Nine charming novellas of an all-American boy, all but one of which appeared individually in paperback in the early 1980's, here offered as a hardcover ""serial novel."" Kraft (Reservations Recommended, 1990; Herb 'n' Lorna, 1988) is a veteran comic writer with an occasional dark touch. Here, he recaptures childhood for all of us, as a time of exploration, flights of the imagination, and sexual confusion. He also captures the smalltown atmosphere of 1950's Long Island, with its innocence and easy living and yet also with its repression. In ""Do Clams Bite?"" Peter Leroy is staying in his father's old room when he discovers photographs of a naked woman whom he slowly comes to realize is May, a friend of his father's still but not his wife; May has never married. To twist the knife, Kraft has May tuck Peter into bed and caress him gently. It's a funny story, full of clamlore, but there's also an underlying terror rather like that in John Knowles. Then there's the man in ""My Mother Takes a Tumble"" who, masquerading as a woman, writes to lonely men--with hilarious results. Most of the pieces are about sexual initiation in one way or another: in ""Life on the Bolotomy,"" otherwise a kind of parodic salute to Mark Twain with its boy's river odyssey, May makes love to Peter's older friend; and in ""The Girl with the White Fur Muff,"" Peter is introduced to female anatomy, if not quite to sex. But the mood is gentle and comic, innocent at heart, in the end far more reminiscent of Booth Tarkington than of John Knowles. Peter stays a child, and in ""The Young Tars""--a sendup of Boy Scouts and 4-H and all those other clubs for youth--he's a boy rather like Penrod or the Tom Sawyer who can talk you into painting his fence. Nine novellas do not quite a novel make, but these are delightful and satisfying stories from a sure stylist, sweet without ever being sentimental.