June 07, 1999 12:00 PM

by Harold Darling

This coffee-table book—albeit one for smallish coffee tables—is a charming diversion. Darling, a children’s-book collector, has amassed 250 examples ranging from the blank cover for Rev. George Crabbe’s book Poems in 1809, when covers existed mostly to hold pages together, to Polly Bolian’s melodramatic drawings for the Nancy Drew mysteries in 1959. Darling’s text is enlightening, too. He notes, for instance, that Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) drew his cover characters so that they made eye contact with readers, giving us “the sense that they know us and that we are part of the experience.” Partisans of such modern illustrators as Gyo Fujikawa (Babies) may question Darling’s emphasis on older works even in a chapter that covers various versions of a book (such as Alice in Wonderland), but any parent who has ever picked out a volume for a child should take much delight in this colorful publication. (Chronicle, $22.95)

Bottom Line: Pleasing collection for children’s-book lovers

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