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Thursday, Oct. 7, 2004


"The End of the Beginning," "Change Your Room"

"The End of the Beginning," Avi Harcourt, Dorling Kindersley; 2004; 140 pp.

"Hmmmm," said the ant. "You'll need a lot of questions answered."

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"Might you have the answers?"

"Well," said the ant. "If I don't have a right answer, at least I'll have a wrong one."

"As long as it's an answer," said Avon, "I can use it. You absolutely must come with me."

This early exchange between Avon the snail and Edward the ant sets the tone for "The End of the Beginning," by far one of the wisest books for children I have ever read. The profound little tale is about a small snail and an even smaller ant, setting out in search of adventure and finding little but themselves.

Avon must go on an adventure because the books he reads tell him that adventures are the ultimate thrill. With his new friend, Edward, he heads out toward the end of the branch of the tree they live on.

As journeys go, this one is probably fiction's shortest and most inconsequential. Yet, the duo encounter everything that adventurers must encounter for their journey to qualify as an adventure -- they get tired (from going too slow), they get lost (from not knowing where they're trying to go), and they help hapless creatures (like a worm who has forgotten which end of him is the front and which the back).

Crazy? There's more. This is an adventure marked by what Avon and Edward don't do. They don't meet dragons (because the "dragon" they do meet doesn't know it's a dragon), they don't fight battles, and they don't get to the end.

If you've read Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince" or Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," you'll know soon enough that nothing in the "The End of the Beginning" is to be taken literally. This is a modern fable of our eternal search for answers. So what if they're the wrong ones?

Cut to the chase: This is about two tiny creatures who go from Here to There and find that Here is as good as Anywhere. What makes it unputdownable is the cleverness with which the most uneventful situation is infused with humorous insights about life and living. For a story that's pretty much about, well, nothing, this quirky, witty and entirely original book is a guaranteed cover-to-cover read.

For children of all ages.

"Change Your Room," Jane Bull, Dorling Kindersley; 2004; 96 pp.

Do you still look like you did when you were 3 years old? If you've changed, give me one reason why your room should look the same.

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No money? Not an issue.

No decorators you can afford? Hire yourself.

No idea where to begin? Take heart.

All you need to get your room a fabulous new look is your imagination -- and a copy of Jane Bull's "Change Your Room."

A do-it-yourself dream come true, this book is filled with innovative, inexpensive ideas to transform your room without burning a hole in your father's pocket. Besides, nothing quite beats the feeling of piecing your own room together, bit by bit, and giving it your signature style.

You've probably never done this before, and the author recognizes that. She starts from scratch, cautioning you to draw up a room plan first. Next, she shows you how to make a color wheel, emphasizing that where decor and ambience are concerned, color is everything. Once you've gotten this far, the author shows you how to stack, store, and organize your way to a neat, uncluttered room.

What sets this book apart from any other decorating manual is its emphasis on reusing and recycling what you have. Shoe boxes and cereal cartons convert into storage drawers; a garden trellis makes for a new notice board; bricks become bookends; and bubble wrap is great as a cushion cover (when you're not using it as a printing tool, that is).

The second half of "Change Your Room" concentrates on the finer details -- and this is where the real fun begins.

Turn up the glam quotient of your room by printing patterns on your walls -- who needs new wallpaper? Jazz up your furniture with a paintbrush, masking tape and odds-and-ends. Give your curtains a splash of color by tie-dyeing them.

It goes further: You can customize everything, from doorknobs and photo frames to bookends and lampshades.

Armed with a pot of paint and some tubes of glue, you'll find that everything you see has glitz potential. Not just the usual suspects -- sequins, colored stones and buttons -- but also drinking straws, egg cartons and pasta.

There's something in this for your parents, too. Once they see how economical and creative these ideas are, they should be quite happy to pitch in. They might learn a thing or two themselves: how to tie-dye using buttons, stencil-paint on walls, and use papier-ma^che techniques to turn balloons, yes, balloons, into bowls.

If you enjoy this book, you could try "The Crafty Art Book" next. By the same author, this gives you 50 ideas for perfect gifts that you can make at home. For younger children, there's "My Party Art Class" and "My Christmas Art Class," both by Nellie Shepherd.

Self-help has never been more enjoyable. Try for yourself and see.

For children 10 years and above.

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