There just isn't enough room to showcase all the wonderful children's literature being published these days. The young-adult genre, especially...

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There just isn’t enough room to showcase all the wonderful children’s literature being published these days. The young-adult genre, especially, is coming into its own. No longer just a narrow niche embracing those teen “problem novels,” it offers a wide range of innovative stories written by some terrific authors.

Of course, plenty of gorgeous picture books also came out in 2006. Here are some of the year’s highlights:

Picture books

“Max’s ABC” by Rosemary Wells (Viking, 32 pp., $15.99, ages 2-6). This ABC book is geared toward youngsters ready to begin looking at letters in an actual story. On each double-page spread, the celebrated letter is set in bold type: “Bite, Bite, Bite went the ants on the Birthday cake.” The story — involving a nest of ants that just won’t leave Max and his sister Ruby alone — is downright hilarious.

“The Little Red Hen” by Jerry Pinkney (Dial, 32 pp., $16.99, ages 3-8). Pinkney adds a few of his own creative touches to the text of this classic tale — and his highly appealing illustrations are warm, colorful and fun.

“Lilly’s Big Day” by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 32 pp., $16.99, ages 4-8). Fans of “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” are sure to cheer on this exuberant young mouse as she angles to become the flower girl in her teacher’s wedding.

“Toot & Puddle: The One and Only” by Holly Hobbie (Little, Brown, 32 pp., $16.99, ages 4-8). Bubbles — the new pig — latches on to Opal at school, only to obnoxiously copy everything she does (and take the credit). But when it’s time for the big ballet recital, Opal rises above such pettiness, helping clumsy Bubbles become the best ballerina she can be — for the sake of the show.

“Brothers” by Yin, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet (Philomel, 32 pp., $16.99, ages 5-8). San Francisco’s Chinatown wasn’t always frequented by people living in other neighborhoods. In this story, the budding friendship between an Irish-American boy and a Chinese-American boy gives readers a sense of how the fences surrounding this community slowly came down.

“Clever Ali” by Nancy Farmer, illustrated by Gail de Marcken (Orchard, 40 pp., $17.99, ages 5-9). Young Ali’s homing pigeon gets his family into trouble after it flies into the Sultan’s palace and steals a cherry, causing a slave girl to drop the whole precious bowl. The angry Sultan then threatens to toss Ali’s father into a demon-haunted underground chamber if Ali does not complete the impossible task of finding 600 cherries in a cherryless land.

“The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, retold by Amy Ehrlich, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (Dutton, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 5-9). Jeffers knows how to extract magic from well-loved tales and infuse it into her outstanding illustrations. Let’s just say she’s done it again with “The Snow Queen.” Definitely the stuff holiday gifts are made of.

“Teammates” by Tiki and Ronde Barber, illustrated by Barry Root (Simon & Schuster, 32 pp., $16.95, ages 6-10). NFL superstars and twins Tiki and Ronde Barber have written an inspiring football story about boyhood events that proved to be the seeds of their own success.

Older children

“The Adventures of Marco Polo” by Russell Freedman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Scholastic, 64 pp., $17.99, ages 8-12). A whole new generation of readers will want to learn more about Marco Polo after enjoying this splendidly illustrated book by a noted historian.

“Fairest” by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins, 326 pp., $16.99, ages 8-14). Aza might not be the fairest in the Kingdom of Ayortha — but she does know how to sing beautifully. From the author of “Ella Enchanted,” which won the Newbery Honor Award.

“Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters” by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by André Carrilho (Schwartz & Wade, 147 pp., $18.95, ages 8-12). This beautiful volume invites the reader right onto McKissack’s front porch, where the storytellers spin some fine yarns, full of humor and bits of wisdom.

“Bella at Midnight” by Diane Stanley (HarperCollins, 280 pp., $15.99, ages 9-up). In “Bella,” Stanley has novelized the Cinderella tale. Well, sort of… Though this feudalistic setting feels ancient, our heroine certainly has a modern spirit.

“Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini” by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow, 210 pp., $18.99, ages 9-up). This absorbing biography of Houdini is written in crisp prose. Indeed, it’s a fine example of creative nonfiction.

