cover image Bub or the Very Best Thing

Bub or the Very Best Thing

Natalie Babbitt. HarperCollins, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-205044-1

Babbitt ( Tuck Everlasting ; Knee knock Rise ) has created some extraordinary children's books, and this one is no exception. It is, quite simply, Babbitt at her best. In a medieval castle, a king and queen argue a crucial question: what is the ``best thing'' for their young prince? The king insists that his wife gives the child too many toys (``If this keeps up, he'll turn out soft and silly''); she retorts that he gives him too many lessons (``If that keeps up, he'll turn out dry and dusty''). The king resorts to his books to find the answer, whereas the queen polls everyone she meets. The responses run the gamut from ``vegetables'' (the day nursemaid) to ``sunshine'' (the gardener) to ``a song'' (the court musician). But it is the cook's daughter who points the perplexed parents in the right direction, instructing them to ask the prince himself. ``Bub,'' replies the toddler, which translates into the inarguably ``very best thing'': love. This splendid story is matched by exquisite artwork, which offers a refreshingly realistic depiction of the medieval setting and featuring the royal dog (patiently sporting a court jester's cap), who is entirely devoted to the very lovable prince. All ages. (Feb.)