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Originally published Friday, January 7, 2011 at 7:01 PM

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Medalists produce two instant children's book classics

Kids' books: New books from award winners John Burningham, Helen Oxenbury and Shirley Hughes.

Scripps Howard News Service

Three of the world's best picture-book creators — John Burningham, Helen Oxenbury and Shirley Hughes — have recently published new books.

This is cause for celebration, as Burningham has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal (the British equivalent of the Caldecott Medal), and Oxenbury and Hughes have each won it once. And in 2007, Hughes' Kate Greenaway Medal winner, "Dogger," was voted by United Kingdom readers as their favorite of all the medal winners.

So these three obviously know how to create wonderful picture books, and their latest books offer further proof of that talent. Let's take a closer look:

Lily's mom wakes up sick one day, and her dad needs to go to work. So, before he heads to the office, Dad calls a neighbor who agrees to care for Lily. But Lily, like all preschoolers, has a different idea, as Hughes details in "Don't Want to Go!" (Candlewick Press, $16.99).

Just one look at the expressive cover — a pouting Lily who seems about to explode into a tantrum — will give you a sense of Hughes' story. Yes, the focus of this tale is definitely on a little one firmly planted in the "no" phase.

But Hughes brilliantly transforms the emotional tug of war between Lily and the grown-ups into a high adventure, as Lily reluctantly discovers the many delights of her neighbor Melanie's house, including a baby named Sam and a rambunctious dog named Bobbo. Things get even more fun when everyone goes to pick up Jack, Melanie's older son, from school. By the time Lily's dad comes to pick her up, she's got only one thing to say to him: "Don't want to go!"

Young readers will delight in Hughes' story, as she shows the drama inherent in their daily lives. Adults who live with stubborn preschoolers also will appreciate the way that Hughes shows that it can be fun to try something new.

As always, Hughes' artwork — done in bright gouache, a type of watercolor — is both illuminating and humorous. Hughes truly has a gift for capturing life with children, from messy houses to the dramatic emotional ups and downs of each day.

If you haven't discovered Hughes yet, "Don't Want to Go!" is a perfect place to start. But don't overlook her earlier picture books, especially the quartet of books about a 4-year-old named Alfie, her "Trotter Street" books and, of course, her masterpiece, "Dogger."

Separately, Burningham and Oxenbury have created a number of classic picture books. Burningham has written and illustrated such books as "Mr. Gumpy's Outing," "Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present," "Grandpa"and "It's a Secret," while Oxenbury has illustrated such books as "Farmer Duck," "It's My Birthday"and "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes."

While Burningham and Oxenbury have been married for many years, they had never collaborated on a book until the newly published "There's Going to be a Baby" (Candlewick Press, $16.99). Burningham wrote the text, while Oxenbury did the illustrations. The result is an instant classic.

In his story, Burningham perfectly catches, in a stream-of-consciousness mode, the mixed feelings of a toddler whose mother is pregnant with her second child. As the book opens, the mother is just barely pregnant, but her son is bursting with questions and hopes for the baby.

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When the little boy asks just what the baby will do, his mother answers that maybe he'll grow up to be a chef. That sets the scene for Oxenbury to offer a wordless, two-page spread of hilarious illustrations, done in comic-book panels, showing the baby, attired in a chef's hat and apron, making and then flipping pancakes, which end on his head or the floor.

And so it goes through the months, with the mother growing more pregnant and speculating with her son about the careers the baby might eventually take up: artist, sailor, doctor, etc. For each one, Oxenbury humorously depicts a baby's take on these jobs; for example, she shows the artist baby happily splattering paint all over the walls or the banker baby throwing gold coins in the air.

But there's also lots of depth to Burningham's gently realistic text. Sometimes the little boy is happy at the thought of this interloper, while at other times he's fearful or angry, saying at one point: "We don't really need the baby, do we?" By the end of the book, however, he's reconciled to the idea and excited to meet his new sibling. In true Burningham style, however, we never learn whether it's a boy or a girl; readers are left to decide for themselves.

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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