WHEN IT comes to books, people can be divided into three categories: Folks who invest in hardcover editions, folks who buy paperbacks and folks who check out library books.
I grew up in a library family, and I still think that's the best way tgo. There are times, however, when buying books makes sense. Hardbacks are fantastic holiday gifts for kids. And paperbacks are practical. When your child discovers library books she adores, you can often find the paperback versions at Junior Editions in Columbia Mall or The Children's Bookstore in Roland Park (737 Deepdene Road).
Here are some high-quality paperbacks now available:
* "The Animal Family," by Randall Jarrell, decorations by MauricSendak ( Alfred A. Knopf, $5.95). Originally published in 1965, this is a book that no child should miss. When kids learn how to read, often their parents stop reading aloud to them. Don't! Reading "The Animal Family" to your first- or second-grader will be enough to inspire you to keep reading aloud for at least a few more years.
This is a fantasy about a hunter who lives all alone until he meeta mermaid at his deserted beach. They learn to communicate, though she masters English much more quickly than he picks up the language of the sea.
"She taught the hunter to say in Dolphin and Seal, in case hwere ever swept to sea: 'Help me! Help me to the beach!' Learning that sentence in Dolphin was the hardest thing the hunter had ever done. 'You have to say it with the roof of your mouth and your nose, and so high you can't even hear yourself say it.'
"That's right, that's right!' said the mermaid. 'Now you're gettinit.' "
They settle into the hunter's house, and eventually their familextends to include a bear, a lynx and a little boy. Jarrell is a masterful poet and prose artist, and his story about belonging is tender and true.
* "Half a Moon and One Whole Star," by Crescent Dragonwagonillustrations by Jerry Pinkney (Aladdin, $3.95). After checking this out of the library a few times, you'll find it a fine addition to the bookshelf for kids ages 5 to 9.
Originally published in 1986, its main character is an African American girl. The book is a feast for the senses, with gorgeous illustrations in watercolor wash and poetry that's just as luscious.
"Susan lies in bed, not sleeping
Not yet sleeping, but does she doze
Blinking as the curtain blows?
Yes, yes, yes she does, sleep, Susan, sleep."
The book then carries readers through Susan's town at night.
"And walking down a street alone
Comes Johnny with his saxophone
He'll play it black and blue and right
And at the club they'll dance tonight.
He'll play while bakers bake their bread
While Susan turns and dreams in bed."
* "Angus and the Ducks," by Marjorie Flack (Zephyr Books$4.95). Angus the Scottish terrier is back to charm another generation in this book and two others, "Angus and the Cat," and "Angus Lost," just reissued this summer. Flack also wrote "The Story about Ping," and her books endure because kids ages 3 to 8 can relate so easily to her characters.
Angus is a curious sort, which of course gets him into troubleWhen he's outside on his leash, he wonders and wonders about the noise that comes from the other side of the hedge. One day he sneaks out the door, squeezes under the hedge and discovers the source: two big ducks going "quack! quack! quackety! quack!"
He chases and teases them and has a grand old time until thducks decide they've had quite enough. They chase Angus and he escapes back to his house, where he hides under the sofa. "For exactly THREE minutes by the clock, Angus was NOT curious about anything at all."