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CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF

November 05, 1995|MICHAEL CART

"Charlie was no ordinary chicken," author Jean-Luc Fromental announces in this cautionary tale of a talented fowl and the bitter price he pays for fame. Originally published in France, BROADWAY CHICKEN (Hyperion:$14.95; ages 5 to 9) is set in pre-television America, when dancing chickens like Charlie ruled the entertainment roost at county fairs and arcades. This whimsically pun-packed story of one rooster's meteoric rise to stardom may have more appeal for adults than for kids, but everyone's eyes will pop in appreciation of Miles Hyman's gorgeous dry pastel paintings that offer their own irreverent vision of the Broadway and Hollywood milieus in which this Fred Astaire of "fowldom" flourished. Angelenos will particularly relish Hyman's amusing homages to landmarks like Paramount Studios and the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The rural America of long ago provides a more subdued setting for another terrific story about a rooster: THAT KOOKOORY! (Browndeer/Harcourt: $15; ages 5 to 8) by Margaret Walden Froehlich. The eponymous Kookoory is bursting with excitement about going to the Edgerton Fair, but if a hungry weasel has its way, it's the rooster who will wind up as the fare--dinner fare, that is. Working in pen and colored inks, California artist Marla Frazee has provided pictures that are not only evocative of a simpler time but packed with humor, personality and closely observed details of rural and small town life. Frazee has such a wonderful command of line, light and color that it's hard to believe this is only her second book.

Photography, once the exclusive province of nonfiction, has begun assuming an ever more important place in picture and concept books. An exquisite example is WHAT'S YOUR NAME? FROM ARIEL TO ZOE (Holiday House: $15.95; ages 4 to 8). This alphabet book of names features luminous, full-page photographs of 26 children from a rainbow of cultures by Los Angeles photographer Marilyn Sanders. The accompanying text by her daughter, Eve Sanders, includes each child's thoughts on the meaning, in dictionary and personal terms, of his or her own name. Taken with available light in natural settings, the photographs are wonderfully spontaneous--and illuminating in the insights they offer into the identity of their subjects.

Children of different cultures are also the subject of GLORIOUS ANGELS (HarperCollins: $15.95, all ages) by Walter Dean Myers, but these are anonymous kids from long ago, their faces preserved in haunting black-and-white and sepia-toned studio portraits selected from Myers' extensive collection of antique photographs. Like an earlier companion volume, BROWN ANGELS (HarperCollins: $16; all ages), this book is an irresistible invitation to kids of today to imagine what shapes the lives of these now long dead children took. And I can imagine the kids of 50 years from now deriving the same experience of wonder from "What's Your Name?" Fine photography has the power to pique curiosity and expand imagination.

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