Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, , illus. by E.B. Lewis. . Knopf, $15.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-375-81053-4

Despite its lyrical text and accomplished paintings, this story about a child's dream of flying never quite takes off, partly because it carries too much historical and metaphorical freight and partly because the line between the real world in which the protagonist lives and the protagonist's dream tends to blur. Tarpley (previously paired with Lewis for I Love My Hair!) sets the tale in the early days of aviation, in the mythical town of Blind Eye, where black people are not allowed to fly: "[Their] lost hope formed a cloud over the town, and now even the moonlight and the stars can't break through." The story of injustice moves confusingly back and forth in time and verb tense, until the narrator, the child Joe-Joe, falls asleep in a plane's cockpit and dreams that he lures the moon back to the town. Tarpley gives Joe-Joe a historical perspective and a vocabulary more adult than childlike. When he sings his dream song to the moon, for example, he sings of "a promise made and broken, [and] now the people's heads hang low." Lewis's magnificent paintings evoke the era with precision and emotion, his skill evident in both landscapes and portraits. Although Lewis's palette gradually changes to a night sky blue during Joe-Joe's dream, the fantasy never clearly returns to reality, thus blunting the message of hope. An endnote describes the author's own dreams of flight and the problems faced by early black aviators. Ages 5-8. (June)