Natalie Babbitt, . . Hyperion/di Capua, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0900-4

Elsie's well-meaning fairy godmother is a little hard of hearing. When her mama reports that Elsie has been a much better girl than "before," her fairy godmother hears it as a request that Elsie "be four," and with a wave of her magic wand, multiplies the girl. "No! WAIT!" cries Elsie's papa—only making things worse, as Elsie's fairy godmother hears "eight" and promptly complies. Soon even the mayor complains about the "rowdydow and racket" from the octet of Elsies and, when all else fails, banishes the family. All is set to rights in the end, of course (Elsie's cat pinpoints the original heroine; but then the fairy godmother makes the feline "twenty" when Papa says "plenty"). Babbitt's (Bub) merry tale of magical mix-up and mayhem unfolds without a hitch; however, the illustrations fare somewhat less favorably. With characters dressed in vaguely medieval garb, the watercolor and pencil artwork takes on a deliberateness that borders on the pedestrian. While some of the characters are expressive (including a hilarious baby, goggle-eyed in surprise at the sudden bounty of Elsies), others appear oddly flat, creating an overall visual effect that detracts from the narrative's strengths. All ages. (Sept.)