cover image Martha's Best Friend

Martha's Best Friend

Danielle Steel. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $8.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-385-29801-8

Shirley Temple would feel right at home in these books. The pages are filled with attractive, smiling--and for the most part white--people, and the stories could easily inspire a tap dance or two. For the first installment of what looks to be an ongoing series, Steel has hatched a total of six titles. Her books introduce Martha, a curly-blonde-haired moppet with freckles who lives in San Francisco, and Max, a curly-brown-haired moppet with freckles who lives in New York. Each tale focuses on their wrestlings with one of childhood's thorny problems: the impending arrival of a sibling, divorce and the subsequent remarriage of a parent, the anxieties of moving to a new school, etc. To her credit, Steel (who is the mother of nine) has zeroed in on many legitimate concerns with empathy. But the resulting stories are cloyingly saccharine and far too long for their picture-book format. Of the two characters, Max--with his down-to-earth fireman father and nurse mother--may be easier for some children to relate to than Martha, who attends private school and vacations in places like Disneyland, Hawaii and Paris. Rogers's watercolors are appropriately upbeat. Ages 4-7. (Nov.)