THE DAY THE BABIES CRAWLED AWAY

Peggy Rathmann, Author, Peggy Rathmann, Illustrator . Putnam $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-23196-4

Rathmann (Officer Buckle and Gloria) makes an innovative departure from her usual prose and pictures in this rollicking rhyming tale, illustrated in needle-sharp, atmospheric silhouettes against twilight skies. The initial spreads picture a lively neighborhood picnic and pie-eating contest with fluttering banners and an all-ages crowd. In voiceover, a parent reminisces about how "you"—represented here as a boy in a firefighter's helmet—had to "save the day/ .../ When the babies crawled away!" The speaker admits she was caught off-guard: "We moms and dads were eating pies,/ The babies saw some butterflies—/ And what do you know?/ Surprise! Surprise!/ The babies crawled away!" The adults do not witness their five babies' escape. But the alert boy notices, vainly tugs at his mother's shirt, then chases the runaways into a thicket: "You hollered, 'Hey!/ You babies, stay!'/ But none of them did./ And some of them hid." The babies' shadowy figures never seem endangered; they blend with the tangled shapes of the branches, creating a hide-and-seek puzzle for their pursuer and for readers. Yet the boy senses their peril and consistently comes to the rescue. Rathmann's signature palette of zingy pink, lemon yellow and robin's egg blue deepen to sunset colors that imply time is tight; the flattened foreground includes a hillside with every blade of grass in stark relief, and the cavorting shapes of the children. Rathmann's poem never misses a beat, and her triumphant finale does not pass judgment on the parents; instead she praises the sleepy, baby-wrangling hero. Ages 2-6. (Oct.)