Stories about wanting a friend abound, but newcomer Shapiro’s unfolds in a gloriously distinctive world. Ooko, an orange fox shaped a bit like a beanbag, lives in a forest full of prehistoric-looking foliage and anemone-tentacled flowers. She spies another “fox” (it’s a dog, actually) playing with “furless, two-legged fox” (a human girl). When the human’s mother calls out, “Debbie! Watch out!” Ooko concludes that all humans are called Debbies. A Debbie, Ooko decides, would play with her if she looked more like one of their foxes. She succeeds in tricking herself out as various dogs, but life with the Debbie who claims her is not all it’s cracked up to be, as the woman imprisons Ooko in a dog sweater. “This game is too itchy!” moans Ooko. A raccoon hiding under a rock issues a more tempting invitation: “This is my stick. This is my other stick. And this is my other other stick. Wanna play?
” The message about being true to oneself isn’t delivered so much by the text as it is by Shapiro’s inimitably daffy world. Ages 3–7. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary. (July)