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February 25, 1996|MICHAEL CART

The Rev. Martin Luther King had a dream of a United States that would be "an oasis of freedom and justice." In My Dream of Martin Luther King, celebrated artist-author Faith Ringgold offers her own powerful vision of how the life and example of the slain civil rights leader continue to inspire "the whole world and all its people." Her signature naive style brings a quality of childlike innocence to the starkly rendered black, white and gray images she uses to marry real-life incident with the deeper reality of symbol and visual metaphor of dreams.

A similar childish and dreamlike quality is the essence of Arthur Dorros' Isla. The engaging young Rosalba and her flying grandmother, introduced to readers in the award-winning "Abuela," return in another magical adventure. This time they soar on wings of imagination to the island where Abuela grew up. Elisa Kleven's collage illustrations offer images as tropical and exuberant as the scenes they depict. A glossary of Spanish words is appended.

It's the dream of every children's book illustrator to win the prestigious Caldecott Medal. This year's winner is author-illustrator Peggy Rathmann, for Officer Buckle and Gloria. A resolutely kid-friendly choice (some recent winners have been criticized for being too seriously "artistic" or hard-edged to appeal to young readers), this is the story of an earnest policeman who knows more safety tips than anyone else in Napville. Unfortunately, every time he tries to share them at school assemblies, all the kids fall asleep--until the police department hires Gloria, a dog whose audacious antics enliven the presentations.

Another winner, Newbery medalist Cynthia Rylant, makes her debut as both a writer and illustrator in Dog Heaven. Working in acrylics, she has created a sweetly naive vision of a heaven made just for dogs. Young people who have lost a pet will find in this lovely book comfort and reassurance.

It's been a good picture-book year for canines. Consider also Dogs Everywhere. Cor Hazelaar's slight but energetic story about city dogs at walk-time is enriched by her choice of color--these subtle shades of tan and taupe and green and brown are beautiful to look at, capturing the outdoor essence of Central Park and inviting study and reexamination.

Leonard: A Fable is the hilarious story of a little boy who wishes he were a dog and of what transpires when a friendly fairy grants his wish. Wolf Erlbruch's Expressionist style may be a wacky hybrid of Herge (creator of Tintin) and Elzie Segar (Popeye's "papa"), but his page design, bold use of empty space and wickedly witty eye are all his own.

A slightly less shaggy dog story is local author Gwen Davis' Happy at the Bel-Air, a whimsical little fable about a Yorkshire terrier who lives at the famous hotel. Sonia Moskowitz's color photographs are fun to look at and proof positive that, as a model, Happy is one very patient pooch.


MY DREAM OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, By Faith Ringgold (Crown Publishing: $17)

ISLA, By Arthur Dorros (Dutton: $15.99)

OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA, By Peggy Rathmann (Putnam: $15.95)

DOG HEAVEN, By Cynthia Rylant (Blue Sky/Scholastic: $14.95)

DOGS EVERYWHERE, By Cor Hazelaar (Knopf: $13)

LEONARD: A Fable, By Wolf Erlbruch (Orchard: $14.95)

HAPPY AT THE BEL-AIR, By Gwen Davis . Photos by Sonia Moskowitz (Dove Books: $9.95)

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