Hastings' succinct retelling of seven of Chaucer's 23 tales is lively, respectful of the originals--and quite satisfactory. Cohen's lengthier version of four of them is outstanding. Chaucer's ""words are best,"" says Cohen in her excellent prologue, but ""almost like a foreign tongue."" So, as she expands in a concluding ""Apologia,"" she has taken liberties, trying to convey his informality and immediacy plus the 14th-century culture that was his setting While she has made substantial cuts and resorted to prose, she has not changed meaning; and she has retained the substantial prologues that so delightfully link the stories to the characters of their tellers: that garrulous, sensible, voluptuous, wise old feminist, the Wife of Bath, with her story based on the precept that women's dearest wish is to rule men; the simple, generous Franklin, with his homely interpolations and innocently egalitarian notions; the slimy Pardoner, who begins his tale with an earthy tirade on sins to avoid and closes with a modern-sounding commercial for his wares. Hyman has provided richly psychological portraits of the tellers (including a gentle rendering of a fellow-illustrator as the sweetly pious Nun's Priest) and a full illustration for each story, all bordered with elegant calligraphic designs and vignettes in gold, plus a gallery of all the pilgrims. The Hastings book includes the same four stories plus the Knight's, Miller's, and Reeve's Tales, pared to their essentials. Cartwright's stylized illustrations are decorative if wooden; while suited to the folkloric quality of the retelling, they lack the wealth of detail and the subtle understanding of character that Hyman brings to her illustration, and that Cohen has preserved from Chaucer. Hastings is more easily read; but by the time kids are ready for the grand, bawdy action of these tales, they should also be ready for the more demanding text.