Hristo Kyuchukov, , illus. by Allan Eitzen. . Boyds Mills, $15.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56397-964-4

Newcomer Kyuchukov's picture-book biography does not chronicle the life of Saddam Hussein, but rather his own life (as he explains in an endnote), as a boy born to a "Roma family" in India ("Some call us Gypsies," he writes) and living in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the troublesome themes presented here imply an audience considerably older than that addressed by the simplistic language. Young Hussein is Muslim and describes Ramadan in a cursory way, as well as the women's application of henna color to their hands for holidays. Eitzen's (Alphabestiary ) illustrations depict traditional meals and dress, but without any reference in the text, children will not understand their significance. In the narrator's family, Hussein is a name passed down to all of the men ("In Arabic, it means handsome"). Their idyllic life is disrupted when an army arrives "with tanks, cannons, guns, and dogs," sporting uniforms, barricading the mosques and forcing Hussein, his family and neighbors to choose Christian names ("Now I have a new identity card.... It says my name is Harry.... My name was Hussein"). These dark events go unexplained in the narrative, which unspools in fits and starts; and readers never really get to know the narrator or his family. The book raises more questions than can be answered in the afterword (which explains that war came to Bulgaria in the mid-1980s), and Hussein's story could be doubly confusing to children in light of recent events in the Middle East. Ages 8-up. (Apr.)