Lost mittens ... and a twist on Cinderella

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

NOTHING delights and tickles young readers more than stories of mischief and the outrageous. In Runaway Mittens, by Jean Rogers, illustrated by Rie Munoz (Greenwillow, New York, $11.95, unpaged, ages 3 to 6), a young Alaskan boy named Pica just can't seem to keep track of his new mittens, a gift from his grandmother. The mischievous mittens appear to have a mind of their own as they disappear whenever Pica needs them.

Rie Munoz, a longtime native of Alaska, has illustrated Pica's world in bold and bright watercolors that contrast dramatically with the snowy background. Although ``Runaway Mittens'' does not have a terribly inventive story line, it's refreshing to have an authentic depiction of Alaskan life.

In Tumbledown, by Paul Rogers, illustrated by Robin Bell Corfield (Atheneum, New York, $12.95, unpaged, ages 4 to 7), mischief turns into all-out slapstick. The village of Tumbledown, not exactly a typically staid English village, is a place ``where nobody bothers when things go wrong and nothing is ever fixed.''

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But a prince is coming! The villagers paint and mend the village, but they forget one spot - and the village retains its dubious name. The watercolor illustrations, almost impressionistic in style, depict the village with great detail. It's too bad, though, that the humor goes too far and becomes heavy handed.

Prince Cinders, written and illustrated by Babette Cole (G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, $12.95, unpaged, ages 5 and up), is a time-honored fairy tale turned upside down. Cole, creator of ``The Trouble With Gran'' and ``The Trouble With Dad,'' has transformed Cinderella into a modern-day Prince Cinders, who is tormented by his ``three big hairy brothers.'' But a fairy arrives via the chimney and gives him a car (skateboard size) and a suit (a swimsuit) and makes him big and hairy (he's a monkey now).

He takes off for the ``Rock 'n Royal Bash,'' but he's ``too big to fit through the door.'' As the witching hour strikes, and Prince Cinders returns to human form, he meets Princess Lovelypenny. But he flees in the face of such beauty, leaving behind an important article of clothing.

The lively and zany watercolor illustrations zip the story right along. Both children and adults, as they remember the Cinderella of their childhood, will take to this sophisticated spoof.

Anyone who has ever told a story and not been believed will identify with John Patrick Norman McHennessy - the Boy Who Was Always Late, written and illustrated by John Burningham (Crown, New York, $12.95, unpaged, ages 5 and up). One day John Patrick ``sets off the road to learn'' and meets a crocodile, who relinquishes the boy's satchel for one of his gloves.

At school, ``Sir,'' not unlike Thomas Gradgrind in Charles Dickens's ``Hard Times,'' who wants only ``facts facts facts,'' will have none of it.

You must ``write out 300 times,'' he thunders at John Patrick, ```I must not tell lies about crocodiles, and I must not lose my glove.'''

Then, as a lion and a tidal wave get in his way, John Patrick continues to be ``the boy who was always late.'' But in the end, Sir gets his just deserts - as should anyone who doesn't believe in the slightly fantastic.

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