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For kids, gefilte fish and tastes of other cultures

December 16, 2007|Jerry V. Haines | Special to The Times

Oh, you can groan when the preschooler in your life crawls into your lap and demands, "Read this one to me." But you know you love it. You know you love to watch them learn -- you can almost see the little mental gears turning (or, to use a more modern metaphor, the memory chips pulsing with each new download). And you know that you really enjoy some of the books yourself -- the bright colors, the silly rhymes.

These books carry the added advantage of taking their young readers somewhere: other countries, other cultures, other times. And you can come along too.

Iggy Peck, Architect

By Andrea Beaty,

Illustrations by David Roberts

Abrams Books for Young Readers: 32 pp., color illustrations, for ages 4 to 8, $15.95

Young Ignatius Peck is brilliant but also, to put it charitably, a handful. Beginning at age 2, he's been constructing things of whatever was at hand, including a Pisa tower from (used) diapers. His creativity knows no geographical bounds: a sphinx in his backyard; a castle from sticks of chalk and a model St. Louis Arch "from pancakes and coconut pie." His second-grade teacher, Ms. Greer, is unimpressed by Iggy's work, believing that architecture has no place in her curriculum. (Poor thing, she was traumatized by being trapped in an elevator with a French circus troupe.) She changes her tune on the day a bridge collapses, and Iggy saves her. Some of Beaty's rhymes are a bit strained, and readers who don't like silliness will need to get over themselves. But it's a good way to make kids think about the way the world's buildings are made.


Five Little Gefiltes

By Dave Horowitz

G.P. Putnam's Sons: 32 pp., color illustrations, for ages 4 to 8, $12.99

What Leo Rosten's "The Joys of Yiddish" did for adults, Dave Horowitz's "Five Little Gefiltes" might do for kids: introduce people of all cultures to Yiddish, in all its kvetching, shvitzing glory. The plotline is simple: Mama despairs as, one by one, her five children -- who look like matzo balls made out of fish -- disappear from the jar of Bubbe's Homemade Gefilte Fish. They've gone to the theater (where "Little Miss Matzo" is playing) or to the deli ("such chutzpah"). It's a baby borscht belt in a book, so enjoy already.

Each charmingly illustrated page not only tells the tale of the wayward kids, but also is plastered with little in-jokes from the Lower East Side of an era when a dozen eggs cost a nickel and a jar of schmaltz was just 2 cents. Adult readers may need to sneak an advance peek at the helpful glossary -- if they need a shmear of help explaining this meshugana language to their young audiences.


The Day the Stones Walked

By T.A. Barron,

Illustrations by William Low

Philomel Books: 32 pp., color illustrations, for ages 9 to 12, $16.99

Pico is embarrassed by his father. Unlike other fathers on Easter Island, who might teach their sons how to build a boat or hunt octopus, his "Pala" is obsessed by the great stone statues that look out over the ocean. The origin of these moai is a mystery, but -- how humiliating -- Pala thinks they can move, that they are the ancestors and protectors of the people. Pico changes his mind about them on the day of the Great Wave (we'd call it a tsunami). Half-drowned, he hears "the sound of great feet. . . . And voices, deeper than the sea itself." Could it be that the stones walked? Well, that would explain a few things.

Barron's dramatic text is matched by Low's careful use of light and shadow in his compelling illustrations. Although the publisher targets the book for ages 9 to 12, younger readers could handle the scary parts if guided by a trusted adult through the flood sequence.


My Father's Shop

By Satomi Ichikawa

Kane/Miller: 32 pp., color illustrations, for ages 4 to 8, $15.95

What seems like a spot of bad luck opens up a world for little Mustafa, who works in his father's rug shop in Morocco. An otherwise beautiful rug is marred by an ugly hole. When Mustafa begs to keep it, his father agrees but with an "if" -- if Mustafa agrees to learn foreign words so that he can help with the many tourists who come into the shop.

But studying is no fun, so, wearing the carpet like a robe, Mustafa flees to the market where his friends are. A colorful rooster crows "kho-kho-ho-houuu" (which is how roosters crow in Morocco). This amuses a Spanish couple, who say that in Spain roosters say "Qui-qui-ri-qui!" But it's "Koke-ko-kooo" in Japanese, and "Co-co-ri-co" in French.

Soon Mustafa, the rooster and tourists from many lands are back in Father's shop, where Mustafa announces, "I can speak rooster in five languages."


Angelina's Island

By Jeanette Winter

Frances Foster Books: 32 pp., color illustrations, for ages 4 to 8, $16

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