Children's books show world is both big and small

Sunday, March 23, 2003

— It takes all kinds of people, places and things to fill the interesting world we live in, and such diversity is celebrated -- and explained -- in several new children's books.

Like most other children, Boris, Indira, Hoshi, Jack and Habib start their day by getting ready for school, but since these youngsters are still pretty young, they go to "Little School" (Kane/Miller, $14.95, ages 2-5).

Little School students arrive by truck, stroller, bicycle and boat and then begin to familiarize themselves with their new day care-preschool surroundings before they say goodbye to their families. Some children in Beth Norling's book like to sing, while others prefer art projects and still others are happiest during outdoor playtime. But at the end of the day, they have all enjoyed each other's company and, maybe most importantly, work together to clean up.

Such a busy day, though, can leave a little girl such as Sara all tuckered out, even if she doesn't know it. In "The Yawn Heard 'Round the World" (Tricycle Press, $14.95, ages 3-7) by Scott Thomas and featuring Tatjana Mai-Wyss' watercolor illustrations, Sara's sleepiness is contagious.

When she lets out a big yawn, her mother follows suit. Then it's dad's turn in the next room, and pretty soon everyone from Cuba to France is yawning in this rhyming bedtime story.

And by the time the yawn closes in on Sara's house again, she is fast asleep.

The baya bird of India is a young mother's best helper in "Baya, Baya, Lullua-by-a" (Atheneum, $16.95, ages 3-6) by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Vera Rosenberry. The bird shares the grasses from which she makes her own nest as the mother weaves her baby's blanket; and they share a mother-to-mother warning when a dangerous cobra is slithering about.

This song and story is inspired by another Indian lullaby: "Lalo Loli" by Ratan Devi and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

Meanwhile, a mother on a farm stitches her new baby a quilt, sharing the story of each patchwork square in "A Quilt for Baby" (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 2-5) by Kim Lewis.

The trees near the house are crooked because the winds blow strong, the mother explains, and it won't be long before the baby is old enough to explore the surrounding hills. The baby won't be alone in her adventures; the quilt's squares also show a baby lamb, a puppy, a calf, a foal, and two little newborn kids, as in baby goats.

Providence Traveler, a curious little mouse, takes a trip through time in "Uh-Oh, Leonardo!" (Atheneum, $16.95, ages 5-8) by Robert Sabuda.

After finding a blueprint for a mechanical mouse next to her favorite book ("Leonardo da Vinci: Boy, Was He Busy"), Providence realizes that the drawing must have been an unfinished piece of da Vinci's work. Being the enterprising critter that she is, Providence not only builds the machine, but she and her pals ride it to Florence, Italy, where they enjoy the Feast of St. Giovanni in 16th-century style.

An old man with very little money in his pocket teaches an entire village a priceless lesson of compassion in "The Deliverance of Dancing Bears" (Kane/Miller, $15.95, ages 5-9) by Elizabeth Stanley. The man is appalled that two beautiful bears are muzzled and forced to perform for a fee in a Turkish village marketplace, so he buys their freedom and gives the bears the life they dreamed about.

Small steps can lead to something big: Jane Baskwill's book "If Peace Is..." (Mondo, $15.95, ages 6 and up) reminds us that kindness and good will can be fostered in daily activities such as singing a song or planting a seed. Stephanie Carter's accompanying illustrations are done in a stained-glass style.

A rabbit goes about the house mimicking the people he usually watches from afar in "While You Were Out" (Kane/Miller, $15.95, ages 4-6) by Ho Baek Lee. With the human family at grandma's house, the rabbit takes a seat at the table to enjoy a meal, watches a movie on television -- complete with a bag of snacks -- and takes a pair of roller skates out for a spin.

The most extraordinary part of the book is that the South Korean author says it's based on a true story that "will change forever the way you think about your pets (and where you leave them while you're away)."

Gideon the chameleon tries his hardest to stand out and be seen in "Gideon" (Star Bright Books, $16.95, 4-8), but he can't escape his natural "gift" of blending into the background. Eventually, though, Francesca Greco's ever-changing creature gets noticed for his heroism as he saves the other animals in the jungle from a hungry tiger.

It's OK to ask for help -- even if you're a tough little elephant -- as our hero learns in "With a Little Help From Daddy" (McElderry Books, $15.95, ages 2-5) by Dan Andreasen. A boost from dad can, in fact, make you the tallest, fastest and strongest tot on the block.

But, boasts this little guy, he is the cutest all on his own.

And let's not forget about Mama. In "I Love My Mama" (Simon & Schuster, $12.95, ages 1-5) by Peter Kavanagh and illustrated by Jane Chapman, a baby elephant raves about all the fun he has with his mother. The duo "chase across hot dusty plains, stomping and stamping and playing new games."

A boy and his pals, a pig, a sheep, a dog, a rabbit and a cat, outsmart a tiger when they play "Follow the Leader" (McElderry Books, $16.95, ages 3-6). The tiger, though, just wants to be part of the gang.

Author-illustrator Emma Chichester Clark helps reach a compromise that allows all the creatures to play together, but there is a safe distance between the tiger and everyone else.

A cupcake-sized sheep goes on a high-flying adventure to see the giant purple "spider" in "Tinka" (Atheneum, $15.95, ages 3-7) by Rainy Dohaney. Not only does Tinka learn that the spider she has always feared is a field of beautiful spiders, she also realizes that there is nothing wrong with her small space in the world.

Katie Casey, whose knitting is knotted and whose dancing is a disaster, isn't exactly sure where she fits in as a teenager in 1942. After all, girls are supposed to like all that stuff, but Katie knows that she'd rather be playing baseball than practicing ballet.

"Players in Pigtails" (Scholastic Press, $16.95, ages 5-8) by Shana Corey and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon gives Katie her answer: She becomes one of the first players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Other new books that embrace unique people and animals are:

l "Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots?" (Rising Moon, $15.95, ages 4-7) by Carmela LaVigna Coyle and illustrated by Mike Gordon. Any princess-in-waiting surely asks herself if she can play in the dirt and sand, and if she'll still have chores to do.

l "Captain Bob Takes Flight" (Atheneum, $15.95, ages 3-7) by Roni Schotter and illustrated by Joe Cepeda. If Captain Bob needs to fly around his bedroom to put his socks away, read a book and practice writing, so be it. And, he makes it back by lunchtime.

l "An Ant's Day Off" (Simon & Schuster, $15.95, ages 4-8) by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Nina Laden. A rebellious ant does what no drone has done before: He explores the world outside work.

l "What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?" (Houghton Mifflin, $15, ages 4-8) by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Sure, your ears don't look like a jackrabbit's, but his ears keep him cool. And that long tail that a lizard has? It breaks off when the animal needs to make a quick getaway.