The Legend of the Golden Snail, written and illustrated by Graeme Base, Abrams Books, $19.95, ages 4-8, 48 pages. A plucky lad named Wilbur sets sail on a wooden chair to find a giant snail from his favorite bedtime story in this grand and wondrous tale. According to the legend, a Grand Enchanter once cast a spell on a giant Golden Snail that turned it into a ship and forced it to take him wherever he wanted to go. But when the enchanter tired of life, he banished the Golden Snail to the Ends of the Earth so no one else could ride in it. Now, whoever finds the golden galleon must utter a magic verse if he wishes to master over it too. Wilbur can think of nothing more exciting than to be the next Grand Enchanter, so he sets off, with his tabby as his mate, to fulfill his dream. As Wilbur pretends to turn his boat to the wind in his living room, his chair becomes a skiff and the room around him, wide-open seas. Fitted with a captain's hat his mother sewed, Wilbur recites the spell and bravely heads off into the unknown, equipped only with a watering can, a broom, scissors and a corkscrew.
Before long Wilbur stumbles upon fantastical creatures that are in trouble and, trying to be heroic, comes to their aid. First he waters a wilted bush of blossoming butterflies, then frees a crab the size of an island from a net, and next, saves a school of light bulb fish from marauding earwig pirates. Still, the boy doesn't feel very grand, and the snail is nowhere to be seen. But as Wilbur drifts into treacherous waters toward World's End, he discovers that he'd much rather be a Gallant Captain than someone who chains down another creature. Majestic in size (the book is over a foot tall and nearly 11 inches wide), Base's story looks like it was cast from magic. Epic, lush paintings capture the boy's larger-than-life imagination and by book's end have you soaring vicariously through clouds.
Dust Devil, by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 5-9, 48 pages. That feisty, tornado-wielding gal who outgrew the state of Tennessee in the Caldecott Honor-winning book Swamp Angel settles into her new home, the expansive state of Montana, and makes a few adjustments to the terrain that will have historians laughing themselves silly. In this much-anticipated followup, the ferociously determined Angelica Longrider, nicknamed Swamp Angel, makes her home in Big Sky Country as only a spunky giant can. Isaac once again hornswoggles us to great effect, with cleverly imagined tales of how Montana's pioneer days came about. At first, the Tennessee woodswoman is homesick, and complains that Montana is flatter than a flapjack in a frying pan, and as a result, the sun is waking her too early. So, Angel grabs an armful of mountains from the Rockies (for herself and her neighbors) and plunks them down on the prairie for some morning shade. Now she's ready to farm, but Montana soil is rich and soon the corn is growing so big and fast that cows are being shot up into the air with it. Not to worry, the cows eventually find a way down, but not before raining milk by the bucket. Now all this scrappy gal needs is a horse. But first Swamp Angel will have to tame the worst dust storm ever to hit Montana. The storm has stripped the prairie of crops and turned Aunt Essie Bell's biscuits into rocks and now it's doing something very strange. It's sucking up food from Angel's barn through a funnel of swirling dust. That's when Angel gets suspicious of what's really going on and jumps on its back to break it. As she digs her heels into the ground to reign in the bucking blast, her feet scrap out a long, winding ditch that we now call the Grand Canyon. Soon the storm clears, revealing what was behind the storm: a horse big enough to carry her. And just in time. The state is being terrorized by Backward Bart, a big outlaw with hands the size of shovels, and his mosquito-riding desperadoes. State law says you have to be a man to join a posse, but is there still a way for Swamp Angel to stop the outlaws and maybe shape the Sawtooth Range or a few geysers along the way? As clever and fun as ever, Isaac's tall tale will have readers itching to dream big.