For Young Readers

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By Elizabeth Ward
Sunday, January 14, 2007

By Sara Pennypacker

Illustrated by Petra Mathers

Orchard, $16.99; ages 4-8

Pierre the fisherman is in love, all right. He stares into space for hours on end, tosses and turns all night and has plum-colored shadows beneath his eyes. He's also a mouse, or possibly a weasel, but never mind. Catherine, the ballet teacher whom he adores from afar, is a rabbit. They're an obvious match. But will Pierre find the courage to move beyond anonymous nightly gifts -- a pretty shell, a dozen oysters -- and declare his love? Will elegant Catherine reject this "bloopy and love-swoggled" suitor? The language is pitched just right, halfway between solemn and silly ("He heard a noise, and whirled around to see Catherine leap gracefully from a bush"), and is perfectly complemented by Mathers's pastoral watercolors, full of tiny, subtle, funny details.

Bronzeville Boys and Girls

By Gwendolyn Brooks

Illustrated by Faith Ringgold

Amistad/HarperCollins, $16.99; ages 7-10

In 1956, Brooks published a joyous poetic mosaic introducing kids to Bronzeville, the historic black Chicago neighborhood where she had set much of her Pulitzer Prize-winning work. Reprinted now with effervescent new paintings by Faith Ringgold, it's a must-have book. Thirty-four poems reanimate a long-ago world through the voices of its children, whose doings remain timeless: "Rudolph Is Tired of the City," "Beulah at Church," "Robert, Who Is Often a Stranger to Himself," "Eunice in the Evening." All have the lightning-stroke quality absent from the mush so often served up to the young as poetry. Here's "Vern," in full: "When walking in a tiny rain/ Across the vacant lot,/ A pup's a good companion -- If a pup you've got./ And when you've had a scold,/ And no one loves you very,/ And you cannot be merry,/ A pup will let you look at him,/ And even let you hold/ His little wiggly warmness -- / And let you snuggle down beside./ Nor mock the tears you have to hide."

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams

Candlewick, $16.99; ages 10 and up

At first blink, Chaucer seems unlikely to appeal to children. But then, so did much of the Old Testament or Shakespeare until Marcia Williams packaged them in a kid-friendly comic-strip format that highlighted unruliness and naughtiness but also included seductive snippets of the original texts. The Canterbury Tales proves highly amenable to this treatment. After Chaucer sets the scene at the Tabard Inn, the pilgrims depart, and nine of them -- including the Knight, the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner -- get to tell their famous tales. They spout real Chaucer ("Harrow and weylaway! Oure hors is lost!" "Allas, your hors goth to the fen!") while Williams lays out the plots in modern English below each frame, and small creatures in decorative borders offer childlike asides ("What is my 'devoir'?" "This tale is too sad."). In a feat of sound judgment, Williams neither omits nor plays up the bawdiness; bare bottoms are indeed flashed in the Miller's tale, but it's nothing Captain Underpants fans would blush at.

Dimity Dumpty The Story of Humpty's Little Sister

By Bob Graham


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