Pig-out on good books

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OLIVIA Written and illustrated by Ian Falconer Simon & Schuster Unpaged, $16 Ages 3-7

IT'S RAINING PIGS & NOODLES: By Jack Prelutsky Illustrated by James Stevenson Greenwillow Books 160 pp., $17.95 Ages 5 and up

MADLENKA Written and illustrated by Peter Sis Farrar, Straus & Giroux Unpaged, $17 Ages 4-8

Recommended: Default

MOO in the morning By Barbara Maitland Illustrated by Andrew Kulman Farrar, Straus & Giroux Unpaged, $16 Ages 4-8

THE HIGH-RISE PRIVATE EYES By Cynthia Rylant Illustrated by G. Brian Karas Greenwillow Books 48 pp., $14.95 ea. Ages 6 and up

MESSENGER, MESSENGER By Robert Burleigh Illustrated by Barry Root Simon & Schuster Unpaged, $16 Ages 5-7

AUTHOR TALK Edited by Leonard S. Marcus Simon & Schuster 104 pp., $22 Ages 8-12

A DINOSAUR NAMED SUE: THE STORY OF THE COLOSSAL FOSSIL By Pat Relf Scholastic 64 pp., $15.95 Ages 7-10

Everyone knows the latest Harry Potter book was the big hit this summer, but is it the only read in town? Far from it! Here are several late-summer arrivals that booksellers will be using to conjure up sales this fall.

Poetry

When kids feel silly, outrageous rhyming poems can be great companions. Poet Jack Prelutsky and illustrator James Stevenson have teamed up again to offer more camaraderie. It's Raining Pigs & Noodles is their fourth volume of funny, clever, and just plain goofy verse. More than 100 poems address topics high on every child's interest meter: pets, siblings, chores, and yucky food. Prelutsky is at his best with puns, and they are tucked in all over the place. Here's a sample from "Is Traffic Jam Delectable?": "I dive into a car pool,/ where I take an onion dip,/ then stand aboard the tape deck/ and sail my penmanship." Stevenson's squiggly, cartoony pen-and-ink illustrations are a welcome and whimsical addition to every page.

As in any anthology, there are a few poems that adults may wish had been edited out, some with gross descriptions of food and some with light bathroom humor, for instance. But this book is for kids - and most kids will love it.

Picture books

It won't be here till October, but Olivia by Ian Falconer is already stirring talk in book circles. Not only is this one terrific picture book, but it's Falconer's first. In it, he captures the antics of a very self-assured, preschool piggy named Olivia. She is full of spunk, has very firm opinions, and is especially good at wearing people out. "She even wears herself out," proclaims the economical text. Illustrations are stunning, done in stark black and white with splashes of true red. Together, the words and pictures evoke smiles, giggles, and a rare but thrilling sense that this book may be absolutely perfect.

More than 21 million children live in urban settings. So it's comforting to note that a number of this season's good books feature urban landscapes. Here are three bound-to-be favorites:

Peter Sis, winner of two Caldecott Honors, has depicted his hometown of New York City in his newest creation: Madlenka. The story begins: "In the universe, on a planet, on a continent, in a country, in a city, on a block, in a house, in a window" is a little girl named Madlenka who has a wiggly tooth. Sis's juxtaposition of the grand and the minute is thought-provoking and is echoed throughout the tale. Madlenka is understandably excited by (presumably) her first loose tooth. Such good news must be announced to the people on her block. She tells her friends (most of them shop owners), who hail from different countries. Each person is introduced within the context of his or her culture. For example, when the French baker offers to celebrate with pastries and stories, little Madlenka and her tooth take a day-dreamy trip to Paris. In this way, Sis, who was born in Czechoslovakia, showcases many of the world's cultures residing side by side in New York. He incorporates simple and telling details - real and imaginary - into his rich and sophisticated art. Illustrations are intricate, providing plenty to see on every turn of the page. Several ingenious cut-outs provide literal peeks into this international city.

