How the Young-in-Heart Share Wonder

From imaginative ways to teach the alphabet to exploring foreign lands and sci-fi fantasy worlds, Christmas gift books for children are full of delight and adventure.

By , who reviews children's books for the Monitor, has a master's degree in children's literature.

JEREMY KOOLOO

Written and illustrated

By Tim Mahurin

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Dutton, unpaged, $13.99

Ages 2 to 5

ALPHABET CITY

Conceived and illustrated

By Stephen T. Johnson

Viking, unpaged, $14.99

All ages

HOW SWEET THE SOUND: AFRICAN-AMERICAN SONGS FOR CHILDREN

Selected by Wade

and Cheryl Hudson

Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Scholastic

48 pp., $15.95

Ages 3 to 8

WYNKEN, BLYNKEN & NOD

By Eugene Field

Illustrated by Johanna Westerman

North-South Books

Unpaged, $15.95

Ages 3 to 6

TWIST WITH A BURGER, JITTER WITH A BUG

By Linda Lowery

Illustrated by Pat Dypold

Houghton Mifflin Co.

Unpaged, $14.95

Ages 4 to 7

THE MOUSE BRIDE

By Joy Cowley

Illustrated by David Christiana

Scholastic

Unpaged, $13.95

Ages 3 to 7

KASHTANKA

By Anton Chekhov

Translated by Ronald Meyer

Illustrated by Gennady Spirin

Gulliver/Harcourt Brace, Unpaged, $16

Ages 8 and up

THE SCHOOL MOUSE

By Dick King-Smith

Illustrated by Cynthia Fisher

Hyperion, 124 pp., $13.95

Ages 7 to 10

DINOTOPIA: THE WORLD BENEATH

Written and illustrated

By James Gurney

Turner Publishing

160 pp., $29.95

All ages

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

By Kenneth Grahame

Illustrated by Patrick Benson

St. Martin's Press

272 pp., $18.95

All ages

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

By Charles Dickens

Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti

Creative Editions/Harcourt Brace, 152 pp., $35

Adult/All ages

CHILDREN'S BOOKS AND THEIR CREATORS

Edited by Anita Silvey

Illustrated by various artists

Houghton Mifflin Co.

800 pp., $40

Adult/All ages

THE SECRET ART OF DR. SEUSS

Paintings and sculptures

By Theodor Seuss Geisel

Introduction by Maurice Sendak

Random House, unpaged, $30

Adult/All ages

At holiday time many of us turn to traditions that kindle the warmth of holidays past. The book industry is no exception. Many old favorites have been reissued in time for Hanukkah and Christmas. Here is a selection of some familiar books along with a few fresh titles - all vying for a place on your holiday gift list.

Alphabet Books

Books that teach a concept - such as the alphabet - can be traced back hundreds of years. These two new ones seem destined to become favorites.

Jeremy Kooloo, by Tim Mahurin, is a sweet, simple tale of a fuzzy white cat whose thirst for milk causes quite a mess. The words in this story start with the successive letters of the alphabet: ''A Big Cat Drank Every Full Glass.''

And does this artist know cats! Expressions and postures are genuine and amusing. Double-page spreads allow the cat to have almost life-size proportions, and make this charming book positively huggable.

Urban dwellers can't help but experience a flicker of recognition when looking at Alphabet City, by Stephen T. Johnson. In paintings so realistic they sometimes look like photographs, Johnson depicts each letter of the alphabet in urban or architectural settings.

For example, ''A'' is the end of the construction site's sawhorse, and ''Z'' is found in the zigzag of a fire escape. This book is a visual treat. And perhaps more important, it awakens the spirit of discovery and imagination in readers.

Song and Poetry

Glorious illustrations by Floyd Cooper and a fine selection of songs by compilers Wade and Cheryl Hudson make How Sweet the Sound: African-American Songs for Children a real picture-book treasure. Written as a companion volume to ''Pass It On: African-American Poetry for Children,'' this new work gives illustrated life to many songs from black culture: spirituals, chants, freedom songs, and jazz. It includes historical notes and music in the back of the book, making this a valuable resource, as well as a beautifully designed book.

More than 100 years ago, Eugene Field wrote his famous bedtime poem, Wynken, Blynken & Nod. Its soothing rhythms and rhymes are still pleasing sleepy children, and this season, Johanna Westerman's dreamy new illustrations provide extra appeal. Using a palette of mostly midnight blues and sea greens, Westerman liberally sprinkles slivery stars and fish into her illustrations.

Three children - all in nightclothes - sail their wooden shoe across the evening skies and then, when the journey is done, drop anchor on their own home's roof and climb into their trundle bed. A curious little black and white cat, visible in almost every picture, adds whimsy to this satisfying bedtime book.

