Publishers gear books to the day-care generation


The Republican politicians haven't noticed, but another American family tradition has gone the way of "Ozzie and Harriet."

Mom no longer stands at the doorway, babe in arms and a toddler tugging at her apron, while her brave 5-year-old ventures out of the house for the first time, bound for kindergarten.

These days, the first day of "school" usually comes at age 2, the minimum age for many day care centers. So this week or next, Mom will drop the baby off at the sitter's on her way to the toddler's first day at preschool. The 5-year-old is already savvy enough to demand the latest in "back to school" fashion as she embarks on her kindergarten career.

Dan Quayle might not acknowledge the existence of working moms and day care kids, but publishers have. Here are a few books geared to the 2- to-5-year-old set just setting off for "school" this fall.

* "Maisy Goes to School," by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick Press, $12.95) will be a huge hit with kids who have frayed the pages of "Maisy Goes to Bed," and "What Does Rabbit Hear?" Ms. Cousins has done it again: Here's a lift-the-flap, pull-the-tab book that lifts the genre from gimmick to art form.

Ms. Cousins' bright, bold paintings are uncluttered, and kids easily identify with Maisy the mouse. Here she paints at an easel (you flip not one, but two flaps to see the paintings underneath), dresses up in a pirate suit, writes a story, dances like a ballerina and feeds the goldfish, who swim to the top of the aquarium when you pull the tab.

A companion book, also with a September publication date, is "Maisy Goes to the Playground." Pull the tabs and Maisy sways back and forth in the swing and glides down the slide. And she's environmentally correct: Pull one tab and her tongue comes out to lick the Popsicle in her right hand as her left hand simultaneously drops the wrapper in a trash can.

* "Bright Eyes, Brown Skin," by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford, illustrated by George Ford (Just Us Books, $6.95 paperback), is another simple book for the youngest rookies. It stars four African-American kids who go through the routine of a typical day-care center day.

They carry lunch boxes, put their jackets on a hook in their cubbies, draw pictures, dance, eat lunch, play dress-up, look at books and finally take their blankets to nap on their cots.

The text is a poem by Ms. Hudson that starts out, "Bright eyes, Brown skin, A heart-shaped face, A dimpled chin." It's fun to have kids point to each part of the body mentioned as the poem goes on: "Bright eyes, Ears to listen, Lips to kiss you, Teeth that glisten."

* Rosemary Wells, creator of Max the bunny and his bossy sister Ruby as well as "Shy Charles" and "Fritz and the Mess Fairy," has come up with a wonderful new trilogy for slightly older kids: "Voyage to the Bunny Planet," (Dial Books for Young Readers, $13, ages 4-8).

The three books are 4 1/2 -by-5 inches and come in a sturdy slipcase. They feature different bunnies who are having terrible days until they lean back, close their eyes and float away to the Bunny Planet, where a queen named Janet welcomes them to Utopia, saying, "Here's the day that should have been."

In "First Tomato," Claire heads off to school. Her shoes fill with snow on the way, she gets baloney -- her least favorite -- for lunch, and she's the only girl who can't do a cartwheel at playtime.

Then Janet whisks her off to the Bunny Planet. She gets to wear her "old, old clothes" and spend the day in the garden, picking vegetables for her mother, who makes soup with the first ripe tomato, "because I love you so."

All three stories are great escapes for kids and adults. Take Felix. In "The Island Light," he gets sick in front of the whole art class. "The nurse made him a cup of tea and called home. Nobody answered the phone." Now there's someone who needs a visit to the Bunny Planet.

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