The Strength of Belief : TOUCH THE MOON by Marion Dane Bauer; drawings by Alix Berenzy (Clarion Books: $11.95; 77 pp.; ages 9-12)

The first scene in "Touch the Moon" captures a pain every kid has experienced: crushed expectations. Jennifer has dreamed all her life about owning her own horse, and now, on her 11th birthday, she is ready to be surprised with this gift of gifts. But when her palomino turns out to be merely a china figurine, she runs outside to hide, devastated and humiliated that she'd been so sure of something that wasn't.

She broods high up in a spruce tree, and when she throws the figurine to the ground, instead of a crash, "a swirling golden mist" produces a real stallion. Not only does he talk but he's cranky, conceited and as cynical as Mr. Ed. Reluctantly, he lets her ride him, and off they gallop into the night, invisible to calling parents.

This lighthearted fantasy is a switch from the realism of Bauer's Newberry Honor Book (1987), "On My Honor," which explored the guilt a boy feels after his best friend drowns. Here Jennifer wonders, "Did believing make something real?" and when her father lets her in on a secret of his own, she learns a deeper meaning of "to dream." Alix Berenzy's charcoal drawings evoke the mystery of this late-night adventure.

HIDDEN TREASURE by Pamela Allen (Putnam Publishing Group: $13.95; 32 pp.; ages 3-6). The Australian artist/author of the uproarious "Who Sank the Boat?" gives us a new picture book about the perils of seeking material wealth. With subtle simplicity she tells the tale of two brothers who live together, work together and fish together. They are happy with their friendship until the fateful day their net hauls in a treasure chest, and they begin to quarrel like enemies. Herbert escapes with the chest and exiles himself inside a mountain where no one will ever find him. Meanwhile, years pass, and Harry, though a pauper, has lived contentedly, surrounded by the love of his family. Perfect for kids who feel they didn't open enough Christmas presents.

YANOSH'S ISLAND by Yossi Abalofia (Greenwillow: $11.95; 32 pp.; ages 5-8). In a humorous tribute to inventors, youngsters meet old Yanosh, the fix-it man who lives on the beach in a house full of pleasant clutter. He is so absent-minded that when Vicky and David bring him a broken toy, Yanosh instead uses it to repair his airplane so he can search for the paradise island he believes lies just beyond the horizon. His search brings him closer to home than he'd planned, and after being rescued by Vicky and David, he realizes that accomplishments don't have to be monumental, and there are many ways to pursue a dream. Abolafia's color illustrations are as delightful as the ones he did for Jack Prelutsky's "My Parents Think I'm Sleeping."

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