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Six episodes in the life of small, black, perky Julian--the best of which hinge on nothing more than Cameron's Carolyn-Haywood-like ability to get inside a childlike situation and extract its meaning. First, though, she presents us with two extended bits of adult cleverness. In ""The Pudding Like a Night on the Sea,"" Julian and little brother Huey eat up most of the pudding--the very special lemon pudding that will taste ""like a night on the sea""--that their father has made for their mother; and the ""beating"" and ""whipping"" he threatens them with turns out to be the beating and whipping necessary to make a new batch of pudding. ""Catalog Cats,"" in turn, finds Julian telling a credulous, eager Huey that the garden catalog their father has sent for is a catalog of cats who'll garden--a situation their imperturbable father retrieves by telling the disappointed Huey that catalog cats can't be seen. ""Our Garden,"" thereafter, is a mere vignette. But there's much truth and not a little poignancy in ""Because of Figs""--where Julian strips the leaves from his fast-growing birthday fig tree, so he'll grow fast . . . and thereby stunts the tree's growth Also nice, because the dialogue is so naturally amusing, is ""My First Strange Teeth""--though it does, again, call upon his father's cleverness (Julian is reconciled to having, briefly, ""two right bottom front teeth"" by being told that they're ""special, mastodon-eating, double-biting cave-boy teeth""). But best of all is the advent of new-friend Gloria--who first wins over Julian by not laughing at his copy-cat attempt to do a cartwheel (""It takes practice"") and then showing him how to wish on a kite. And though they're not supposed to tell their wishes, he knows that one of hers matched one of his: that they'd be friends. The unspoken strength of feeling, indeed, puts even the most contrived of these tales across.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1981
Publisher: Pantheon