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Originally published Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Kids' tales that will warm hearts and chill spines

Sweet and scary books for kids this fall include Caldecott winner Kevin Henkes's tribute to an old bear; Kenmore author Kirby Larson's story of two pet friends who survive Hurricane Katrina; and "Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf," a Londonesque adventure from Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, the author-illustrator team that created "The Edge Chronicles."

Special to The Seattle Times

Fall brings several sweets — and a few frights — for young readers.

• Caldecott winner Kevin Henkes ("Kitten's First Full Moon," "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse") is one of this reviewer's favorite picture-book authors. His latest, "Old Bear" (Greenwillow Books, 32 pp. $17.99, ages 2-6), doesn't disappoint. It's a fanciful introduction to the seasons, as a bear dreams about napping in a giant pink crocus during spring and watching a blueberry rainstorm in the summer. The illustrations are as vivid as the text is lean.

It's unclear exactly what sort of creature Growl is (monster? dinosaur? dragon?) but readers will want to hug the adorable star of Judy Horacek's "The Story of Growl" (Kane/Miller, 32 pp., $15.95, ages 3-7) despite all her pointy teeth. Growl likes to growl all day, every day, until the noise disturbs her neighbors' tea. When the police prohibit growling, the sad critter isn't sure what to do with herself. The resolution won't win any surprise awards, but Growl could not be cuter.

• The creatures in Meg Rosoff's "Wild Boars Cook" (Books for Young Readers, 40 pp., $16.95, ages 3-7) are unapologetically "bossy and selfish and stinky and HUNGRY." Sophie Blackall's gleeful illustrations (one boar piles doughnuts on every limb — and tail) perfectly match Rosoff's humorous text. When Doris (a boar) suggests adding broccoli to the boars' culinary masterpiece, a Massive Pudding, "Everybody stops and stares. 'Sorry,' said Doris." A squid, however, makes the cut.

• Hurricane Katrina seems an unlikely topic for an uplifting picture book, but Kenmore author Kirby Larson (Newbery Honor winner for the book "Hattie Big Sky") dramatizes the true story of a cat and dog that lived through the natural disaster and its aftermath. Co-written by Mary Nethery and illustrated by Jean Cassels, "Two Bobbies" (Walker & Company, 32 pp., $16.99, ages 4-9) follows two unrescued pets as they wander the devastated city for months before ending up at a shelter. An unexpected twist makes the animal's touching friendship and survival even more astonishing.

• Young chapter-book readers will wish they could find an egg that hatches into an endearing magical being like Emmy, the titular resident of Kate Klimo's "The Dragon in the Sock Drawer" (Random House, 159 pp., $14.99, ages 7-10). The green dragon likes to cuddle with a purple knee sock, munches on vegetables and talks (in her unique way): " 'Foood?' cooed Emmy hopefully. 'For. Em. Meeee.' " Ten-year-old cousins Daisy and Jesse must learn how to care for their new baby and protect her from the evil dragon-slayer Saint George.

• Illustrator Chris Riddell's ink drawings are black-and-white — whew! — or his sinister werewolves would prompt even more nightmares for readers of Paul Stewart's newest series, "Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf" (David Fickling Books, 205 pp., $15.99, ages 9-12). Barnaby is a messenger in a Victorian London-like city. This "tick-tock lad" knows how to travel fast by "highstacking," or leaping from roof to roof "with the arrogant agility of a courting tomcat." Instead of meeting Dick Van Dyke with his chimney sweeps, Barnaby runs into a fiendish dog that tries to kill him. Anyone familiar with "101 Dalmatians" will anticipate the novel's climax, but Stewart and Riddell (the team behind "The Edge Chronicles") are assured storytellers. Sensitive readers might be disturbed by some gory deaths (and those creepy drawings).

• Bellingham author Royce Buckingham ("Demonkeeper") targets Artemis Fowl fans with his fast-paced "Goblins! An UnderEarth Adventure" (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 240 pp., $16.99, ages 10-13). Teens Sam and PJ catch a goblin and discover a hidden passage to an underground world where a small band of humans battles goblin hordes. With giant bugs, a smart-aleck hero and a goblin named General Eww-yuk, the novel packs its sometimes-violent action in with a tongue fully in cheek. As the not-so-bright goblin Slurp notes, "It was like the old goblin saying: 'The rocks will outlive we beasts who think too much.' The saying had originally been simply 'Argggh,' but using the human language had made it longer and more complicated."

Former Seattle Times staff reporter Stephanie Dunnewind is a graduate student in library science at the University of Washington.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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