Who Says Learning Can't Be Fun?

Roller skating and geography, meatballs with geometry, ABCs for a giant - these children's books cover it all

Picture Books


Written and illustrated

By Flora McDonnell

Candlewick, unpaged, $16.99

Ages 2 to 6


Written and illustrated

By Janell Cannon

Harcourt, unpaged, $16

Ages 4 to 10



By Marilyn Burns

Illustrated by Debbie Tilley

Scholastic, unpaged, $15.95

Ages 7 and up


Written and illustrated

By David Macaulay

Houghton Mifflin

80 pp., $18

All ages





By Valerie Tripp

Illustrated by Jean-Paul Tibbles

Vignettes by Susan McAliley

Pleasant Company

85, 70, and 69 pp.

$5.95 paper, $12.95 cloth

Ages 7 to 12


By Jean Craighead George

Illustrated by Wendell Minor

HarperCollins, 194 pp., $15.95

Ages 10 and up

Informational Books


By Ronnie Krauss


By Christopher Hornsby

Walker, 33 pp., $15.95

Ages 5 to 8


Written and photographed

By Bruce McMillan

Scholastic, 32 pp., $15.95

Ages 5 to 8


By Kathleen Krull

Illustrated by Amy Schwartz

Doubleday, 118 pp., $19.95

Ages 6 to 10

Reference Books


Edited by Robert B. Costello

Simon & Schuster

864 pp., $16.95

Ages 8 to 12


Edited by Angela Crawley

Kingfisher, 236 pp.

$8.95 paper

Ages 9 to 13


By George Beal

Kingfisher, 159 pp.

$8.95 paper

Ages 9 to 13


By Linda Sonntag

Kingfisher, 191 pp.

$9.95 paper

Ages 9 to 13


Edited by Judith S. Levey

World Almanac Books,

320 pp., illustrated

$8.95 paper, $16.95 cloth

Ages 8 to 12

Does a good children's book entertain or educate? While kids yearn for fun-filled adventure, parents and teachers want something that provides worthwhile experience. Fortunately, many books meet both requirements. Here's a selection of new books that entertain and educate.

Picture Books

Among the ubiquitous alphabet books, Flora McDonnell's ABC deserves attention. Her clarity, color, and pure sense of fun make this a perfect book for little ones just learning their ABCs. In a bright, bold, painterly style, McDonnell cleverly juxtaposes large and small animals and objects under each letter of the alphabet. For example, "T" is for a regal-looking "tiger" who balances a tiny "teapot" on his head. The humor here - and on other pages - will be obvious to kids. Adults will find themselves smiling, too.

Janell Cannon (of "Stellaluna" fame) has given the book world another winner: Verdi. This story about a little tree python is full of excitement and lessons. Verdi starts out bright yellow, as do most of his kind, but slowly matures to the green color he despises. To him, this green represents all that is slow, boring, and wrong with adults. Verdi vainly tries to forestall his greening with an energetic airborne trip.

Failing to anticipate the disastrous results of his acrobatics, he is forced to slow down. In this quiet state, Verdi observes, contemplates, and eventually learns that he can be green - and still be himself. Cannon's jewel-like illustrations are magnificent. Even those squeamish about snakes will appreciate their grace and agility. Information pages, included at the end of the book, present readers with fascinating facts about these scaled reptiles.

Marilyn Burns's Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! is a riotous story about a family reunion. This charmer depicts all the pleasure and chaos of greeting and seating 32 people for a spaghetti dinner. But that's not all. As family members shove tables together to make new seating arrangements, they reduce the number of places to sit, while at the same time introducing some serious concepts of area and perimeter. Debbie Tilley's humorous illustrations will keep readers of all ages giggling as tables are pushed together and pulled apart until everyone has a place.

Youngsters are swept along on a unique architectural tour of Rome in David Macaulay's Rome Antics. Action starts when a carrier pigeon is launched on an important "romantic" mission; she then deviates from her course to take an unauthorized sightseeing trip. The perspective in Macaulay's pen-and-ink illustrations is dizzying, giving readers a real bird's-eye view.

Macaulay's book can be enjoyed on many levels. Young children will love the swervy, red-line flight path of the wayward pigeon. Older kids will like the detailed black-and-white sketches of Rome. Grown ups will especially like Macaulay's trademark puns.

A map, additional sketches, and informational paragraphs are tucked in at the end - but artistically, the book stands on its own.


This season, Pleasant Company introduces its newest American girl, Josephina Montoya, a New Mexican lass of the early 1820s. Those familiar with other Pleasant Co. publications will recognize the three-book format: "Meet Josephina," "Josephina Learns a Lesson," and "Josephina's Surprise." Related to the American Girls Collection of dolls, each volume, written by Valerie Tripp and illustrated by Jean-Paul Tibbles, has a "Peek into the Past" section where photos, illustrations, and narratives give historical context to the stories.

In Meet Josephina: An American Girl, readers are introduced to Josephina's daily life. She lives in an adobe hacienda, washes clothes in the river, and helps in the garden and kitchen. Chore time is sad for Josephina and her sisters because it reminds them of Mama, who has recently passed away. Family members are close knit, however, and help each other through difficult times. There's happy celebration when Grandfather, a trader on the Camino Real, arrives with a wagon-load of surprises.

