Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm

Jerdine Nolen, Author, Jerdine Nolen Harold, Author, Mark Buehner, Illustrator HarperCollins $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-688-07887-4

Everything's coming up balloons in this original tale about Harvey Potter, a ``very strange fellow,'' and his unusual crop. As recounted by a local observer, Potter seems to have a latex thumb and has raised balloons in all sizes and shapes, in colors like ``Pleasin' Purple,'' ``Orange-Ray Sun'' and ``Jelly-Bean Black.'' Such spectacle naturally piques the curiosity of townsfolk and prompts the female narrator to perform a secret investigation of Harvey's planting methods. Perched in a tree one night, she witnesses a sort of dancing ritual that Harvey performs with a magic ``conjure stick,'' and her life is changed forever. Debut author Nolen's full-bodied text is peppered with shades of a Southern dialect and has the cozy feel of a back porch storytelling session. Her fiercely independent characters add even more pizzazz. Buehner's ( The Adventures of Taxi Dog ) rich acrylics are chock-full of zippy colors. His expert use of light and shadow makes a day in the fields look downright glorious. And the sea of bright balloons growing straight and proud is something to behold. Ages 4-up. (Apr.)