Marjorie Newman, , illus. by Patrick Benson. . Bloomsbury, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-784-4

With just a sentence or two per page, British author Newman conveys to youngest readers the importance of allowing others to be free to be themselves. When young Mole happens upon an abandoned baby bird, he brings the tiny creature home with him. Mole quickly falls into the caretaker role—assisted by his kind but realistic mother ("It's very, very hard to take care of a baby bird")—building the bird a nest and gathering it some food. But as the bird grows healthy and shows signs of wanting to fly, Mole confines his feathered friend to a wooden cage. Eventually, his parents' gentle remarks (when Mole calls it his "pet bird," each parent in turn replies, "It's not a pet bird. It's a wild bird") and a hilltop walk with his grandfather help lead Mole to the conclusion that the baby bird deserves its freedom. With a quietly resonating tone, Newman tackles heart-tugging issues—the responsibilities of pet care, the pain of loss, respect for the natural world—that many parents will find familiar. Benson's (Owl Babies) serene ink-and-watercolor illustrations capture springtime in the country in all its sunny, leafy-green finery. With cozy accents—a quilt, a china cupboard, a stack of picture books, carefully placed windows—he manages to make Mole's underground home equally bright and inviting. And the cast of critters—each a skillful cross between realistic and anthropomorphic—is sure to charm. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)