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CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF

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July 24, 1994|SUZANNE CURLEY

Being funny comes easy to young adult writer Ron Koertge. The author of "The Arizona Kid" and "The Harmony Arms" outdoes himself in his latest comic novel, Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright (Orchard: $15.95). Koertge's hero Jesse lives in a sleepy, dried-out Southern California town named Norbu. His dad has split a while back for parts unknown, his mom is the town chiropractor and Pappy, who lives with them, is a lovable old cowhand who is teetering toward senility.

Pappy's daughter wants to put him in the Golden Acres nursing home before he does something dangerous, like burning the house down--either while he's cooking his favorite dish (canned beans, of course) or when he drifts off to sleep smoking a cigarette (this he does watching his favorite videotape, one of Dorothy Hamill figure-skating two decades ago). Jesse, who idolizes Pappy, mounts a heavy campaign to keep him home.

The outcome for all, without giving too much away, is entirely satisfactory.

The northern part of the state is the setting in California Blue by David Klass (Scholastic Press: $13.95). In this new novel by the author of the award-winning "Wrestling With Honor" an amateur lepidopterist (that's a butterfly enthusiast) with a dying father and an unfortunate crush on his biology teacher discovers an endangered species in the Northern California forest near his home. The only problem is that his find may spell disaster for most of the town's breadwinners, who are loggers in the same forest where the fragile creatures live. Suspense--and some violence--ensue in this tale of a teen-age rebel with a timely cause.

Also of note: Jacqueline Woodson's "Maizon at Blue Hill" was an ALA Best Book award-winner. Her new novel for young adults, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This (Delacorte Press: $14.95) concerns a friendship that springs up, against all odds, between 13-year-old Marie, an upper-middle-class black girl and a classmate Marie's father considers "white trash." . . . For Floyd, Native American culture isn't just a hobby--he believes his destiny is to be a Native American; he signs school projects "Charly Brave Crow, a.k.a. Floyd Rayfield." James Bennett's novel Dakota Dream (Scholastic: $13.95) could have been an annoying wanna-be tale of one white boy's quest to do the impossible. But when teen-aged Floyd escapes a Dickensian "group home" and lights out for the Black Hills territory of the Dakota Sioux, his dreams take on a realistic shape. . . . There's now a handsome new illustrated edition of Chicano author Rudolfo Anaya's 1973 coming-of-age-in-the-Southwest novel Bless Me, Ultima (Warner: $19.95) with color paintings by Bernadette Vigil. This tale of a young boy torn between disparate branches of his close-knit rural family is one of the sharpest writings about childhood's wonders and terrors since Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." . . . Anaya, by the way, is one of the authors and artists represented in the coffee-table-worthy volume called Here Is My Kingdom: Hispanic-American Literature and Art for Young People, edited by Charles Sullivan, with forward by Luis R. Cancel (Abrams: $24.95). Poems and fragments of prose by authors such as Nicholasa Mohr and Octavio Paz are paired with full-color artwork reflecting Latino culture by the likes of Frida Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo. . . . Speaking of things ethnic, The Italian American Family Album (Oxford University Press: $19.95), by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler is the second in a fine new series, following "The Chinese American Family Album." Among people covered in the second volume are such immigrant luminaries as the Grucci fireworks family, Eleanor Cutri Smeal (former president of NOW) and Mario Puzo ("The Godfather"). . . .

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