True Companions

A number of spring picture books add to popular series. Continuing to make arithmetic fun, Math Fables by Greg Tang, illus. by Heather Cahoon, offers 10 rhymes about animals that teach a life lesson while demonstrating basic addition. For the number seven, "Gone with the Wind" traces the path of monarch butterflies to Mexico, using every possible combination of addends (5+2; 6+1; etc.): "Their journey would be very far,/ a thousand miles or more./ The monarchs flew both day and night/ in groups of 3 and 4." In addition, Tang extends readers' vocabulary ("albeit," "prudent," "sultry"). Cahoon's computer-generated illustrations once again bring personality and charm to the animals and settings. (Scholastic, $16.95 40p ages 3-6 ISBN 0-439-45399-2; Mar.)

The star of Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball returns for a game of Hide and Seek in Found You, Little Wombat! by Angela McAllister, illus. by Charles Fuge. Little Wombat is "It," but grows distracted by his surroundings, wanders off and becomes lost and frightened in a rainstorm. Luckily, Mom comes to the rescue ("What a clever umbrella!" she says reassuringly, when she finds her son crying and shivering under a toadstool). (Sterling, $12.95 24p ages 2-5 ISBN 1-4027-0708-8; Feb.)

Alexandra Wallner, the author and artist behind Betsy Ross and Abigail Adams, offers another illustrated biography of a celebrated American in Grandma Moses. The book follows Anna Mary Robertson through her childhood on a late 19th-century New York farm. Her early interest in painting necessarily remained secondary to her duties, until late in life. Wallner's simple folk-art—inspired illustrations seem ideally suited to the life and work of her subject. (Holiday, $16.95 32p ages 4-8 ISBN 0-8234-1538-4; Mar.)

In a fable similar to her The Empty Pot, Demi uses an emperor's riddle to demonstrate The Greatest Power. The boy emperor Ping asks the children of the empire to discover the world's greatest power as a test of their abilities. While many choose weapons, beauty or money, one girl takes a different path and proves that life itself is the greatest power. The gold gilt illustrations, set in large circles on each page, provide an elegant balance to the tranquil text and wise conclusion. (S&S/McElderry, $19.95 40p ages 5-8 ISBN 0-689-84503-0; Mar.)

After paying homage to Hoop Queens, Charles R. Smith Jr. now focuses on 12 male NBA superstars in Hoop Kings. Memorable imagery and slick rhythms (not to mention an actual-size Shaq shoe print on a foldout) combine to create poetic portraits (such as the one for Allen Iverson: "Crooked cornrows/ cause chaotic/ and catastrophic collisions/ with precision"). Smith's signature bold photographs, playful type, and electric colors and design blend 1970s-era basketball, modern street ball and hip-hop influences. (Candlewick, $14.99 40p ages 8-up ISBN 0-7636-1423-8; Feb.)

In their third astronomical adventure together, the creators of Zoo in the Sky and Kingdom of the Sun introduce youngsters to both constellations and their mythology with Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton, illus. by Christina Balit. The text brims with taut, sparkling dramatizations, as with the entry for Argo: " 'Bring me the sacred golden Fleece!' commanded Jason's scheming uncle (secretly thinking, 'He'll die if he tries.')." The artwork makes an impact, too, with silver foil stars that mark the constellations, set within swirling, vivid paintings that provide a context. A compelling introduction to the stars and the ancient stories they inspired. (National Geographic, $16.95 32p ages 6-9 ISBN 0-7922-6332-4; Feb.)


Children's book experts share their knowledge in a pair of spring resources. Anita Silvey, formerly editor of the Horn Book and publisher of Houghton Mifflin, ranks her favorites in 100 Best Books for Children. Divided into age groups, Silvey lists classics old and new, from Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd's Goodnight Moon and Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit to Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly, Louis Sachar's novel Holes and Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie. Extensive background information and interesting anecdotes provide further context for the books. (Houghton, $20 208p ISBN 0-618-27889-3; Apr.)

Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children: A Lively, Opinionated Guide, Second Edition, by Valerie V. Lewis and Walter M. Mayes offers brief synopses and commentaries for 2,000 titles, hundreds of which are new, according to the authors' introduction; and they've weeded out those that are no longer available. Lewis and Mayes have added a "best books" section for both fiction and nonfiction, and they've modified the index in response to readers' reactions. (HarperCollins/QuillResource, $17.95 paper 512p ISBN 0-06-052467-7; Mar.)

Concepts Refreshed

A batch of spring books use a variety of interactive methods to teach various concepts and ideas. In bold blocks of color and geometric shapes, Hui-Mei Pan illustrates a pair of hand-size books with a pull-tab format. What's in Grandma's Grocery Bag? focuses on color and foods. A line of text offers a clue ("I see something purple. What is it?"), a pull of the tab on the opposite page allows readers to extract the fruit from a paper bag (grapes). Piggy in My Pocket invites readers to examine the pockets of a child's friends and family in search of a lost piggy. A ladybug lurks in Mommy's apron; a snake slithers from Justin's pocket (unfortunately, the text here offers no clues as to the identity of the creatures that will emerge from the pockets). (Star Bright, $5.95 each 14p ages 6 mos.-3 yrs. ISBN 1-887734-97-X; -96-1; Feb.)