In an urban setting that looks remarkably like New York, Messenger, Messenger gets rolling. Robert Burleigh's rhyming text propels readers through the fast-paced day of bike messenger Calvin Curbhopper. The real appeal of this book is the colorful and energetic artwork of Barry Root.

He incorporates urban detail into every scene - from Calvin's studio apartment, complete with a full collection of door locks, to the slightly awkward and embarrassed expressions of office workers who share the elevator with our messenger man. Readers with a city background will delight in the familiarity of the settings; rural and suburban children should enjoy viewing the fascinating, frenetic world of a bike messenger.

Barbara Maitland's Moo in the Morning is all about another type of messenger, the heralds of the morning. At first, we hear the way-too-noisy morning sounds of the city: "There are buses going BBLSH! and cars going VROOM! ... and voices calling 'HEY!' There's the garbage truck whirring, crunching, screeching...." So, bleary-eyed mom and her narrating child go to Uncle Jack's for country quiet. But what's a rural morning like? It's full of loud quacking, clucking, mooing, and cock-a-doodle-doing. What can this little urban family do but return to the familiar and less disturbing sounds of the city! Illustrations by Andrew Kulman are bright, bold, and pleasingly stylized. This book is a real treat for morning lovers everywhere.

For beginning readers

The six-and-up crowd has a new series to look forward to this fall. Acclaimed Newbery Medal-winner Cynthia Rylant has just introduced her first two High-Rise Private Eyes stories. These are compact little books, each four chapters long, with delightful G. Brian Karas illustrations on every page. Bunny and Jack are a gumshoe team that solves simple crime mysteries in the city. Fortunately, the "crimes" in the first two installments are more like misunderstandings.

Rylant adds interest to the stories with good characterization and feisty dialogue between the two detectives - something that's hard to do with few words and a fairly restricted vocabulary. Alliteration in the titles hints at more fun to come. These first two are "The Case of the Missing Monkey" and "The Case of the Climbing Cat." (We're told to be on the lookout for "The Case of the Puzzling Possum.")

Informational books

For years, books on dinosaurs have tromped out of publishing houses and into reviewers' offices. So many come that it's tempting to ignore the literary herd. But this season an exceptional dino is featured. It's Sue, the largest T-rex skeleton ever found - and her fascinating story just can't be ignored. A Dinosaur Named SUE, by Pat Relf, is a captivating book about this "colossal fossil." Relf worked with the Science Team at Chicago's Field Museum (where Sue resides) to create an interesting, accurate, and readable account of this discovery. The story, which unfolded over the past decade, has something for everybody: For adventure lovers, the surprising find of Sue by a young fossil hunter and her dog in the Black Hills of South Dakota. For budding paleontologists, detailed reports of the excavation and preparation of the valuable bones. Artists will note with interest the remarkable solution to displaying a skeleton that is as big and heavy as a bus! Naturalists will learn briefly about the earth as Sue would have known it, as well as the observations scientists have made about Sue. There's also the information gained by shipping Sue's head to Boeing's Rocketdyne lab, which had the only scanner large enough to view the skull. All will share the drama of Sue's confiscation by the FBI, and the government-sponsored auction that resulted. The fascinating story, photos, and illustrations make this book a worthwhile read and a marvelous tribute to 67-million-year-old Sue.

Many young people who love to read also love to write, and these reader-writers will enjoy Author Talk, compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus. For this project, he interviewed 15 popular children's authors, and what has resulted is this engaging and informative volume. In an easy-to-follow Q&A format, readers get an inside look at the lives of some popular writers of children's books. Such authors as Judy Blume, Gary Paulsen, Lois Lowery, and Jon Szcieszka discuss their reading and writing habits, interests, and work. They tell stories about their childhoods, give advice on how to become a writer, and share photos of themselves and their work spaces. Information in this book is accessible, satisfying, and entertaining, so this could easily become a top choice for students' perennial book-report assignments.

*Karen Carden reviews children's books regularly for the Monitor. To join the conversation about books at 'MonitorTalk,' go to our Web page: csmonitor.xcom

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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