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Grown-up readers count, too

Achildren's book should be entertaining to an adult as well as to a child. Some authors think writing for children obligates them to teach a lesson, but kids are such avid learners that the lesson is unnecessary. They learn by example, not by lecture. In writing for children, simplicity is a virtue, but simple-mindedness is not.Ages 2 to 4: One Gorilla, by Atsuko Morozumi, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $13.95.

The text of this counting book is really just an excuse for Morozumi's enchanting illustrations. She follows the "find-the-character" trend of Martin Hanford's popular "Waldo" series but does it with more grace and less clutter. We wander through 10 animal-filled landscapes searching for our friend, the gorilla. Morozumi's strengths are her soothing blends of color and her realistic depictions of flora and fauna.

Ages 3 to 6. The Very Quiet Cricket, by Eric Carle, Philomel, $17.95.

Anyone who's read The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Very Busy Spider will know what to expect from Carle. This story of a cricket's struggle to make a sound includes an audio surprise on the last page.

Ages 8 to 12: Just Plain Penny, by Pamela Jane, Houghton Mifflin, $13.95..

Penelope Poppen, bored with small-town life, decides to get some friends together and put on a play. Sound familiar? I couldn't help thinking the author is telling us how eleven-year-old girls are supposed to think and feel, rather than how they actually do. There are some nice surprises here, but they are outweighed by Jane's coyness and her infatuation with exclamation points.

Ages 14 and up: Mote, by Chap Reaver, Delacorte Press, $14.95.

Chap Reaver has the makings of a master storyteller. In his first novel, the graduate of St. Petersburg High School shifts easily from suspense to humor to romance in his story of Chris Miller, a 17-year-old boy whose life is transformed by the murder of his high-school teacher. The police investigation of the murders centers around Mote, a mysterious hobo befriended by Chris and his best friend Billy. Knowning Mote to be innocent, Chris and Billy plunge themselves into the investigation, and into peril when they discover the victim's connection to a racist organization. This isn't Hardy-Boys adventure fluff: The evil they encounter is real, and it hurts.

Mote is not without flaws. The whodunit aspect of the story is its least successful part; I found myself waiting for the final plot twist that never came. Reaver flirts with patronage in his treatment of the black characters, and in his tendency to label all racists as mindless brutes. He also confuses Chris' propensity for violent revenge with heroics, an alarming trend which has seeped into young adult literature from TV movies. For the most part, though, he's achieved a promising debut. Parents should be warned of profanity and strong violence in Mote. It's a book for the mature teen, and the discerning adult.

Michael Maschinot, who lives in Atlanta, writes plays and books for children. His column on children's books will appear monthly on these pages.