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Books: Recommended For Kids

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COCOA ICE, by Diana Appelbaum, with illustrations by Holly Meade. (Orchard Books, $16.95; grades K-4.) This picture book is really two stories: one about a young girl growing up in the late 19th century on the Island of Santo Domingo in what is now the Dominican Republic, and the other about a girl living at the same time in Maine.

What the two have in common is a passion for iced chocolate desserts. But during the era in which the book is set, these were rare treats. Because cocoa only grows in the tropics and water only turns to ice in the cold North, the production of iced chocolate at the time depended upon Yankee traders who plied the Atlantic coast in schooners, delivering ice and manufactured goods to Central America and the Caribbean in exchange for cocoa and coffee.

In broad terms, the book is about this trade route, but most of the text focuses on the two unnamed girls, who describe in fascinating detail their very different lives and locales. The book is divided into two parts: the first called "Cocoa," the second "Ice." Linking the two is a sailor and trader named Jacob—uncle of the girl from Maine—who, over time, passes keepsakes from one girl to the other. In "Cocoa," we glimpse the lush, exotic tropics and learn how chocolate is made from cocoa beans. In "Ice," we see Maine's stark winter landscape and learn how river ice is cut, stored, and shipped—the most intriguing part of the entire book.

The story lacks a strong narrative, but the beauty here is in the details—both in Appelbaum's charming text and Meade's vibrant, cut-paper illustrations, which are worthy of a Caldecott. It's a lovely book about a time long before the information superhighway, when sailing ships linked foreign peoples and something as simple as iced chocolate could bring a child perfect pleasure.

SILVERWING, by Kenneth Oppel. (Simon and Schuster, $16; grades 5 and up.) In the tradition of such modern animal fantasies as Watership Down, The Wainscott Weasel, and The Rats of NIMH, Silverwing is a gripping and unusual tale about a rambunctious silverwing bat named Shade.

The runt of his colony's newborns, Shade is intent on proving that his courage and daring match those of the strongest in the litter. But when he defiantly stays out one morning to watch the sun rise, breaking an ancient law to return to the shelter of Tree Haven before dawn, he puts the entire colony at risk. Enemy owls spot Shade and as a result destroy Tree Haven, forcing the bats to begin the long migration south to Hibernaculum, their winter retreat.

On the journey, a storm blows Shade out to sea, away from the silverwing formation. As he tries to reunite with his colony, Shade has a number of fur-raising adventures, including an encounter with two psychopathic vampire bats named Goth and Throbb.

Drawing on his considerable imagination and extensive research, Oppel has written an exciting and fascinating novel. The characters are vivid and memorable, and the language often lyrical. The plot has many intriguing twists and turns, and the action flies along at a rapid pace. An added pleasure is Oppel's unobtrusive inclusion of interesting details about bats. Youngsters may come to see the creatures in a whole new way.

HERO, by S.L. Rottman. (Peachtree, $14.95; young adult.) A young delinquent named Sean who has been abused by his mother and neglected by his father is sentenced to perform community service at a ranch. While working for the tough but sympathetic owner, Sean develops a love for the horses in his care, learns to accept responsibility, and finds a friend.

DINOSAUR GHOSTS: The Mystery of Coelophysis, by J. Lynett Gillette, with illustrations by Douglas Henderson. (Dial Books, $15.99; grades 4-7.) This is an intriguing real-life mystery story about the sudden death of hundreds of coelophysis dinosaurs in New Mexico 225 million years ago. In clear and engaging prose, Gillette, who is a scientist, explains the known facts of the case and offers several possible explanations for the creatures' demise. Color photographs and dramatic paintings by Henderson bring the dinosaurs to life.

I THOUGHT MY SOUL WOULD RISE AND FLY: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, by Joyce Hansen. (Scholastic, $9.95; grades 4-6.) In her secret diary, a young black house slave living on a fictional plantation in South Carolina in 1865 writes not only her thoughts and dreams but also a moving account of life at that time. The book includes a chapter with historical background as well as black-and-white photographs and drawings.

A TREASURY OF MERMAIDS: Mermaid Tales From Around the World, retold by Shirley Climo, with illustrations by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng. (HarperCollins, $16.95; all ages.) Climo presents eight enchanting, beautifully written tales about mythical sea creatures from Japan, Europe, New Zealand, and Alaska, dramatically illustrated with watercolor seascapes.

GARBAGE CREEK AND OTHER STORIES, by W.D. Valgardson. (Groundwood, $15.95; grades 3-5.) Cyberspace Sam, a beach artist named Rainbow, and a reluctant baby-sitter are among the engaging young characters in this upbeat collection of short stories perfect for reading aloud. The central characters tackle a variety of problems with energy and resourcefulness.

MOUSE MESS, by Linnea Riley. (Blue Sky, $15.95; grades K-2.) As the family of the house tramps upstairs to bed, Mouse emerges from his hole and heads for the kitchen, ready to eat. He helps himself to crackers, cookies, peanut butter, milk, cheese, and more. Finally, the rascal steps back to survey the damage: " 'Who made this awful mess?' asks Mouse. 'These people need to clean their house.' " Rich in color and detail, Riley's spare verse and hilarious collages are irresistible.

—Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman

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