NOODLES: AN ENRICHED POP-UP PRODUCT, by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by David A. Carter (HarperFestival, $15.95).
This is a rare product: a novelty item that doesn't rest on gimmickry, but balances artistic and literary content with eye-popping surprises. The concept is so absurd as to guarantee a wonderful time for all: a batch of Italian pasta noodles performing as a 3-D circus. The macaroni shoots himself from a canneloni cannon; the gemelli does a hula dance; there are spaghetti jugglers and manicotti musclemen. It's a special treat to watch green-tongued Brownie von Ziti chomping down a batch of flaming fusilli. The performance, garnished with saucy rhymes, is a hearty feast. Ages 3-8
MADAME LAGRANDE AND HER HIGH, TO THE SKY, UPROARIOUS POMPADOUR, by Candace Fleming, illustrated by S. D. Schindler (Knopf, $15).
When Madame LaGrande, the slave to fashion from pre-Revolutionary Paris, hears about the new pompadour hairstyles, she rushes to get the biggest and best to flaunt before the king. Her ceiling-scraping monstrosity soon attracts neighborhood pigeons, cats, poodles and even the king himself in a suitably histrionic finale at the Grand Opera. The light, almost Seussian style of illustration and alliterative prose are perfectly suited to the comic atmosphere. The story's length, theme and complexity may not recommend it to the younger reader, but it will reward those just beginning to struggle with keeping up with the latest fads. Ages 5-8
BRAVE MARTHA AND THE DRAGON, by Susan L. Roth (Dial, $14.99).
More a minimystery than a myth of early Christianity, this book retells the legend of St. Martha, who after witnessing her brother Lazarus rise from the dead, supposedly went to Tarascon, France, and tamed a dragon that terrorized the village. Martha arrives on the scene as a young girl, tall, thin and barefoot. She befriends a baker's family and Naughty Bernard, a boy who eventually brings her good deeds to light. Roth presents Martha as a brave female role model rather than a religious icon. The colorful collages sacrifice both the dragon's horror and Martha's spirituality for a touch of spice and dash, making the story accessible to young readers and non-Christian households. Ages 4-8
THE BIGGEST FROG IN AUSTRALIA, by Susan L. Roth (Simon & Schuster, $15).
It's a very successful and globe-hopping month for Roth, who moves from the mythical France of Brave Martha to the Australian dream time. Here she achieves startling collage images that beautifully enhance a comic aboriginal folktale. The colors, textures and layout of her illustrations place us smack-dab in the outback. The frog is a huge red monstrosity whose bulk won't fit the two-page spread. When he drinks up all the water (rendered by a delicious marbling effect), the other animals must think of ways to make him laugh so it will spill from his mouth. Kookaburra tells a lame joke, Kangaroo does jumping tricks and Koala waddles ridiculously to no avail. The same warmth and vitality that inhabit Brave Martha work here for a more comic effect. Ages 4-8
Michael Maschinot's children's column appears monthly.