A quartet for children's holiday gifts

Monday Book Reviews

December 13, 1993|By John Goodspeed

STOP the trend toward national illiteracy!

Give books as holiday gifts to the children you know and love -- and hope they grow up to be well-read, civilized men and women.

Following are some suggestions -- new books for the young that were written and/or illustrated by people who live in Maryland, or have produced a book about people and/or places in Maryland, or books published in Maryland -- in some cases, all of the above.

CHADWICK FOREVER. By Priscilla Cummings. Illustrated by A. R. Cohen. Tidewater Publishers, Centreville. 30 pages. $8.95.

This is the fourth book in the series starring Chadwick the anthropomorphic blue crab, one of the most popular series for children ever produced south of Philadelphia.

In this new one, Chadwick and his wife Esmerelda, the crab with long eyelashes, live in the Tred Avon River and worry about various endangered species in and around the Chesapeake Bay. These pitiable beasts include the Delmarva fox squirrel, the Maryland darter, the piping plover and the Puritan tiger beetle -- to name a few that turn up for a meeting held to debate how to save these vanishing critters.

Can Chadwick and all the gang do it? Hey, can a tiger beetle swim? I won't give away the story, but I will note that the colored illustrations by Baltimore artist A. R. Cohen are the cutest so far in the Chadwick series. And so is the prose by Priscilla Cummings, of Annapolis.

*

WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN? By Kevin O'Malley. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, New York. 30 pages. $15.00.

Kevin O'Malley, another Baltimore artist, has illustrated the classic nursery rhyme about the demise of Cock Robin with cartoonish but darkly ominous drawings and has transformed it into a murder mystery investigated by Inspector Owl, complete with tell-tale clues sprinkled around to test the observational powers of young readers. He fooled me for most of the book.

His verses are mostly traditional (if memory serves), e.g.:

Who killed Cock Robin?

"I," said the sparrow,

"With my bow and arrow,

I killed Cock Robin."

L But some are new and added by Mr. O'Malley, I believe, e.g.:

All the birds of the air

Fell a-sighin' and a-sobbin'

When they learned of the fate

Of poor Cock Robin.

Again, I won't give away whodunit and spoil the yarn, but I will give this hint: Don't, repeat, don't, keep your eye on the sparrow. Mr. O'Malley, incidentally, pulled off a similar nursery rhyme caper in 1992 with his first book for kids, "Froggy Went a-Courtin'." It's also a-pretty good.

*

FIRST SAIL. By Richard Henderson. Illustrated by Jennifer Heyd Wharton. Tidewater Publishers, Centreville. 41 pages. $15.95.

The author of these useful lessons for beginning sailors, written as dialogue, also has turned out 20 other books, including a text that's required reading for Naval Academy midshipmen.

And that's how Beth, the teen-aged protagonist in "First Sail," talks -- like a textbook. She's sailing her 15-foot sloop out of the Patuxent River, explaining as she goes her every navigational move and every skeg and jam cleat and gooseneck and batten for the benefit of her cousin Adam, four years her junior and a boating virgin.

"Battens hold out a sail's leech; that's the back edge," Beth expostulates.

"Now we're ready to put the mainsail on. We'll start with the head, which is the top of the sail.

"The two bottom corners are the tack, which attaches near the mast, and the clew, which attaches to the outhaul line on the other end of the boom."

On and on she goes. As far as I can tell from the pretty watercolor illustrations by Jennifer Heyd Wharton of Annapolis, the boy Adam doesn't takes notes.

So what does he do when Beth falls overboard?

I won't tell you, but I think it's OK to note that he's not a rotten kid who'd let her drown to escape the lecture.

*

THE PRIVATE WORLD OF SMITH ISLAND. By Sally Foster. Cobblehill Books, New York. 46 pages. $14.99.

Sally Foster began her journalism career with an article in Maryland Horse magazine and has produced many articles and photographs for other publications. She also has produced three previous books for children and is especially interested in what her publisher calls "other cultures and ways of living."

That led her to do the book at hand about Smith Island, a remote but well-publicized locale in the Chesapeake Bay near the Virginia border, where crabbing is king and the Methodist

minister arrives and departs by boat.

Ms. Foster follows the summer activities of several small children -- visitors and natives. How will they amuse themselves without shopping malls? What is there to do, Mother? Well, they can listen to Smith Island watermen reminisce about the big freeze of 1936. They can catch minnows off the dock with the watermen's kids. They can watch watermen (and boys) handle blue crabs. And so on; somehow, they make it through to Labor Day. And have fun!

Ms. Foster's photographs, beautiful and clear and very well reproduced (in Hong Kong) illustrate the text and brighten every page. And Ms. Foster's prose, slightly poetic but smoothly professional and deceptively educational, is just as good.

John Goodspeed writes from Easton.

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