Books for very young children have become splendid things of late; sometimes they are so iridescent with color, so mature in theme, so laden with references to other works of art that they become ominous in their complexity. A young child, after all, sometimes has other things to do with books than applaud the virtuoso performances of author, artist, and book designer. He or she may use a book simply for reference, to reinforce the knowledge of words and objects he has picked up on his own. And fortunately, there are still books being produced which answer this need.
''How My Garden Grew,'' by Anne and Harlow Rockwell, in simple bright watercolors and declarative sentences, presents a small child showing the reader where his lettuce and marigolds and pumpkins and sunflowers have come from. ''I planted my seeds like this. I watered my seeds with this watering can.'' If this seems like flimsy text for an ordinary event, remember that rendering a natural process both simple and comprehensible is an art itself; the grace of this quiet retelling is an understated comment on the miracle of growing things.
''Tool Book,'' by Gail Gibbons, is a bright, graphically pleasing book which catalogs in words and pictures the most familiar tools. Principles of motion and rest which govern how tools work are suggested by arrows indicating the direction of use. As a dictionary, the book succeeds. However, two sizes of type are used, one to describe the category of tools and one to name the tools themselves, and the difference in size is not great enough to avoid confusion. Also, sentences which run from one double-page spread to the next are interrupted by the names of tools, making reading aloud a bit clumsy.
What one does with tools is evident in Byron Barton's ''Building a House'' -- a wonderful companion piece to ''Tool Book.'' In primary colors and primitive though highly recognizable drawings, the various jobs that lead to completion of a house are described. ''Builders hammer and saw,'' says the text, and we see a gorgeous busy-ness -- look, there's a mallet, a saw, a hammer from the other book! -- and up from the poured foundation springs an everyday ordinary house. When the family moves inside on the final page, the drama of construction, of plan and execution, is not lost on young readers. The house is sound. The book is sound.