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NEW BOOKS: CHILDREN'S SELECTIONS

An Elephant in the Backyard by Richard Sobol (Dutton, $17.99). Ages 3 and up. A photojournalist with a concern for endangered species offers a fascinating look at the domesticated Asian elephants which roam freely through the Thai village of Tha Klang and help earn tourist dollars for its inhabitants. This fascinating, simply written book is framed as the story of one particular elephant, four-year-old Wan Pen, who belongs to one family, attends school daily for training and is so tame she plays soccer with the village children.

Sky by Roderick Townley (Atheneum, $16.95, 265 pages). Ages 12 and up. A 15-year-old boy in New York City can't seem to speak for himself, after his mother dies, but slowly finds his voice through his close friends and his love of jazz piano. Townley offers a stereotyped character in Alec's overbearing father, but readers will cheer at Alec Schuyler's eventual declaration of independence.

John Philip Duck by Patricia Polacco (Philomel, $16.99). Ages 4 to 8. A stay at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis inspired the celebrated author-illustrator to create this charming picture book about the hotel's tradition of ducks swimming in the fountain in the hotel lobby. Loosely based on the facts, the story comes up with an explanation for the very first duck to do this -- the pet of a young African-American boy who worked at the hotel with his father during the Depression. Polacco's expressive illustrations bring to life the atmosphere of this grand hotel and the interesting characters who worked there.