Douglas Rees, , illus. by S.D. Schindler. . S&S/Atheneum, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83020-4

Rees (Vampire High ) recounts this gem of humor noir with nary a false step, and sets the classic folktale of a clever matriarch who outwits Death against a Colonial backdrop. Grandy Thaxter lives happily with her family of grandchildren, Patience, Prudence and Perseverence, plus a band of boys ("who didn't have anyone else to take care of them"), Joel, Joshua, Jacob and Jeroboam. Schindler's (How Santa Got His Job ) finely-worked ink drawings of the matron's chicken-yard, pumpkin patch and spare New England home add helpful grounding details. When a cadaverous gent dressed in tails and a top hat makes a visit—"I'm Mister Death. I've come to carry you away with me"—Grandy Thaxter has a ready reply: "I can't go until I finish my work.... If you give me a hand, I can leave sooner." The book follows zaftig Grandy and her skeletal caller through several days of back-breaking chores. Soap-making smells bad, and grinding corn gives Mister Death a blister ("I could pop that with a pin," says Grandy helpfully). After his hard work, his hostess invites him to dinner. But it's only a matter of time before Mister Death admits defeat. "I will come back some time when you are not so busy," he says. Schindler's rendering of Mister Death's mortified expressions as Grandy drafts him into a seemingly endless series of chores will have youngsters in stitches. For pure entertainment value, this book is hard to beat. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)