Ralph Fletcher, , illus. by Vladimir Vagin. . Clarion, $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-98029-3

Circus trappings couch a bland if informative tale that teaches children what to do if they become separated from their parents. For his birthday, Nick's parents surprise him with an outing to the circus. There, enticed by the sugary aroma of a cotton candy machine, he follows his nose to the sweet treat and soon realizes his parents are nowhere around. In a panic, Nick searches for Mom and Dad but finds a friendly clown on stilts instead. The clown guides Nick up a nearby ladder, then carries the boy on his back until Nick spots his worried—soon-to-be-relieved—parents. Fletcher's (Twilight Comes Twice) text is by turns reassuring and practical in tone, providing tips that readers will find useful if facing a predicament like Nick's. Vagin's (The Wide-Awake Princess) tightly composed gouaches show crowds, but the bustle doesn't come through. While his work is highly detailed (e.g., he finely delineates the lions' fur and manes, and shows the trim on an acrobat's costume), the scenes themselves look stiff and static. Ages 4-7. (Apr.)