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Published: Saturday, 7/28/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Picture books combine interesting subjects, vivid art

This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Barbara Britsch, professor emerita of Lourdes University.

These new summer picture books appeal to younger children with a variety of subjects: historical figures, poetry, and fables, and several books that involve a child in searches, all with vivid illustrations to prompt a closer look.

GEORGE WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY: A MOSTLY TRUE TALE. By Margaret McNamara. Illustrated by Barry Blitt. Schwartz & Wade Books. $17.99.

This imagining of George's seventh birthday is illustrated with art that combines a pleasingly light palette with a vigorous style, reflecting a very active boy. Myth and facts are identified and presented throughout, including the cherry tree, throwing a rock across the Delaware, George's interest in math, and his "Rules of Civility," such as, "Think before you speak." This is a charming tribute to our first president.

FOX TAILS: FOUR FABLES FROM AESOP. Written and illustrated by Amy Lowry. Holiday House. $16.95.

Four Aesop fables starring Reynard the Fox, crafty as always, are strung together in one tale of a day in the fox's life. The pleasing gouache illustrations on double-page spreads bring to life, "The Fox and the Grapes," "The Fox and the Crow," "The Fox and the Goat," and "The Fox and the Stork." Wisely, Lowry puts the morals at the end so as not to interrupt the story's flow. The book provides a nice introduction to Aesop.

A SECRET KEEPS. By Marsha Wilson. Illustrated by Heather M. Solomon. Carolrhoda Books. $16.95.

It's hard to keep a secret, but this lavishly illustrated story does very well, right to the end. A young boy plans a visit to Grampa's farm, but Grampa hints at a secret, so with the boy we hunt, from peeper frogs to night stars, from the henhouse to the cornfield, until we find the secret in the hayloft. What is it? This secret is definitely for keeping. Lovely rhyming text is just right for reading aloud.

THE BUNNY'S NIGHT LIGHT: A GLOW-IN-THE-DARK SEARCH. Written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes. Random House. $11.99.

Another search takes Bunny, who tells Papa he can't sleep, out into the night looking for the best night light. The moon? Too bright. Stars? Too twinkly. The fireflies are too busy and a boat's light is too far away. Mama finds just the right light, her own from girlhood.

"Oh Mama . . . thank you! . . .this light is perfect." And this is a perfect bedtime book with glow-in-the-dark objects on each page.

A MEAL OF THE STARS: POEMS UP AND DOWN. By Dana Jensen. Illustrated by Tricia Tusa. Houghton Mifflin. $16.99.

The author's note states, "Dear reader: each of these poems either starts at the top and goes down OR starts at the bottom and goes up. Hmm - which is which? Have fun!" And indeed it is fun finding out. This long, narrow book accommodates long, narrow poems, one word on each line. Tusa's homey images on facing pages are of stars, balloons, kites, church bells, and more. Another inviting search.

A BOY CALLED DICKENS. By Deborah Hopkinson. Illustrated by John Hendrix. Schwartz & Wade Books. $17.99.

Young Dickens' life in London is the focus of this charming picture book. Following the author's questions (rather like finding Waldo but with far better art) we track Dickens to Warren's rat-infested blacking factory, recognizing references to Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, to his tiny room, and to the debtor's prison where his family lives for some months. The swirling cloud of characters following Dickens through the streets foretells many of his books. It's a charming tribute in this centennial year of his birth.



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