Joyce Carol Thomas, , illus. by David Diaz. . Amistad/Cotler, $15.99 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-06-025387-5

Thomas (Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea ) puts a Southern spin on a well-known fairy tale for a charismatic adaptation set in the swamp. When a hurricane sweeps Queen Mother Rhythm's baby downstream, Crooked Foster Mother finds the mud-covered infant, names her Cinderella ("seein' how you're as dirty as a cinder pile") and brings her home to be a servant. In Thomas's inspired version, a Great Gospel Convention is held instead of a ball, as Queen Mother Rhythm (along with the Prince of Music, her pianist) searches for a successor to lead the Great Gospel Choir. After Crooked Foster Mother's evil twins depart for the audition, Cinderella evades the crocodiles, plucking wildflowers to affix to her simple dress and braiding vines for a belt. So disguised, the heroine sneaks into the convention, and "with a voice as sweet as licorice," she wins the day and finds her mother (but not before the Prince of Music searches for the mystery soloist). Diaz's (Smoky Night ) stylized illustrations capture the emotion and the humor of the tale. Bright golden marsh flowers radiate in the chocolatey-brown hair of the African-American characters, while sky-blue backdrops and purple royal robes add a vibrant contrast to the lush green setting. This unique twist on a classic subtly emphasizes the roots of gospel music, as a respite from hardship and sorrow. Lyrics curling out of mother and daughter's mouths and winding around the page declare that song is "Easing my pain/ And lifting me up." Ages 5-10. (May)