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Books For Kids

May 14, 2000

BUTTONS By Brock Cole Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 32 pp., $16

A series of farcical mishaps steadily ups the comedy in Brock Cole's ("Alpha and the Dirty Baby") brightly polished romp. After their portly father eats so much that his britches burst and his buttons fly into the fire, three daughters concoct plans to find replacements. Setting off to snare a man who will fall in love with her and give her his buttons, the eldest encounters a "band of ruffians" who tip her over the balustrade of a bridge. She ends up marrying the handsome bargee who rescues her and realizes only much later that she has forgotten to ask for even one button ("She decided she would send her father a postcard instead"). The second girl disguises herself as a man and joins the army, intending to give her father the gold buttons from her new uniform. But her regiment is whisked off to battle, and when a brave young ensign is wounded, she tears off her jacket to make bandages ("Many buttons were lost and destroyed in the process, but who could think of buttons at a time like this?"). It falls to the youngest daughter to save the day, although her plan is the most harebrained of them all. Busy, hyperbolic pictures limn an appealing old-world setting. In his words and pictures, Cole treats the ridiculous characters with affection, not mockery, inviting readers into the story to laugh right along with them. (Ages 5 and up.)

THE STORY OF THE INCREDIBLE ORCHESTRA

By Bruce Koscielniak

Houghton Mifflin: 40 pp., $15

Informed and lively, Bruce Koscielniak's ("Hear, Hear, Mr. Shakespeare") fact-filled excursion through music history is just the ticket for budding musicians and music lovers at large. Deceptively breezy prose and pictures trace the various eras in the development of the modern orchestra, starting with the instrumental groups at the dawn of the 17th century ("Tooters, Strings, and Beaters") and continuing to the present day, with a look at synthesizers and computer sound modules. At the same time, Koscielniak explains the evolution of musical styles (Baroque, Romantic, Classical, etcetera). He also clues in readers as to how various instruments have changed over the centuries, examining such intriguing instruments as the sackbut (early trombone) and shawm (a forerunner of the oboe), as well as more familiar ones ("Kettledrums: Putting the Bomp Bomp Bah Bomp in the Orchestra"). Such important historical figures as Bach, Haydn, Duke Ellington and violin craftsman Antonio Stradivari are also introduced. Koscielniak expertly integrates text and art to convey all this information; the pages are busy but not cluttered, piquing interest with carefully selected detail. Close-up sketches show, for instance, a bassoon's double reed and how a piston valve works on a brass instrument. Watercolor wash in muted earth-toned shades bolsters the assured ink drawings, which seem both precise and spontaneous. Endpapers display a rogue's gallery of instruments, grouped by type and period. (Ages 4 to 8)

WHY NOT?

By Mary Wormell

Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 32 pp., $15

Revisiting the rustic landscape favored in her Hilda Hen books, Mary Wormell introduces an engaging feisty kitten named Barnaby. To each of his mother's warnings ("Don't annoy the sheep, Barnaby!") he replies, "WHY NOT?" and quickly learns exactly why ("Because I'll annoy YOU!" snorts the ram). The feckless feline makes his way across the barnyard: To escape a rooster, he climbs a tree only to be chased by a crow into the sheep's pasture, until finally he gets stuck under a hay bale. As all the animals gather to help him, the ever independent Barnaby manages to free himself, then scampers home for supper. This is an altogether agreeable tale, one whose theme should coax a chuckle from parents in particular, and Wormell relates it with impeccable timing. Her graceful woodcuts, marked by a linear quality as strong and solid as the stone walls that define the farmyard, present a vigorously appealing contrast; the bold black outlines of the bucolic images nicely counterpoint the soft natural palette of her watercolor wash. Another feather in Wormell's cap. (Ages 2 to 6)

SNAIL MAIL NO MORE

By Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin

Scholastic: 308 pp., $16.95

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