Young adult

“Clay” by David Almond (Delacorte, 248 pp., $15.95, ages 12-up). In a story vaguely reminiscent of “Frankenstein,” 14-year-old Davy slowly becomes entangled in the private world of Stephen Rose, a disturbed youth capable of molding wonderful figures out of clay.

“Incantation” by Alice Hoffman (Little, Brown, 166 pp., $16.99, ages 12-up). When Christian authorities in a 16th-century Spanish village begin persecuting Jews, Estrella, the young heroine of this haunting tale, learns she’s not really a Christian, as she’d always thought, but rather a Marrano — a Jew living a double life.

“Voices” by Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt, 341 pp., $17, ages 12-up). Seventeen years ago, the rigidly religious Alds invaded the city of Ansul, only to begin ruling with an iron fist, banning books as well as the practice of “heathen” rituals. Even so, 17-year-old Memer and the Waylord (a torture victim) have secretly struggled to preserve their humane ways. A fine sequel to “Gifts.”

“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party” by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 368 pp., $17.99, ages 13-up). Though Octavian, an African-American boy, is treated well and even educated during the Revolutionary era, he eventually comes to discover he is being used in a most racist experiment. Winner of this year’s National Book Award for young people’s literature.

“Wait for Me” by An Na (Putnam, 172 pp., $15.99, ages 13-up). Mina’s parents are certain she will attend Harvard someday. Yet Mina knows she’s lost her footing academically — and she’s feeling the weight of the lies she continues to spin to placate her family, in this candid tale. Then she meets Ysrael, an inspiring young man with his own dreams — and the guts to pursue them.

Local authors

“Ella Sets the Stage” by Carmela and Steven D’Amico (Scholastic, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 3-8). The D’Amicos have done it again with their latest book about Ella, a most lovable elephant who continues to draw in new fans. This time Ella faces a talent show with trepidation, until she sees how she can fit in.

“Mary” by Demi (McElderry, 48 pp., $19.95, ages 7-10). Demi tells the story of Mary, drawing on texts that include the King James Version of the Bible; “The Lost Books of the Bible” by William Hone; and “The Life of Mary: As Seen by the Mystics,” compiled by Raphael Brown. Her well-known artistic style conveys the life of Mary.

“Be Water, My Friend: The Early Years of Bruce Lee” by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee (Lee & Low, 32 pp., $16.95, ages 7-12). This lyrical picture-book biography of Bruce Lee should be very popular with fans, old and new.

“A Dangerous Engine: Benjamin Franklin, from Scientist to Diplomat” by Joan Dash, illustrated by Du{scaron}an Petrièiæ (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 246 pp., $17, ages 10-up). A challenging biography of Benjamin Franklin by the author of the acclaimed “The Longitude Prize.”

“Mismatch” by Lensey Namioka (Delacorte, 218 pp., $15.95, ages 10-up). When 15-year-old Sue, who is Chinese-American, moves from Seattle to Lakeview, she finds herself swimming uncomfortably in a sea of white faces. She finally meets an Asian boy. But he is Japanese-American — and her family has a problem with that.

“The Loud Silence of Francine Green” by Karen Cushman (Clarion, 227 pp., $16, ages 11-up). Thirteen-year-old Francine — living in Hollywood as the 1940s roll into the fifties — swoons over movie stars and all that dreamy stuff. Still, she’s astute enough to notice how McCarthyism is taking its toll on people and how the threat of a nuclear holocaust makes her life more than a little uncertain, in this thought-provoking novel.

“Grand & Humble” by Brent Hartinger (HarperTempest, 213 pp., $15.99, ages 12-up). Hartinger, author of “Geography Club,” moves into the mystery genre with this tale about Harlan and Manny, two teens who have absolutely nothing in common. Strangely, they both struggle with similar fears and nightmares.

“Hattie Big Sky” by Kirby Larson (Delacorte, 291 pp., $15.95, ages 12-up). Sixteen-year-old Hattie decides to take over her late uncle’s homestead — all by herself. This pioneer story set in rural Montana has been earning rave reviews.