For Young Readers

For Young Readers: Making the Familiar New Again

By Kristi Jemtegaard
Sunday, November 16, 2008

THERE'S A WOLF AT THE DOOR By Zoë B. Alley Illustrated by R. W. Alley | Roaring Brook. $19.95; ages 5 to 9

Oversized in every sense of the word, this comic collection of five classic tales -- all tied together by a top-hatted, polka-dot cravatted, waistcoat-wearing wolf -- abounds in graphic guffaws. From snarky smile to bushy tail, this is a wolf worthy of the name who is nevertheless destined for repeated defeats. Unbowed by disaster, he merely lights out for the greener pastures of another story. Without forsaking the huffs and puffs and chinny-chin-chins of the original, the husband-and-wife team of Zoë and R. W. Alley guide their hairy hero through a series of action-packed panels as he stalks "The Three Little Pigs," then scampers off to teach a lesson to "The Boy Who Cried Wolf!" only to be bested by some psycho-babbling sheep. Next up is "Little Red Riding Hood," played by fashion-conscious Rhonda, who bonks her attacker with a very red high-heeled shoe, and then we're off to "The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing," in which the sedate Peterson family mistakes him for a poodle. In the final story, "The Wolf and the Seven Little Goslings," a wiser but wearier wolf finally realizes "I need food with less personality!" Too true, too true; everyone in this wolf's world has personality to spare.

THE 3 BEARS AND GOLDILOCKS By Margaret Willey Illustrated by Heather M. Solomon | Atheneum. $16.99; ages 3 to 6 HANSEL AND GRETEL By Cynthia Rylant Illustrated by Jen Corace Hyperion/DBG. $16.99; ages 5 to 8

Two old favorites receive robust new treatments in these handsome editions. Margaret Willey's take on the misadventures of naughty Goldilocks follows the traditional story arc without slavish devotion to the three bowls, three chairs and three beds. As seen through a little girl's eyes, these bears are a messy bunch, their ramshackle house "strewn from corner to corner with leaves and berry stems and pine cones and fish bones and thick, brown fur." In Heather Solomon's illustrations, a doe-eyed, golden-haired child reverberates perfectly against the earthy denizens of the forest. On a darker note, Cynthia Rylant uses the Grimm tale of rejection and abandonment to balance spirituality ("It has been said that guardian spirits watch over and protect small children") against practicality ("But there are also stories of children who find the courage to protect themselves"). So begins the tale of a poor man, a wicked stepmother, a voracious witch and two stalwart siblings. Jen Corace's darkly hued, uncluttered illustrations visually pace the story, and she reserves sweeping double-page spreads for climatic moments, then narrows the focus to rounded vignettes focusing on the plight of the children themselves. Because both editions tap the essence of these familiar narratives, they will find a lasting home on children's bookshelves.

THE ANIMALS CAME TWO BY TWO The Story of Noah's Ark By Christopher Wormell | Running Press. $19.95; ages 3 to 8

Christopher Wormell's formally composed, deeply hued woodcuts make an elegant accompaniment to this oldest of survival stories. The simple text begins with God's instructions to Noah: gather two of each animal, a male and a female, and build a great ark. Surrounded by creamy paper and contained by thick black borders, each print is carefully balanced to create a sense of both gravitas and wonder. Most haunting of all, perhaps, is the diminutive figure of the old carpenter, alone and stooped beneath the vast hull of his ship. The entire center of the book focuses, quite appropriately, on the animals themselves, and from extreme close-ups of harvest mice and hedgehogs to a soaring view of peregrine falcons, it is easy to see why this was, and is, a world worth saving.

Kristi Jemtegaard is the youth services coordinator for Arlington Public Library. She teaches children's and adolescent literature and has served on both the Caldecott and Newbery Committees.

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