Mayer's brief but pretentious preface mentions many related tales ""of the penalties and consequences of power in inexperienced hands""--a second-century Greek version, the various Faust legends, Merlin, Dukas' symphonic poem, Disney, Spenser's Faerie Queen. Then, ""using old tradition as its touchstone,"" she relates her own modern-sounding tale of a nice boy, Alex, who is employed by a fatherly magician, Bleise, to tend his herbs because ""the balance of nature does not take kindly to too much magic without becoming upset."" Much of the story centers on the amusing details of Bleise's magic and his growing affection for Alex. When Alex gets into trouble with a broom in Bleise's absence, he's able to get things under control before the master's return, confesses manfully, and earns the right to begin his more formal lessons in magic. Although Wiesner's carefully wrought illustrations are beautifully designed and meticulously detailed, the text here is a pastiche of half-realized vignettes--like the offstage ""shouting and clamoring"" of the dishes as they wash themselves, a pale echo of a memorably hilarious scene in White's The Sword and the Stone. Despite Wiesner's superior illustrations, Moore's lively picture-book version (p. 1336/C-234) is a better choice from this year's crop.