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Kids' Books

Lovely Tales About All Kinds of Moms

May 09, 1999|MARIA D. LASO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Janet S. Wong's "The Rainbow Hand" (Margaret K. Elderberry Books, $15), the poet's latest collection, honors the mother-child relationship from both sides in sweet or funny, sometimes sarcastic, free verse and couplets fun for ages 10 to adult. Wong, mother of a "whining little guy," is an American of Chinese and Korean descent, but Jennifer Hewiston's scratchboard illustrations depict mothers and children in universal fashion. In "Old Mother Chung," Wong writes:

Old Mother Chung

took care of her young

so they would grow

strong and wise.

She did not figure

when they grew bigger

they'd bother her

more than flies.

Wong has received praise for her earlier collections, "A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems" (1996, $15) and "Good Luck Gold and Other Poems" (1994, $14), also from Margaret Elderberry.

Jerdine Nolan's new "In My Momma's Kitchen" (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, $16), for readers age 5 and older, puts forth the familiar idea that it "seems like everything good that happens in my house happens in my momma's kitchen." The events of a year in the life of an African American family--from celebrating to making crab apple jelly to storytelling--are related in elegant oil-painting illustrations and mini-chapters told from the point of view of an eloquent and sensitive young girl. Get to know the Jeffries family in its kitchen and you won't want to go home.

P.D. Eastman's "Are You My Mother?" (Random House, $7.99), originally published in 1960, has reassured a generation of beginning readers that Mom will return, and its easy rhythmic patter is still a comfort. Baby Bird, fallen out of its nest, sets off with determination to find his mother, who is not a dog, a cow, an airplane or a Snort. And when something surprising happens, he is at last reunited with Mother Bird.

"When Mama Comes Home Tonight" (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1998, $14) by Eileen Spinelli, about the rituals leading to bedtime, has a gentle rhythm that makes it a soporific bedtime book for children up to age 5.

When Mama comes home from work, dear child,

when Mama comes home tonight,

she'll cover you with kisses,

she'll hug you sweet and tight.

The glowing watercolor illustrations by Jane Dyer make it perfect for lap-sharing.

Jeanne Modesitt's "Mama, If You Had a Wish" (originally published in 1993 and now in an Aladdin Paperbacks version, $4.99) is luminously illustrated by Robin Spowart for ages 2 to 8. In a tender exchange with his mother, Little Bunny asks, "If you had a wish, would you wish I never cried?" Mama wants her Little Bunny to experience all things: to cry, to get scared or angry, to make mistakes. But Mama's greatest wish, as this poetic tale makes so clear, is for Little Bunny to be himself, "because I love you just the way you are."

Two picture books in one, "What Mommies Do Best, What Daddies Do Best" (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1998, $13) is written by Laura Numeroff and cleverly illustrated by Lynn Munsinger--right-side up and upside-down--for readers to age 6, but it's especially sweet for reading together. Munsinger's bright, funny watercolors depict animal moms; start from the back or bottom, and it's animal dads doing the same tasks in their own special ways. The two tales come together in a center spread.

Author Margaret Park Bridges and illustrator Kady MacDonald Denton have collaborated on "If I Were Your Father" (a boy to his dad) and "If I Were Your Mother" (Morrow Junior Books, both 1999, $16 each), for ages 3 to 8. In the latter, a girl tells her mother all the special things she would do if their positions were reversed. A child's fanciful dreams and sincere wishes--to go to work with Mom, to have a giant treehouse and a bathtub with goldfish--are revealed in a conversation of words and watercolors. She has some pretty good ideas too. Still, in the end, the girl asks, "Right now, can you be my mother again and just hold me in your lap?" . . . "Of course, my love. Always."

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