At the Crossing Places. By Kevin Crossley-Holland (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, YA). A tale of two Arthurs, one a page in medieval England, the other his long-dead royal namesake, whose court at Camelot appears in a magic stone. Book II of a superb trilogy in progress.

A Chapel of Thieves. By Bruce Clements (Farrar Strauss Giroux, ages 9-12). The dry spirit of Mark Twain meets the ebullience of Victor Hugo's Paris when a shrewd young Missourian mounts a spiritual rescue mission there in 1849.

Confucius: The Golden Rule. By Russell Freedman (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, ages 9-12). Confucius was no sentimental buffoon but one of the world's wisest, wittiest and holiest men. A life-infusing biography, with haunting illustrations by Frederic Clement.

Georgie Lee. By Sharon Phillips Denslow (Greenwillow, ages 9-12). J.D. is a skeptical small boy spending the summer on his grandmother's farm, and Georgie Lee is a little old black-and-white cow who has a lot to teach him.

The Earth Kitchen. By Sharon Bryant (HarperCollins, ages 9-12). A 12-year-old psychiatric patient -- traumatized by her parents' death in a car crash and fears of atomic attack -- resorts to a healing fantasy in this unexpectedly funny novel of '50s America.

The Lightkeeper's Daughter. By Iain Lawrence (Viking, YA). What brings 17-year-old Squid back to the British Columbian island -- a rocky Eden with "cold spots of horror" -- where her dad tends the light?

Sea-Cat and Dragon King. By Angela Carter (Bloomsbury, ages 8-12). Words trump pictures in a tale for early readers by a great 20th-century fantasist. Once upon a time, a benevolent cat lived -- where else? -- at the bottom of the sea, where "he shone like a wet star."

The Shakeress. By Kimberley Heuston (Front Street, YA). A search for the "abundant life" promised in the Gospels leads a beautiful, intelligent teenage girl, raised a Shaker in 1830s New Hampshire, to join a celibate Mormon community. And we cheer for her!

Thursday's Child. By Sonya Hartnett (Candlewick, YA). As a farming family in Depression-era Australia slowly unravels, the youngest son escapes into a kingdom of tunnels he's carved out under their shanty, and his sister meditates on the meaning of it all.

Up on Cloud Nine. By Anne Fine (Delacorte, ages 9-12). Ian's best friend is the one who's up on cloud nine -- out of it, literally, after one too many "accidents." A dark theme, lightened by British-born Fine's offbeat humor.

. . . and Top 10 Picture Books

Angelo. By David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin, ages 4-8). A fairy tale about a crotchety old Roman plasterer and a sick pigeon, in which Macaulay riffs on some favorite themes: cities, churches and the way things work -- including love.

Castle of Books. By Bernard Clavel, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene (Chronicle, ages 4-11). Whimsical watercolors lighten a cerebral French tale about words at work: Benjamin builds a castle using books for bricks, while Papa builds his more durable dream poem.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. By Maira Kalman (Putnam, ages 4-8) True story of a retired New York City fireboat called on to help out on Sept. 11, 2001. Kalman's brilliantly colored naive paintings are electrifying.

The Last Resort. Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, text by J. Patrick Lewis (Creative Editions, ages 9-up). A puzzle wrapped in a dream. An artist who has mislaid his imagination ends up at a ramshackle seaside resort for "folks who've lost a piece of mind."

My World of Color. By Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Loretta Krupinski (Hyperion, ages 2-5). A painter mouse, in a sorcerer's moon- and star-strewn cloak, guides his apprentice through the cobalt-blue door to the kingdom of color. Pure magic.

Rembrandt's Hat. By Susan Blackaby, illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma (Houghton Mifflin, ages 4-8). For Rembrandt the bear, replacing his lost hat is really a quest for identity, but DePalma artfully deflects metaphysics with a riot of millinery.

Tom Mouse. By Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by Julie Downing (Roaring Brook, ages 4-8). Mouse's-eye view of the kindness of strangers. Hopping a train to Chicago, lonely Tom is befriended by an unflappable passenger with a "large, deep, soft, warm pocket."

The Three Questions. By Jon J. Muth (Scholastic, ages 4-8). This adaptation of Tolstoy's tale about a boy trying to solve the riddles of right behavior is lifted above the pack by Muth's ethereal yet gently humorous watercolors.

The Village That Vanished. By Ann Grifalconi, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Dial, ages 4-8). An African Yao woman, her mother and her daughter use faith and ingenuity to save their village from slave traders. Nelson's lush illustrations share the characters' dignity and wit.

What About Me? By Ed Young (Philomel, ages 4-8). Bright cut-paper figures float and soar against sere backgrounds as the boy hero of this Sufi teaching tale closes in on some essential truths.

-- Elizabeth Ward