PICKING BONES FROM ASH, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett. Graywolf Press, 284 pp., $24.

Some fiction makes the world a little smaller. In this debut novel, a little girl grows up in a small Japanese village with her mother. The other women in the village are suspicious of the mother's beauty; they ban her from the public bath. But the daughter is a talented piano player and this earns the little family some respect.

The mother tells her daughter that she is a moon princess. She warns her about the forest demons. She teaches her about elegance and objects: "Given a choice between two kinds of tea bowls - a gaudy and greenish Kutani teacup or a wabi-sabi style Shino - she would always choose the latter." The girl grows up, goes to Paris, has an American daughter. The past becomes a kind of fable, but the objects, her mother's aesthetic taste, make her an excellent authenticator of Asian antiquities. The ghosts of her ancestors appear at night - mysterious women in red and silver kimonos; many-armed deities. The novel, so firmly anchored in a sensuous reality, veers into a dream world. A reader has the sense that even the author was driven by her most powerful character: the original mother, raising her daughter alone, shunned by villagers, forced to make decisions that haunt her descendants.

BADDIES, by David Stromberg. Melville House, 128 pp., $12.95 paper.

It's worth wondering why certain drawings really appeal to you. For example, why do I love the hand with one finger pulling the tab and the caption that reads: "Jossip is going to pull the tab, which is going to destroy every deli on his block"? Or the loopy figure of the astronaut and the caption: "Cosmonaut Oleg Grandolovichsky has opted not to return to the shuttle"? Or (a special favorite): "Lottie plans to swim far beyond the other end of the pool." In "Baddies," David Stromberg has created a cozy little planet of alter egos and parallel lives, urban marginals with vaguely Eastern European names. The drawings are a cross between George Grosz and Gahan Wilson, with a touch of "Beavis & Butt-Head." The humor is Roz Chast; dry commentary on inside-out characters. Fantastic.

THE CHAIN LETTER OF THE SOUL: New and Selected Poems, by Bill Holm. Milkweed Editions, 200 pp., $18 paper.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Bill Holm died this spring at 65, leaving three books of poetry and six of prose. This posthumously published collection adds a hundred new poems to his published work.

"For it is life we want," he is quoted in the frontispiece. "We want the world, the whole beautiful world, alive - and we alive in it. That is the actual god we long for and seek, yet we have already found it, if we open our senses, our whole bodies, thus our souls. That is why I have written and intend to continue until someone among you takes up the happy work of keeping the chain letter of the soul moving along into whatever future will come."

The poems are full of Holm's favorite places and details: box elder bugs, weathered barns and houses, his cottage in Iceland, windows, the sea, frozen earth. The book's briefest poem (presumably for his beloved bugs), is called "How They Die": "They dry up, / turn into light."

SINGING FOR MRS. PETTIGREW: Stories and Essays From a Writing Life, by Michael Morpurgo. Candlewick Press, 265 pp., $18.99.

Michael Morpurgo has been writing prizewinning children's books for decades, including "The Wreck of the Zanzibar" and "The Mozart Question," to name a few. His stories are full of unicorns, polar bears, giants and solitary violinists. His landscapes re-create the world of the Impressionist painters; the secret gardens and the picnics by the river. Where has that world gone?

In this collection, Morpurgo alternates stories with essays on his writing life, the memories that inform his tales; homesickness for his childhood home on the Essex coast, how school threatened his love of reading, how being a father and a teacher helped him find his voice. "I didn't live this life in order to write stories. . .but without its joys and its pain, its highs and its lows, I would have precious little to write about and probably no desire to write anyway."

"A lark rose then from the grass below the seawall," he writes in the title story, "rising, rising, singing, singing. I watched it disappear into the blue, still singing, singing for Mrs. Pettigrew."