Choices for children

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This spring there are several new picture-book editions of myths, legends, and folk tales. Joanna Troughton, an English author/illustrator, has retold Tortoise's Dream, an African folk tale, and How Rabbit Stole the Fire, a North American Indian tale. In ``Tortoise's Dream'' the swifter, braver animals dismiss Tortoise's offer to find a secret tree laden with fruit. In the end, however, it is the slow and steady Tortoise who succeeds. In the North American tale, the crafty trickster Rabbit outwits the Sky people and steals their fire. Troughton's vibrant illustrations accompany these fascinating tales about the origins of fruit and fire. (Peter Bedrick, $10.95 each, ages 4 to 8.) The Village of Round and Square Houses, retold by Ann Grifalconi, is a true story of a small village in central Africa where the women live in round huts and the men in square ones. The tale, which Grifalconi originally heard from a young girl who grew up in the village, explains the origin of this unusual practice. Bold, dramatic illustrations echo the rhythm of African life. (Little, Brown, $14.95, ages 4 to 8.)

The tale of The Elves and the Shoemaker, originally recorded by the Brothers Grimm, has been retold and illustrated by Bernadette Watts. In this attractive oversized edition, the finely detailed illustrations are filled with dark beams, half-timbered houses, and tiled roofs. (North-South Books, distributed by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $12.95, ages 4 to 8.).

The nursery-rhyme character Solomon Grundy, who was ``born on a Monday,'' is imaginary. But in her new book, Solomon Grundy, author/illustrator Susan Hoguet, using material from newspapers, old prints, and photographs, has created an authentic background for the original nursery rhyme. Solomon's life history is dotted with important events from US history, and careful examination of Hoguet's beautiful watercolor illustrations will reward the reader with hours of pleasure. (Dutton, $11.95, ages 4 to 8.)

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Although fantasy and science fiction are popular with older readers, realistic novels still predominate the teen books. The Cuckoo Sister, by British writer Vivien Alcock, is a deftly written story about the unexpected return of a youngster who had been kidnapped as a baby. Alcock's light touch and humorous insights help keep the story from becoming heavy or hard going. (Delacorte, $14.95, ages 10 to 14.)

Jan Mark, another British writer for young adults, also has a new book out. Trouble Half-Way is an amusing and insightful story of a young girl's resistance to her stepfather's attempts to gain her friendship. A family emergency forces the two to spend a week together, and they become a real team. The author has included a glossary at the end to help translate some British phrases that American children might find difficult. (Atheneum, ages 10 to 14, $11.95.)

The Not-Just-Anybody Family, by Betsy Byars, is about family unity. The Blossom family, who lives in a ramshackle house at the edge of town, sticks together no matter what. But when Pap, the children's grandfather, is put in jail for disturbing the peace, their resources are stretched to the limit. Byars's latest book is a warm story about the bad -- and good -- times families face. (Delacorte, $13.95, ages 10 to 14.)

An unusual fantasy/mystery, Up From Jericho Tel, by E. L. Konigsburg, is the story of two children determined to grow up to be famous. They meet a ghost, an aged actress named Tallulah, who believes it takes three things to become a star. She gives the children the task of finding out who stole her necklace -- the Regina Stone -- and while they solve this mystery, they learn for themselves what it means to be a true star. A tersely written and challenging book that Konigsburg fans will enjoy. (Atheneum, $13.95, ages 10 to 14.)

Stage Fright, a Sebastian Barth mystery, is the latest in a series of mysteries written by author James Howe. Child-detective Sebastian Barth solves the mystery of who is trying to frighten the famous Michaele Caraway into quitting her part in a summer play. A fun book for children who enjoy mysteries, but have outgrown the Nancy Drew series. (Atheneum, ages 10 to 14, $10.95.)

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