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Originally published Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 6:01 AM

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Animals roll out barrels of fun in new picture books

Kids Books: A roundup of new picture books including "And Then It's Spring," "Z Is For Moose," "One Cool Friend," "Extra Yarn" and "Ballerina Swan"

Scripps Howard News Service

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Treat your young reader to one of these great new picture books:

• Zebra's directing a production focused on the alphabet, and he figures it's an easy job. All he has to do is make sure everyone gets onto the stage in the correct alphabetical order. But Zebra has forgotten about his wacky friend Moose, who is so excited that he can't wait his turn and tries to muscle in on Duck, who's representing the letter "D," then jumps into the ice cream for the letter "I" and even pops into a kangaroo's pouch for the letter "K."

But Moose is in for a surprise, as author Kelly Bingham shows in the hilarious "Z Is For Moose" (Greenwillow, $16.99, ages 3-6). Bingham's deceptively simple story will have kids hooting with laughter as they watch Moose try to recover from the fact that it's Mouse — not Moose — who represents the letter "M"in this show. Moose is devastated, but, fortunately, Zebra engineers a happy ending. The illustrations by Paul Zelinsky, who won the 1998 Caldecott Medal — the top award for children's-book artwork — further broaden the comedy, as they underline Moose's tendency to over-dramatize every situation.

• Author Julie Fogliano may be a first-time author, but she already shows a sure mastery of the picture-book form in "And Then It's Spring" (Roaring Brook, $16.99, ages 3-6). Featuring evocative illustrations by 2011 Caldecott Medalist Erin Stead, "And Then It's Spring" highlights the hopes and fears of a young boy as he plants a garden and then waits — and waits — for it to bloom.

Fogliano writes lyrically, using the second person and directly addressing the reader: "First you have brown, / all around you have brown/then there are seeds / and a wish for rain, / and then it rains / and it is still brown / but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown ..." Stead's illustrations, created using woodblock printing techniques and pencil, amplify the wistful beauty of Fogliano's text, while adding small comic touches (check out what the dog is trying to grow in this garden).

Young readers will inevitably clamor to read "And Then It's Spring" again and again, but parents won't mind as they, too, enjoy the thought-provoking text and memorable illustrations.

• At the zoo, Elliott asks his distracted dad for a penguin. "Sure," says his dad, handing his son $20 to purchase a stuffed penguin. But Elliott instead picks the smallest real penguin and stuffs it in his backpack.

In "One Cool Friend" (Dial, $16.99, ages 4-8), author Toni Buzzeo details what happens when Elliott gets home with Magellan, as he's named the penguin. Elliott works hard to keep Magellan out of sight, although his father, still oblivious, doesn't seem to notice when his son creates a skating rink in his bedroom or even when boy and penguin lug home sacks of ice. But Elliott's in for a happy surprise when his dad finally discovers Magellan in the bathtub.

Buzzeo's zany story is matched by the laugh-out-loud illustrations by 2001 Caldecott Medalist David Small. Using a main palette of black and white, Small injects color into his illustrations at crucial points, adding both humor and verve.

• "On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color." So begins the delightful "Extra Yarn" (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $14.99, ages 4-8), written by Mac Barnett and featuring eye-catching illustrations by Jon Klassen.

Annabelle is obviously an inherently industrious young lady, and makes good use of the yarn by knitting herself a sweater. But there's still some extra yarn when she's finished, so she makes a sweater for her dog. And so it goes, with Annabelle eventually knitting sweaters for everyone in town, and then for everything in town, including houses, mailboxes and even cars, filling the once-bleak town with life and color. Yet there's always extra yarn, and this magic attracts the interest of an evil archduke. He steals the box of yarn from Annabelle, but learns, to his dismay, that the magic somehow isn't transferable.

Barnett's quirky text will captivate young readers, as will Klassen's illustrations, which vividly portray how love — and more than a bit of knitting — can bring warmth to a wintry place.

• Sophie may be a swan, but she visualizes herself as a dancer. So when she spies a group of young human dancers inside a studio one day, Sophie waddles up the stairs to join the class. She's deliriously happy until the stern ballet mistress orders her to leave. Still, Sophie is determined to dance, as author Allegra Kent shows in "Ballerina Swan" (Holiday House, $16.95, ages 3-7).

Kent, a former star with the New York City Ballet, tells an entertaining tale of a swan who eventually wins a star spot in a ballet production — "Swan Lake," of course. 1993 Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully's illustrations, done in watercolor and pen-and-ink, amplify Sophie's charm and perseverance.

Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.

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