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Books for Kids

August 20, 2000

ACROSS AMERICA, I LOVE YOU

By Christine Loomis

Illustrated by Kate Kiesler

Hyperion: 32 pp., $15.99

Christine Loomis ("Cowboy Bunnies") assumes the poetic voice of a mother addressing a child as she draws parallels between this country's natural phenomena and a youngster who is growing increasingly independent. As the narrative opens, California sequoias "cradle the Western sky": Kate Kiesler's ("A Blizzard Year") three-quarter-page illustration depicts a grove of the giant trees and, above the text, spot art features a mother cradling her baby girl. Later, in one of the strongest paintings, spring flowers in a Southwestern desert suggest the girl's own blossoming ("You will surprise me when you bloom all at once and with little warning. I will celebrate your surprises"). Though several of the paintings are disappointingly static and muted, the intentionally grainy oil paintings reflect the dramatic shifts in geographical locales, from the craggy Pacific coastline to the snowy woods of the North. The unwavering, nurturing tone of the text, for the most part, coheres well to the diverse nature scenes depicted, offering reassurance and sound advice (for example, the mother points out that, like the prairie grass, "Sometimes you must bend and sometimes you must stand against the wind"). A few strained analogies may be lost on young readers, but they'll likely be carried along by the soothing tone of the narrative. An openly sentimental tribute to both America's varied landscapes and the parent-child bond. (Ages 4 to 8)

*

SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT?

By Judith St. George

Illustrated by David Small

Philomel: 56 pp., $17.99

This lighthearted, often humorous roundup of anecdotes and trivia is cast as a handbook of helpful hints to aspiring presidential candidates. Judith St. George ("Sacagawea," "Crazy Horse") points out that your odds of being elected might be boosted if your name is James (the moniker of six former presidents) or if your place of birth was a humble dwelling ("You probably weren't born in a log cabin. That's too bad. People are crazy about log-cabin Presidents. They elected eight"). She serves up diverse, occasionally tongue-in-cheek tidbits and spices the narrative with colorful quotes from her subjects. For instance, she notes that "Warren Harding was a handsome man, but he was one of our worst Presidents" because of his corrupt administration and she backs it up with one of his own quotes, "I am not fit for this office and never should have been here." David Small ("The Gardener") shows Harding crowned king of a "Presidential Beauty Contest"; all the other presidents applaud him (except for a grimacing Nixon). The comical, caricatured artwork emphasizes some of the presidents' best-known qualities and amplifies the playful tone of the text. For an illustration of family histories, Small depicts eight diminutive siblings crawling over a patient young George Washington; for another featuring pre-presidential occupations, Harry Truman stands at the cash register of his men's shop while Andrew Johnson (a former tailor) makes alterations on movie star Ronald Reagan's suit. The many clever, quirky asides may well send readers off on a presidential fact-finding mission--and spark many a discussion of additional anecdotes. A clever and engrossing approach to the men who have led America. (Ages 7 and up)

*

LIBERTY

By Lynn Curlee

Simon & Schuster/Atheneum: 48 pp., $18

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