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CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF

October 01, 1995|MICHAEL CART

According to legend, the stories we know as "The Arabian Nights" were first spun out by Scheherazade across a thousand and one nights. Now modern-day Scheherazade Deborah Nourse Lattimore retells a trio of these timeless tales, enriching them with paintings both lavish and luminous. Like her earlier explorations of ancient cultures--"The Dragon's Robe" and "The Flame of Peace," among others--Lattimore's Arabian Nights: Three Tales (Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins: $16.95) is a model of painstaking research and a triumph of artistry, from the breathtaking dust-jacket portrait of Aladdin to the gorgeously embellished picture of a jinn on the final page. Clearly, this is a book for all ages to treasure and one that elevates its creator to the first rank of American picture-book artists.

Another triumph--this time of originality and ingenious design--is Hungarian-born artist Istvan Banyai's Re-Zoom (Viking: $13.99). Like its predecessor, "Zoom," this cleverly titled sequel offers an interrelated series of meticulously drawn, wordless pictures that begin with an extreme close-up. As pages turn, readers realize that their eyes are zooming out, like a camera lens, putting the first image in ever-widening context. The intriguing surprises that abound on this visual journey inevitably invite speculation about the nature of reality and relativity. No wonder Albert Einstein is one of the figures encountered on a crowded subway train! "Re-Zoom" delights the eye and tickles the imagination.

If that tickle is in your throat instead of your imagination, maybe you've swallowed a bug. That's what happens to a little boy in Buz (Laura Geringer/HarperCollins: $14.95), the first title to be illustrated a nd written by Caldecott medalist Richard Egielski. When a doctor confirms that the boy has indeed "caught a bug," he gives him two pills that look suspiciously like policemen to get rid of it. A breakneck chase through the boy's innards ensues. Literal-minded adults may not want to read this over breakfast, but kids will love it.

If an apple a day was once the remedy for staving off a bug (and the doctor, too!), Grandma and Grandpa have John Chapman to thank for the fruit's easy availability. For it was Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, who traveled across the 18th-Century American frontier planting apple trees and turning himself into a tall-tale hero. Author-illustrator Andrew Glass has spun some of the stories Johnny might have told about himself into Folks Call Me Appleseed John (Doubleday: $15.95). Using a pleasant, first-person vernacular to tell how John's younger brother Nathaniel came to live with him in the woods, Glass adds wonderfully rough-textured paintings to give the frontier setting a look as splendidly unfinished and rawboned as Appleseed John himself.

In Everglades (HarperCollins: $14.95), Jean Craighead George traces the history of Florida's unique "River of Grass" and explores its endangered present. One of America's foremost naturalists, George writes with customary clarity and reverence for Earth, while illustrator Wendell Minor matches the majestic beauty of the Everglades with his full-page paintings of the region and its natural inhabitants.

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