Picture Books

Twist With a Burger, Jitter With a Bug - Linda Lowery's bouncy, rhyming celebration of dance - is sure to bring smiles and wiggles to youngsters. What kid can resist lines such as ''Boogie in the bathtub, hula-hula dance, rumba if you wanna in your underpants''? Pat Dypold's bright, cut-paper collage illustrations add irresistible exuberance to this imaginative book.

With The Mouse Bride, Joy Cowley has done a superb job adapting a traditional tale that appears in many different cultures to picture-book format. David Christiana's splendid watercolor illustrations add engrossing mouse-perspective visuals to this well-crafted book.

There's plenty of action as the mouse, who hates being small and weak, puts on her bridal veil and goes out looking for a strong husband. After exploring several good leads without success, she ends up with the perfect mate and a valuable lesson about her own worth.

Young Readers

Russian storyteller and playwright Anton Chekhov penned Kashtanka about 100 years ago. Now, Gennady Spirin, an illustrator born and trained in Moscow, brings the tale to life with remarkable images. Somber, muted shades and exquisite period and cultural detail evoke the Russia of a century ago.

Kashtanka is a little chestnut-colored dog who gets lost when following her owner, a cabinetmaker. Lonely and scared, she goes home with a man who feeds her, treats her well, and trains her and other animals for a circus act. She is happy and content, but still dreams of the comforting smells of her cabinetmaker's home and the little boy who loved her there.

At Kashtanka's circus debut, she hears her name called from the audience. What will the little dog do? This tender story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

After this year's hit movie ''Babe,'' Dick King-Smith may well become a household name. (''Babe'' was based on King-Smith's book ''Babe the Gallant Pig.'')

English author King-Smith's latest offering is The School Mouse. It's the story of Flora, who is born in a cozy schoolhouse and becomes the first mouse in her family to read. This is typical King-Smith: amusing and imaginative.

These are talking animals, but animals who suffer the realities of their world, nonetheless. Humorous black-and-white illustrations by Cynthia Fisher will add to young readers' enjoyment as they whip through the chapters.

Older Readers

Dinotopia: The World Beneath is the much anticipated sci-fi sequel to James Gurney's 1993 international bestseller ''Dinotopia: The Land Apart from Time.'' Fans of this earlier fantasy will recognize familiar characters, both human and prehistoric, as well as a familiar book format. Dazzling illustrations, calligraphy captions, elaborate maps, and quasi-scientific spreads give intimacy to the text.

The story chronicles scientist Arthur Dennison's venture into lost, sea-flooded caves. A second strand of the tale has Dennison's teenage son, Will, flying a daredevil mission to protect a caravan of dinosaurs.

The seemingly unrelated journeys of father and son end up converging, but not before mystery, danger, and romance are introduced to the plot. Although the tale is a bit choppy, with little character development, the Jules Verne qualities of the adventure and the stunning illustrations make this book well worth considering.

Last year in this space, we reviewed ''The Willows in Winter,'' William Horwood's ambitious sequel to Kenneth Grahame's classic ''The Wind in the Willows.'' This season Horwood and illustrator Patrick Benson have created a newly packaged version of Grahame's original. This Wind in the Willows has all of the original text; the favorite old friends (Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad); and the familiar, satisfying adventures of the River Bank and the Wild Woods.

New additions are an informative introduction by Horwood, fresh pen-and-ink illustrations by Benson, and an overall design that makes this version the perfect companion piece for anyone owning ''The Willows in Winter.''

Adults

Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol has been a holiday classic for more than 150 years. Although the story encourages the spirit of Christmas to fill our hearts, it takes the reader through some haunting nighttime experiences before ending on a hopeful note.

This newly illustrated version by Roberto Innocenti provides period details and a seriousness that matches the text. Ostensibly for adults, this is a beautifully illustrated, designed, and produced book.

Anita Silvey, editor of the Boston-based Horn Book Magazine, and nearly 200 experts have contributed a wonderful resource book to the shelves of children's literature. Focusing on the 20th century, Children's Books and Their Creators, covers almost everything from board books to young adult novels, and tells about the authors and illustrators who produce these books. This is an invaluable reference to dip in and out of, but it is also so interesting that many people will read straight through.

And for those who grew up reading any of Dr. Seuss's more than 40 children's books, The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss is a must-see book. This volume features full-page, full-color reproductions of artwork Theodor Seuss Geisel created for his own pleasure. Many of the paintings and sculptures evoke familiar Seuss themes, style, and humor, but they also offer a sophistication that makes this book entirely appropriate for adults.

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