Correction to This Article
The For Young Readers column in the Sept. 23 Book World incorrectly attributed to American writer Michael J. Rosen a book written by British writer and current Children's Laureate Michael Rosen. "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" was written by Michael Rosen. The book being reviewed, "A Drive in the Country," was written by Michael J. Rosen.

Four Fabulous Picture Books for Fall

By Elizabeth Ward
Sunday, September 23, 2007

A DRIVE IN THE COUNTRYBy Michael J. Rosen Candlewick. $16.99 (ages 4-8)

Michael Rosen has written so many terrific children's books you could go nuts trying to pick a favorite. Near the top, though, has to be the cheery We're Going on a Bear Hunt (1989), illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. A Drive in the Country has that same spirit: "Sunday morning! We're driving to the country! All five of us and our basset hound, Shirley." Rosen doesn't do messy reality; he does glorious happiness. An almost eerily perky family -- Mom, Dad, two boys and a girl -- pack up the car and head out of the 'burbs, "with no destination" and "no reason to be home for supper." One of the boys, takes a crazy interest in everything: map, roads, skunks, a waterfall, fruit stands, stars, you name it. Nobody squabbles. The kids and Shirley revel in the late-summery outdoors as Rosen revels in language: "Since no one's found this road but us, we comb the berm for buckeyes with their spiny shells . . . or Osage oranges huge and pimply as grapefruits," while Marc Burckhardt captures the idyll in scene after glowing, golden-lit scene. And you know, some days the world really does look like that.

CARNATION, LILY, LILY, ROSE The Story of a PaintingBy Hugh Brewster Kids Can. $17.95 (ages 9-12)

"The summer I was five," this exquisite book begins, "John Singer Sargent came to visit us. He wasn't a famous artist then. But he painted a picture in our garden that became quite famous. Here is how I remember what happened." The narrator is Kate Millet, daughter of the American family with whom the painter stayed for a couple of months in 1885 in the English Cotswolds and the original model for "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose," perhaps Sargent's best-loved work, which shows two small girls lighting Chinese paper lanterns in a twilit autumn garden. (The title of the painting, now in the Tate Britain gallery, came from a popular song.) Kate tells how miffed she felt to be bumped as the model by two older, more patient neighbors and how "Mr. Sargent" made it up to her. The book is gorgeously illustrated with other paintings and sketches by Sargent as well as photographs of the Millets' house, family and friends -- and the real, fierce-eyed Kate.

COWBOY AND OCTOPUSBy Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith Viking. $16.99 (ages 8-12)

If there is a more inventive duo at work in the picture-book field than Scieszka and Smith, co-creators of such gems as The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, I can't name it. The pair strikes gold again with this portrait in seven scenes of a very odd friendship. Not that kids will think a cowboy befriending an octopus is odd. That's the way they play. (When my two sons were small, they once stopped me from throwing out a broken Transformer, saying they were using it as a penguin). So Cowboy is a paper-doll figure, and Octopus is cut out from a comic, and their stiff forms are inserted into settings composed of torn paper, photos, toys and other scraps as if a child were having them act out scenarios. The climax of the first, "Cowboy Meets Octopus," is brilliant: " 'You wanna be friends?' says Cowboy. 'Certainly,' says Octopus. So Cowboy and Octopus shake hands . . . and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands." Also not to be missed: the Halloween drama "Very Scary," in which Octopus becomes the Tooth Fairy.

VERY HAIRY BEARBy Alice Schertle Harcourt. $16 (ages 3-7)

Who could resist a book that opens like this: "Deep in the green gorgeous wood lives a boulder-big bear with shaggy, raggy, brownbear hair everywhere . . . except on his no-hair nose"? The prolific Schertle outdoes herself with the saga of a busy bear who doesn't care a hoot what happens to his nose. It gets wet when he hunts salmon in spring and sticky when he forages for honey in summer and turns bright blue at blueberry time ("He eats the berries and the bushes, too. He's a very full berryfull bear.") But when "the soft, white snowflakes start to fall," the very hairy bear, deep in a cave, finds that the one thing a no-hair nose can't take is the cold. Luckily, he knows what to do. Matt Phelan's soft pastel-and-pencil illustrations are as playful and full of "aaaw" moments as the text.

Elizabeth Ward can be reached at

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