Taking a reading on 1992: 'Rainbabies' is the best

BOOKS FOR KIDS

December 26, 1992|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

The lazy day after Christmas is just right for taking stock. Before the year runs out, here are three books published in 1992 that rank as personal favorites.

* Rare is the picture book that is so potent it needs to be closed and put aside after reading. "The Rainbabies," by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, $15, ages 6 and up) is such a book.

Most critics haven't paid it much mind. I have to wonder if I'm wrong to praise it as the best children's book of the year. Because its magic captivates the adult in me, maybe I should call it the best parents' book of the year.

"The Rainbabies" is Ms. Melmed's first book. She has taken the folk-tale tradition and written a classic story about an old woman and her husband who live a happy, simple life in the country. "But the thing they wanted most was the thing they lacked: a child to call their own."

One spring night, as a warm rain is ending, they are drawn outside into the moonlight. Looking down they discover 12 raindrops, each holding a baby "no larger than a big toe."

Mr. LaMarche's illustrations are luminous, and the tiny, naked babies are cuter than the kids in those Michelin ads. Ms. Melmed's prose is wonderful.

The old couple takes wonderful care of the babies, clothing them in bits of handkerchiefs and carrying them around in a willow basket as they go about their chores. Three disasters befall the babies, and each time the old man or woman rescues them, sometimes risking their own lives.

One night, when the babies are tucked safely to sleep in an open drawer, a handsome stranger comes to the door and offers a priceless moonstone in exchange for the babies. The couple refuse.

Then the stranger is transformed into a magical woman, who rewards the old woman and man for their loyalty and love in a surprising, fulfilling climax.

It's a book I will treasure always, especially as an adoptive parent.

* My second favorite of 1992 actually was published in 1989 but came out in paperback this year: "Paddy's Pay-Day" by Alexandra Day (Picture Puffins, $3.99, ages 3-8).

The hardback version of "Paddy" never received the attention lavished upon Ms. Day's famous Rottweiler, Carl. Like "Good Dog, Carl" and the subsequent Carl books, "Paddy's Pay-Day" chronicles one day in the life of a canine, in this case a handsome Irish terrier.

Paddy lives with his mistress, the pretty Trilby O'Farrell, in a trailer, and they put on their acrobatic show at carnivals and birthday parties. On this day, Trilby gives Paddy his pay for the month. He takes the green purse in his mouth and goes to town.

The merchants all know him. He pays for his favorite doughnuts, stops by the barber shop for a trim and takes in a movie ("Lassie Come Home"). Carl even makes a cameo appearance. But the best scene is at Murphy's tavern, where Paddy enjoys his "usual" -- a baked potato and a pint of Guinness.

With the rest of his money, he buys a gift for Trilby and makes a generous contribution to the humane society. This is a book my 3-year-old daughter wants to read again and again and again.

* Tired of trying to reign in the terrible television beast? Check out "The Problem with Pulcifer" by Florence Parry Heide, pictures by Judy Glasser (Mulberry paperback, $3.95, ages 7 and up). Pulcifer's parents and teachers are at their wits' end because Pulcifer has quite a problem: He won't watch TV.

All the other kids in his class have graduated to sitcoms and crime dramas. But Pulcifer is so backward, he just wants to read books. He sneaks them home from the library and reads them in his room. His parents have TVs in every room of the house, including the bathroom. In fact, every framed picture on the wall includes a TV -- and they can't understand where they went wrong.

"Your mother tells me you've been reading again, Pulcifer," his father says. "Do you realize you could have spent those same hours watching television, my boy? Now those hours are gone, gone forever."

The school puts Pulcifer in a remedial class for non-watchers. It doesn't help. His parents send him to a psychiatrist. "You must strive, Pulcifer, you must struggle," the doctor tells him. "You must buckle down and watch television as you have never watched before. Remember, there's no such word as can't."

But Pulcifer can't do it. Finally, his parents give up. As they flick on the remote control, they tell him they love him just the way he is. He happily escapes to his room, where a pile of books awaits.

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