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September 01, 1996|MICHAEL CART

Author Eve Bunting and illustrator David Diaz, whose picture book about an urban riot, "Smoky Night," won the 1995 Caldecott Medal, now offer a kinder, gentler collaboration in Going Home, the heartwarming story of a family of farm workers who travel to Mexico for Christmas. For the parents it is an exercise in homecoming but, for their English-speaking children, it is a more uncertain experience--until they witness their parents' love for a village that invokes the unique magic of memory and has the specialness of a place the heart recognizes as home. Diaz's strongly outlined images change subtly from the earth-colored realism of the family's American existence to the lushly colored, vibrant experience of a Mexican Christmas. The text and illustrations are bordered by photographs of Mexican art and iconographic images.

Another beautiful book with a similar theme is Going Back Home: An Artist Returns to the South. Michele Wood, a painter, media artist and printmaker who now lives in Atlanta, is the eponymous artist. Toyomi Igus, editor and publications director at UCLA's Center for African American Studies, has supplied a text that amplifies and complements Wood's brilliantly realized art. The richly imagined paintings combine realism, symbolism and decorative elements, which together create powerful studies of Wood's ancestors and the Southern environment that they called home.

Africa is the setting for The Lonely Lioness and the Ostrich Chicks, Verna Aardema's masterful retelling of a Masai tale about a lioness who almost succeeds in stealing a mother ostrich's chicks. Illustrator Yumi Heo's wonderfully stylized animals and insects parade across the pages, inviting the reader's eyes to follow the action to its satisfying conclusion and then to return to the beginning, this time to dwell on the colorful details that embellish each picture.

The late Pam Conrad has left readers a lovely legacy in The Rooster's Gift. A young rooster is bursting with pride over his special gift: His crowing causes the sun to rise each morning. Or does it? Even the doting faith of his most ardent admirer, Smallest Hen, is challenged the awful day the Rooster oversleeps. But not for long. Together the two discover the true nature of the gift. Canadian artist Eric Beddows has provided gloriously colored pictures that provide gently humorous counterpoints to this life- and love-affirming story.

Comical misunderstanding provides the humor for Gary Soto's The Old Man & His Door. When the old man's wife tells him to bring el puerco (a pig) to the neighbor's barbecue, he--not really listening--thinks she has said puerta (a door). Puzzled but not daring to disobey, the old man dutifully unscrews the front door of their house and, with it balanced on his shoulders, heads off to the party. Along the way he finds surprising new uses for a door, each one whimsically depicted in Southern California artist Joe Cepeda's cheerful and affectionate pictures.


GOING HOME. By Eve Bunting . Illustrated by David Diaz (Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins: $14.95; ages 4-8)

GOING BACK HOME: An Artist Returns to the South. By Toyomi Igus . Illustrated by Michele Wood (Children's Book Press: $15.95)

THE LONELY LIONESS AND THE OSTRICH CHICKS. By Verna Aardema . Illustrated by Yumi Heo (Alfred A. Knopf: $17)

THE ROOSTER'S GIFT. By Pam Conrad . Illustrated by Eric Beddows (Laura Geringer/HarperCollins: $15.95; ages 4-8)

THE OLD MAN & HIS DOOR. By Gary Soto . Illustrated by Joe Cepeda (G.P. Putnam's: $15.95)

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