Josephina Learns a Lesson: A School Story is about the struggle the Montoya family has when many of their sheep drown in a flash flood. Tia Dolores suggests starting a weaving business with the salvaged wool. Although this venture pulls the family further away from the life they knew with Mama, Tia Dolores also gives Josephina and her sisters a way to keep Mama's memory alive.

Josephina's Surprise: A Christmas Story will be out in November. In this book, the Montoya family prepares for the holiday by decorating their village church, making festive foods, and restitching Mama's altar cloth. The season is bittersweet as Josephina and her family remember past Christmases with Mama. Although a sad time in many respects, the love and kindness evoked during this special holiday help Josephina and her family heal.

Newbery Award-winning "Julie of the Wolves" was published 25 years ago, and author Jean Craighead George is celebrating the anniversary with an engrossing sequel. Julie's Wolf Pack is bound to be a favorite of wolf devotees, because George convincingly tells this story from the wolves' perspective. Kapu, the young, black, alpha-wolf leader, protects his pack from famine, rivals, and rabies. As a pup, he grew up with Julie, so this story includes various interchanges between Kapu's pack and his human "sister." Other exchanges with humans are not so positive, and Kapu's clan faces tragedy as well as triumph.

George's well-researched and well-written story is a powerful statement about the complex behavior of wolf packs and the respect she has for them. There are numerous situations where seemingly brutal forces of nature are accurately described, and George handles these potentially difficult scenes with great sensitivity. Wendell Minor's lovely, black-and-white illustrations are a fitting tribute to this fine story. (See author interview)

Informational Books

If you've ever picked up a Reading Rainbow book or caught the award-winning program on TV, this book's for you. The title says it all: Take a Look, It's in a Book: How Television Is Made at Reading Rainbow. This volume traces one Reading Rainbow episode from earliest concept to final product. Fans of the TV show will especially enjoy behind-the-scenes faces and places, but there's plenty to interest any young TV-watcher.

Ronnie Krauss, a Reading Rainbow writer and producer, provides clear, kid-friendly text; photographer Christopher Hornsby adds bright, full-color pictures; TV host LeVar Burton introduces the book and appears throughout. The fascinating, intricate, and technical world of television becomes readily accessible in this book.

Imagine living 50 miles from the Arctic Circle, having your own horse, and riding in your community's annual sheep roundup. Nine-year-old Icelander Margart doesn't have to imagine. That's what life is like for her. She and Perla - one of a special breed of horse - are featured in My Horse of the North, written and photographed by Bruce McMillan. Dramatic color photos capture stark summer scenery as Margart and her Icelandic horse prepare for the important fall roundup, or rttir. Informational sections that begin and end the book give interesting facts about Iceland, its horses, and traditions of the rttir, but the pictures of a girl and her horse are the most appealing.

Kathleen Krull's Wish You Were Here: Emily's Guide to the 50 States is packed with facts. Taking an imaginary trip across the US with her grandmother, Emily writes home to describe what's special about each state. Meant to be a post-trip scrapbook, this volume includes excerpts from Emily's letters, as well as such standard information as state maps and capitals.

Exuberant text is filled with little-known facts: Life Savers were invented in Cleveland; Cracker Jacks originated in Chicago; and more people check out library books in Seattle than in any other US city. Bright and whimsical illustrations by Amy Schwartz add to this book's attraction. Almost half of each lively double-page spread is devoted to amusing and informative art, which represents photos, postcards, and souvenirs from Emily's journey.

Reference Books

Whether you're doing homework or home schooling, standard references - such as a dictionary, thesaurus, and atlas - are indispensable. Here are some new offerings worth considering.

A reissue of Macmillan Dictionary for Children is one of the biggest winners. Colorful, well-designed pages invite use. Easy-to-read type; interesting photos or illustrations on most pages; synonyms, homonyms, and "word histories"; plus a reference section make this 800-page volume a bargain.

Kingfisher's paperback trio of reference works fits nicely in a backpack or on a tight-for-space student desk. The Kingfisher Illustrated Pocket Dictionary covers "aardvark" to "zoom lens" in a compact, readable format. Entries are bolded, definitions are clear (if limited), and four-color graphics enliven almost every page.

The Kingfisher Illustrated Pocket Thesaurus provides alternative words for more than 5,000 entries. Two-color illustrations are sparse, but the strength of this book is its quick, easy access to synonyms and antonyms. They're listed just like dictionary definitions.

The Kingfisher Young People's Pocket Atlas is the lushest of the three Kingfisher books, offering pages of color maps and illustrations. Each country or section of the world has information about the people, history, and culture of the area. Although this volume displays a common Western bias, most areas of the world are covered.

The World Almanac for Kids 1998 - with its easily accessible mother lode of facts - seems made for kids who live in a fast-paced, click-and-scroll world. It is jammed with information that's available as quickly as one can turn the pages. This almanac carries information that will especially appeal to students.

Sections on animals, computers, sports and games are included, as well as more traditional selections on weather, time and calendar, and health. An annual publication, this book is fun to skim and very helpful for serious fact-seekers.

* Karen Williams regularly reviews children's books for the Monitor.

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