Edward Lear. Margaret K. McElderry Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81369-6
In this offbeat volume of four Lear verses, Willey (The Golden Hoard: Myths and Legends of the World) conjures a dream-realm of dark skies and vaguely unearthly animals. Asymmetrical windows of rich color imagery open on the white negative space of each page, next to unembellished text. ""The Owl and the Pussycat,"" ""The Jumblies"" and ""The Pobble Who Has No Toes"" take place on a violet-green sea dotted with flecks of white foam and populated by ethereal starfish and minnows. Willey's folk style takes its cue from Chagall: the Pobble's Aunt Jobiska is an enigmatically smiling peasant woman in a purple babushka; the green-headed (but otherwise human-looking) Jumblies exude a magical calmness as they blithely sail their sieve; and the yellow calf in ""The Quangle-Wangle's Hat"" has a human's lidded eyes and rosy cheeks. The book seems incomplete without ""The Dong with a Luminous Nose""; the doleful Dong is relegated to a mere mention in ""Quangle Wangle,"" and Willey portrays the character as a white quail, not as the boyish type that Lear himself drew for the role. This departure notwithstanding, Willey, with her eerie interpretations, conveys the classic nonsense author's spirit of eccentricity. Ages 5-8. (Apr.) FYI: Willey's fans can also look forward to a companion volume to The Golden Hoard; the new book, The Silver Treasure: Myths and Legends of the World, also by Geraldine McCaughrean, illus. by Willey, is due from S&S/McElderry in April ($19.95 ISBN 0-689-81322-8, ages 10-up).
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997