Lisa Wheeler, , illus. by Ivan Bates. . Harcourt, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-15-202319-5

Wheeler (Uncles and Antlers , reviewed Sept. 27) introduces Farmer Dale, a neighborly sheepdog hauling a load of hay in the back of his red truck. Along the way, the hero accommodates a hitchhiking, imperious cow. But when he goes on to pick up a dapper sheep wearing a straw boater, a pig on roller skates and an accordion-playing nanny goat (each resents the presence of the others) the poor old pickup spits, sputters, coughs, wheezes, hiccups and finally peters out: "The truck bounced up. The springs all popped./ The bumper bumped. The pickup stopped." Can Farmer Dale count on the freeloaders to help out? As Bates (who teamed up with Wheeler on One Dark Night ) builds up to the story's big moment, his crayon and watercolor pictures echo scenes from a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. The seeming effortlessness and fluidity of the compositions play counterpoint to the outlandishness of the situation and the comic pettiness of the characters. But the spirit of cooperation triumphs as a hearty joint push gets the truck rolling again. Curiously, the book then comes to an abrupt end: Farmer Dale simply drops off his passengers at a talent contest in town and drives on. Some readers may be disappointed not to savor the animals' newfound camaraderie—or at least find out whether the goat's accordion-playing is blue ribbon–worthy. Ages 3-7. (Sept.)