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For Young Readers

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By Mary Quattlebaum
Sunday, July 13, 2008

SUCH A SILLY BABY! By Steffanie and Richard Lorig | Chronicle, $15.99; ages infant-4

Some read-alouds invite a cozy cuddle, others call for giggles and romps. Such a Silly Baby! falls in the second camp. In rollicking rhyme, husband-and-wife team Steffanie and Richard Lorig chronicle the adventures of an exuberant tot and his wacky mom. On outings to the zoo, circus and farm, Mom manages to return home with a critter instead of Baby. But Baby embraces each new environment, and Mom soon finds him cavorting in the circus ring, rolling with the barnyard pigs and adding yet another animal sound to his repertoire. Bedtime finds Baby and animal friends snorting, oinking and growling together in "a noisy wild menagerie." Illustrator Amanda Shepherd ratchets up the fun with vivid colors, a moon-faced Baby and lively animals, including a family dog that appears throughout, like the iconic mouse in Goodnight Moon.

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ELIZABETH LEADS THE WAY Elizabeth Cady Stanton And the Right to Vote By Tanya Lee Stone | Henry Holt. $16.95; ages 5-10

A 19th-century American girl relishes adventure. She jumps her horse over high hurdles, rafts across a river and studies French, math and science when her peers are getting married, running households and having babies. This girl not only railed against laws that denied women the rights accorded men but worked hard as an adult to change them.

During this presidential election year, Tanya Lee Stone's Elizabeth Leads the Way provides a historical context for the whole political elephant-and-donkey show. About 150 years ago, even Stanton's proud father lamented his smart daughter's gender. As with other American women of the times, Stanton couldn't own property, keep money she earned, or vote. This biography brims with upbeat energy as the spirited woman sets out to change the system -- an energy amplified by Rebecca Gibbon's bright folk art-styled pictures.

TWENTY HEARTBEATS By Dennis Haseley | Roaring Brook, $16.95; ages 5 and up

In Twenty Heartbeats, a wealthy man in long-ago China envisions a painting of his favorite horse. He commissions a legendary artist, then returns home to tend his horse, which always comes in "twenty heartbeats" when he whistles. Years pass without the finished artwork. As the horse ages, the man's eagerness turns to anger at the painter's delay. When confronted, the artist answers by taking but twenty heartbeats to dash off a painting. The man is furious -- until he notices in the artist's studio the "thousands upon thousands of paintings" of his horse, each "trying to capture what he now held in his hand": an image so lifelike "he whistled to it."

Though most young children will see this as a story about taking a long time to do something, older readers will grasp the nuances in this lyrical fable by Dennis Haseley. An artist must give the work his or her best effort till what emerges seems to fix a thing beautifully in time even as the thing itself continues to age. From the sweep of changing landscape to the dark, intelligent eye of the horse, the collage art by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young bears testimony to this idea.

LADY LIBERTY By Doreen Rappaport | Candlewick, $17.99; ages 5-9

Doreen Rappaport builds her biography of the Statue of Liberty, Lady Liberty, upon dreams -- the dreams of those who conceived, created and contributed financially to the statue in New York City's harbor. The poetic first-person reflections of those involved stem from Rappaport's 20 years of research into period newspaper accounts and letters. Edouard de Laboulaye is here as the French law professor who in 1865 suggested the monument as a gift from France to the United States. Sculptor Auguste Bartholdi and publisher Joseph Pulitzer, an important fundraiser, chime in. Less familiar voices belong to Bartholdi's assistant, a construction supervisor from Long Island and a 10-year-old New Jersey girl who donated two roosters to help raise money for the statue's pedestal. This multi-narrator approach reveals the scope of the project, on both sides of the Atlantic, and helps young readers understand the statue's power as a national and international symbol. Matt Tavares's striking illustrations, rendered in watercolor, ink and pencil, give a sense of solidity and heft in keeping with the monumental subject matter. A full-length foldout of Lady Liberty dramatically portrays the statue's dedication in 1886.

Mary Quattlebaum's most recent children's book is "Sparks Fly High," a retelling of a colonial American folktale. You can reach her at mary@maryquattlebaum.com.


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