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August 04, 1996|MICHAEL CART

The great American poet Donald Hall is one of the few writers for adults who has also mastered the art of storytelling for children, as he demonstrates in Old Home Day. If change has replaced continuity in the lives of today's children, it is Hall's contention that there is still room for both. In this beautifully realized book, he shows us how by following the evolution of one small New England place, Blackwater Pond, from the Ice Age to 1999. In prose that has the wonderful eloquence of simplicity, Hall follows the ebb and flow of family life through the centuries. Caldecott medalist Emily Arnold McCully matches Hall's evocative word images with watercolor pictures that capture both the look of the land and the changing appearance of its people. Together they celebrate the beautiful spirit of quiet endurance.

McCully has both illustrated and written The Bobbin Girl, a book that also recalls an earlier time and place: 1830s Lowell, Mass., "the city of spindles," where 10-year-old girls like Rebecca Putney worked punishingly long hours in the mills. McCully says that these factory girls were "the heroines of America's industrial age" and proves it in this eloquent story of the first worker's strike in Lowell. Her generous watercolor pictures capture both the passion of the workers and the appearance of the world they inhabited and enriched with their spirit.

Work--and how it came to the world--is also the subject of Two Bad Boys, an ancient Cherokee tale retold and illustrated by another Caldecott medalist, Gail E. Haley. When the son of Kanati (First Hunter) and Selu (Corn Mother) discovers another boy in the forest who claims to be his wild brother, trouble follows and their lives change forever. Haley has chosen to paint her energetic illustrations of an idyllic world on gesso (a mixture of plaster of paris and glue) in order to simulate the look of parchment and has framed each with borders that replicate Cherokee designs.

Another veteran storyteller, Robert D. San Souci, has turned to the Philippines for a folk tale he calls Pedro and the Monkey. In this version of the classic Puss in Boots story, the sly boots is not a cat but a monkey who, stealing corn, is snared by a poor young farmer named Pedro. In exchange for his freedom, the wily thief helps the farmer win the heart of Maria, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Michael Hays' acrylic on linen pictures have a lavish painterly quality that, combined with the book's beautiful layout and design, add elegance to San Souci's expertly researched and retold text.

James Stevenson is both a veteran New Yorker cartoonist and a prolific author-illustrator of picture books. In I Meant To Tell You, a father shares memories with his daughter of her childhood. Stevenson's wonderfully impressionistic watercolor illustrations show us what memories, those soft-focus mind pictures, might look like when captured by a gifted artist.


OLD HOME DAY. By Donald Hall . Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Browndeer/Harcourt Brace: $16)

THE BOBBIN GIRL. Written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Dial: $14.99)

TWO BAD BOYS. Retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley (Dutton: $14.99)

PEDRO AND THE MONKEY. Retold by Robert D. San Souci . Illustrated by Michael Hays (Morrow: $16)

I MEANT TO TELL YOU. Written and illustrated by James Stevenson (Greenwillow: $15)

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