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Children's Bookshelf THE CUCKOO CLOCK by Mary Stolz;
illustrated by Pamela Johnson (Godine: $12.95; 86 pp.;
age 10-up).

May 03, 1987|KRISTIANA GREGORY

For the last three decades, Mary Stolz has distinguished herself with quality stories for young readers, among them a 1966 Newbery Honor Book, "The Noonday Friends," and "Quentin Corn," which in 1985 was an ALA Notable Children's Book. Many parents today can recall her Barkham Street bully from their own youth. They and their children will be glad to discover anew her endearing characters.

Stolz's newest venture into fantasy has all the elements of a classic tale: an abandoned child taken in by a cruel stepmother, a wise elder who befriends the child, and an inanimate object brought to life. "Once upon a time," the story begins, "there lived a clock maker in a village at the edge of the Black Forest in Germany." He is called Old Ula, and besides being the most skillful carver in the land, he is patient and kind. With the help of his young friend, Erich the foundling, he starts making what is to be the most magnificent clock ever. Faith, friendship and a little magic carry their task to its bittersweet end.

Their relationship is a comfort to Erich, for his foster family heaps nothing but scorn and shame upon him. Frau Goddhart is wonderfully wicked in her stepmother role, and her plot to undo the boy provides the necessary tension. Meanwhile, there's the enchanted wooden cuckoo who sings all the songs known to the real birds of the Black Forest, but as it is with magic, there are only a special few who hear its voice.

Readers are sure to identify with Erich's yearning heart. It's the classic struggle of a mistreated child latching onto a dream and, against all odds, finding happiness. The serendipity of a new friend and being cherished by a faithful dog is a bonus they'll love.

Ten pencil drawings by Pamela Johnson skillfully show the characters' temperaments and the charm of their alpine setting.

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