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Parasite Pig by William Sleator; Dutton, $15.99). Ages 12 and up. This sequel to Sleator's critically acclaimed "Interstellar Pig" is sci-fi at its most inventive -- and terrifying. Our hero Barney posts notices seeking players for his Interstellar Pig board game and soon finds himself traveling through space with his girlfriend, a talking tapeworm and a 7-foot wasp woman toward the planet where the piggy is hidden and where crabs dine on humans and lichens are deadly. Sleator offers compelling characters, humor, suspense and a beautifully crafted alternate universe of creatures that seems entirely believable -- right down to the parasite lodged in Barney's brain. It's an exciting, intelligent fantasy -- but the gross stuff (especially the crabs dining on humans, after they've soaked for days in marinade baths) will not appeal to every taste.

Dahlia by Barbara McClintock (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $16). Ages 3 to 6. McClintock's intricate, pastel illustrations have a beautiful 19th-century look perfectly suited to her quaint story of little Charlotte, who loves mud pies more than dolls and gives very rough treatment to the delicate Dahlia doll an aunt sends her as a gift. And Charlotte finds that Dahlia is tougher than she looks -- and actually seems to enjoy the downhill wagon rides and mud baths.

The Real True Dulcie Campbell by Cynthia DeFelice (pictures by R.W. Alley, Farrar Straus and Giroux), $16. Ages 3 to 7. DeFelice's wry humor and breezy writing style bring life to this amusing tale of a young farm girl who is convinced she is really a princess and that her parents, her annoying brother, even her dog don't really belong to her.