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Reading by 9

How To Introduce Your Kids To Quality Children's Literature

April 11, 1999

Editor's Note: As part of The Times' Reading by 9 initiative, Book Review is publishing a monthly series on how parents can introduce kids to the best children's literature.

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The creation of a magic bookshelf takes time, and as we begin this yearlong series, we will offer--in alphabetical order--the authors whose works must occupy a place on these shelves. But use this list as a way of exploring your child's flights of literary fancy. Keep in mind too that journeys of the mind make many unexpected stops. Let our list serve not as a road map but simply as a travel guide to consult from your armchair as the journey progresses.

MISS NELSON IS MISSING! By Harry Allard; Illustrated by James Marshall; (Houghton Mifflin: 32 pp., $16)

Miss Nelson is so nice and kind that her class starts taking advantage of her. Enter the wicked substitute, Miss Viola Swamp. Herein lies a gentle moral about showing due appreciation for the good things--and people--in life. There are two sequels to this book, "Miss Nelson Is Back" and "Miss Nelson Has a Field Day." (Ages 5-8)

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS; By Judi Barrett; Illustrated by Ron Barrett; (Aladdin Paperbacks: 30 pp., $5.95)

The people of Chewandswallow sure have it good, with weather that comes down in the form of food: spaghetti and meatballs, scrambled eggs and toast, even hamburgers. Children will laugh out loud at this absurd tale, as imaginatively illustrated as it is told. (Ages 4-7)

THE ELEVENTH HOUR: A Curious Mystery; By Graeme Base; (Harry N. Abrams: 32 pp., $18.95)

When Horace the elephant turns 11, he invites his animal friends over for a splendid party. But then a curious mystery emerges. This gorgeously illustrated novelty book requires some concentration and smarts on the part of the reader. Look for other books by Base, including "The Discovery of Dragons" and "Animalia." (Ages 6-8)

MADELINE; By Ludwig Bemelmans; (Viking: 46 pp., $4.99)

One of the sequels to this well-known book, "Madeline's Rescue," won a Caldecott award in 1954. All books center on the adventures of plucky Madeline, a resident of a well-run French orphanage where little girls live "in two straight lines," guided by Miss Clavel. Many incarnations of these books can be found in bookstores today, some with videos. (Ages 5-8)

BIG RED BARN; By Margaret Wise Brown; Illustrated by Felicia Bond; (HarperFestival: 32 pp., $6.95)

Animals are the only characters in this sweet, rhyming story about a day on a farm and how all the animals sleepily turn in for the night. The drawings will intrigue young children, who will insist on accounting for all the animals--and counting the eggs in the clutch--every time. (Ages 1-3)

THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR; By Eric Carle; (Putnam: 26 pp., $19.95)

A tiny caterpillar with a giant appetite evolves into a butterfly after it eats various pieces of fruit and other things. This is a hands-on board book designed just for babies and toddlers to handle and chew. Thus it's definitely one to own. (Ages 1-3)

BLOW ME A KISS, MISS LILLY; By Nancy White Carlstrom; Illustrated by Amy Schwartz; (HarperCollins Children's Books: 32 pp., $13)

This is a sweet story of a little girl's friendship with the elderly, Miss Lilly and how the girl keeps her memory alive after she dies. The book offers perspective and lessons on coping with loss. It is a good book for a child who has lost a relative or friend to illness or death. (A different book by Carlstrom is "Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?," a toddler fave.) (Ages 4-7)

GOOD DOG, CARL; By Alexandra Day; (Simon and Schuster: 36 pp., $12)

A Rottweiler is charged with caring for a baby. It's virtually a picture-only book, with lovely paintings and lively stories about the pair's adventures. It's also subversive in a way that makes parents crack a smile instead of a frown: What mother would leave her baby in a park with a dog? Then again, how many people have Carl for a dog? Other Carl books include "Carl's Afternoon in the Park," "Carl's Masquerade" and "Carl Goes Shopping." (Ages 1-3)

JAMBERRY; By Bruce Degen; (HarperFestival: 32 pp., $7.95)

This is a joyous rhyming romp through the berry patches with a boy and a bear. The exuberant illustrations, bursting with color, grow more delightful with each perusal, as smaller details emerge. The large-print, spare text in this extremely popular book melds perfectly with the pictures and shows that so-called "nonsense rhyme" can be the most special of all. (Ages 5-8)

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