Dear Ellen Bee, A Civil War Scrapbook of Two Union Spies by Mary E. Lyons and Muriel M. Branch (Atheneum, $17). This handsome book, patterned after scrapbooks of the Civil War era, offers a fascinating fictionalized account of the true relationship between two Southern spies for the Union cause: Elizabeth Van Lew (Miss Bet), a wealthy white resident of Richmond, Va., and Mary Elizabeth Bowser (Liza), the daughter of a freed slave of the Van Lew family. The letters cover a period of several years, from 1856, when Liza left for Philadelphia to attend the Quaker School for Free Negroes, through the war years when Liza posed as a slave in the household of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. An epilogue describes what happened to both Miss Bet and Liza after the war. The book is both historic and personal, with interesting details about the very different lives and outlook of both women, both devoted to the cause of freedom. The many illustrations were inspired by Southern scrapbooks that often contained calling cards, leaves, poems, etc. Among them are Liza's freedom paper, based on a real certificate of emancipation, her report card and a photograph of Miss Van Lew. It's recommended for readers 10 to 14.
Sacred Places by Philemon Sturges, illustrations by Giles Laroche (Putnam, $16.99). Laroche's sumptuous cut-paper illustrations offer a wondrous three-dimensional effect, whether he is depicting the radiant beauty of the stained glass in the great round window of Saint Denis, men in black praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem or a colorful and busy panorama of pilgrims bathing in the River Ganges. Sturges covers the basic tenets of the world's five major religions and then offers concise but interesting information about each sacred place depicted in the illustrations. The two previously collaborated on the marvelous "Bridges Are to Cross" in 1998.
Mac Side Up by Bob Elsdale (Dutton, $15.99). They say curiosity killed the cat, but the curious cat of Elsdale's very funny picture book survives his experiment testing this proposition: Why does toast always land the wrong way up, but cats always land the right way up? A page at the end shows how computers were used to combine individual photos to create the illusion of a cat flying on a piece of toast, etc.
-- Jean Westmoore