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Kids' Books

Stories for Birthday Boys and Girls

May 23, 1999|MARIA D. LASO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Hurray!" says Jack when he opens his square birthday present. And no wonder: It's a book.

You can't help but like a clever young pup who loves to read, even when he's a dog like Jack. Rebecca Elgar's series of chubby board books includes "Jack--Happy Birthday" (1998, Kingfisher, $5.95), a lift-the-flap book for practicing shape identification, which comes in handy for guessing what's in the wrapped gifts.

Eric Carle's "The Secret Birthday Message," originally published in 1971, also uses shapes, this time in die-cut pages that help Tim follow a coded message on an exciting treasure hunt. Carle's colorful collage style is familiar, the story suspenseful for young readers and the ending a happy surprise. My copy is a 1991 miniature edition from HarperCollins.

Another old favorite for your "Day of All Days" is Dr. Seuss' "Happy Birthday to You!" (Random House, originally published in 1959), which recounts in Theodor S. Geisel's inimitable style the day of fanfare that greets a birthday child in the great land of Katroo, from the Birthday Honk-Honker to the cake by Snookers and Snookers.

Another familiar name in children's literature is Winnie-the-Pooh, and now Dutton has a new Slide and Peek format for Pooh books that combines the interactivity of a pop-up or lift-the-flap book with a bit more sturdiness (though these don't seem as sturdy as typical board books) and a cute carry handle. "Eeyore Has a Birthday" ($5.99) adapts A.A. Milne's words and Ernest H. Shephard's familiar illustrations to help celebrate Eeyore's special day.

Two new books take on the birthday theme with similar titles and varying degrees of success. In "It's MY Birthday" by Pat Hutchins (Greenwillow, $15), a few tolerant and ingenious monsters help celebrate the birthday of Billy, a real monster who refuses to let anyone play with his new gifts. So when Billy gets a jump rope, his friends play with the ribbon, and when he gets a toy car, they "ride" in the box it came in. Finally, when Billy gets a toy he cannot play with on his own, he gets the hint and the sharing begins. Hutchins' neon-colored illustrations are a riot of sense-assaulting color.

"It's My Birthday, Too" (Putnam, $13), meanwhile, finds birthday boy Christopher trying to keep his pesky little brother, Robbie, from horning in on the deal. With imagination, the two smart boys get what they want from the afternoon--and find a new appreciation for each other.

This is a delightful, original story by Lynne Jonell, illustrated with expressive stick people by Petra Mathers. The writing is smart, the dialogue realistic, the drawings inventive. (In my favorite drawing, while Robbie talks, Christopher stands on his head on the sofa. For no reason.)

In fact, the only thing I didn't like about this book was one illustration that seems to show Daddy having a cigarette while he puts up party streamers; then I decided it's actually the tape dispenser he has in his mouth, and I felt much better.

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