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Comets, Stars, the Moon and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Harcourt Children's Books, $16).

A gifted poet and artist offers a wondrous exploration of the universe, presenting solid science in fluid, lovely and often very funny verse. His poem on Venus ends: "No creatures, No trees, Poisonous clouds/Of acid above/Why was it named for the goddess of love?"). Jupiter is "Jupiterrific." On the demotion of Pluto from planet status, he writes: "Pluto was a planet/But now it doesn't pass. Pluto was a planet. They say it's lacking mass... Pluto was a planet/Pluto was admired. Pluto was a planet/Till one day it got fired." The brightly colored and imaginative abstract illustrations include a statue of Venus against a flaming orange-red planet.


If My Dad Were a Dog by Annabel Tellis (Chicken House/Scholastic, $16.99).

This very funny picture book owes half its laughs to the subversive but affectionate humor of the concept ("we'd go to a dog show; he'd definitely win") and half to the illustrations, colorful paintings featuring droll photos of a black lab, sometimes in spectacles or sunglasses, in various undignified poses, wearing a dog tag that says "Dad."


Whose Chick Are You? by Nancy Tafuri (Greenwillow Books, $16.99). Ages newborn to 5.

This sweet, toddler-friendly take on "The Ugly Duckling" tale offers gorgeous watercolor paintings by a Caldecott Honor artist.


Edenville Owls by Robert B. Parker (Sleuth/Philomel, $17.99).

The author of the best-selling Spenser detective novels, in his first novel for young people, offers what seems to be an eighth-grade version of himself in this mystery set in Massachusetts in 1945. Bobby aspires to be a writer but has the take-no-prisoners, gut-punching instincts of Parker's Spenser character and when he sees a strange man threatening his new teacher outside the school, he starts to investigate. Parker's terse style, his flair for characterization, strong plot and larger-than-life hero will charm young readers.


The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky (illustrated by S.D. Schindler, G.P. Putnam's Sons, $16.99).
Kurlansky again successfully teams up with the gloriously talented S.C. Schindler to transform his adult bestseller into an entertaining and informative picture book. Young readers will be fascinated to learn about the critical role of salt in world history -- and how salt went from scarce commodity to cheap abundance after giant salt deposits were discovered deep in the earth. Schindler's marvelous watercolors add humor (a shepherd gnawing on a bone, Uncle Sam with a giant salt shaker illustrating U.S. dominance as a salt producer).


"Baby's Day," "Let's Play!" (by Michel Blake, photos by Trish Gant, Candlewick Press, $5.99 apiece.) These charming sturdy board books feature black and white photos with splashes of color for each word (a towel, a stuffed bunny, etc.)


The Police Cloud by Christoph Niemann (Schwartz & Wade, $15.99). Ages 3 to 7.

A puffy cloud wishes to be a policeman but discovers he's better suited to a different line of work in this whimsical, pitch-perfect picture book that manages to manufacture a sympathetic protagonist from "a visible mass of condensed water droplets." The brightly colored, simple illustrations are lovely.

-- Jean Westmoore

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