Books for kids that grown-ups will like, too

September 15, 1996
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

As the days start getting shorter and the nights longer, it may be time to think about a new infusion of books to read to the children. Here are some recommendations: "Bill Pickett, Rodeo-Ridin' Cowboy" (Gulliver Books, $16) written by Andrea Pinkney and illustrated by her husband, Brian. This 32-page picture book is about a black cowboy.

Folks have been telling stories about Bill Pickett since 1881 when he first wrestled a steer to the ground (at age 10) by sinking his teeth into the animal's lip....or so the story goes. "Bulldogging," the cowboys called it. This is the story of that feisty cowboy-kid from south of Abilene who grew up to become the most famous black rodeo performer who ever lived. Pickett was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma in 1971.For kids age 4 to 8.

"Boo!" by Colin McNaughton (Harcourt Brace, $14) is a picture book for younger kids, say those age 3 to 5. If there are any "Babe" movie fans in your household, "Boo!" is sure to please them. As night falls, beware of the Masked Avenger - otherwise known as Preston the Pig. He goes around scaring people throughout the neighborhood until the tables are turned. This is a sequel to "Suddenly!" also written and illustrated by McNaughton, one of Britain's most popular creator of children's books.

"The Girl Who Wanted a Song" (Harcourt Brace, $16) by Steve Sanfield, illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson is about a little orphan girl, Marici, who is befriended by a Canadian goose. While the goose honks, Marici remembers songs from her childhood. She sings and the goose flies. The story was inspired by the Ten Oxherding Pictures of Zen Buddhism. The beautiful illustrations alone are worth the price of the book.

"Cantsee: The Cat Who Was the Color of the Carpet" (Gulliver Books, $16), written and illustrated by Gretchen Schields of San Franicsco, is a gem. The richly colored and highly detailed illustrations of Mr. Blue and his fussy, over-decorated Victorian townhouse are a pleasure to look at. Cantsee, his cat, blends in to every background and this causes all kinds of problems...and a happy ending. For kids age 3 to 7. Schields has two cats of her own, blues brothers named Jake and Ellwood.

"Josefina" (Harcourt Brace, $15), written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, is a story inspired by the author's visit to Ocotlan, Mexico, where she met Josefina Aguilar, a folk artist known for her painted clay figures. Winter tells the story of how Josefina finds inspiration for her work in her tiny village creating suns, houses, women, flowers, mariachis and stars. The simple and colorful illustrations suit the narrative.

"Old Home Day" (Browndeer Press, $16) is another children's book by the poet Donald Hall. An earlier book of his told the story of baseball hero Babe Ruth, "When Willard Met Babe Ruth." Parents can't do much better in terms of quality. Not only is the story beautifully bittersweet, but the watercolor illustrations are wonderfully evocative of bygone days.

And that's what "Old Home Day" celebrates - the small towns in New England, specifically in this case, New Hampshire, that once thrived. But as people flocked to northern cities, the small towns declined. One hundred years ago, the governor of New Hampshire proclaimed an "old home day," a day when everybody could come back home at the same time and visit.

Hall celebrates both the history and the modern notion of "old home day," the cycle of growth and renewal that marks small towns across the country.

Have you ever stopped in a bucolic little town and thought: "Maybe someday we can live in this beautiful place." If so this book is for you, and your kids.

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