Red, Stop! Green, Go!
By P. D. Eastman
Random House, 14 pp., ages 2-6, $8.99
Who Is Bigger? Who Is Smaller?
Who Has More? Who Has Fewer?
By Caroline Arnold
Charlesbridge, 17 pp., babies and toddlers, $5.95
By Peter H. Reynolds
Candlewick, 32 pp., ages 4-7, $14
A Child's Garden of Verses
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Compiled by Cooper Edens
Chronicle, 20 pp., all ages, $6.95
America the Beautiful
Written by Katharine Lee Bates
Illustrated by Chris Gall
Little, Brown, 32 pp., all ages, $l6.95
P. D. Eastman, contrary to popular myth, was not Dr. Seuss in disguise. He was Philip Dey Eastman, notable writer, illustrator, and producer. He also collaborated with Dr. Seuss on ''The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary." Like Seuss, he wrote lively, simple, child-friendly easy-readers, such as ''Are You My Mother?" and ''Go, Dog, Go!" I learned to read from these books. I owe them the greatest debt. ''Go, Dog, Go!" is here newly reconstituted in an ''interactive book about colors" called ''Red, Stop! Green, Go!"
''Black dog. White dog" with a pull tab becomes, of course, a spotted ''Black and white dog." There are flaps to lift, and cars full of ''yellow, red, green, and blue dogs" to circle ''round and round." There are ''pink, white, and yellow dogs" diving and ''blue, green, and purple dogs under the water." At the book's end there is a pop-up ''big dog party!" The visuals are charming, but the editors have made dull hash of Eastman's prose. Eastman had an unerring ear. He gave the simplest text the pulse of life. ''Red, Stop! Green, Go!" is all pyrotechnics, loosely disguising a book designed to cram children's heads with a number of colors. It could be worse, of course. But it should have been better.
On the other hand, books-as-toys can succeed on their own terms, like two newcomers on the block: Caroline Arnold's ''Who Is Bigger? Who Is Smaller?" and ''Who Has More? Who Has Fewer?" These ingenious concept books fold into their own bright little slipcase. Read them one way, and you move from smaller to bigger, fewer to more. Turn the book around the other way, accordion-style, and everything begins to move the other way again. It's simplicity itself -- no more than a few words on each sturdy page, the weight somewhere between a paper and board book, flexible but not easily destroyed by little hands. Arnold's images are elegantly simple, and the colors are lemon yellow, grass green, violet, sky blue, and sunny gold. The books are child-size, lightweight, and, thanks to the slipcover, easily portable. They're a perfect choice for cribs, car seats, and strollers.
Peter H. Reynolds's ''The Dot" stays, just barely, but happily, this side of the sentimental. Of course one cannot accomplish much of anything in art without some sentiment. Vashti sits ''glued to her chair" in front of a dead-empty piece of drawing paper. Pressed by her art teacher, she ''gave the paper a good, strong jab" and creates -- a dot. The teacher asks her to sign it. Next week, to Vashti's surprise, her dot is nicely ''framed in swirly gold," which inspires her to improve and expand her dot-making technique. By the time the school art show rolls around, Vashti has created ''quite a splash" with her many dot paintings. Even better, she passes the secret along to the next child who sighs ''I can't draw a straight line with a ruler." This is a charming fable about faith and art. Reynolds's drawings have just the right lightness and whimsy to keep it all afloat in a cartoony watercolor-washed world.
I do not know a better very-first book of poems than Robert Louis Stevenson's justly famous ''A Child's Garden of Verses." Stevenson, author of ''The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," exercised his gentlest genius on these poems, and many of the verses have become nursery-room classics. The esteemed artist and children's book maker Cooper Edens has collected some best-known poems from that collection, including ''My Shadow" (''I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me") and ''The Swing" (''How do you like to go up in a swing/Up in the air so blue?"), along with several of the finest illustrators who ever put their hand to illustrate the verse: Jessie Willcox Smith and others in the soft, lustrous English-country-garden tradition.
His edition is a board book, small, rectangular, and sturdy. The illustrations are lusciously reproduced, the choice of poems judicious. Some favorites are excluded from this small selection, but one may hope for future volumes. ''A Child's Garden of Verses" is surely worth a whole bouquet of board books.
I hate our national anthem. Given the trend of American politics, this opinion falls somewhere bewteeen blasphemy and treason, but even as a child I felt uneasy singing about ''the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air." By contrast, Katharine Lee Bates's ''America the Beautiful" is a glorious celebration of a land ''from sea to shining sea" and a people ''who more than self their country loved/And mercy more than life!" Bates wrote the poem in l893, after seeing America's beauty from high atop Colorado's Pikes Peak. The poem was published for the first time, the introduction tells us, ''in a weekly Boston church publication." The rest, as they say, is history. ''America the Beautiful" is the people's national anthem.
I can't imagine a finer rendition than this one by Chris Gall, in colors that beam intensity and breadth into each full-page image. Gall's art is like Rockwell Kent's, large-scale and heroic. Gall gives us the full sweep of Bates's American vision, from a red-striped lighthouse in Maine, to sunny Pikes Peak, to the firefighters on Sept. 11 hoisting a flag from the rubble; from a window washer atop the Chrysler Building in Manhattan, to a snowy village, to a newly arrived immigrant child. The verse and art are exquisitely matched; one would expect no less of Bates's own great-great-grandnephew.
Liz Rosenberg's newest book for young readers is ''I Just Hope It's Lethal," an anthology of poems about madness and sanity forthcoming this year from Houghton Mifflin.