James Carville, with Patricia C. McKissack, illus. by David Catrow. . Atheneum/Schwartz, $17.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-86560-2

Inspired by the colorful storytelling style and kind actions of his southern mother, political consultant Carville (aided by McKissack) spins a Depression-era yarn set in the Louisiana bayou about life's true riches. Young Lucille Ray-Jean, Lu for short, always has plenty to eat, and is usually busy as a bee in a hive, just like the rest of her family as they tend to their house, garden or animals. That's why Lu is confused by the talk in town about the Depression. After all, as Lu's Mama says, "You're never poor if you have a loving family and one good friend." With that thought in mind, Lu bravely befriends and feeds a creature covered in mud, leaves and twigs that she believes to be "a genuine, for-real swamp ghost." First impressions prove false however; after she offers the creature food and shelter, she discovers its true identity. Lu's innocent selflessness and genuine, sweet nature set this story apart from similar tales and give its message resonance. And the pacing is just right for settin' a spell on the back porch. Catrow's (Take Me Out of the Bathtub ) watercolor-and-pencil compositions have a wiry, loose line that matches the air of gentleness and subtle wonder in the narrative. His slimy swamp critters, including all manner of bugs, give the proceedings an appropriate hum. He even includes a separate and funny visual story line for Lu's dog. A CD recording of Carville reading the text in his familiar drawl is included. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)