Men of learning always stay inside,"" says housebound Amal's uncle, hoping to persuade the child that the illness preventing him from playing outside will someday be an advantage. But Areal craves everything about the world beyond, from flowers brought by a village girl to the vistas on Heron Island. Through his window, he talks with passersby, hoping to learn what he is missing. Finally, word comes that the king himself is coming to take Areal for a journey by elephant, and the boy sinks blissfully, painlessly, into sleep--perhaps forever. Here, unfortunately, a contrived, overdone sense of mystery may make young readers feel as claustrophobic as Areal. And Ong's light-drenched paintings--while rooting the tale in its Indian setting--fail to offset the heavy-handed tone of a text taken out of context (The Post Office, a play). Ultimately, the allegory raises far more questions than answers on weighty issues beyond the ken of the picture book audience--like associating book knowledge, imagination, and the life of the mind with the confining indoors, while the real world of experience is all but missing.