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BRAVE LITTLE PETE OF GERANIUM STREET by Rose and Samuel Lagercrantz; illustrated by Eva Eriksson; adapted from the Swedish by Jack Prelutsky (Greenwillow: $11.75; 32 pp.; ages 4-8).

September 28, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

The poetry of Jack Prelutsky is short, snappy and usually hilarious, a failsafe combination for delighting young readers. His knack for exaggerated nonsense has made him a contemporary King of Fun, evident in this new adventure he adapted from the Swedish, Att Man Kan Bli Stark del 63.

Like many 4-year-olds, Pete wishes he was older so he wouldn't have to put up with the boys who torment him. He yearns for a magic cake that would make him strong and the bullies wimps, a wish that has an interesting twist when his grandmother arrives with a pastry and a piece of advice: "But you know, it will only do wonders for you/if you finish your fish, and your vegetables, too." Pete solves his dilemma in a peaceful way and though it's a tad unrealistic, it shows kids they don't have to slug it out just to be heroes.

Eva Eriksson's illustrations are done in rusty earth tones with humor so charming a non-reader can turn the pages with silent pleasure. The verse bounces along like a kid on stairs, easily rhyming even when the meter changes. Usually when this happens, it's supposed to signal a contrast in mood or a new element in the poem, but here, it's just plain irritating. Reading aloud, you stay in a smooth rocking horse rhythm when it switches to an uncomfortable trot, then back again. Perhaps this is from the mechanics of translation. But when you consider the difficulty of keeping rhyme, beat and meaning intact between two languages, it's a task Prelutsky accomplishes quite admirably.

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