Once I Was...
Niki Clark Leopold, Nikia Speliakos Clark Leopold, Nikia Leopard. Putnam Publishing Group, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23105-6
Optimism radiates from this poem, which favors the present in its comparison of ""then"" and ""now."" ""I used to be afraid to swim,/ now I am a mermaid./ Once I couldn't comb my hair,/ now I make a braid,"" says a girl with long brown hair, who goes from standing apprehensively on a beach to diving deep in a blue, seaweedy ocean. In a sequence reading ""Once the dark was scary,/ now I like the night,"" a dark-haired boy rests in a sleeping bag under a starry sky. In the final pages, a baby's bassinet (""I used to play alone..."") gives way to a picture of the girl and boy together (""but now I have a friend""). Their pets, a crimson dog and canary-yellow cat, frolic with them. Leopold wholeheartedly affirms the passage of time; her narrators start out as ""the recipe"" and become ""the cake."" If the rhyme sometimes suffers from pedestrian content, Hubbard's (Hip Cat) energetic artwork enlivens the volume. Solid, intense hues of paint put readers in mind of construction paper cutouts, while spiraling curve patterns and repetitive speckles suggest the freewheeling spirits of the speakers. Ages 5-up. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999