All children at one time or another have felt lonesome and have ached for a special friend. That is why this elegant picture book (translated from the Finnish by Tim Steffa) will speak to all, even to the adult reading aloud.
In a land far away on a distant shore sits a spectacular house where a king lives all alone. His library whispers stories, and beautiful songs play from a phonograph, but because he has no subjects and no family, his life is empty. Then one day a huge cat shows up and, as cats are wont to do, it makes itself at home, no questions asked. Before the king knows it, he is caring, quite happily, for his new roommate, and this caring spreads across the land. Soon there are neighbors to befriend and bounty to share.
Without being sappy, the author shows how giving of oneself brings treasures greater than those that adorn shelves. The full-color illustrations spread across the double pages with dreamy hues, creating a peaceful mood. Both story and pictures succeed independently of each other, which will please the pre-reading child.
MIXED-UP MAGIC by Joanna Cole; pictures by True Kelley (Hastings House: $9.95; 32 pp.; ages 4-8). As a kid, you probably remember being told by someone wiser than yourself that when you make a wish, you might not get what you asked for, but you'll get what you need. This was small consolation when a gift turned out to be pajamas instead of an aquarium full of piranhas. Such backward logic is the theme in Joanna Cole's humorous tale about an elf who tries to grant Maggie her wishes but gets his cues mixed up. When she asks for a coat, he accidently produces a goat, a boat and a moat; for socks, he comes up with a fox, two docks and a pile of rocks, and so on. In the end, she realizes what it was that she really wanted, and she rows off as happy as Pollyanna. True Kelley's watercolors capture all the fun.