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Beaten by a Balloon, by Margaret Mahy illustrated by Jonathan Allen; Viking, $15.99 -- Sam Appleby's father refuses to buy his son any violent toys -- no swords, no water pistols, no laser guns -- but then father and son discover that a balloon, a chocolate cake and a sunflower (and pot) can become weapons when they end up in the middle of a bank robbery. This very silly book offers a new take on the argument over "violent toys" and the madcap illustrations add to the fun.

Little Girl in a Red Dress With Cat and Dog, by Nicholas B.A. Nicholson and Cynthia Von Buhler; Viking, $15.99 -- This charming book was inspired by an 1835 painting at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City by Ammi Phillips, a self-taught artist who traveled to paint portraits of farmers. In this story, the little girl laments that her family is always too busy to pay any attention to her, but then, when the painter shows up, she's the only one with the time to sit for a portrait. The folk art-style paintings are lovely. -- Jean Westmoore

Death of a Peer, Death at the Bar, Overture to Death and Death and the Dancing Footman, by Ngaio Marsh; St. Martin's, $5.50 each -- These brilliant English mystery novels bring back memories of some of the finest in the genre, featuring Police Inspector Roderick Alleyn and his assistant, Inspector Fox. New Zealand-born Marsh, before she died in 1982, was made a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire. -- Ed Kelly