THE TERRIBLE PLOP, by Ursula Dubosarsky, pictures by Andrew Joyner. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15.99. Ages 3-6.
Little kids really get a bang out of chaos and hysteria that can, eventually, be tamed; it's one of the ways they teach themselves to calm down and take control of their behavior. "The Terrible Plop" is a wonderful addition to the genre that includes Peggy Rathmann's classic hamster ruckus, "10 Minutes Till Bedtime."
Six rabbits are enjoying carrots and chocolate cake when a gentle breeze dislodges an apple from a nearby tree. The PLOP of the apple falling into the lake sets off a general panic, for as the rabbits flee, they alarm everyone they pass, in the manner of Henny Penny. The book's charm comes from its bouncy rhymes, which approach the perfect simplicity of Dr. Seuss: "They do not stay. / They do not stop. / They run run run / From the Terrible PLOP."
Even the big, strong brown bear, first seen reclining in a beach chair, flees after briefly making a stand. The tiniest rabbit is the one who finally sees the truth: "All this running / Should really stop. . . . / Who's afraid / Of a silly old PLOP?"
APPLESAUCE SEASON, by Eden Ross Lipson, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Roaring Brook Press, $17.99. Ages 4-8.
Eden Ross Lipson's book is about one of the simple things that give life flavor: a food the entire family is devoted to. "Applesauce season," explains the narrator, "starts just about the time school opens, when it is still hot and summery but vacation is over." There's the pleasure of going to the farmers' market and scouting the different types of apples; a real connoisseur knows which apples turn up when - that's why applesauce tastes different as the season progresses. Readers learn every nuance of making the delicious stuff, along with ways to eat it (besides just slurping it out of the pot as it cools). The book concludes, naturally, with a recipe.
The brilliant illustrations are by Mordicai Gerstein, one of the greats in children's book writing and illustration. The shadings of color on the apples are worthy of Cezanne - just check out the gorgeous endpapers - but even the mush of applesauce cooking in the pot has a lovely rose-melting-to-beige swirl. The family scenes are, by turns, raucous and cozy. On the pages where they correct the seasoning ("Then I put some of the cinnamon sugar into the apples. . . . Mom puts in a little slice of butter . . . and Grandma adds a tiny bit of salt"), the intensity of their focus is palpable. The angle of Dad's shoulders as he squeezes between everyone to reach in with his spoon is one of those brilliant details in a children's book that conveys the warmth of family.
Lipson, who died in May, was the longtime children's book editor at The New York Times.
14 COWS FOR AMERICA, by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. Peachtree Publishers, $17.95. Ages 6-10.
Rarely do books for children address the bridging of cultural differences on a grand scale. "14 Cows for America" is the story of Kimeli Naiyomah, a Maasai tribesman and medical student at Stanford University who happened to be visiting the United Nations in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. When he returns to Kenya on a trip, he tells his village about the unthinkable destruction he witnessed: "There is a terrible stillness in the air as the tale unfolds. With growing disbelief, men, women and children listen. Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron? Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?"
For the Maasai, fierce warriors and herdsmen, "the cow is life," and at the end of his story, Kimeli asks the elders' permission to give his only cow as a gift to the people who have suffered so much. By the time the local American diplomat comes by invitation to the remote village for the presentation ceremony, the gift has increased to 14 cows, for "there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort."
To hear another's grief and to respond with the heart is surely one of the great expressions of our humanity. Americans are often moved to donate money to causes that touch our hearts; this book tells that story in a different way.