Mie Araki, Chronicle Books, . . Chronicle, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-3564-0

The right tools, a lot of encouragement and a few handily proffered Band-Aids work wonders in this jaunty debut. Lulu the hippo and Fred the rabbit are friends, but it drives Fred crazy that Lulu can build anything out of blocks—including an impressive dragon. Meanwhile Fred wants only to build a house, but each time he does, it falls down. Then Fred discovers a bright red "magic toolbox." It tells him, "With me at your side, you can build anything." Actually, Fred still has to do all the designing, measuring, sawing, painting and hammering but he carries it out with aplomb, thanks to the toolbox's largesse (young tool devotees will lap up information about the equipment laid out en masse in a labeled spread). The toolbox's real magic comes in knowing exactly what kind of mentoring Fred needs. "This is difficult," says Fred as he struggles to draw up plans for a house. "Have a cherry lollipop," the toolbox responds. "I can do it!" cries Fred as he measures and saws the lumber; "Oh, you can, you can," replies the toolbox. The vivacity of Araki's pictures matches the brisk pace of the narrative. Using woodblocks to print watercolors on rice paper, she creates a wonderful visual interplay between the grainy, handcrafted texture, thick black outlines and bold, Crayola-like colors. As for Fred and Lulu, even a child can tell that this bright-eyed, comical duo has legs—which makes Araki a talent to watch. Ages 3-7. (Mar.)