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Local artists and authors help answer a growing demand for children's books


As the children's book field continues to grow to keep up with the baby boomers' own baby boomlet, more authors and illustrators with local connections are getting their work published by big-name houses. Here are a few of the newer picture-book titles:

* Susan L. Roth's cut-paper collages lend themselves particularly well to Native American folk tales. Her layers of textures bring landscapes alive with mystery and magic. And she creates animals that have personality without making them obviously anthropomorphic: They can be clever and curious or dull and dim-witted without looking like cartoons with human features.

"The Great Ball Game" by Joseph Bruchac and "Ishi's Tale of Lizard" by Leanne Hinton are previous examples. Now Ms. Roth has illustrated "How Thunder and Lightning Came to Be," a Choctaw tale retold by Beatrice Orcutt Harrell (Dial Books for Young Readers, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 4-8).

Ms. Harrell, a Choctaw, tells how the Great Sun Father wanted to come up with a way to warn people before he sent the wind and rain to earth, so they would have time to seek shelter. He assigned the task to a pair of birds, Heloha and her mate, Melatha.

Neither bird is bright, and Melatha is clumsy as well as clueless, but they both try hard. None of their warning plans, however, pan out.

After bungling a few attempts, they accidentally stumble upon the solution. Heloha lays her eggs in the clouds and they roll

across the sky, rumbling and bumping into each other to create thunder. Melatha chases after the eggs, sparks flying from his heels, until his feet get tangled up and he falls from the sky into a tree. Lightning flashes as he crashes.

"From that time to this, whenever Heloha lays her eggs and Melatha chases them, the Great Sun Father calls the wind and sends the rain falling to earth."

AThe origin of another natural phenomenon -- the rainbow -- is the subject of another book Ms. Roth has illustrated: "How the Sky's Housekeeper Wore Her Scarves," by Patricia Hooper (Little, Brown and Company, $15.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8).

Once we meet the housekeeper and follow her through her weekly chores, the rainbow theme is obvious. She wears a different scarf -- red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet -- for each of her celestial duties, from polishing the sun to dusting the moon to mending the clouds.

The plot is a bit tedious, and a few times the housekeeper lookmore like a young girl than an old woman. After all of that cleaning and scrubbing, she should be haggard.

* Kevin O'Malley also has two new books out. The best is "Roller Coaster" (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, $15, 24 pages, ages 4 and up).

Mr. O'Malley uses acrylics, colored pencils and pen and ink to create characters that are as distinctive as they are funny. His "Froggy Went A-Courtin'," "Who Killed Cock Robin?" and "Cinder Edna" are witty interpretations of classics. In "Roller Coaster," he follows the narrator, a girl of about 8, on a trip to an amusement park.

She plays a starring role as her two younger brothers and her mom and dad accompany her from the miniature golf course through the fun house and to the ring-toss booth. She rides on all the rides . . . except the roller coaster.

"You have to be taller than my nose," reads the sign on a plywood clown. Even on tiptoe, she doesn't measure up. A year passes. In a double-page spread reminiscent of "The Family Circus" when Billy fills in for

his dad, the girl draws herself growing taller and dwarfing the clown.

And on the next page she is triumphant, riding in the front car of the coaster as her dad hangs on for dear life.

Mr. O'Malley's comic touches aren't as evident in "There Was a Crooked Man" (Little Simon, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, $9.95, 11 pages, ages 3-6). It's a pop-up, pull-the-tabs version of the nursery rhyme, and while it's well-engineered, it offers no surprises.

* Amy Littlesugar, who lives in Columbia, has teamed up with illustrator Barbara Garrison on a beautiful book: "Josiah True and the Art Maker" (Simon & Schuster, $15, 24 pages, ages 4-7).

It's the tale of Patience Cage, an artist who traveled the Connecticut River Valley in the early 1800s, painting portraits of the folks in villages and on farms.

Josiah True, a boy of 8 or 9, has heard the story about Patience's encounter with bandits. When the roadside robbers demanded she step down from her wagon, she "fixed upon them such clear gray eyes that one was moved to say, 'Why, she can see into the very soul of a man!' Frightened, they left Patience to her traveling."

Josiah's family saves up the $10 needed to have Patience paint them. The boy is entranced as Patience lays out her supplies, which Ms. Littlesugar describes in such detail, readers can smell the linseed oil. Josiah watches the artist's every move during the many days it takes her to complete the family portrait.

When Patience is done, she gives Josiah a small brush, "its bristles bound in a way never to come undone." She knows one day he will use it -- and he does, growing up to paint portraits of Native Americans on the Midwestern plains.

Ms. Garrison's folk-art illustrations are a perfect match for the text. They are collagraphs. A collage is glued on cardboard, which is then inked and printed on an etching press. The print is painted with watercolor washes, and the finished product is as ++ warm and worn as an antique appliqued quilt.

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