cover image Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster

Kevin O'Malley. HarperCollins Publishers, $16 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13971-1

On a summery day, the heroine of this lackluster picture book visits Fantasy Park, where she and her family play putt-putt golf and pose for silly photos. They all wear T-shirts touting the ``Monster Coaster,'' but when they arrive at the main attraction, the girl is pronounced too small to ride. With this moment, the book's tone shifts-the expressive, variable-size typeface, heretofore swooping across spreads in gleeful mimickery of the roller coaster, scrolls dispiritedly along the bottom of the page. But all is not lost. The narrator's winter growth spurt is depicted via before-and-after illustrations, scribbled in a childlike hand. By the following spread, a year has passed, and the much taller girl demands her rightful seat in the coaster's front car. O'Malley's (Cinder-Edna) full-bleed spreads seem captured in a wide-angle lens or a funhouse mirror; hot colors, melting ice-cream cones and glaring white space convey the midday heat. However, the character's anguish and exhilaration are never quite so vivid-the story line has neither peaks nor valleys. Ages 4-up. (May)