-- 11/8/00

Margret and H.A. Rey. Houghton, $15 (32p) ISBN 0-618-07389-2

This buoyant book, as publisher Anita Silvey explains in an afterward, appears in print for the first time, 63 years after its conception by the Reys, who strapped it--along with Curious George--onto the back of a bicycle as they peddled out of Paris hours before the Nazi army's invasion. Whiteblack, the Chief Storyteller for Penguinland's radio station, has run out of stories. He decides that traveling will provide him with new material and takes off in a handmade can . Though the penguin runs into trouble, he maintains a chipper attitude. When he wrecks his boat on an iceberg, for instance, he wryly observes, "I hate to lose my boat¦ but at least this is a story for my radio show. Besides, I've always wanted to be in an accident." His string of adventures not only provide him fodder for his program, but also fulfill a raft of other dreams (e.g., "Besides, I've always wanted to ride on a camel," he quips when offered a lift across the desert). As resourceful as he is resilient, Whiteblack, in a final heroic act, slips off a fishing boat, dragging behind him a net with "mountains of fish" for his pals; they erect a snow sculpture in his honor ("And since in Penguinland the snow never melts, the monument is still there. You can go yourself and see it"). Matching the droll pitch of the narrative, H.A. Rey's whimsical watercolors stylistically recall those that illustrate the Curious George uvre; a decidedly curious penguin, Whiteblack makes a most worthy companion for George. A preponderance of George's sunny yellow lights up many scenes, and the penguin apes human postures and emotions nearly as well as the famous chimp. Readers will reach the last page wishing for a secret cache of sequels. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)