Arkansas grizzly tale is read-aloud fun

BOOKS FOR KIDS

January 23, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

As folks all over Washington rush to curry favor from the new administration, here are a few titles that should fit the politically savvy profile. These are books aging baby boomers can buy for their kids -- or grandkids, as the case may be.

* If the Grateful Dead can play a pre-inauguration gig on the Mall, why shouldn't Ken Kesey get a starred review in the sometimes stuffy School Library Journal?

The author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" made a splash with his first children's book, "Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear," illustrated by Barry Moser and now out in paperback (Puffin, $4.99, all ages).

Told in the voice of a storyteller from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, it's a great read-aloud tale about a nasty grizzly bear, Big Double, who comes from the high country to feast on the unsuspecting creatures of Topple's Bottom: Charlie Charles the Woodchuck, Longrellers the Rabbit, Sally Snipsister the Marten and our hero, Tricker the Squirrel.

It's time to get ready to hibernate, and Big Double announces he needs "a big bellyful of fuel and lay-by of fat to fire my full-time furnace and stoke my six-months snore a-ROOAAHRRRR!"

When Charlie Charles the Woodchuck tells him to get lost, the bear responds, "I ate the HIGH HILLS RAW and the FOOTHILLS BARE and now I'm going to EAT! YOU! UP!"

And he does.

He outruns the woodchuck and he out-jumps the rabbit and swallows both whole.

When the bear out-climbs the marten and gobbles her in one gulp, it's up to Tricker the Squirrel to outwit Big Double. Without giving away the ending, let's just say the bear gets his just desserts.

Mr. Kesey's rhythm, alliteration and similes are tons of fun: Sally the Marten "catches the trunk of the cottonwood and climbs like an electric yo-yo whizzing up a wire. But the bear jumps after her like a jet-propelled elevator up a greasy groove."

And Mr. Moser's watercolor paintings are sensational. He is so prolific, it's a wonder his work always is able to evoke such wonder. There's Big Double, with a dingy T-shirt stretched across his belly and a toothpick jutting from his mouth -- he could be Ernest Borgnine as a slob. And there's Sally Snipsister, hands on her hips and an indignant frown on her face -- she could be Cybill Shepherd as a spoiled Southern belle.

* The illustrations also play a winning role in Mr. Kesey's second children's book, "The Sea Lion," illustrated by Neil Waldman (Viking, $14.95, all ages). Each page is painted in hues of blue, pink or green, evoking the magic of a sunset in the Pacific Northwest, where the tale is set.

In telling this story, Mr. Kesey draws upon the oral tradition of an Indian tribe he calls the Sea Cliff People. Eemook, a boy born with a twisted back and a shrunken leg, is treated as an outcast.

Yet he has the gift of a special vision, and he alone recognizes an evil spirit when it arrives at the longhouse disguised as a handsome stranger. The Sea Cliff People treat the stranger as visiting royalty. As the men sleep, he puts the young women under a spell. But Eemook rescues his friend, the princess Shoola, and then cleverly drives the spirit back to the sea.

* A pretty picture book for a child of a child of the '60s is "This Quiet Lady" by Charlotte Zolotow and Anita Lobel (Greenwillow, $14, ages 3 and up). It's big -- 10 inches by 12 inches -- and Ms. Lobel's paintings are beautiful.

On each left-hand page, there's a gray-and-sepia picture of a little girl looking at photographs of her mother. The right-hand page is filled with a full-color painting of the mother. It starts at the mother's birth and runs through the little girl's birth, bringing the reader full circle.

Lots of kids love to hear about what it was like when Mom and Dad were little, and this version is timely. The words, "This untidy schoolgirl with her wrinkled stockings is my mother," are accompanied by a picture of a girl in braids with a book bag and a Beatles lunch box.

On the next page, Mom is shown as a teen-ager in an Indian print blouse and patched bell-bottom jeans, peace beads around her neck and flowers in her hair. She is sitting with a group of boys, and it's the only time she is shown laughing. Hmmm.

On it goes through college graduation, marriage and motherhood. Funny, we don't see Mom at work. It's a simple book that further romanticizes the baby boomers' beginnings. That should be enough to make it a best seller inside the beltway.

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