IT used to be that when it came to children's books, you could count on some sureties. Little Pig went to market. Alice followed a rabbit down a hole. Dorothy found herself in the Emerald City of Oz. Forget the sureties and welcome to the age of ``alternative endings'' in children's literature. Little Pig may or may not get to market. It depends on the choice made by the junior reader. A spate of new books out for children allow youngsters to choose their own endings. ``Turn to Page 14,'' this type of book would say somewhere about midpoint -- or words to that effect -- ``and Little Pig gets to market.'' Turn to Page 24 and Pig becomes a vagabond on a tramp steamer to Calcutta. Turn to Page 35 and Pig becomes an informer for the CIA.
Now, we have nothing against creative alternatives. Nor are we surprised at this latest phenomenon in publishing. After all, a decade that glorifies alternatives in most subjects of life -- ``alternative foods,'' ``alternative life styles,'' and so on -- could do no less than provide ``alternative endings'' in books. And there indeed may be a creative element in letting youngsters know that the choices we make do matter -- and that what can seem like ``endings'' or ``finalities'' in life may not be that, but just footnotes to a new chapter of experience.
Still, we confess to ambivalent, if not alternative, feelings about all this when it comes to literature. Give us a well-told tale with a strong beginning, a definite middle-section, and a genuine ending. Or at least an ending that doesn't put the reader in a quandary. After all, what if the choices were: (a) ``Turn to Page 350 and Rhett Butler returns to Scarlett.'' (b) ``Turn to Page 400 and Rhett moves to Schenectady and becomes a shoe salesman.'' (c) ``Turn to Page 500 and Scarlett retires to Florida on her savings from a Keogh plan.''