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Happily Ever After 

Some children's books aren't just for kids

Once upon a time I had a friend whose children were growing up. Like a princess trapped by a curse, she could not stop herself from buying the children's books she'd once shared with them. One day, she decided she would continue to purchase the books that pleased her eye, soothed her mind and filled her heart. And she collected happily ever after.

Children's books have magical stories that return adults to their youth and art that seems worth framing. It's no wonder many grownups buy the books that speak to them, and soon they discover they've begun a collection. This year there are some great new titles that beg to be added to the libraries of children and adults.

Classic titles often reappear with glorious new presentations, such as L. Frank Baum's century-old The Wizard of Oz, which is being celebrated this year with new renditions by two of children's books' favorite artists. Robert Sabuda, who has elevated pop-up to an art form, again proves his genius at paper design in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-Up (Little Simon, $24.95). The marvel of Sabuda's mechanics begin when you open the first page and it unleashes a twisting, turning Kansas tornado. Later, the city of Oz appears, complete with turrets and towers and an envelope labeled "spectacles for you," providing readers with the green-tinted miracle Dorothy beheld. On a spectacular page near the end, the Wizard's balloon actually inflates as the pages spread. The story text, concealed at the sides of the pages, is uniquely designed, thoughtfully placed and filled with mini-pop-ups. The abridgement stays true to the original in spirit and the presentation offers the same kind of amazement Dorothy found along the yellow brick road.

For a more traditional approach, L. Frank Baum's original The Wizard of Oz (Holt, $29.95) has new art by award-winning illustrator Michael Hague. The text has wide margins, slick pages and, of course, the splendor is Hague's art. His illustrations are plentiful, lavish in color, and he combines a playful style with realistic details to make the fantasy leap from the pages and into a beholder's heart.

Another classic, J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (Simon and Schuster, $25), demonstrates its distinct never-grow-up quality with photos created by Raquel Jaramillo. The creative director of a publishing house, Jaramillo began remaking the classic for her son when he was 2. She spent 18 months finding and shooting models and neighbors posed as the familiar figures of Hook, Tink and company. Then she enhanced her photos with collage and computer effects until she produced 75 pieces of art that sparkle with fairy dust and emotions, yet have the realism of movie stills.

Occasionally, adults are lucky enough to discover that a treasured book from their youth has been reissued. It's even more amazing when that book lives up to memories and expectations. Random House has brought back books by three authors whose works stand up to the test of time.

For Babar aficionados, six unabridged classics by Jean de Brunhoff are collected in a volume entitled Bonjour, Babar! (Random House, $29.95) The book begins with an introduction by award-winning children's book writer and illustrator Kevin Henkes. Henkes writes in praise of the simple lines and elegant colors of de Brunoff's art and marvels at how he mixes adventure, fantasy and "the real stuff of life." Henkes rightly points out that this is why "the magic has traveled from generation to generation and will continue to do so." The six glorious books packed into this volume live up to Henkes' glowing prologue.

Roger Duvoisin's Petunia (Knopf, $15.95) reappears 50 years after its original publication date. Silly Petunia, the goose, discovers a book and carts it around giving the benefit of her newfound wisdom to her foolish farm animal friends. They buy into her fantasy until her bad advice and pride grow to such grand proportions everyone learns a lesson. Petunia understands, "It was not enough to carry wisdom under my wing. I must put it in my mind and in my heart. And to do that I must learn to read." And the last illustration shows her studying an ABC book. Duvoisin's bright illustrations, rhythmic writing and dynamic heroine are just as vivid as I remembered them.

It's odd how a book can bring back a whole host of memories. When I opened Lois Lenski's rereleased and colorized The Little Fire Engine and The Little Train (both from Random House, $13.95), Mr. Small's round, somewhat enigmatic face smiled up at me. Suddenly, I remembered sitting on the cold linoleum floor of my childhood library, smelling the surrounding books and turning the pages to discover the adventures of this hero. The book size is little, the dramas are slight, but somehow both are just right for a small child; stories with sounds and vehicles endure.

There's something special about books that capture tales that have been told for centuries. "What ensures their place in world literature is their agelessness, their value as expressions of the perennial art of the storyteller," Marie Heaney writes in her new collection of Irish legends, The Names Upon the Harp (Scholastic, $19.95). Her writing is as steeped in the richness of lore and words as that of her husband, Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. She selects stories that have entertained and moved listeners and readers for generations, and still have the power to do so. Presenting her eight stories in the context of three cycles which define Irish literature, Heaney offers a brief description of each period as a setting for the tales that follow. Classic themes thread through them: There are villains like Baylor of the Evil Eye, a magical, fierce sea pirate who can drop his enemies dead with a "fearsome stare." There are curses like the one cast on the children of Lir, who are turned to white swans by their jealous stepmother. Brave heroes, beautiful maidens, and tales of courage and love come alive under Heaney's skilled pen. The articulate watercolors by P.J. Lynch, which have a strong narrative quality, describe people and places powerfully, in an emotive tone that reminds us that feelings, like these tales, know no boundaries of time.

Lessons from the ages become fresh with Jerry Pinkney's new version of Aesop's Fables (Sea Star Books, $19.95). Pinkney illustrates and retells 60 fables once related by a Greek slave born 2,600 years ago. In his simple retellings, Pinkney looks back, remembering how much these tales influenced his childhood and how they have informed his life. Pinkney illustrates each text, some with a tiny postage stamp icon, many with watercolors that fill either one page or two, all of them capturing the emotions and actions of human and animal protagonists.

My earliest memory is stumbling down the large steps of a bookmobile with a copy of Cinderella under one arm. This year K.Y. Craft illustrates a Cinderella (Sea Star Books, $19.95) made to be treasured. The text is adapted from fairy tale predecessors Rackham and Lang, with a tribute to Grimm in the fairy godmother's birdlike appearance. While the text has a wonderful voice, it's the pictures that will capture readers of all ages. The opulent 17th-century French setting shows off gold that gleams from the trim of the prince's coat and saddle. The stepsisters' jewelry sparkles against their subdued ball clothes; pearls and jewels glow on the fairy godmother's gown; and Cinderella's costuming is in the lacy, romantic and whimsical style that makes young girls dream. EndBlock

  • Some children's books speak to all ages.

More by Susie Wilde

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