Berlie Doherty, , illus. by Ivan Bates. . Collins, $17.95 (28pp) ISBN 978-0-00-710433-8

With a tone as peaceful as the English countryside it depicts, Doherty's (Daughter of the Sea ) tale also sports the elements of a frisky read-aloud. Coconut, a donkey, comes to school every day with Mrs. Pie, the school's free-spirited cook. Bates uses a soft palette of what appear to be pastels and watercolors to illustrate the bucolic descriptions: "Hee-haw! Coconut's hooves/ snap twigs in the bluebell woods./ The squirrels peer from trees./ In the school across the fields/ the children are listening." While the students thrill to his arrival, the grumpy teacher, Mr. Clapper, lures Coconut back to the woods with carrots, and tumbles down a ditch and injures his ankle. When he hears "the best sound in the world. Trit, trot... hee-haw," Mr. Clapper's perspective shifts: "You're going to save me! Nice Coconut!" After the donkey conveys the teacher back to the school, his attendance is mandatory. The expected ending is as welcome as the gently paced storytelling, which evokes an earlier era, when perhaps a donkey would wait patiently outside a stone cottage-style school in the woods. Listeners will also enjoy the abundance of sound effects: "flip flap" ears, "swish swoosh" tails and more. Bates's (Grandma Elephant's in Charge, reviewed below) straightforward but appealing illustrations capture the story's old-fashioned spirit and the forbidden pleasure of bringing pets to school. Ages 4-7. (Aug.)