Readable Gifts for Under the Tree

THE CHRISTMAS ALPHABET By Robert Sabuda; Orchard Books unpaged, $19.95. All ages. THE SWEET AND SOUR ANIMAL BOOK By Langston Hughes. Illustrated by students from the Harlem School of the Arts; Oxford University Press, unpaged, $15.95. All ages. WHITEFISH WILL RIDES AGAIN! By Arthur Yorinks. Illustrated by Mort Drucker; HarperCollins, unpaged, $15. All ages. THE SECOND PRINCESS By Hiawyn Oram. Illustrated by Tony Ross; Artists & Writers Guild, unpaged, $13.95. Ages 5 to 8. THE AMERICAN GIRLS COLLECTION: ADDY SAVES THE DAY: A SUMMER STORY By Connie Porter. Illustrated by Bradford Brown; Pleasant Company, 67 pp., $5.95 paper, $12.95 cloth. Ages 7 and up. GOOD GRISELLE By Jane Yolen. Illustrated by David Christiana; Harcourt Brace, unpaged, $14.95. Ages 7 and up. TROUBLING A STAR By Madeleine L'Engle; Farrar Straus Giroux, 296 pp., $16. Ages 12 and up. THE WILLOWS IN WINTER By William Horwood. Illustrated by Patrick Benson; St. Martin's Press, 295 pp., $18.95. All ages. JAZZ: MY MUSIC, MY PEOPLE Written and illustrated by Morgan Monceaux; Alfred A. Knopf, 64 pp., $18. Ages 9 and up. BASEBALL ABC By Florence Cassen Mayers; Harry N. Abrams, unpaged, $12.95. All ages.

IN the publishing world a familiar refrain is: ``A book is a present you can open again and again.'' That's particularly true for a well-chosen children's book. Young readers invariably revisit their favorites again and again. In this selection of new titles, there's bound to be a fresh favorite for almost any child on your gift list.


Full of remarkable paper sculptures, The Christmas Alphabet, created by Robert Sabuda, will be treasured by the entire family. Much more than an ordinary pop-up book, this is an amazing feat of artistry and engineering. Text is sparse - just the holiday-related word ``angel'' or ``bell'' to identify each letter's illustration. The real wonder comes when readers open delicately colored doors - four to a double-page spread - and lovely white images unfold to three-dimensional life.

The Sweet and Sour Animal Book introduces children to the work of black poet Langston Hughes. These imaginative alphabet poems about animals were written in 1936 but then ``lost,'' and are only now being published. Although some may rightly quibble over the accuracy of a few animal facts (owls are not blind in daylight), the silly rhymes and bouncy rhythms make this a reading treat. Illustrated with photographs of brightly colored animal sculptures created by pupils of the Harlem School of the Arts, this book is a fanciful celebration of fun. Plenty of background material is included for parents and teachers.


Kids - and adults - will be full of giggles and guffaws reading Whitefish Will Rides Again! Arthur Yorinks's funny text, full of delightfully mixed contemporary and Western phrases (``No more Mr. Nice Bandito'' and ``This shindig is finito''), is the perfect match for Mad magazine cartoonist Mort Drucker's comical illustrations. Here's a cowboy story based on the standard good-guys-versus-bad-guys theme, but with a refreshing nonviolent twist. Read-alouds don't get better than this.

It's hard to resist the hip charm of The Second Princess by Hiawyn Oram. This tale of sibling rivalry is made even more appealing by Tony Ross's amusing watercolor illustrations. Princess No. 2 doesn't like being second and tries to boost her status by getting rid of her elder sister. Nothing works, though: The wolf won't eat her; the bear won't marry her. The cook might, just might, ``bake her in a pie or flip her like a pancake,'' but this plan is also foiled when the Second Princess is caught red-handed in a jewel heist to pay off the cook. The king and queen intervene, and after some sensitive parenting - very fitting for the '90s - find a satisfactory solution.


With more than 18 million volumes sold, The American Girls Collection of books and related products has gained a devoted following. This series features various periods in American history and provides young girls with positive role models - from Felicity, a spunky pioneer girl, to Molly who stays on the United States home front during World War II.

Last year, Addy Walker became the first African-American girl in this lineup of historical fiction. Set during and right after the Civil War, the six books published about Addy - three last year and three this season - trace her family from enslavement on a North Carolina plantation to their reunion as ``freemen'' in Philadelphia. The Addy books often describe hardships and illnesses, but two of the least troubling in this regard (and most touching) are last year's ``Addy's Surprise: A Christmas Story'' and this year's Addy Saves the Day: A Summer Story. Each book includes an interesting historical section.

The American Girls Collection boasts additional gift possibilities this season. Pastimes is a series of 20 activity books related to the historical periods of each fictional character. It features paper dolls, craft books, theater kits, and particularly appealing cookbooks. Each is reasonably priced at $5.95.

Award-winning author Jane Yolen has written an original tale with Gothic overtones in Good Griselle. Stone gargoyles and angels on a cathedral in Paris argue about lacemaker Griselle's unflagging goodness. In a Christmas Eve pact, they send an ugly child to test her. Griselle proves her goodness but not without heartbreaking trials. The watercolors by David Christiana are exquisite, depicting Europe of centuries past. The book embraces many different religious themes, some of which may warrant explanation by parents.


In Troubling a Star, Newbery Medal-winning author Madeleine L'Engle treats fans to another installment in her Vicky Austin series. This fast-paced story - part mystery, part adventure - will grip readers as 16-year-old Vicky ventures to Antarctica. Amid icebergs, penguins, and fellow travelers who are not what they appear to be, Vicky is plunged into an international controversy over environmental issues and a struggle for political power. Although she witnesses deception and death, she also renews her appreciation of friendship and love.

The Willows in the Winter is William Horwood's ambitious sequel to Kenneth Grahame's classic, ``The Wind in the Willows.'' It was published last year in England and spent weeks on the bestseller lists. Now it's arriving in the US just in time for holiday giving. This is a delightful, rollicking, heartwarming romp through the River Bank, Wild Woods, and Beyond with Grahame's beloved characters Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad.

Considered by many in the book trade to be a ``crossover book,'' this sequel is a fitting gift for adults as well as older children. Some scenes may be inappropriate for very young ``Wind in the Willows'' enthusiasts: for instance, Mole's near-death experience, and several drinking scenes. Nevertheless, Horwood catches the spirit of Grahame's writing, and Patrick Benson creates charming pen-and-ink sketches reminiscent of Ernest Shepard's work in the original ``Wind in the Willows.''


Morgan Monceaux deserves cheers and applause from young jazz lovers for writing and illustrating Jazz: My Music, My People. A collection of one-page biographies of jazz greats, this book gives traditional information about the musicians' lives and music, as well as the author's personal reminiscences. Portraits of each artist, in primitive-style art collage, add energy and verve to this captivating volume.

Baseball ABC, by Florence Cassen Mayers, might be mistaken as a book for youngsters just learning their letters, but it turns out to be a fascinating book for all ages. Baseball trivia and color photos of memorabilia will intrigue even experienced fans. ``A'' for ``autograph'' yields Babe Ruth's signature, and ``B'' for ``bat'' shows Lou Gehrig's 1934 Triple Crown-winning bat. For ``C ``through ``Z,'' you'll just have to get the book and see for yourself.

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