James Sage, , illus. by Russell Ayto. . Chronicle, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-3502-2

Their cornfields overrun by mice, two feuding farmers compete to build the best mousetrap. " 'Those mice will soon learn who's boss around here!' bragged Farmer Boast./ 'With my invention they don't stand a chance,' gloated Farmer Bluster." After the rodents mock their convoluted devices, which involve a junkyard's worth of wheels, wire, old teakettles and wooden tools, the tall, slouching Boast and red-bearded, gnomish Bluster beat a path to Farmer Smart's mouse-free acreage. They plot to steal his big orange tabby, but when they find her, "she's not quite so fat anymore." Smart's cat has had kittens, and each farmer gets one: problem solved. Although the title divulges Smart's secret weapon, Sage (Where the Great Bear Watches) spends most of the book on Boast and Bluster's rivalry; the cat's introduction is anticlimactic. Ayto (You'll Grow Soon, Alex), whose sputtery, tense ink line and eccentric characters recall Ronald Searle's and James Snow's work, likewise fails to follow through on the dueling men and their Rube Goldberg contraptions. When he abruptly shifts his focus to the tranquil cat, she does little more than flex her claws. Ages 4-7. (June)