Christmas is coming, and publishers already are offering new or reissued versions of classics that are good enough to be any child's all-time favorite stories. The books reviewed here, along with a few of Beatrix Potter's, would make a foundation library.
TOM THUMB; Harcourt; $12.95. is the work of Richard Jesse Watson. Watson's version of the old tale about the adventures of a thumb-size child is a vigorous text, and his full-color egg tempera and watercolor illustrations are dramatic and original. The style is meticulously realistic. Every fiber in the giant's striped woolen socks is visible. The reader feels as tiny as Tom.MADELINE and MADELINE'S RESCUE; by Ludwaig Bemelmans; Viking; $13.95 each, now in their 23rd printing, follow 12 little girls and their teacher nun on jaunts around Paris. In the first of these comedies, Madeline undergoes an appendectomy. She falls off a bridge into the Seine in the second and is rescued by a dog. Lithograph illustrations incidentally depict various Parisian monuments.
MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS; Viking; $12.95 is now in its 47th printing. It's Robert McCloskey's deadpan story about a family of ducks hatched in the safety of an island in the Charles River. When they're able, their mother marches them, with the help of a policeman, through traffic to the Boston Public Garden. This book, with McCloskey's funny pastel drawings printed in brown on cream paper, is a model of the picture-book craft.
A LITTLE PRINCESS; by Frances Hodgson Burnett; Godine; $17.95, is a delicious Edwardian melodrama about an English girl, Sara Crewe, who "has the bearing of a child who is of the blood of kings." She needs that bearing, and her saving capacity for private fantasies, when her father leaves her at a boarding school run by Miss Minchin, an evil tyrant.
When Sara's father dies in India and the money stops, Miss Minchin makes Sara one of the starved and wretched servants of her former classmates. None too soon, the happy family next door discovers her true identity and saves her. Graham Rust's soft paintings illustrate Godine's handsome edition, a companion to another novel from the same author, artist and publisher, "The Secret Garden" ($16.95).
Finally, the best news in children's literature:
THE BIG PINOCCHIO; Macmillan; $24.95 is back - the one with illustrations by Attilio Mussino. With colored pictures by the master on every page, it's a steal. This is one of the best children's books ever made.
Yes, Knopf did publish a new translation last year, with Roberto Innocenti's paintings set unmistakably in Italy ($18.95), but those paintings are cold and austere, with a grimness that never varies, and Pinocchio usually a tiny figure seen from a distance.