Disney Now I Know My ABCs amounts to 27 books in one: 26 tiny board books—one for each letter of the alphabet—tuck into pockets within the thick cardboard pages of the "main" book. The mini-books feature seven pictures each, featuring stars from Ariel (the Little Mermaid) to Zini (the monkey) plus photos of alphabetically related objects (Ariel, Aladdin and Alice [in Wonderland] usher in airplane, apple and acorn). (Disney, $15.99ages 6 mos.-5 yrs. ISBN 0-7868-3472-2; Feb.)

Ten squishy rubber piglets peek through die-cut holes in each page of This Little Piggy, illus. by Steve Haskamp. Expanding on the familiar children's rhyme, the illustrations contain piggies cast in starring roles in classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Such scenes as a little piggy eating porridge with Baby Bear as Goldilocks slumbers and another porcine character sporting a red cape and evading a wolf should keep youngsters entertained as they count down from 10 to one. (Piggy Toes, $9.95 22p ages 3-up ISBN 1-58117-281-8; Feb.)

Two Fold-Out Fun books by Treesha Runnels introduce an array of friendly animals: Forest Friends and Safari Friends. Readers lift the right-hand page up, then over, unveiling larger sections of each easily recognizable animal, accompanied by simple clues ("I have very big feet./ I eat with the help of my trunk"), until the full creature is revealed ("I am an elephant!"). The merry illustrations make even the bears and lions look non-threatening. (Piggy Toes, $4.95 each 10p ages 2-up ISBN 1-58117-275-3; -276-1; Feb.)

The front and back cover of each of three My Carry-Around Actions Book titles by P. Wingate, illus. by Rachel O'Neill, form a handle for easy toting. In I Can Skip, Hop, Jump, each page shows a different activity ("I can jump up high./ I can stretch out wide"), with cartoon illustrations of smiling toddlers who demonstrate. Other titles: I Can Waddle, Wriggle, Wave, in which toddlers move like various animals, and toddlers can talk like them, too, and I Can Woof, Quack, Moo, which pictures the animals with the sound they make. (Barron's, $3.95 each 16p ages 2-5 ISBN 0-7641-5733-7; -5734-5; -5735-3; Feb.)

An irreverent lesson in colors, What Color Is Your Underwear? by Sam Lloyd encourages children to examine the fashionable undergarments of the animal kingdom. Youngsters lift flaps in the form of horse blankets, turtle shells and other obscurations to reveal Harry Horse's "cherry red boxers" and more. "What color is your underwear, Chris Crocodile?/ Furry and yellow, a snappy new style!" This goofy book may have parents buying only white BVDs to put this question to rest once storytime is finished. (Scholastic/Cartwheel, $8.99 16p ages 3-5 ISBN 0-439-57676-8; Feb.)

In this companion to A Is for Animals, Counting Creatures: Pop-Up Animals From 1 to 100 by David Pelham, working with his daughter Sophie, goes from one to 20, then counts to 100 by tens. The animals pop up from behind colorful, numbered flaps—two per page—in alliterative matches, such as 16 spiders and 40 finches (a cautionary note to parents at bedtime: children may insist upon counting all 80 aphids). (S&S/Little Simon, $16.95 18p ages 3-6 ISBN 0-689-85387-4; Feb.)

Two Turn & Pop Books by Teresa Imperato, illus. by Valeria Petrone, help kids learn colors and numbers. In Colors All Around, the text asks, "This ocean creature has a big, flat tail. What color is this giant whale?" A turn of a cardboard dial makes the answer ("blue") pop up from the top of the page. How Many Ducks in a Row uses the same format (plus a rhyme to complete) to help readers count up to 10 ("How many bees in a hive?… five"). (Piggy Toes, $5.95 each 10p ages 2-up ISBN 1-58117-277-X; -278-8; Feb.)

Youngsters can count from one to 12 with a bountiful brood of Labrador puppies featured in the single-page and full-spread photos of Let's Count the Puppies by Katharine Kunhardt. Seven irresistible puppies "play house" in a doll house; nine nestle in a tub while they await a bath. (Oddly, the same puppy photo is used for "waving hello" and "bye-bye.") Curious dog lovers can see what the pups look like all grown up in Kunhardt's closing pages "from my scrapbook." (HarperCollins/Tegen, $12.99 32p ages 3-6 ISBN 0-06-054336-1; Feb.)

Two board books by Kristen McCurry and Aimee Jackson feature adorable photos of baby animals that live on the land and in the sea. Ocean Babies shows shark pups, dolphin calves and sea turtle hatchlings with their families in the saltwater depths, while Safari Babies takes readers through the daily activities of zebra foals, elephant calves and even baby hyraxes in the African jungle. (NorthWord, $5.95 each 22p ages 6 mos.-3 yrs. ISBN 1-55971-898-6; -899-4; Feb.)

Two oversize paper-over-board books illustrated by Susie Lacome use glitter to glamorize basic lessons. The Big Shiny Sparkly Activity Book offers a chance to learn about everything from shapes at the park to opposites at the zoo. Glittery paper peeks from behind die-cuts to make glimmering kites, tractors and flamingos. Readers can expand their vocabulary with The Big Shiny Sparkly First Words Book. In addition, each page features cardboard flaps and doors, to reveal more surprises. (Running Press/Courage, $9.98 each 10p ISBN 0-7624-1647-5; -1646-7; Feb.)