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January 11, 1987|KRISTIANA GREGORY

OUT OF THE NURSERY, INTO THE NIGHT by Kathleen Hague, illustrated by Michael Hague (Holt: $13.95; 32 pp.; ages 3-6). Our boys have been racing around the house in the semifinal sprint before bed, pajamas half off and whooping like it's high noon. Their father and I look like we've flown upside down in a biplane all day. How well Ralph Waldo Emerson understood this hour when he wrote, "There never was child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him asleep."

This is where authors and illustrators of bedtime books should be enshrined, especially when their stories work! "Out of the Nursery" is the recent effort by Kathleen and Michael Hague whose empathy for parents is obvious. They've collaborated before with their successful "Alphabears" and "Numbears, a Counting Book." Their bears are back but--hooray--it's TIME FOR BED.

Short rhymes, each bordered in blue with stars and smiling moons, describe 12 teddy bears' dreams. Opposite each poem is one of Michael Hague's soothing illustrations, full-colored with his trademark realism: the wide awake toddler, a bucking horse with all its muscles straining, a tortoise swimming among kelp. There are four sepia-toned plates that aren't as enjoyable to linger over because the colors blend objects into each other. But since dreams are often murky, maybe this was the artist's intention.

Readers of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1985) and "The Velveteen Rabbit" (1983) will recognize Hague's cuddly animals. The most luxurious image shows a cradle soaring "out of the nursery, into the night," escorted by stardust and fairies with translucent wings. Children will want to jump into the page for a ride.

It may take a few readings to lull your wild ones, but how sweet t'will be to hear their first quiet sighs of sleep.

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