INFORMATIONAL BOOKS BLUE MOON SOUP: A FAMILY COOKBOOK By Gary Goss Illustrated by Jane Dyer Little, Brown & Co. 60 pp., $16.95 Ages 4 and up
WINGS OF AN ARTIST: CHILDREN'S BOOK ILLUSTRATORS TALK ABOUT THEIR ART Introduction by Julie Cummins Illustrated by various artists Abrams 32 pp., $17.95 All ages
THE WORST BAND IN THE UNIVERSE Written and illustrated by Graeme Base Abrams Unpaged, $19.95 All ages
AN EDWARD LEAR ALPHABET By Edward Lear Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky HarperCollins Unpaged, $14.95 Ages 4-7
INDEPENDENT READERS MORE MILLY-MOLLY-MANDY Written and illustrated by Joyce Lankester Brisley Kingfisher 224 pp., $12.95 Ages 5-8
GREAT GIRL STORIES: A TREASURY OF CLASSICS FROM CHILDREN'S LITERATURE Selected by Rosemary Sandberg Kingfisher 160 pp., $18.95 Ages 5-10
DINOTOPIA: FIRST FLIGHT Written and illustrated by James Gurney HarperCollins 60 pp., $19.95 All ages
A friend and I were in a children's bookstore. We rendezvoused at the checkout counter with armloads of books, and she explained whom each was for - a niece, a nephew, a friend's new baby, and so on. When there was still a small unaccounted-for pile, she sheepishly said, "And these are for me."
It's no secret that adults love children's books. The topics, sentiments, and sophisticated illustrations speak to them, too. So, in celebration of the kid in all of us, here's a selection from the current line-up that appeals equally to children and grown-ups.
Originally published in 1891, An Edward Lear Alphabet still dances along in typical, nonsensical Edward Lear style. Each letter is paired with an appropriate item. For example, "F was once a little fish." Then a short rhyme follows: "Fishy, Wishy, Squishy, Fishy, In a dishy, Little fishy." The book's fun wordplay alone would be treat enough, but artist Vladimir Radunsky has made this a visual delight as well. He creatively meshes Lear's words with an amusing contemporary look. Almost every page sports a bright-color background, computer graphics, and cutout images, letters, and text. This quirky, smirky little book will be a hit with kids, adults, and collectors.
At a time when we risk being overrun with stuff and simplicity is all too scarce, here comes a modern-day fable about possessions. The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau, reminds us that it is better to give than to receive. A greedy king declares that his birthday will come twice a year to double the number of gifts he receives. When he learns that high on a mountain a quiltmaker creates exquisite coverings, he demands one. But the lovely, white-haired seamstress refuses - except under one condition: He must give away all his splendid possessions. How can he part with a single item, he wonders? The royal giving starts out tentatively, but soon he catches on to the joy of it. Intricate and imaginative watercolor illustrations by Gail de Marcken add a beautiful lushness to this book. It's clear de Marcken knows and loves fabrics and quilts. Endpapers provide a visual glossary of patterns, and dozens are worked into her artwork. Readers are invited to hunt for quilt patterns as the story develops, because they give hints about the plot and action.
Australian author-illustrator Graeme Base (of "Animalia" fame) has a new book out: The Worst Band in the Universe. Billed as a "totally cosmic musical adventure," this futuristic sci-fi tale is about the conflict between tradition and innovation - and the power behind both. It stars young Sprocc, a talented musician who flees his home planet to search for musical freedom. Told in verse and accompanied by wild cartoon illustrations, the story hums right along. Base's rock-music background is evident throughout, from the artistic details and imaginative names of instruments to the CD tucked into the book. This space-age rock 'n' roll allegory will have special appeal for adults who remember playing "air guitar."
Many youngsters will be taken by the alliterative title of More Milly-Molly-Mandy, and many adults will rejoice to see an old treasure back in print. Joyce Lankester Brisley's "Milly-Molly-Mandy" stories began to appear in 1925 and were popular for decades. (The first ones ran in this newspaper.) Now, these simple tales, which capture an innocent age of rural life in England, are available to a new generation. The 20 stories in this collection find Milly-Molly-Mandy and her friends catching tadpoles, making candy, and playing dress-up. They are helpful, well-behaved children with just a dash of mischief and a great deal of enthusiasm. The lives they lead in a world far removed from our own make for a refreshing, nostalgic read. Original black-and-white illustrations add to the charm.
Adults flipping through Great Girl Stories may find the experience a bit like perusing an old high school yearbook and seeing the faces of long-forgotten friends. Many heroines from children's classics are represented: Heidi, Pippi Longstocking, Pollyanna, Anne of Green Gables, and Jo from "Little Women." All were chosen by Rosemary Sandberg, who has added only a few modern selections. This illustrated treasury of short excerpts from original texts is perfect for introducing readers to strong, spunky female characters. Admittedly, there is no ethnic diversity in this volume, but that is not entirely Sandberg's fault. The "golden age" of children's classics didn't feature non-white heroines.
The first "Dinotopia" book was published in 1992 and quickly jumped onto The New York Times bestseller list. Patient fans of James Gurney's series have waited four years for this third installment, Dinotopia: First Flight. Set in a lost island world where humans and dinosaurs live peaceably, this story features the first person to fly on the back of a prehistoric, winged reptile. The young hero, Gideon Altaire, rides a skybax when he and his friends - both animals and machines - unite to fight an evil empire trying to conquer Dinotopia. Some readers will miss the intriguing sketchbook quality of earlier books in the series, but this newest volume faithfully includes Gurney's trademark artwork - large, detailed, and glorious illustrations of Dinotopia. There's also something new: a Dinotopia board game included with the book.
It's hard to say which is more enticing, the illustrations or the recipes in Blue Moon Soup: A Family Cookbook. Chef Gary Goss offers more than 30 tempting soup recipes, arranged in seasonal categories. Goss is the former owner of the Soup Kitchen Restaurant in Northampton, Mass. His quick and easy-to-make dishes don't take the hours of simmering one normally associates with flavorful broth. Many rely on canned ingredients or on pureeing part of the mixture and returning it to the soup pot. To round out "souper" meals, Goss has added a scrumptious-looking bread and salad section. Much of the initial appeal of the book can be attributed to Jane Dyer's winsome watercolor illustrations. Her animal, vegetable, and human figures make this a wonderful book to read and enjoy even before the cooking begins.
Wings of an Artist is like a box of assorted chocolates: Each piece is so delicious that it's impossible to tell which is best. It's a sampler of illustrations by almost two-dozen contemporary children's-book artists - from Graeme Base and David Diaz to Maurice Sendak - with comments from each about his or her art. The illustrations range from goofy to gorgeous, the commentaries from personable to profound. For example, Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng pair their mystical watercolor painting with this comment: "Imagination and creativity are the wings of one's mind. On these two wings, you will fly high and far." All proceeds from this interesting and inspiring book will go to the American Library Association to promote art literacy among children.
*Karen Carden reviews children's books regularly for the Monitor.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society