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'Home': sanctuary for the homeless and the imagination


I grew up in a house that stretched as our family grew.

By the time there were five kids, there were three distinct sections -- the old, old part, where my mother, father and big brother lived at the very beginning; the old part, which came along when I became the third child to come along; and the new part, which was added on after the fifth and final child arrived.

Connecting the old, old part to the old part was a crawl space about 10 feet long, with latched hatches on each end. My younger brother and I spent hour upon hour turning that musty tunnel into everything from a cabin in the woods to a dungeon beneath a castle.

I've never forgotten that secret space, but I've never focused on it as vividly as I did while reading "Home" (A Charlotte Zolotow Book/Harper Collins, $16, all ages). Called "A Collaboration of Thirty Distinguished Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books to Aid the Homeless," it's well worth the wordy subtitle.

All the writers and artists donated their work and pledged royalties to benefit the homeless, literacy programs and Share Our Strength (SOS), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that raises funds for hunger relief. Founded in 1984, SOS has distributed more than $4 million to feed the needy worldwide.

"Home" is the third book conceived as a fund-raiser by SOS executive director Bill Shore. "Louder Than Words," and "Voices Louder Than Words," are anthologies of short stories contributed by an all-star lineup of writers, including Anne Tyler and Bobbie Ann Mason.

The success of those adult books led to the idea for "Home," edited by Michael Rosen and loaded with fine work by some

of the best authors and illustrators in the business, including: Aliki and her husband, Franz Brandenberg; Jerry Pinkney; Marc Simont; Vera B. Williams; James Ransome; Jane Yolen; James Marshall; Myra Cohn Livingston; and Leo and Diane Dillon, whose artwork graces the jacket.

Like any well-done anthology, this is a book you can come back to. Karla Kuskin writes of her "Comfortable Old Chair": "I can be anything, any person, anywhere, if I just have my book and chair."

Laurence Yep describes the lightwell in his grandmother's apartment building in Chinatown. "Although the lightwell is a poor source for light, it is a perfect carrier for sound . . . During the afternoons, bits of conversation float into my grandmother's home like fragments of little dramas and comedies -- just as, I'm sure, the other tenants can hear the shuffling of my grandmother's cards and her exclamations when she loses at solitaire."

Two of the top writer-artist teams around make contributions. Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith find three checkers, one sock, a marble and a dragon "Under the Bed," and Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski offer "The Refrigerator," where "There's frozen fries, apple pies, yesterday's pizza, the old geezer."

The power of "Home" lies in its ability to define "home" in so many ways. It's a stoop out front, a secret closet under the stairs, a chair at grandmother's kitchen table and a bedroom window that looks out across a field of grazing cows.

By revealing those pieces of ordinary life as extraordinary -- and they are every bit as magical as the crawl space my brother and I explored -- this book captures the tragedy of homelessness. A shelter may provide a place to sleep, but only a home offers a place to dream.

* Another author gifted with the ability to move within a child's world is Alice McLerran. Last year she came out with "Roxaboxen," the story of a desert town created by the imagination and cooperation of a bunch of neighboring kids. McLerran's newest book is "I Want To Go Home," with pictures by Jill Kastner (Tambourine Books, $15, ages 4 and up).

Marta's family has just moved, and all she wants to do is go back to her old house. She's miserable, even after her mother brings home Sammy, a cat whose family has moved to a new place that doesn't allow pets. Sammy apparently hates Marta's new house, too: He runs and hides, never touching the food and water Marta leaves for him.

Finally he appears, still frightened. As she slowly gains his trust and manages to make Sammy feel at home, Marta realizes the new house has become her home, too.

* "My Mother's House, My Father's House," by C.B. Christiansen, illustrated by Irene Trivas (Picture Puffins, $3.95, ages 3-8) is an excellent book about divorce and joint custody. Kids will appreciate its honest look at a subject that parents often shy away from.

The girl in the book is probably 7 or 8. She lives with her mother Monday through Thursday and with her father Friday through Sunday. Their houses and lifestyles are as different as they are, but the little girl is equally fond of both.

"My mother doesn't go into my father's house. She drops me off at the curb and I run up the steps. She waves from the car window. My father waves back."

Next to her mother's bed, there's a photo of her and her mother. Next to her father's bed, there's a photo of her and her father. When she grows up, she's going to live in the same house seven days a week -- no suitcases, she says -- and "on my bedroom wall I'll hang a photograph of my mother and my father and me, together."

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