Jolly Roger: A Dog of Hoboken. By Daniel M. Pinkwater (Lothrop, Lee and Shephard, $10.25; ages 4-up).
China Homecoming, by Jean Fritz (Putnam, $12.95).
Anecdotes abound. A surgeon shows the American couple his hands -- twisted and misshapen, after being battered with a steel bar by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Mao, it turns out, tried to discourage the people from spitting, a traditional Chinese habit. Every city houses a Children's Palace devoted to games, sports, arts and crafts. While Jean intersperses reflections on ancient and recent Chinese history, husband Michael snaps away with his camera. The result is a book that is partly a memoir and picture album but also an unusually engaging introduction to China. All in all, this is an exceptionally fine book, worthy to follow the award-winning Homesick. How Paper is Made, by Lesley Perrins; How Oil Rigs Are Made, by Michael Lynch; How Electricity Is Made, by C.L. Boltz; How Jet Engines Are Made, by Julian Moxon; How Bridges Are Made, by Jeremy Kingston; How Glass Is Made, by Alan J. Paterson; all designed by Arthur Lockwood (Facts on File, $7.95 each; ages 7-12). Within every child dwells a mad scientist, furiously creating Lego castles as complex as Gormenghast, transforming Erector Sets into robot factories, stewing rocket fuels from lighter fluid and Gilbert Chemistry kits, ogling drops of blood with student microscopes. Sometimes, though, even mad scientists like to know how things actually do work -- and this attractive set will both whet and assuage that thirst for knowledge. The album-size volumes are heavily illustrated (with photos, drawings and diagrams), provide useful yet not overly demanding texts, and focus on subjects that should be appropriate for elementary school reports. The Mystery of the Ancient Maya. By Carolyn Meyer and Charles Gallenkamp (Atheneum, $11.95). Young people could hardly ask for a better guide to Mayan civilization than Gallenkamp, author of a standard work and coordinator of the current traveling exhibition. With Meyer, he opens with the story of John Lloyd Stephen and Frederick Catherwood who together discovered the lost city of Copan and later produced that classic account of true adventure: Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1841). From there the reader plunges back into history, to the desecrations (and preservations) of the early Spanish missionaries, the discovery of the Well of Sacrifice, and the secrets of Chichen Itza. There are chapters on Mayan science (emphasizing the obsession with time and the calendar), hieroglyphs, sculpture. And last, this fine book turns to the kind of question that kids just love: What destroyed the Mayans? Was it plague, revolution, worn-out soil, foreign armies from the North? The authors opt -- safely if lamely -- for a combintation of all these. Brother to the Wind. By Mildred Pitts Walter; pictures by Diane and Leo Dillon (Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, $13; ages 3-7). Emeke is a young African boy who yearns to fly like the wind; a foolish wish, according to his family and friends. But Emeke's grandmother tells him that Good Snake might grant such a request, and lo one day it comes about that the boy observes the animals of the veldt -- hyena, elephant, rhinoceros and the cynical turtle -- in procession; he cautiously joins their group. Naturally, they all meet Good Snake, various wishes are granted, and Emeke learns the secret ingredients necessary to flight. But once outside the aura of the magic serpent, he finds his faith repeatedly tested, yet remains true and eventually soars -- with the help of his sister the wind -- above his village.
Walter's fable consciously draws on African belief and myth, recalls Kipling's jungle and just-so stories, and examines serious questions about the nature of trust in others and faithfulness to ideals. But what makes this book especially powerful is the art. The Dillons are semi-legendary book artists whose work for children has become, sadly, somewhat infrequent. This album reveals all their skills: tapestry- like portraits bordered by a profusion of richly-colored butterflies and birds; stately figures with the Biblical dignity of the Magi; a fondness for the dark end of the spectrum: green, blue, indigo, violet; a touch of romantic fantasy, odd perspective, strong pictorial storytelling. All in all, Brother to the Wind soars like its hero. Stories to Solve: Folktales from Around the World, by told by George Shannon; illustrated by Peter Sis (Greenwillow, $11.75; ages 8-10). Riddles, puzzles and similar brain-twisters occur in all the world's folk and fairy tales. Think of Oedipus and the Sphinx, Solomon and the baby, Bilbo in Gollum's den. In this collection Shannon includes that logical classic about a man who must take a wolf, a goat and a cabbage across a river and can only carry one other thing besides himself. "How could he take the wolf, the goat, and the cabbage one at a time, so that the wolf wouldn't eat the goat and the goat wouldn't eat the cabbage?" As a matter of fact, there are two solutions to this puzzler. Of related interest is A Book of Nursery Riddles, by Jane Johnson (Houghton Mifflin, $9.95; all ages). Here rhyme- riddles pose the stumpers: "As I was going o'er London Bridge,/ I heard something crack;/ Not a man in all England/ Can mend that." Johnson's rich velvety paintings -- of characters in Elizabethan costume -- provide the clues to an answer; in this case, a scene of skaters whizzing across the ice-covered Thames.