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Galileo's Daughter : FIVE SECRETS IN A BOX by Katherine Brighton (Dutton: $11.95; 28 pp; ages 3-8)

December 27, 1987|Kristiana Gregory

Authors and illustrators usually inscribed their works to family or friends, so it's interesting to see something different. This picture book's dedication is to the memory of an until-now obscure child of history, Virginia Galilei (1600-34), who lived in a convent from the time she was 12 until her death at 34. Virginia was the eldest child of Galileo who, along with her siblings, stayed with him when her mother moved out to remarry. It's hard to imagine Galileo coping with children and experiments but somehow he did, apparently by sleeping all day so he could study the skies by night.

Virginia narrates this pleasant, simple story about her early life with the famous scientist. During long afternoons their house is quiet. Her "silent slippers creep" and, in her quilted dress, she "rustle(s) to his study, up wide stone steps." On her father's desk she discovers a box with five objects: two clear lenses, two colored lenses and a feather. She knows these things are "important to his work," so she holds them carefully.

Renaissance Italy is beautiful here as seen through a child's eye (and an astronomer's lenses). Women air rugs over their window sills and mice wander around tiled floors. Galileo's study is cluttered with instruments, books, a crucifix and a Bible. Some illustrations have sea shells or gulls to show that Pisa is on the coast. There are many ways to introduce children to history and art, but a fine picture book such as this, accompanied by a warm voice, has got to be one of the best.

ZOO SONG by Barbara Bottner; illustrated by Lynn Musinger (Scholastic: $12.95; 32 pp.; ages 3-8).

Get ready for some laughs with this read-aloud comedy about squabbling zoo neighbors. Fabio the Bear loves to tap dance, Herman the Lion plays the violin, and Gertrude the Hippo sings in a soprano so high she is driving everyone crazy. In fact they are all driving each other crazy as each tries to be louder than the other. This makes the zoo noisy. "Very, very noisy."

Finally, "something strange" happens and the three discover a happy way to live in harmony. Los Angeles author Barbara Bottner has created a delightful tale; Lynn Musinger's colored drawings match her humor perfectly.

THE BABY BLUE CAT AND THE DIRTY DOG BROTHERS by Ainslie Pryor (Viking Penguin: $10.95; 32 pp.; ages 3-8).

Here's more fun with animal neighbors by another Southern Californian. The Cat family lives next door to the Dog family. Behind the Dogs' house is a "very nice, very big mud puddle" and a "wonderful dust pit full of nice sooty ashes and soft grimy dust," which is where the Dirty Dog Brothers love to play with the Baby Blue Cat. They remain friends even when it comes time for a bath, a first for the Brothers. Pryor's illustrations are as jovial as her story.

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