cover image This Mess

This Mess

Pam Conrad, Elizabeth Sayles. Hyperion Books, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0159-6

Cleaning up is one of childhood's great trials, but the late Conrad (The Tub People) gives the subject wings and sends it on a giddy flight of imagination. Faced with a vague but stern directive from their father to make their messy living room ""look better,"" Salvatore, Sophia and Elizabeth initially approach their task with minimal effort (""That's better,"" says Sophia after putting away the blocks, while Elizabeth takes a bow after stacking the newspapers). Then the children take the literal meaning of Dad's words to heart and really do improve the room--goofily at first (stacking the sofa cushions into a tower) and then magically (conjuring the Oriental rug to float above the sofa). ""Daddy! Daddy! The room looks much better!"" they shout after transforming the room into a fantasy land filled with rainbows and flying furniture, and even Dad has to agree. Conrad's infectious narrative gets a boost from imaginatively deployed typographic fillips--floating or colored letters, the sudden appearance of a different typeface, etc. Sayles's (Not in the House) pastels harness the comic energy and slightly tame it. A soft focus balances the artist's often dizzy perspectives, restraining the story's glee from erupting into mayhem. For originality and sheer merriment, this one is hard to beat. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)