Bunny Crumpacker, , illus. by Dan Andreasen. . Dutton, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-525-46936-0

Although newcomer Crumpacker's narrative can't help but remind readers of The Runaway Bunny , the author makes this story all her own. "It was a quiet morning, and a good time for pretending," so Alexander, a chubby-cheeked preschooler, seizes the opportunity. "Pretend I'm a really hungry mouse," he tells his mother as she sips her coffee. And what if he was a lion? Or a dinosaur? Or even a book "hiding in a library on a shelf with a lot of other books that look just the same?" Then Alexander asks after posing each scenario, "What would you do?" No matter what pretend persona the boy conjures, his mother offers a response that emotionally anchors her son without squelching him: the mouse gets cheese and juice, while Alexander, posing as a book (a thrilling story of a penguin family, the boy promises), would be lovingly read "from cover to cover." Alexander's bubbly, utterly authentic dialogue reflects a keen understanding of how fantasies simultaneously empower and frighten children; his mother strikes just the right balance of playfulness and comforting steadiness. Andreasen (The Attic Christmas ) is in fine form as well; the hero always retains his personality no matter what form his imaginary characters take. The artist's signature velvety textures and chunky, rounded shapes give full rein to Alexander's flights of fancy, while always reassuring readers that the real world is safe and secure. Ages 3-up. (Feb.)