THE LAUGH BOOK: A NEW TREASURY OF HUMOR FOR CHILDREN, compiled by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson; drawings by Marilyn Hafner (Doubleday: $14.95; 320 pp.; ages 7-11). "Laugh yourself into stitches," Maria says in "The Twelfth Night," and that is exactly what the editors must have done as they planned this marvelous book. They've selected the best limericks, riddles, tongue twisters, silly songs and groaners ever heard via playground or car pool. Excerpts from such contemporary authors as Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume round out classic poems and folktales. And what makes this volume additionally welcome are Hafner's delightful line drawings, so many, in fact, that I lost track counting.

Everything is done with the funny bone in mind, from the introduction (none, since "no kid ever reads it") right to the end where 1986 Newberry winner Sid Fleishman shares McProverbs: "When success goes to someone's head, it generally finds nothing there." Tricks, games and puzzles will liven up birthday parties. There are Tom Swifties--"Let's go to the rodeo, Tom said hoarsely."--and Spook riddles--"Q: What do sea monsters eat? A: Fish and ships." Remember "Mairzy Doats" and "Jabberwocky"?

The publisher lists this for ages 7 to 11, but that range can stretch. I laughed shamelessly at the elephant jokes, remembering when they and Chum Gum were high school fads. Adults will surely enjoy Roald Dahl's "The Twits," as well as "Showing Off in Sunday School," a treat from Mark Twain. On the younger end, preschoolers will adore the silly rhymes and the illustrations. Our 4-year-old doubled over with the knock-knock jokes and, alas, has been inspired to make up hundreds of his own.

This would be the perfect gift for a child in the hospital, to follow the adage, "Laughter is the best medicine." Come to think of it, the more we can humor ourselves and teach our children to do the same, the healthier the world will be.

SMALL POEMS AGAIN by Valerie Worth, illustrated by Natalie Babbitt (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $8.95; 41 pp.; age 7-up). Spare, delightful poems about everything from giraffes to coat hangers, each accompanied by Babbitt's elegant line drawings.

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