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CHILDREN'S BOOKS

Once There Was a Hoodie, by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Paul Hess (Putnam, $15.99)

Okay, so the plot of this book is so obvious that even a 4-year-old can guess the ending. But it made me laugh. The title character, who is given no description in the text, is rendered as a cuddly Seussian monster with a beer-belly. He wanders onto a farm and starts chasing the animals, wondering why they won't play with him, till finally he finds "the one thing that makes a Hoodie truly happy." I won't give it away. Ages 3-6.

The Egg, by M.P. Robertson (Penguin Putnam, $15.99)

That's no chicken egg that George's mother's favorite hen is sitting on _ its 20-foot circumference gives it away. George takes it into his room (nevermind how) and hatches the thing, which turns out to be a dragon. George takes on the role of mother, teaching the hatchling to do dragon things, or at least George's version of them from the books he's read. Perhaps the plot is somewhat predictable, but Robertson's illustrations are special. Their soft, moonlit glow conveys warmth and subtle whimsy. Ages 4-8.

The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White, illustrated by Fred Marcellino (HarperCollins, $16.95)

First issued in 1970, The Trumpet of the Swan cemented E.B. White's reputation as one of the foremost American writers for children. Like Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little before it, it presents a world that is at once straightforward and fantastic _ a world much like the child's world, where the sight of a swan writing on a chalkboard or blowing on a trumpet is no more incomprehensible than the bizarre mating habits of adults. Trumpet, re-issued with handsome new illustrations by Fred Marcellino, depicts both these aspects of White's world.

Louis, a trumpeter swan presumably named after Louis Armstrong, is born mute and must find a way to communicate with the other swans on his Montana lake, particularly a standoffish young female named Serena. Louis' father steals a trumpet for him in a music shop, and though the trumpet becomes his salvation, he realizes that he must redeem his father's honor by repaying the store owner. Through his friendship with a human boy named Sam Beaver, Louis goes to school to learn to write. Sam gets him a job as a counselor at a summer camp, and eventually he flies to Boston and Philadelphia where he becomes a jazz sensation. Louis' encounters with humans and their understated reactions throughout the story are hilarious to adults, though I wonder if children would find them normal.

Ultimately, Trumpet is about a child (represented by the innocent Louis) finding his way through the maze of relationships in the adult world. His single-minded determination is admirable, as he proves himself worthy not only of restoring his father's honor but of winning the girl of his dreams. The book can be read to many different age levels, perhaps leaving out some of the more detailed descriptive passages for younger readers. If you grew up reading White's books, here's a great chance to return to his singular world. Ages 5-up.

Michael Maschinot is a writer who lives in Decatur, Ga.

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