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Children's stories with Mom in mind


Believe it or not, there is a mother or two out there who would prefer a Mother's Day gift that doesn't wilt in a vase or go straight to her waist.

RTC A mom with young kids might appreciate one of the following books, and her kids undoubtedly will get a kick out of giving her a gift that they can share.

* Martin Waddell, who wrote "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?," has another winner in "Owl Babies," illustrated by Patrick Benson (Candlewick, $14.95, ages 3 and up).

Sarah, Percy and Bill are three baby owls who wake up in the middle of the night to find their mother has left their nest. Sarah, the oldest, tries to stay calm and reassuring. "She'll be back," she says.

"Back soon!" says Percy, the middle owl, who works hard to put up a brave front.

Bill, the baby, simply says, "I want my mommy!"

Mr. Benson's illustrations are done in black ink and watercolor crosshatching, and they convey the shadows and textures of the darkened forest. The effect is heightened by the words, printed in light letters on midnight black.

Mr. Waddell, as usual, does the most with the fewest words. Not one syllable is wasted:

) They sat and they thought

(all owls think a lot) --

"I think we should all sit on my branch," said Sarah.

And they did, all three together."

Just when readers are shivering with worry, along with the owl babies, the mother owl appears. "Soft and silent, she swooped through the trees, to Sarah and Percy and Bill."

* Another book that's reassuring is "You're My Nikki," by Phyllis Rose Eisenberg, pictures by Jill Kastner (Dial, $14, ages 4-8).

Nikki's mother is starting a new job in the morning, and she spends the evening with Nikki, a girl of about 4 who is worried that her mom will forget her once she gets busy with the job.

The first half of the book has Nikki testing her mom to see if she remembers all of Nikki's favorite things. Mom patiently plays along, getting everything right: Nikki's best friend, her best color, her favorite rainy day thing, her favorite dessert.

The second half of the book starts when Mom comes home from work the next day, tired and in a hurry to make dinner. Nikki quizzes her, and Mom doesn't know the name of Nikki's favorite sport.

Nikki is quiet the rest of the night, and when Mom comes in to tuck her in, doesn't want to talk. "You forgot me," she says.

Gently, her mother recites all of Nikki's favorite things. And after they've talked for a while, her mother says, "I didn't like my new job today. There's so much to remember."

"But maybe tomorrow you will," Nikki says, using the same kind of encouraging words her mother used when Nikki was practicing somersaults the night before. "And by the next day you could even be famous for remembering. And I'll say, 'She's Rena, my mama. I've known her forever.' "

Ms. Kastner's oil paintings are as warm and soft as a hug, and the characters are African-American.

* Three generations -- a single mom, her daughter and her mother -- star in "A Chair for My Mother," by Vera B. Williams (Greenwillow, $13.95, ages 4-8). It's also available in a paperback and cassette package (Morrow, $7.95).

Mama works as a waitress at the Blue Tile Diner. Every day when she gets home, her daughter counts the tips and they put all of the change into a huge jar. When it's full, they're going to take the money and buy a big, soft armchair.

It turns out that their old house was destroyed by fire. And even though neighbors pitched in to help them move into their new apartment, they still don't have a sofa or any big chairs.

When Mama comes home from work, there's no place for her to relax and take a load off her feet. "When Grandma wants to sit back and hum and cut up potatoes, she has to get as comfortable as she can on a hard kitchen chair."

The little girl, who is the narrator, has a voice that rings true, and Ms. Williams' watercolors are done in her distinctive, almost-primitive style.

The borders around each page are a treat.

* "What Did Mommy Do Before You?" by Abby Levine, pictures by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan (Puffin paperback, $3.95, ages 3-8) is a fun little book that follows Mom from her birth to the birth of her first child. It shows a little girl playing with her friends, learning to ride a bike, going to high school.

Kids love to know what their parents did when they were kids, and this is good way to get into those "way back when" talks.

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