Harvey Fierstein, Henry Cole, , illus. by Henry Cole. . S&S, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83566-7

Actor and playwright Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy) turns a gimlet eye to Hans Christian Andersen in this ducky tale. Elmer, crowned by a wispy comb of feathers and wearing a pink backpack with daisies on it, is "one happy duckling doing all the things he loved to do," such as baking cookies and staging puppet shows. When Papa Duck, an imposing mallard, forces him to try baseball, Elmer promptly strikes out and heads for home, unfazed. Later, he hears his father complaining ("They all called him sissy! Now I'm the laughingstock of the whole flock") and endures threats from a school bully with a feathery flat-top and muscular chest. Elmer runs away and sets up housekeeping in a hollow tree, but comes to the rescue when his father gets shot by hunters and cannot fly south for the winter. Cole (Moosetache), assigned the daunting task of capturing Elmer's sensitive nature and the other ducks' bewilderment or scorn, keeps his zaniness in check. He makes a sympathetic hero of the skinny yellow nonconformist and suggests Elmer's wit in antic images of the duck kidding around with his convalescing dad. Fierstein handles serious and silly moments with aplomb, and shows Elmer staying true to his identity. In a campy, triumphant ending, the resourceful duckling loudly proclaims, "I am a big sissy and proud of it!" Ages 5-8. (May)