Children's books range from working dragons to runaway clouds

June 7, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

No family car trip this summer should be undertaken without a copy of "California Here We Come" (Charlesbridge, $6.95) by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Kay Salem.

The inexpensive paperback edition is filled with colorful illustrations and facts about the state that children will enjoy. Carmen, the rhyming narrator, takes visitors from the beaches of San Diego and the zoo to the Central Valley and the state Capitol. She doesn't neglect San Francisco, either. She also takes visitors to hot crusty Death Valley and the last stop is a cool pool in Palm Springs. Both visitors and natives will enjoy this children's book.

"Mr. Putter & Tabby Toot the Horn" by Cynthia Rylant (Harcourt Brace, $13) is the most recent addition to a series of picture books about an old man and his orange cat. In this case, Mr. Putter fails to learn how to play an instrument. Actually, he only bought the horn because it was on sale. He only bought it to please his neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, who wanted to form a band. This book might not encourage your kids to practice music, but it's cute.

Nancy Willard is the award-winning author of dozens of books for children, including the Newbery Medal winner "A Visit to William Blake's Inn." She lives in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., but writes with a strong Southwestern flavor as in her latest book "The Tortilla Cat" (Harcourt Brace, $16).

Doctor Romero, the father of five children, doesn't want any messy pets tracking dirt and fleas into his house. He is a doctor who can cure anything and he should know. But when winter comes bringing with it a strange and deadly fever that takes the life of his wife, he begins to wonder if he can cure anything. One by one, his children become ill. But each in turn is visited and healed by a mysterious gray cat carrying a delicious tortilla.

"It's a delusion," says Doctor Romero, until he, too, becomes ill and is visited by the gray cat. And at the end of the winter, the Romero household is home to five new kittens.

"Pa didn't know a thing about raising dragons." It's hard to stop reading after this first sentence from "Raising Dragons" by Jerdine Nolen with pastel illustrations by Elise Primavera (Harcourt Brace, $16). The narrator of this story is a little country girl who finds an unusual egg, watches it hatch, and raises a fire-breathing dragon. Her parents, simple country folks, don't believe that Hank exists. But when he does all the chores (plants the crops, weeds the fields and keeps the tomatoes from dying during a drought), they begin to think it's right handy having a dragon around the place.

"Amistad Rising: A Story of Freedom" is a picture book by journalist Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt Brace, $16). It is the children's equivalent of the movie, the story of a West African slave brought to America in 1839.

"It is based on the true story of Joseph Cinque," says Chambers. "Most of the book is factual, though we've imagined Cinque's words and feelings and some of his actions in order to bring life to a journey that happened more than 150 years ago."

For another book based on fact, veteran children's book author Eve Bunting had a best-seller before the movie with her young adult novel (age 12 and up) "SOS Titanic" (1996, Harcourt Brace, $6).

Bunting, who is Irish, always had the tragedy of the Titanic in the back of her mind. She met and married her husband in Belfast, where the Titanic was built. Her father-in-law and two of this brothers worked for Harland and Wolff, the shipyard responsible for the doomed ship. The Buntings immigrated to the United States more than 36 years ago.

"It's always fascinated me that a large number of the third-class passengers who died on the Titanic were Irish immigrants like us," Bunting said.

What do you do when your kid has a loose tooth? Charlesbridge publishing has a book on the subject: "Tooth Tales from Around the World" ($6.95) by Marlene Targ Brill with vivid illustrations by Katya Krenina. For thousands of years, children around the world have followed special customs when they lose their teeth. This book introduces stores old and new from a variety of cultures. You can throw it on top of a house, bury it under a rock or hide it under your pillow and hope for a visit from the tooth fairy.

Finally, in a return to the realm of pure fantasy, "It's Raining Whisper" (Zipper Press, $17.95) by Bryna Notrog, illustrated by Terri Schwartz, is about a naughty cloud named Whisper who runs away from his family in the sky. Of course, there is a happy ending for children to remember when they look up at the night sky. "Whisper" can be ordered by phoning 800-295-2945.

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