Miriam Schlein, , illus. by Ian Schoenherr. . HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-052116-5

As Little Raccoon winds down his day, he asks his mother, "When do you love me most of all?" With Schlein (Just Like Me ) nailing the timbre of pint-sized insistence (not to mention bedtime resistance), and Schoenherr (Marie in Fourth Position ) reveling in the hero's wide-eyed theatricality, this elegant, warmhearted book is off to a running start. As Little Raccoon formulates variations on his question, Schoenherr moves between spot illustrations chronicling the bedtime preparations to full-bleed, exquisitely stippled flashbacks from the duo's daily routine. The spreads exude a luxuriant, reassuring feel, and subtly temper Little Raccoon's rather relentless energy. And Schoenherr has a wonderful sense of volume and space. When the bushy-tailed hero wonders if his mother loves him best, "at feeding time, when I wash my paws and wash my food and am very neat when I eat? Is it then? Is that when?" the artist depicts their cozy kitchen, where the youngster perches on a boulder, chewing on a golden ear of corn as wide as he is tall; sunlight dapples every surface and illuminates his mother's fur. Finally, the patient parent reveals her answer: "Now is the time when I love most of all.... It's always right now." This Zen-like response is so complete and so resonant that Little Raccoon completely capitulates and goes to sleep—proving that when it comes to bedtime, mothers have a few tricks up their sleeves, too. Ages 4-up. (Mar.)