sentimental and romantic, but they are always wonderfully drawn portraits of people and places. In her newest collection, the second since she moved from the rural northeast of Vermont and Newfoundland to the rural West of Wyoming, she continues populating her stories with eccentrically named characters often lurching through circumstances far beyond their control. Sparks of magical realism appear, lending a whimsical touch to a few stories, but don't be misled: Proulx stares down the demons of rural poverty and isolation without flinching.

On Paradise Drive by David Brooks

Brooks is one - OK, the only - conservative pundit whose work I read regularly. It's not that I agree with his views, particularly in his contributions to the New York Times opinion pages. But his narratives generally avoid sliding into polemics, and he maintains his sense of humor throughout, making the journey mostly enjoyable even if I disagree with his conclusions. Following Bobos in Paradise, his examination of America's emergent upper middle class, Brooks continues his commentary here, asserting that belief in progress and a better future unites Americans across the socioeconomic spectrum. His books should not be mistaken for sociological analysis; they are basically extended op-ed essays. But he presents his opinions in an engaging and thought-provoking manner, allowing readers like me at least to hear his point of view.

Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

What happens when a couple of feckless twenty-somethings decide to leave the urban world of Washington, D.C., to spend two years in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati? Well, generally, not a lot happens in Kiribati, and that's part of the problem for Troost in this wise-ass travelogue/memoir. From the air, the island looks like a tropical paradise, but that's only because you can't see the disposable diapers and clods of poop floating in the gorgeous blue-green of a lagoon, or the pigs that regularly wander onto the island's only airstrip. Then there's the bureaucracy that functions only when oiled by bribery and the locals who seem alarmingly fatalistic. But slowly Troost adapts to life in Kiribati and begins to see the world from the islanders' perspective, forever changing his own.

Publication date: 12/16/04