Read to me riddles
and read to me rhymes,
read to me stories
of magical times.
So begs the little bear in The Three Bears Rhyme Book by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jane Dyer (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: $14.95; ages 3 to 7). Isn't this the kind of request we love to get from our little ones, and from our not-so-little ones too? There are lots of wonderful, new children's books this holiday season, some that ask to be read aloud, some better suited to that magical, quiet place and the joy of reading to oneself. This book of 15 bear poems is a charmer that can be enjoyed either way, and Jane Dyer's warm, nostalgic illustrations perfectly complement the text.
Any child who has or has ever had a puppy will love Our Puppy's Vacation by Ruth Brown (E. P. Dutton: $10.95; ages 3 to 8). This is the story of puppy's first vacation when everything is new and exciting. She has the beach to run on, the gulls to chase, the caves to hide in. Then there is the farm with its strange and wonderful animals who are sometimes friendly to a frisky puppy and sometimes not. The inquisitive little creature with her floppy ears and wagging tail is irresistible. The book is set in Cornwall, England, and the puppy's four teen-age friends in their "wellies" and rough-and-tumble clothes are pretty irresistible too. But beware! Get this book at your peril. You may have to get a new puppy to go along with it.
Dinosaurs by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House: $12.95; ages 3 to 6) should be a safe buy in that respect. It's not easy to fit a dinosaur in a Christmas stocking. Perhaps your dinosaur lover will settle for this book instead. Here the text is simple, the pictures clear cut and vivid and just scary enough to be interesting. Paleontologists are shown piecing together fossil skeletons and studying dinosaur remains. We see different species of dinosaur in appropriate dinosaur settings, and each illustration comes with an accompanying phonetic spelling of the name. This will be especially useful to the adult reading the book aloud and will save the embarrassment of a correction by the 4-year-old listener. "Not 'ah. nat. o. SORE. us,' Dad. It's 'ah. NAT.o.sore.us.' " Thank you, Gail Gibbons.
A different kind of book to entice the very young is Beside the Bay by Sheila White Samton (Philomel Books: $12.95; ages 2 to 6).
"I walk alone beside the bay,
The water's blue, the sky is gray."
So begins this book of colors. On the walk, we meet an impossibly pink snail, an orange cat, bright yellow lizards. Blackbirds fly into green, green trees, and, on the bay, boats with red sails glide, and purple flying fish leap and play. The bold, primitive drawings are attractively childlike, and there is a nice, satisfying chuckle at the end as the little girl rides home on the back of her big brown dog. Accompanying her are her new pink, orange, yellow, purple and black friends.
E. E. Cummings' Little Tree, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray (Crown Publishers: $9.95; ages 3 to 7), is a picture book that truly shines with the spirit of Christmas. A nondescript little tree is found in a Christmas tree lot by two small children. They bring it home to their city apartment, where, decorated, it stands proudly in the window, loved and cherished at last. The charm of the illustrations lies in their simplicity, in the delicate shadings of gauzy color that give the book an almost ethereal look in keeping with the enchantment of the season.
Who's Hiding Here? by Yoshi (Picture Book Studio: $14.95; ages 3 to 9) is sure to intrigue any young reader. Who's hiding here among the gold and green leaves? Can it be a frog in his green and gold camouflage? There's a cut out, but still, there's no way to be sure until the page is turned. Wow! It is a frog! And there's a snake too. Children will have fun with this and be treated at the same time to wonderful nature art and a palette of breathtaking color. The author/illustrator is well known in the field of textile design, and her sense of color and style certainly enrich this beautiful book.
Intriguing, too, is Reflections by Ann Jonas (Greenwillow Books: $13; age 5 and up). This is the simple story of a child awakening in a house by the sea, getting up to watch the fishermen at work, to visit the empty boat yard and the beach, which is already crowded. Enjoy the story and the bright illustrations, then turn the book upside down and keep on reading and looking, because this book is not so simple. The story continues as the top of the book becomes the bottom and the illustrations magically make sense the other way around. How does she do it? Very cleverly. This is a book that will literally double your pleasure and reading fun.