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Children's Bookshelf

January 25, 1987|KRISTIANA GREGORY

LITTLE MAN TO THE RESCUE by Max Velthuijs (North-South Books: $8.95; 28 pp.; ages 3-6). "If a friend is in need, you can't let him down!" is the theme of this picture book from Switzerland; translated by Rosemary Lanning from " Klein-Mannchen hilft einem Freund. " Little Man happens upon a frog stuck in a bottle. With a loud pop he pulls out Frog, who is clutching a piece of paper with the words, "Help! Help!" Off they march in search of the victim, gathering other animal friends along the way, until they discover a hurt Father Rabbit. Through the clever use of Duck's natural skill, Rabbit is rescued and they celebrate with a hootenanny.

The tale could have ended there, but it takes another turn that left this adult feeling that something got lost in translation. After a nice build up--mysterious note, search then rescue--the last page doesn't seem to relate to the rest of the story.

But this isn't a serious offense. Younger kids will undoubtedly love the lush colors and simple expressions of the animals as they go about their adventure, which is probably more important than a smasher of an ending. One other good thing is the book's shiny cover. The copy in our house somehow, accidentally found itself decorated with orange and blue magic marker, but it sponged off; no sweat. Parents will appreciate this easy care as much as reading aloud the simple words.

THE MYSTERY OF THE STRANGER IN THE BARN by True Kelley (Dodd, Mead: $10.95; 32 pp.; ages 5-8). Another adventure unfolds in full color as a little girl named Nancy does her farm chores. All sorts of clues tell her a stranger is lurking. A hat mysteriously appears, something eats her peanut butter sandwich during the night, and hay in the loft has been slept on. While she works herself into a fright, the reader sees what's really happening and is delighted by the trickery. Nancy seeks comfort with her mother, who is in the house breast-feeding a baby sister.

The author's watercolors are just charming, as is her story. The creatures are scary in a friendly way, enough to give Nancy the creeps but not enough to spook young readers. They'll love to watch as her imagination sweeps her away, and they'll love seeing her tucked safely into bed.

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