"Mrs. Jane Tabby could not explain why all four of her children had wings ..." Chapter books don't get much classier than Catwings and its three sequels (Orchard/Scholastic, $3.99 each; ages 4 to 8). The fantasies, leisurely narrated by noted author Ursula K. Le Guin, are out in new paperbacks that ooze charm, with dainty pen drawings by S. D. Schindler. In the first adventure our mysterious heroes journey out of the frightening city to safety in the country. In Catwings Return, they visit Mrs. Tabby and adopt her latest winged offspring, while Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings brings in a normal cat who comes to the aid of Jane in Jane on Her Own.
Vintage baseball in 1899 America provides the atmosphere for the new Barnstormers series (Simon & Schuster, $9.99; ages 7 to 10). In Tales of the Travelin' Nine, Game #1, we meet three kids who, still mourning their father's death, set out to help their mother, who is now playing catcher for the Travelin' Nine. The story, by Phil Bildner, conveys mystery and magic (watch the special baseball), aided by Loren Long's old-fashioned and hauntingly beautiful illustrations.
Cutting-edge booklovers will seek out The Neddiad (Houghton Mifflin, $16; ages 10 to 14), a cleverly epic journey across 1940s America, in the tradition of ancient classics like The Aeneid or The Iliad. Subtitled "How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood and Saved Civilization," this is an ambitious experiment by Daniel Pinkwater, children's book pundit for National Public Radio and always innovative author. Before the book, with its 79 short chapters, is published this spring, Pinkwater has been posting installments every Tuesday at theneddiad.com, giving a certain kind of reader a certain kind of thrill.
- Kathleen Krull