MOLE MUSIC, by David McPhail. (Henry Holt, $15.95; grades K-2.) Tired of his quiet, dull life underground, mole purchases a violin, hoping to liven things up with music. At first, all he produces is noise, scaring away birds in the tree above his den. But with time and practice, the noise turns to melody and touches others in magical ways. McPhail, illustrator and writer of many popular children's books, including the "Pig Pig" series, has crafted a charming kids' book about the mystical power of music.
GENTLE GIANT OCTOPUS, by Karen Wallace, with illustrations
by Mike Bostock. (Candlewick Press, $15.99; grades
K-3.) Of the 150 different kinds of octopus, the giant octopus is the largest, with tentacles up to 15 feet long. Still, as this engrossing picture book makes clear, the giant is no sea monster. The species does not attack humans but preys instead on tiny sea life, such as clams, crabs, and snails. The spare text, which follows a female searching for a sheltered spot to lay her eggs, is rich with detail. Bostock's bold watercolors offer an endearing portrait of this remarkable creature without a hint of anthropomorphism.
THE WRECKERS, by Iain Lawrence. (Delacorte Press, $15.95; young adult.) On a cold and stormy morning in 1799, a ship wrecks on a reef off Cornwall on the English coast. Fourteen-year-old John Spencer survives, but once ashore, he has to run from danger when he discovers that villagers lured his ship onto the rocks with false lights so they could steal the cargo. This taut adventure was recently named a "Best Book for 1998" by School Library Journal and the American Library Association's Booklist.
DARK LORD OF DERKHOLM, by Diana Wynne Jones. (Greenwillow Books, $16; young adult.) Derk, a wizard who takes pleasure in breeding creatures like griffins and flying pigs, is reluctantly appointed Dark Lord, overseer of destruction for the evil Mr. Chesney. With the help of his magical family and a surly dragon, Derk confronts the enemy, with surprising results. This is a delightful and clever tongue-in-cheek fantasy about a most unprepossessing hero.
THE DISAPPEARING ALPHABET, by Richard Wilbur, with illustrations by David Diaz. (Harcourt Brace, $16; grades 1-4.) If you've sworn off alphabet books--just how many does one need, after all?--make an exception for this one. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Wilbur and Caldecott Medal-winner Diaz have given the old standby a creative twist. Starting with A and working through Z, Wilbur writes short clever poems about what would happen if each letter were to disappear. Here's the entry for K: "Is K unnecessary? 'Heavens, no!/It's in my name!' exclaims the ESKIMO/ And if there were no K my little craft/The KAYAK, would be scuttled fore and aft." Beginning readers will love Diaz' colorful computer-generated illustrations but probably won't get much from the text. Young accomplished readers, though, are sure to find the verse both challenging and entertaining.
MUSIC FOR THE TSAR OF THE SEA: A Russian Wonder Tale, retold by Celia Barker Lottridge, with illustrations by Harvey Chan. (Douglas and McIntyre, $16.95; grades 1-6.) Sadko, a poor but gifted musician who plays for the local merchants of Novgorod, enthralls the mighty, green-bearded Tsar of the Sea, who rises from a nearby lake to listen to him perform. The entranced giant showers Sadko with gold and jewels but makes the musician promise to perform in his kingdom beneath the sea. Years later, Sadko reluctantly journeys to the Tsar's underwater palace to fulfill his vow, but the giant's wild dancing triggers natural disasters that threaten the town. Chan's artwork, which glows with deep blues and browns, beautifully complements Lottridge's charming text.
WAR AND THE PITY OF WAR, edited by Neil Philip, with illustrations by Michael McCurdy. (Clarion Books, $20; young adult.) This unusual collection of poems features work from many civilizations and centuries that have captured the horror, despair, and futility of war. Somber black-and-white scratchboard drawings depict both the heroism and desolation of ancient wars in Greece and China as well as more recent conflicts in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Cambodia.
THE SKIN I'M IN, by Sharon Flake. (Hyperion Books for Children, $14.95; young adult.) This powerful first novel features a memorable teacher-student friendship. Thirteen-year-old Maleeka, a dark-skinned black girl, suffers the taunts of her classmates for being "too black" until she meets her new English teacher, Miss Saunders, a self-assured former businesswoman whose skin is disfigured by a birthmark. Gradually, Maleeka learns from her teacher's example to accept what you can't change, make the most of what you have, and face your foes.
--Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman
Vol. 10, Issue 6, Page 56