(Age 3-4 on up.)
I like Tim Egan's kids' books. They aren't spectacular. They aren't a delight to read (not the way books by Dr. Seuss or Maurice Sendak are). What they are is literate. They are, in fact, the most "literate" kids' books I've ever come across.
Most kids' books assume kids can't assimilate a mature storyline. The characters have to have one main trait, and that's it. Relationships are straightforward. Conflicts are fully resolved. There's a moral to the story...generalities, true, but true for most of the lackluster kids' books I've had to read over the years.
Anyway, Roasted Peanuts is the story of two friends, Sam and Jackson, who love baseball. Sam is a natural. Jackson can throw far and accurately, but not fast or hard enough to excel as a pitcher. Sam makes the town's minor league team. Jackson doesn't. "At least one of us will be a legend," Jackson says. At first, Jackson sulks and won't go to Sam's games, but Sam's playing sucks so bad Jackson takes a job as a peanut vendor, so he can heckle his friend during the games. (Great picture of a quietly grinning horse in a baseball uniform here.) Sam's playing improves magnificently, and Jackson establishes himself as a legend, throwing bags of peanuts a hundred rows away and continuing to work at the ball park even after Sam's seven-year run with the Grazers is over. The end.
See? No daring rescues, no bad guys turned into good guys by the application of virtue, no adults stepping in with overblown advice, etc. Just a nice little literate story. I've also read Friday Night at Hodges' Cafe, Serious Farm, Metropolitan Cow, and Burnt Toast on Davenport Street. I think Burnt Toast has been my favorite so far.