Bright Books Teach Smart Concepts

By

ABC DISNEY: AN ALPHABET POP-UP

Illustrated by Robert Sabuda

Disney Press

Recommended: The 100 best books of all time

$22.50, All ages

FIRE TRUCK

Written and illustrated

by Peter Sis

Greenwillow Books

$14.95, Ages 2-5

CAN YOU SEE THE RED BALLOON?

By Stella Blackstone

Illustrated by Debbie Harter

Orchard Books

$14.95, Ages 2-5

TEENY, TINY MOUSE: A BOOK ABOUT COLORS

By Laura Leuck

Illustrated by Pat Schories

BridgeWater Books

$15.95, Ages 3-6

TELLING TIME WITH BIG MAMA CAT

By Dan Harper

Illustrated by Barry Moser

and Cara Moser

Harcourt Brace

$15, Ages 4-8

What little one, just learning the alphabet, could resist ABCs springing to life from a pop-up book? What vehicle-loving toddler could resist a counting book all about firetrucks? What time-telling youngster could resist a clock book with movable hands?

This season, publishers offer sure-fire winners in the concept-book genre. Here are some of the most appealing:

Commercial as it may seem, Disney has produced a pop-up book with paper artist Robert Sabuda that's well deserving of attention. I usually disdain such novelties, but ABC Disney: An Alphabet Pop-Up is an exception. This book is beautifully crafted; kids - and adults - will love it. Sabuda, a Disney fan himself, uses charming and recognizable characters for every letter of the alphabet. New stars from "Lion King" and "Mulan" nestle alongside classic Jiminy Cricket and Cinderella. Using the same technique that brought success to "The Christmas Alphabet" (Orchard, 1994), the book houses each letter and corresponding image in a small bright flap, four to a double-page spread. This format gives a surprisingly sturdy quality to the intricate paper engineering. All the art was originally produced by cutting out hand-painted paper, giving it a look reminiscent of Eric Carle's work. Although it'll be hard to pick a favorite letter and character, ice-sliding Bambi, ball-gowned Cinderella, and nose-growing Pinocchio are bound to be popular.

Fire Truck, by award-winning artist Peter Sis, is a green-light-go read for almost any toddler. While not strictly a counting book, it contains a section where Matt, a firetruck fan, wakes to find he has turned into a firetruck, and he takes a 10-count inventory of his accessories. Simplified, fire-engine-red illustrations add to the whizzing fun of Matt's rescue and firefighting adventures. Only another love, fresh breakfast pancakes, can turn him back into a little boy again. Printed on heavy paper stock, this volume provides preschoolers a fitting transition from board books to more delicate paper pages.

Just as colors can be bright and bold or soft and muted, so can the books that teach them. Here are two fine ones as different as black and white:

Can You See the Red Balloon? is a vibrant, happily chaotic book of bright and primary colors. Florence, a black-and-white cow, narrates the bouncy poem by Stella Blackstone that asks readers to identify colors and shapes: "Can you see the blue flower?/ Can you see the orange tower?" The cow is always positioned near the correct answer. This is fortunate because sometimes similar colors - red and orange or purple and hot pink, - are fairly close in hue. Energetic and fanciful cartoon illustrations by Debbie Harter cover almost every inch of each spread and offer plenty to look at. Additional items to identify border the pages unobtrusively, should kids ever tire of the book's verses.

Colors and page format are more subdued in Teeny, Tiny Mouse: A Book About Colors, by Laura Leuck and illustrated by Pat Schories. Clear concepts and reassuring repetition make this a good pick for the youngest readers. The left side of each double page asks a similar question: " 'Can you name some red things in our teeny, tiny house?' said the teeny, tiny mommy to the teeny, tiny mouse." Their house is actually a doll's house belonging to a young girl who is so preoccupied at her desk that the tour of colors proceeds unnoticed in her own bedroom.

There are plenty of detailed miniatures to look at: a knitting basket, mantle clock, cups and saucers, framed pictures, garden tools, and toys. Of course, the little mouse knows his (or her!) colors and replies in rhyme: "There's a red bike in the corner./ A red cushion on its seat./ And teeny, tiny red shoes/ for my teeny, tiny feet." This book invites sharing and further color exploration; its final page asks readers: "Do you know all the colors in YOUR teeny, tiny house?"

It's hard to imagine a better time book than Dan Harper's Telling Time With Big Mama Cat. It's got everything: a clock with movable hands, plenty of visual appeal, and fun - but straightforward - narration. Best, though, is the realistic way Barry and Cara Moser depict hefty Big Mama. She couldn't be more catlike or endearing. At 10:30 she wants out; at 10:45 she wants in. At 11 she tries for a nap in the new chair; 11:05 she's helped down. Clever design and illustrations encourage readers to move hands on the 3-D clock to match the clocks and watches clearly evident in each beautiful watercolor illustration. There's enough to see and do on each page that children and adults will want to read this "purrr-fectly" wonderful book again and again - if there's time.

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