Animals and Kids - A Winning Combination

New picture books for children continue to feature furry friends and other creatures as `Peter Rabbit' keeps hopping after 100 years

IT'S hard to visit the children's section of a book store or library this spring without being reminded that this is the 100th anniversary of Beatrix Potter's classic, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit." The lasting quality of her story is due, in large part, to Potter's exquisite watercolor illustrations and her child-sized format. But equally important is her understanding that animals and children are a winning combination.

This spring's authors and illustrators have capitalized on that phenomenon. Real or imaginary, the animals featured in these new releases are sure to engage both children and adults.

According to the Old Testament account, Noah loaded two of each animal aboard his ark to save them from drowning in a great flood. Author-illustrator Barbara Reid has crafted a captivating version of Noah's adventure in Two By Two (Scholastic Books, $14.95, ages 5 to 8). She uses stunning Plasticine bas-relief-sculpture illustrations and lively rhyming verses to re-create this familiar Bible story as a counting book, spiced with humor.

Veteran photographer and children's book author Bruce McMillan has created another winner with Mouse Views: What the Class Pet Saw (Holiday House, $15.95, ages 4 to 8). Bright, clear photographs of the class pet - a golden mouse on the loose - guide readers through the familiar world of school supplies and classroom objects, but the pencils, paper, and piano keys look strangely different from the mouse's perspective. The guessing-game format will surprise children with each turn of the page.

In the touching story of Pole Dog (Orchard, $14.95, ages 3 to 6), rich, full-color pastel drawings by David Soman balance the sparse rhyming text by Tres Seymour. Abandoned by its owners, "old dog, old dog, left by the telephone pole dog" loyally and patiently stays put, expecting to be retrieved. The dog's sad wait and final rescue by a different family teaches a valuable lesson about abandoned animals and what everyone can do to help.

Vibrant jewel-toned illustrations by Lisa Desimini bring to life the tropical setting of Fish and Flamingo, by Nancy White Carlstrom (Little, Brown, $14.95, ages 4 to 8). This is a tender friendship tale wherein the unlikely pairing of Fish and Flamingo enriches the life of each. They describe sights from their own experiences that the other could hardly imagine. When Flamingo must migrate, leaving Fish forever, each friend unknowingly gives a special gift to the other.

Martin Waddell's new book, Let's Go Home, Little Bear (Candlewick Press, $14.95, ages 3 and up) is as comforting as a soft down quilt. This charmer - a sequel to the award-winning "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?" - is a perfect bedtime story for children disturbed by strange noises. Walking in snow-covered woods, Little Bear becomes increasingly concerned about noises from Plodders, Drippers, and Ploppers. Big Bear explains that the sounds come from his own foot steps, melting ice, and snow clumps falling

from tree branches. Little Bear is unconvinced, so Big Bear scoops him up and carries him home to be tucked into their cozy "Bear Chair."

Fine watercolor and graphite illustrations by Barbara Firth capture the curiosity, bewilderment, and finally the contentment of Little Bear.

Illustrator Lynn Munsinger deftly includes visual humor on every page of Babysitting for Benjamin, by Valiska Gregory (Little, Brown, $13.95, ages 3 to 8). This story will ring true to any child who has ever tried to protect possessions or a private space from an over-eager playmate or younger sibling. Frances and Ralph, a field-mouse couple, look forward to babysitting Benjamin, a BIG baby rabbit. But despite their best planning, they are unprepared for his energetic ways. Good-natured Benjamin continue s to visit, disrupting his babysitters' home, until the perfect outside solution for entertaining him is found. Be sure to note the nod to Peter Rabbit on the last pages.

Rap has made its way into nursery rhymes in Yo, Hungry Wolf!, by David Vozar (Doubleday, $15, ages 4 to 7). Growling from this wolf comes primarily from his empty tummy as he romps through the catchy rhymes and rhythms of three classic tales with a twist. Outwitted by three pigs and bested by Little Red Rappinghood, Wolfie finally soothes his hunger pangs with donuts from the bakery shop belonging to none other than the boy who cried wolf. Exuberant cartoon illustrations by Betsy Lewin reflect the energy

of streetwise characters.

This bouncy, fun-filled book begs to be read aloud.

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