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SOLOMON THE RUSTY NAIL, written and illustrated by William Steig (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $12.95; 32 pp.; age 3 up).

May 25, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

In 1930, the planet Pluto was first photographed; Herbert Hoover was President, and William Steig's cartoons began appearing in the New Yorker. Almost 40 years later, the success of his first children's stories ("CDB!" and "Roland the Minstrel Pig") would allow him to switch careers from advertising ("which I detested") to that of award-winning author. Most of his books published since 1971 have been named an ALA Notable Children's Book, not to mention that in 1977, "Abel's Island" and "The Amazing Bone" were named Newbery and Caldecott Honor Books, respectively, the first time both awards have been given in the same year to the same person.

Steig's latest adventure is about an ordinary rabbit named Solomon who discovers that when he scratches his nose and wiggles his toes at precisely the same moment, he turns into a rusty nail. What fun he has confusing his family and the hungry cat Ambrose until something goes horribly wrong, and Solomon's trick backfires. As usual, Steig's illustrations are bright with funny animals doing people things like playing Parcheesi and wearing clothes. Pure enjoyment is offered here, whether a child is just staring at the pictures or listening to a parent read aloud. There's a temptation to analyze the motives of these furry characters, but to do so detracts from the fun. As the author insisted during an interview some years ago, he's never "trying to get anything across" in his stories because such purposes can ruin writing. He knows children love magic, and it's as simple as that.

Another humorous transformation takes place in Steig's CALEB & KATE (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $3.95; 32 pp.; age 4 up), first published in 1977 and now reissued in an 8x10 paperback. "Caleb the carpenter and Kate the weaver loved each other, but not every single minute." After a roaring fight, he storms off into the forest wondering why he married "such a cantankerous hoddy-doddy" and, exhausted, falls asleep in the grass. When Yedida the witch shuffles by in her slippers, she sneaks a spell on Caleb, turning him into a dog. What follows is actually a love story as Kate grieves for her lost husband and Caleb-the-dog tries to comfort her. Of course, as in Steig's other misadventures, there's a happy ending to delight both parents and children.

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