cover image The Clothes Horse and Other Stories

The Clothes Horse and Other Stories

Janet Ahlberg. Viking Children's Books, $11.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81267-7

Each of the six shaggy-dog stories in this collection provides a literal interpretation of an everyday expression. In ""The Clothes Horse,'' a magician creates an equine from old garments; the creature ends up on the vaudeville stage. A giant tosses troublesome boys of a certain moniker into a container in ``The Jack Pot''; a woman hoards moments from her early years in ``Life Savings''; and so on. While the initial concept may appeal to the literal-mindedness of children and their fondness for wordplay, the stories themselves are somewhat disappointing. Their silliness seems strained and arbitrary rather than genuinely funny, with adult undertones instead of a truly childlike perspective; and the chatty narrative voice begins to seem intrusive, even fey. In format, the collection falls somewhere between picture book and middle-reader. Full-color pictures decorate, rather than illustrate, the text; but these contain all the charm, humor and liveliness for which this husband-and-wife team (The Jolly Postman, The Baby's Catalogue, Peek-a-Boo, etc.) is renowned. Ages 5-9. (February)