Volumes of Fun

Fun packaging and details bring new titles to life. Clues in the form of newspapers, letters and guidebooks literally unfold in Operation Itchy by Jeanne Willis, illus. by Penny Dann. "The name's Barker—Secret Agent Barker," begins the canine hero of this caper. When two-inch megafleas attack the city, Barker must track down Mad Manx, a tailless cat bent on revenge. Engaging acrylics introduce an array of interactivities (including a pull-out strip of Polaroids) and a surprise twist ending. (Candlewick, $13.99 18p ages 6-9 ISBN 0-7636-2481-0; Oct.)

Seaworthy maidens can consult the clamshell-shaped The Mermaid's Manual by Dawn Apperley for pointers on everything from how to swim, make glittery sea-sparkle lotion or to recognize different shells and jewels. Stylish accoutrements, including a student card, fishtail, stickers, a bracelet, tiara and locket allow them to dress the part. In the cartoonish and abundantly cheery illustrations, mermaid students converse through speech bubbles. (Bloomsbury, $16.95 14p ages 4-8 ISBN 1-58234-888-X; Oct.)

A squishy exterior, Velcro buckles and a convenient handle make My Sleepover Bag by Elissa Held, illus. by Tammy Smith, just right for a night away from home. Shimmering panels and other tactile delights await inside, including fuzzy slippers and more to be packed. (S&S/Little Simon, $14.95 14p ages 3-6 ISBN 0-689-87337-9; Oct.)

Sandra Boynton fans will croon over the soft and squishy Moo Cow Book, a plush cow's head whose mouth opens wide to reveal a rhyme printed on six cuddly pages: "I'm your very own cow/ and I like to go moo!/ When I lick you right now/ it means 'I adore you!' " A sound chip voices a moo at the appropriate moment and a terrycloth tongue offers readers a kiss. (S&S/Little Simon, $16.95 10p ages 6 mos.-3 yrs. ISBN 0-689-87683-1; Oct.)

Nick Jr. characters abound in a trio of titles, along with gizmos and gimmicks that make them more than your average books. My Chalkboard Book: Write and Draw with Chalk includes four pieces of chalk in a box that peeks through a die-cut opening in each oblong board page (which can be written on). Little Bill helps readers write their numbers and letters, and then readers can help Dora fill up her backpack. (Chronicle, $11.95 10p ages 3-6 ISBN 0-8118-4421-8; Nov.)

Youngest Nick Jr. fans can learn colors, numbers and shapes with Colors, Counting, Shapes!: 15 Shaped Books in a Sorting Box! From the "box," "picture frame," and "quilt" on the spreads of Square Shapes, to the "1 apple," "2 wheels," and "3 cookies" in Circle Counting, toddlers will soon master their basics with these nifty little shaped board books, all of which toss neatly into an opening in a sturdy storage box decorated with Nick Jr. characters. (Chronicle, $24.95 ages 4-8 ISBN 0-8118-4422-6; Nov.)

The spiralbound Stir, Squirt, Sizzle: A Nick Cookbook with a wipe-clean hardcover binding offers up tasty treats including "Fairly Odd Pancakes" (but with classic blueberries, strawberries and the like) and "Bikini Bottom Butterscotch Brownies" for kids and parents to try out. Divided into sections such as "Chomp and Chew" and "Gulp and Guzzle," the text is straightforward, but contains enough Nick-related jokes to keep young chefs entertained. A sticker sheet completes the tasty, well- designed offering. (Chronicle, $12.95 56p ages 7-up ISBN 0-8118-4419-6; Nov.)

What a Concept!

Other interactive titles introduce concepts to young readers. With a simultaneous release in hardcover and board book editions, Color, Color, Where Are You, Color? by Mary Koski, illus. by Janeen Mason, celebrates the hues of the natural world. "Purple, purple, where are you, purple?/ Crocus and eggplant and shark fins that ripple./ Parrots and grapes,/ octopi shapes." In pleasingly crowded, bright vignettes, Mason creates scenes where diverse animals and plants meet. (Trellis [715-399-0780], $14.95 32p ages 9-12 ISBN 1-930650-35-3;board, $7.95 1-930650-34-5; Oct.)

The latest addition to the Hear and There series, Safari Sounds by Susan Ring, illus. by John Kanzler, features a voicebox that plays the noises that jungle creatures make. The left side of each spread offers a clue to the animal hidden under a flap on the right-hand page; the left page itself then opens to reveal further information about the animal's habits. Elephants, chimpanzees, vultures and hippos number among the beasts that make themselves heard. (Innovative Kids, $18.99 32p ages 4-8 ISBN 1-58476-269-1; Oct.)

The Big Book of Clues from A to Z by Wendy Wax, illus. by David Brooks, proffers riddles atop sturdy flaps on oversize board book pages. For O, the clue on the flap reads, "It has a short tail and a very long neck," and beneath it lies a picture of an "ostrich." (Innovative Kids, $12.99 20p ages 4-7 ISBN 1-58476-218-7; Oct.)

Two books by Rebecca Elgar likely to inspire shout-along rather than read-along pleasure: Where's My Dinner? and Time for Bed! Each features multimedia collages of animals that incorporate newsprint and photos. In the first title, animals clamor for their food ("I'm a happy, clever cat./ I eat wherever I go./ But every day when I get home,/ I loudly want to know...") and the refrain "Where's my dinner?" appears in bold type in a large text bubble that doubles as a flap hiding a culinary surprise. In the latter title, the animals rhapsodize about their days before being shown resting behind the flap. A pop-up surprise ends each book. (Egmont [Trafalgar Sq., dist.], $8.95 each 12p ages 2-3 ISBN 1-4052-0451-6; 1-4052-0452-4; Oct.)

The paper-over-board Peek-a-Pet by Marie Torres Cimarusti, illus. by Stephanie Peterson, joins Peek-a-Moo and Peek-a-Zoo, this time inducing giggles with a game of peek-a-boo with dogs, cats and frogs that hide behind large flaps shaped like paws, wings or tails. (Dutton, $9.99 12p ages 2-up ISBN 0-525-47352-1; Oct.)

Divided into categories of "Playthings," "Clothing," "Food" and "Animals," Simms Taback's Big Book of Words offers a straightforward collection of kid-friendly vocab and accompanying illustrations, one per page. A standout spread pairs "kitty's milk" (in a bowl) with "baby's milk" (in a bottle). (Blue Apple [Chronicle, dist.], $12.95 96p ages 9 mos.-3 yrs. ISBN 1-59354-035-3; Oct.)