Julie Dunlap, , illus. by Mary Azarian. . Dial, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2470-9

Azarian's (From Dawn Till Dusk, reviewed above) ever-glorious hand-tinted woodcuts are just part of the attraction of this picture book, a fictionalized account of an episode in writer Louisa May Alcott's childhood. Called "my wild Louisa" by her father, eight-year-old "Louy" rebels against the strictures of a seemingly endless round of chores and studies (particularly writing). So when neighbor and teacher Henry David Thoreau gathers local children for Saturday field trips, Louy is champing at the bit to go. The outings open her eyes to the wonders of the natural world, and also make her curious about her teacher, who plays haunting flute music and frequently jots things down in his notebook. The trips halt when winter arrives and, wondering "What would Mr. Thoreau do if he were boxed inside?," Louy thinks of writing, but "words seemed trapped inside her, like fish under ice." Then spring arrives and, with it, inspiration, as Louy discovers "her own inner music" and pens her first poem, which "seemed as beautiful as the notes from Mr. Thoreau's flute." Authors Dunlap (Eye on the Wild: A Story About Ansel Adams) and Lorbiecki (Sister Anne's Hands) blend historical facts with a lyrical, engaging story line anchored by the spunky Louisa. Azarian's artwork illuminates the 19th-century setting, detailing the sparsely beautiful New England interiors as well as the lush landscape near Walden Pond. A compelling introduction to the author of Little Women, this fine book also features a prologue and afterword that provide further information about the Alcott family and Thoreau. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)