Will's on a slide taking a rollicking ride down a hill with a bear at the bottom

BOOKS FOR KIDS

January 07, 1994|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

When the kids come in out of the snow to thaw out and wind down, here are some wintry books they can warm up to.

* "The Story of a Boy Named Will, Who Went Sledding Down the Hill," by Daniil Kharms, translated by Jamey Gambrell, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky (North-South Books, $14.95, 32 pages, ages 5-8) is a sensory delight.

It keeps readers on the edge of their sleds, careening right along with this fast-paced poem and larger-than-life illustrations.

It begins innocently enough:

Willie went for a sled ride

And slid swiftly down the hillside.

But then comes a series of collisions:

Down the hill he slid his sled,

And hit a hunter as he sped.

The hunter gets swept along for the ride. Then Will and the hunter run into a dog, followed by a fox, followed by a hare. They're all flying down the hill on the sled when a bear looms up ahead.

In a thrilling close-up, we see the bear's face reflected in the eyes of all the passengers. On the next page, there's the bear, with Will's face reflected in his eyes. Mr. Radunsky, whose award-winning books include "The Pup Grew Up!" and "Hail to Mail," is so good I was bracing myself for the smash as I turned the next page.

His oil-and-acrylic illustrations and graphic design are inventive, and very European. It's nice to see North-South take a chance with his work in the American market. North-South is the English-language imprint of Nord-Sud Verlag, a Swiss company that publishes in seven languages.

And with "Will," it seems nothing is lost in translation -- at least not the alliteration. Mr. Kharms was a Russian poet who was imprisoned by the Soviet government in 1931, at the age of 26, for "distracting the people from the tasks of industrial construction." He tried to escape the Communists' wrath by writing for children, but was arrested again 10 years later and starved to death in prison.

* "Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here," by Jean Craighead George, pictures by Loretta Krupinski (HarperCollins, $15, 32 pages, ages 4-8) provides gentle lessons about the winter solstice and how it affects the rhythms of nature.

Ms. George, a naturalist whose books include "Julie of the Wolves," "Who Really Killed Cock Robin?" and the "Thirteen Moons" series, uses the format of a grandmother writing a letter to her granddaughter, Rebecca, about the approach of winter.

The birds "fly to the sunny underside of the Earth," she writes. "The frogs and turtles cuddle down in the mud below the frost line . . . The wolves leave their cramped nursery dens and run free on the wild ridges. Otters make slides in the snow."

Ms. Krupinski, who illustrated "The Old Ladies Who Liked Cats" and "How a Seed Grows," uses fine watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations to capture details like the luminous glow of a wolf's fur by moonlight. This is a simple, satisfying book.

* "A Winter Walk" by Lynne Barasch (Ticknor & Fields, $13.95, 32 pages, ages 4-7) works on an even more direct level. A little girl, Sophie, takes a walk with her mother on a winter day. When they start out, Sophie feels as cold and gray as the day.

But as they walk, Sophie opens her eyes to the colors around her -- the berries of red, the fields of rust, yellow, green and brown, lavender and gold. Ms. Barasch's watercolor washes are not sophisticated, but then, neither is the story.

* "Snowy Day: Stories and Poems" edited by Caroline Feller Bauer, illustrated by Margot Tomes (HarperTrophy paperback, $3.95, 80 pages, ages 7-10) is a collection of 34 poems, stories and activities related to snow.

There's a recipe for snow muffins from northern Canada, for instance, followed by an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story titled "The Snow in Chelm," starring those famous fools of Yiddish lore. Poets represented range from Karla Kuskin and Myra Cohn Livingston to Ogden Nash and Lillian Moore.

Buy it and hide it until the next time school is closed because of snow. It makes a nice present to whip out at the first mention of those dreaded words, "I'm bored."

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