Holiday gifts kids can open more than once Children's books: Chapter & verse

December 04, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

The saying "A book is a gift you open again and again" becomes a mantra for parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and anyone else who enjoys giving books to kids for the holidays.

They chant it to themselves after little Jessica rips the wrapping paper off the boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder paperbacks and then shoves the books aside, undetered in her search for the Barbie Dream Wedding Gift Set that everyone knew she wanted.

In a perfect world, February will find Jessica huddled under a comforter with "On the Banks of Plum Creek." In our imperfect world, book-givers take comfort knowing that their presents don't require batteries, won't break by New Year's Eve and are a snap to wrap up for under the tree.

One size fits all

Some books you never outgrow. This year's bumper crop of children's books includes several that fit the entire family.

* "The Dragons Are Singing Tonight" -- poems by Jack Prelutsky, pictures by Peter Sis (Greenwillow, $15, 39 pages, ages 4 and up) casts a dazzling spell. Mr. Prelutsky is at his rhyming, rapping best. (If you don't believe in dragons, / It is curiously true / That the dragons you disparage / Choose to not believe in you.)

And Mr. Sis, whose award-winning books include "An Ocean World" and "Follow the Dream," fills every double-page spread with scaly creatures that frighten and entrance. Some inspire giggles. Others spark romance.

* "A. Nonny Mouse Writes Again!" -- poems selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Knopf, $13, 32 pages, ages 4-10). This sequel opens with a thoughtful note from Ms. Mouse to Mr. Prelutsky, letting him know how well life has treated her since their first collaboration, "Poems of A. Nonny Mouse."

For the first time, her poems had been correctly attributed to her, instead of to "Anonymous." In this second collection, there are limericks and sing-song rhymes -- many familiar and all filled with silliness. It's as if the poems are stand-up comics competing on a stage, jostling one another on the pages between Ms. Priceman's frenetic watercolors.

* "The Happy Hocky Family!" -- This book for baby boomers to share with their kids (or keep for themselves) is by Lane Smith (Viking, $13.99, 61 pages, all ages). It's a parody of Dick and Jane primers, twisted with Mr. Lane's comedic and design genius.

In addition to his own "Glasses -- Who Needs 'Em" and "The Big Pets," Mr. Lane has collaborated with Jon Scieszka on "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales," and several other subversive spoofs.

The Hocky family has a pipe-smoking dad, a domestic mom and three kids. It would be '50s to the core except for the fact that in each of the 17 vignettes, it's the kids who are empowered, not the nerdy grown-ups.

The kids face setbacks (Henry does not get the pony he wants for his birthday) and catastrophes (Holly leaves the top off her ant farm, and they invade Mom's sterile kitchen). But the parents aren't hovering nearby, waiting to make it all better. Instead, the kids muddle through, as evidenced by the fact that they're ready for the next adventure, whether it be a visit from Cousin Stinky or a hilarious episode about Grandma's perfume dependency.

* "From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs" -- If it's a coffee-table book you're after, check out this hefty offering compiled by Amy L. Cohn (Scholastic, $29.95, 399 pages, all ages). Pound for pound, it's one of the most beautiful anthologies around.

The list of illustrators is a Caldecott who's who: Leo and Diane Dillon, Richard Egielski, Anita Lobel, Molly Bang, Marcia Brown, Jerry Pinkney, David Wiesner, Barbara Cooney, Trina Schart Hyman, Donald Crews, John Schoenherr, Chris Van Allsburg, Marc Simont and Ed Young.

Each artist does a chapter, which includes eight to 10 traditional stories, poems or songs. Ms. Cohn begins with American Indians and progresses through American history, with chapters on slavery, pioneers, tall tales, ghost stories and even baseball.

* "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" -- Leo and Diane Dillon's latest feast for the eyes is by Nancy Willard (Blue Sky Press, $15.95, 32 pages, all ages). Ms. Willard ("A Visit to William Blake's Inn") has collaborated with the Dillons to create a new version of the verse first popularized by Goethe in the 1700s.

It is scary -- at one point a crazed sewing machine appears ready to zig-zag the apprentice to death -- and mystical at the same time.

* "Daddy and Me: A photo story of Arthur Ashe and his daughter Camera" -- Important books don't always make great gifts, but this exception is by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe (Alfred A. Knopf, $13, 40 pages, all ages). It is a story of love and loss, but mostly love.

Camera Ashe was 21 months old when her father learned he had AIDS. She was 5 when her parents told her the name of his illness.

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