With a one-room schoolhouse, a beautiful landscape, and a cast of young, you-get-what-you-see country kids, Hemi's Pet, by Joan de Hamel (Houghton Mifflin, $12.95, ages 4-8), steps back in time to a simpler, less pressured existence. But its wonderful portrayal of a sibling relationship - an older brother, Hemi, and his three-year-old sister, Ratta - is far from a one-dimensional stereotype. We enter the story as a very special event is about to take place. There is going to be a pet show at the school, and everyone appears to have a pet except Hemi. ``What's a pet?'' little Ratta wants to know. ``A pet is something that's alive and you love it and look after it,'' Hemi answers. Then he smiles and smiles because he has just decided upon the perfect pet to bring.
The day of the pet show arrives and Hemi washes his ``pet,'' brushes its hair, and dresses it up. Have you guessed what Hemi is bringing? Among the pets that come to school are a floppy-eared rabbit, a gigantic goldfish, a smug, green-eyed tabby cat - and Ratta (!) dressed in her favorite dress.
While this beautifully bonded twosome doesn't get first place, it does earn the award for ``most original'' pet - a red ribbon and a bag of potato chips. As the two leave school hand-in-hand, Hemi ties the ribbon in Ratta's hair and tells her she can keep it ``forever and ever.''
It's a real relief to read about siblings who have genuine, abiding affection for each other, and who move out into the world all the stronger for it. Their commitment to each other is also an inspiration to the other children who learn to value each other more.
Christine Ross's full-color illustrations take the excellence of this book full circle. Her masterful line drawings give a distinctly discernible identity to each character, whether human or animal.
Sometimes I Dream Horses, by Jeanne Whitehouse Peterson (Harper & Row, $10.95, ages 4-8), may become another family favorite. Celebrating many a young girl's dream - the love of horses - it is a positive, gentle story where dreams do come true. It also tells of the deep love between a young girl and her grandmother. The characters are believable and caring, and nurture one another.
On a southwestern ranch, a young girl nestles down to sleep under her drawings of horses and waits to ``dream horses.'' She dreams of them galloping toward the nearby mesa; she dreams of the ranch's new colt. But her favorite dream is about Grandma's own White Jamal who ``waits patiently to take me past moon, past stars. We race the sunrise.'' The very next day, Grandma gives the girl a sugar cube for White Jamal. As she reaches over to the horse, Grandma touches her shoulder, says, ``Hold fast to his mane,'' and boosts her up. She is actually riding White Jamal! Later that evening, it is Grandma's turn to share a memory as she shows her granddaughter a photograph of a young girl just her size, wearing a long skirt and a wide-brimmed hat. It is Grandma on the day she first learned to ride.
The highly detailed, well-executed pencil drawings by Eleanor Schick are outstanding, and heighten the book's appeal. But it is the way grandmother and her cherished granddaughter ``make and share'' memories that articulates the focus of a beautiful relationship, and thus makes for exceptionally fine reading.