Leaping Beauty and Other Animal Fairy Tales, by Gregory Maguire (HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 8-12). Maguire is best-known as the author of Wicked, a revisionist "biography" of the Wicked Witch of the West, pitched to adults. Here he has his zany way with eight classic fairy tales, rewritten -- or, as the jargon has it, fractured -- for kids. Young readers will need to know the originals to fully appreciate the creative wit informing "Hamster and Gerbil," "Little Red Robin Hood," the title story and the others but should pick up the social satire effortlessly. From "So What and the Seven Giraffes": "Yes, the king and queen were sad, and they heard what each other was saying, and they knew where each other was coming from." From "Rumplesnakeskin": " 'We don't need to be movie stars to be loved. We just need to be ourselves.' . . . 'This is so beautiful,' said the king stag, sniffling."
The Pepins and Their Problems, by Polly Horvath (Farrar Straus Giroux, $16; ages 8-12). The Pepin family is a bunch of incompetents. Whether it's waking up to find toads in their shoes, or getting stranded on their own roof, or discovering that their cow is producing lemonade instead of milk, there's no problem they cannot fail to solve. Luckily, readers from Nanafalia, Ala. to Funk, Neb. are at the ready with helpful tips. By book's end, the Pepins have absorbed enough to venture some solutions of their own. It's all nonsense, of course, but Horvath is a genius at devising comic scenarios that end in absurd but unforgettable punch lines. Try to imagine the madcap plot preceding this urbane sentence: " 'Ah, a camel. Are we having a Bedouin meal?' asked Mr. Bradshaw as he approached the Pepins' house with his amour at his side."
The Song of the Innocent Bystander, by Ian Bone (Dutton, $16.99; ages 14-up). This fictional case study of Stockholm syndrome by a popular Australian author opens with a hostage-taking in a nondescript hamburger restaurant. The "spiraling horror" of the aftermath is disclosed through flashbacks centered on one of the hostages, a girl named Freda, 9 at the time and now 19. "Anyone who tells you remembering is a good thing is a liar," says Freda. The pop-psych approach is made more interesting by the way the disjointed, convoluted plot mirrors the workings of unwilling memory.
Guji Guji, by Chih-Yuan Chen (Kane/Miller, $15.95; ages 4-8). The glory of this book by the Taiwanese author of last year's wonderful On My Way to Buy Eggs is less the story -- a heartening little parable about what makes a family -- than the illustrations. Out of an egg that has rolled into Mother Duck's nest hatches a crocodile, Guji Guji, who happily grows up as a duck along with his "brothers" Crayon, Zebra and Moonlight and only slowly figures out how different he is -- and where his loyalty lies. The pictures are done in black, white, browns and grays, with just a few splashes of color (blue-nosed crocodiles!), but their quietness conceals a keen humor. Absent-minded Mother Duck, spectacles perched on her bill; Guji Guji practicing his waddle, trailing a toy duck on wheels; slit-eyed crocodiles chomping down a tree to get at a clutch of startled owls: All are hilarious. But there's a darker side, too. The entire drama unfolds by moonlight; attended by bats and ravens, and the stormy night sky and inky, leafless trees conjure an atmosphere of menace that makes the duck family's solidarity seem all the more precious.
The Road to Mumbai, by Ruth Jeyaveeran (Houghton Mifflin, $16; ages 4-8). This magic carpet ride of a book transports kids to the heart of everyday India. In the middle of the night, Shoba's pet monkey, Fuzzy Patel, wakes her to say they must leave urgently for Mumbai, the teeming city that used to be called Bombay, to attend his cousin's wedding. It's not clear where Shoba lives, but she's been to India "once before on a jumbo jet with her parents." This time, she and Fuzzy take the bed -- the magic flying variety. Alas, the bed sets them down far from Mumbai, necessitating a long, roundabout overland trip if they are to make the wedding. Still, this enables Jeyaveeran to show all the staples of Indian life the pair encounters en route, from elephants and monks to coconut juice and sweet laddoos. And lots and lots of saris. The funny, sunny illustrations suggest Diana Vreeland knew what she was talking about when she called pink the navy-blue of India.
-- Elizabeth Ward