Picture books. A wolf, a bear, and two frogs

WHAT do a cunning wolf, a blue-bonneted mother hen, 100 pancakes, some doughnuts, and a scrumptious six-tiered cake have in common? Children will love finding out in the story of The Wolf's Chicken Stew, by Keiko Kaszo (Putnam, New York, $11.95, 32 pp., ages 4-8). In this tale, a shaggy wolf starts out as a self-seeking predator with never enough to eat who develops a craving for chicken stew. He finds the perfect prey but wonders if there's a way to fatten up his catch. Since he's a gourmet cook, he thinks he has just the answer, and for the next three nights he delivers his culinary delights to the hen's door. What he finds when he goes to collect his fattened hen will tickle readers.

The bright watercolors are wonderful, and special praise is due to author-artist Kaszo for meticulous attention to the detail of the animals' expressions.

In this first picture book she has published in English (several have been published in Japan), she not only gives the ``bad wolf'' a welcome new image, but also securely establishes herself as an outstanding new picture book talent.

With a minimum of prose, Time for Bed, the Babysitter Said, by Peggy Perry Anderson (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, $12.95, 32 pp., ages 4-8), humorously captures the frustration and strenuous effort that often are required to get a youngster to bed.

The engaging characters here are two frogs: The little one, Joe, mostly says, ``No!'' and the babysitter mostly pleads, ``Let's go!'' As Joe's creative evasion of bedtime continues to escalate, the babysitter finally screams, ``Why, oh why won't you go to bed?'' Joe instantly responds, ``Because you didn't say please.''

Readers will find this ``instant'' innocence short-lived in the ingeniously true-to-life ending.

Marc Brown gives readers another winner in D.W. Flips (Little, Brown & Co., Boston, $10.95, unpaged, ages 3-7). This picture book is for all budding athletes who dream about becoming champions. D.W., a confident first-time gymnast, is sure she can do flips already and so doesn't need to participate in the baby class. But when her turn comes to perform a forward roll, she lands on her fanny. With determination, she rises to the challenge and eventually becomes the class champion. Brown's fine drawings complement the book's simple yet basic lesson.

First Flight by David McPhail (Little, Brown & Co., Boston, $12.95, 32 pp., ages 4-8) inspires confidence and self-assurance in a young airplance traveler, while confronting some of the potentially fearful aspects of such an adventure.

In a humorous series of near fiascos, we see things go topsy-turvy on one tiny traveler's first flight alone. The little boy isn't the problem here; he is a model of self-control throughout. The naughtiness comes from his favorite stuffed teddy who has suddenly sprung to life-size proportions and is breaking all the rules and bouncing up and down the aisles.

This book shows considerable awareness of, and sensitivity to, a child's perspective. It's a sort of how-to manual, in which the fears of flying alone are tenderly acknowledged, and a humorous passage beyond fear is revealed.

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