cover image Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

Vivian French, John Prater. Candlewick Press (MA), $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-56402-177-9

A refreshingly simple concept and clever delivery yield a lively picture book perfectly pitched to preschoolers. A boy and his parents move to a new house where it seems there's ``Not much to do. / Not much to see.'' Careful scrutiny of the pictures, however, contradicts the verse. As the book continues, the boy remains by the cottage, but familiar faces begin to dot the landscape: a golden-haired girl chased by three bears, a trio of pigs each toting a bundle of different building materials. Young listeners acquainted with classic nursery rhymes will quickly recognize the game and begin searching for their favorite characters. Witty details (pigs poring over architectural plans, bears becoming mucked up in furniture glue, Humpty Dumpty turning somersaults on the stone wall) extend the visual jokes. French is a master of comic understatement, his sing-songy verse serving as a kind of straight man to the bustling illustrations: ``Mom's cleaning windows. /There's a bear. / He's making a fuss /About a chair.'' Prater's ( No, Said Joe ) striking palette of teals, apricots and periwinkles infuse the illustrations with a genuine warmth certain to attract readers. Ages 3-up. (May)