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A lighthearted tale of friendship and fresh starts

SANDBEAR, by Shen Roddie, illustrated by Jenny Jones (Bloomsbury Children's Books, $15.95, 32 pp)

Here's a lighthearted tale of friendship and fresh starts, with a bit of magic thrown in. Hare creates a Sandbear out of a sand dune, but in his haste he doesn't do a good job. The Sandbear hobbles off on misshapen legs into the forest, where he finds Hare trapped in a hole. He manages to pull Hare out, but the effort turns him into a pile of sand. Inspired by Sandbear's dedication, Hare does a better job on the rebuild. Illustrator Jones lives in Wales, so it's no surprise that her pictures are infused with the warmth of a Welsh countryside. Ages 3-6.

THE TALE OF THE FIREBIRD, by Gennady Spirin (Philomel Books, $16.99, 32 pp)

Look up the word "sumptuous" in the dictionary and you may well find a Spirin illustration. To tell this tale "straight up" as he does, without so much as a wink to its preposterous events or its Freudian undertones, requires complete technical mastery as well as artistic vision. Spirin has both, as evidenced by his four Gold Medals from the Society of Illustrators and four New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year awards. In this version (with a nod to his translator, Tatiana Popova), he cleverly weaves together three Russian fairy tales: "Ivan-Tsarevitch and Gray Wolf," "Baba Yaga" and "Koshchei the Immortal." The effect is to have the fearless hero bounce from one adventure to the next in his search for the elusive Firebird and, ultimately, the Princess Yelena the Beautiful. Among his encounters are a friendly wolf (hurray for friendly wolves in picture books!), the hideous witch Baba Yaga the Wicked, and a sword that he can barely lift (until the sight of the lovely Yelena spurs it to an upright position). Spirin is equally confident rendering a grand Russian palace, a pair of sturdy war horses or an ugly hag. Ages 4-up.

LET THERE BE LIGHT: Poems and Prayers for Repairing the World, compiled and illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben (Dutton Books, $15.99, 32 pp)

To its credit, this book does not mention "in the wake of 9/11" on its jacket flap or in its preface, although that is its unspoken catalyst. The world has always needed repairing and it always will. And while a few prayers and poems may seem like putting a Band-Aid on a compound fracture, it's a good place for a child to start. In keeping with her theme of binding the world together, Zalben includes nondenominational meditations from all continents and all the major religions (as well as a few minor ones). While a few of the selections are old chestnuts (I could have done without Max Ehrmann's "Desiderata"), most are well-chosen. And anyway, it's the art that makes the book work. Her color combinations are surprising, sometimes even odd, yet they are strangely soothing. Ages 5-up.

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

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