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CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF

DREAMS AND WISHES: Essays on Writing for Children, By Susan Cooper (McElderry Books: $18; 197 pp.) : DOLPHIN SKY, By Ginny Rorby (Putnam: $16.95; 246 pp.; ages 10-14) : ANOTHER KIND OF MONDAY, By William E. Coles Jr. (Atheneum: $17; 234 pp.; ages 12 and up)

June 16, 1996|KAREN STABINER

There is no point in beating around the bush: I fell in love with Susan Cooper's book Dreams and Wishes as soon as I started to read it. The subtitle of this collection by the award-winning children's author and screenwriter is "Essays on Writing for Children," but it could as well be "Essays on Reading to Children." Read it and you will be better armed next time you walk into a bookstore to buy your son or daughter something to read.

For Cooper understands that she is not writing for a distinct species; as she puts it, "Children's books, from the writer's point of view, are simply books which happen to be published on the children's list." The audience is as demanding, if not as sophisticated, as adult readers. And the writer has a responsibility to provide as imaginative a story as he or she would for anyone else. The real key to writing for children, Cooper says, is to keep one creative foot in childhood. A therapist might call it nurturing one's inner child. But Cooper is far too elegant a writer for that. She simply understands her audience, and knows that to succeed she needs to maintain "the strange intuitive immediacy that the creative imagination shares with the alert, unjaded mind of a reading child."

In terms of children's books, she means have respect for your audience and your own imagination.

This book should be handed out in the maternity ward with the free formula samples. Read it if you want to help your child to learn to love words.

Ginny Rorby's Dolphin Sky is as sincere and heartfelt as a first novel can be, a gentle cousin to the big-screen "Free Willy." This story finds 12-year-old Buddy Martin feeling without friends except for one, her grandfather. And as with many first novels, we find bits of Rorby's own childhood sprinkled throughout--the painful consequences of undiagnosed dyslexia, her love of animals. It is Buddy's friendship with dolphins and the sudden threat of losing both them and her grandfather that spurs this young heroine to action.

In Another Kind of Monday, by William E. Coles Jr., a boy's life is literally transformed when he checks out Dickens' "Great Expectations" from the library. It's not just the book's priceless prose that causes these changes, however, but the presence within its covers of three crisp $100 bills and a note. The boy, Mark, sets off on a quest that takes him all over his hometown of Pittsburgh and through some unexpected emotional terrain as well. Along the way he hooks up with Zeena, who is wiser than her years. The author writes for young adults, not down to them, and addresses everything from contemporary drug problems to broken homes without climbing on a soapbox.

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