Focus on family and friends. Picture books

A HANDFUL of new picture books celebrate two favorite themes: family and friends. The Red Woolen Blanket, by Bob Graham (Little, Brown, Boston, $10.95, 26 pp., ages 3 to 5), is a tribute to the baby blanket. Along with a cuddly teddy bear, a rubber duck, and two anxious parents, one wonderful, fluffy, red woolen blanket welcomes Julia.

The brand-new baby and her brand-new blanket are inseparable. This woolly companion provides a snug wrap for wintry sunbaths, a playmate in muddy puddles, and a cozy house during moments of solitude. But these numerous responsibilities are rather ``wearing'' and after months of being spilled on, vacuumed, rubbed, sucked, and chewed, the fluffy blanket is merely a postage-stamp patch of pink threads. A humorous but tender telling of a young child's attachment for her ``everywhere'' blanket.

Peter has invented a special way of hiding in Where's Peter, by Edith Kunhardt (Greenwillow, New York, $11.95, 22 pp., ages 3 to 6). Every night during his bath, he puts a washcloth on his back and becomes ``invisible.''

A baby sister arrives and Peter begins to notice his parents are not quite so available to play the ``invisible game'' with him. One day when the new baby, Abby, is big enough for the family tub, Peter shares his secret game with her.

The illustration in this picture book is simple, yet effective. So is the author's message. How refreshing to see an older brother willingly step from the limelight and warmly welcome the new baby!

How many excuses can you think of to avoid cleaning your room? Although the little girl in I Meant to Clean my Room Today, by Miriam Nerlove (Margaret K. McElderry, New York, $12.95, 26 pp., ages 4 to 7), is making a ``sincere'' effort, she is interrupted in her task by some most distracting intruders.

A closer look at the colorfully illustrated room reveals that the visiting animals have all emerged from patterns of clothing, curtains, wallpaper, pictures, or toys in her messy room. It's a creative imagination, instead of uninvited callers, that is getting in the way of tidy time. Told in skipping verse rhythm, this nonsensical tale sparks chuckles on every page.

A lonely-day playmate materializes out of another child's vivid imagination in Rainy Day Kate, by Lenore Blegvad, illustrated by Erik Blegvad (Margaret K. McElderry, New York, $13.95, 32 pp., ages 4 to 7). After a young boy's brilliant plans for a perfect day with his best friend are spoiled by the weather, he is forced to be resourceful. Since the real Kate is kept home, he makes a life-size replica of his absent friend.

Detailed sketches portray the enthusiasm of the young schemer as he builds an afternoon of entertainment around this feather-filled companion. Equally appealing is the bouncy, poetic text.

Living in the heart of a big city, Sophie has a view of the sky that has always been shaded by high buildings. In Sophie's Knapsack, by Catherine Stock (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, New York, $11.95, 30 pp., ages 4 to 7), Sophie, equipped with her well-packed red knapsack, treks to the top of Blue Cloud Rock to see some ``real sky.''

The delicate illustrations convey the warmth of a campfire, the beauty of flowering meadows, and the ``big sky'' awareness of a mountain hike. Also portrayed is a small family appreciating the summer venture together. Hitting on all the highlights of camping, this book provides good stimulus for children gearing up for a summer excursion.

As storm clouds gather and the world is shadowed in purples and blues, a restless young boy sits with his grandfather in Storm in the Night, by Mary Stolz, illustrated by Pat Cummings (Harper & Row, New York, $12.95, 30 pp., ages 6 to 9). To fill the empty minutes in the ever-darkening house, Thomas asks grandfather for a story.

The threatening mood of the thunderstorm, portrayed in the cool colors of the illustrations and the vivid images of ``barreling thunder'' with ``lightning licking a navy-blue sky,'' is a little scary for its intended age group. Even the subtle message about fear in grandfather's tale and the casual repartee in the text call for an older audience.

Joan Sherman Hunt is a children's librarian and reading teacher.

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