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Kids' Books

Parents Will Enjoy Reading These Too

November 29, 1998|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Children's books aren't just for children. In fact, since it's generally adults who choose the book, pay for it and--at least initially--wind up reading it to the child, the most astute authors are careful to include things to capture grown-ups' attention as well.

Such is the case with a pair of new releases from Golden Books, a company with a long and storied history of publishing quality children's books. "When I'm Sad" and "When I'm Jealous" (both 30 pages, $15) by award-winning "Sesame Street" animator Jane Aaron are simple yet provocative looks at strong emotions that can be overwhelming for the preschool-age audience at which they're aimed. Children can immediately recognize themselves in the drawings, which not only show them that others experience the same feelings but also help them find positive ways to cope with those feelings.

Trying to explain such abstract concepts as feelings to children can be difficult, of course, so to help adults cope, each book is accompanied by a parents' guide written by clinical psychologist Barbara Gardiner. Last year Golden Books, Aaron and Gardiner launched the Language of Parenting series with "When I'm Angry" and "When I'm Afraid," both of which received rave reviews from child-development professionals.

Not all children's books can promise such a contribution to humanity--nor should they. Sometimes eye-catching artwork and a witty story are enough, as is the case with Michael Bedard's "Sitting Ducks" (Putnam & Grosset, 40 pages, $15.99).

Bedard, who lives in Topanga, is a world-renowned poster artist, and the illustrations in this book do nothing to mar that reputation. Light yet breathtaking in detail, the warm drawings help tell the story of an unlikely friendship between a duck and an alligator that intends to eat him. At least that's one interpretation. Others who have read the book variously insist it's about vegetarianism, a commentary on consumerism, a paean to diversity or even a well-disguised call to revolution. Kids of all ages can read the book and draw their own conclusions.

"Joe's Wish" (by James Proimos, Harcourt Brace, 30 pages, $13) is another offering that should delight kids and adults alike. The fun drawings and even funnier text tell an unexpectedly bittersweet story about an aging man and his grandson. And there's a moral here too, but it doesn't get in the way of the fun.

Still, the honors for this week's most clever story go to Frank Asch, whose "Ziggy Piggy and the Three Little Pigs" (Kids Can Press, 30 pages, $14.95) introduces readers to the heretofore unknown fourth little pig. Ziggy missed out on fairy-tale fame because, unlike his famous siblings Ted, Fred and Ned, he lived not in a house of straw, bricks or sticks but under the stars.

After the Big Bad Wolf wreaks havoc on his brothers' dwellings, Ziggy offers refuge on his raft, where, after a final eventful run-in with the wolf, they live happily ever after.

The book is just the latest in a string of unique releases from Kids Can, an energetic if unheralded Canadian publisher.

And finally, a co-worker mentioned to me "Teddy's Busy Day" (by Lone Morton, Dial Books for Young Readers, 12 pages, $12.99), a clever flap book that invites preschoolers to guide a teddy bear through his daily paces. A movable teddy on a string allows readers to move the bear from page to page, taking him in and out of mother's car, through dress-up time at school and finally back into bed at home.

My colleague's 2-year-old daughter was so taken with the book that, after repeated readings unofficially estimated to have reached into the high two digits, she managed to memorize the story in just one night. Teddy and Mommy, however, were beat.

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