Laura Ljungkvist, . . Abrams, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-4486-2

A ribbon of black line winds and loops through this engaging, mod tale of miscommunication. The licorice-string of paint enters on the far-left margin (it's an electrical connection), shimmies up the page (it's a curly phone cord) and traces the features of a face (it's a Calder wire-portrait) before squiggling off the right-hand page. It links Toni, who's planning a potluck dinner, to six invitees. Each time Toni calls a friend, she lets them know what to bring to her party. Unbeknownst to her, the guests can't hear very well. One lives near an airport, one blasts the radio; all of them plug an ear as they strain to listen to Toni's requests. Consequently, they arrive at Toni's home with some unusual offerings: "Hello, Vera... Oh, no! I asked for a steak to kabob, not a snake and a snob!... Kirk, hello... Oh, no! Hats and balloons, not cats and baboons!" Newcomer Ljungkvist's gouaches are modern and minimal, composed of circles, triangles and stenciled designs on opaque surfaces. The author also devises a chic color combination for every character; for instance, Toni always appears against a blue-gray background that offsets her spherical orange pigtails, patterned pink dress and mahogany skin. Like the consummate party host, Ljungkvist attends to every visual detail of this telephone game, which blends fresh color, arresting abstract design and a classic listening game. Ages 3-6. (May)