Peter Harris, , illus. by Deborah Allwright. . McGraw-Hill/Gingham Dog, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-57768-437-4

Prudence is so perfect that she not only gets cast in every part of the school play, Jack and the Beanstalk ("The teachers all agreed she'd make a wonderful Jack and a magnificent Jack's mother and a sensational both ends of the cow..."), but the faculty also lets her perform the music and handle all the sound effects. With frenetic and luridly colored cartoons, Allwright captures the feverish whirlwind of Prudence's infallibility and its power to make grownups swoon. One spread depicts the star peering out from a brown-spotted cow costume while, opposite, a bonnet and skirt over the cowlegs indicates she's switched to the role of Jack's mother, singing a duet with Jack-as-a-puppet ("Prudence was also a talented ventriloquist"). "Didn't the other kids get fed up with Prudence being allowed to have all the fun?" asks the omniscient narrator in a voice that, throughout the book, shows a flair for pint-size irony and adult-directed cynicism. "Well, they were used to it. The teachers were always saying that if a thing was worth doing, Prudence was the only one worth doing it." But Prudence is no caricature of pure evil, and the punchline of this extended joke may well draw readers' sympathy for the protagonist. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)