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Traveling the high seas

For lovers of treasure hunts, ``Fergus and Bridey'' (Holiday House, New York), written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea, offers high-sea adventure and a faithful canine friend. Classic but fresh, too. Written for the three- to seven-year-old, it is a very simple story about a young adventurer named Fergus who, along with his little dog, Bridey, follows an old treasure map they find in a washed-up bottle.

Off they row in their boat, Brun, encountering shark, storm, and ``dog overboard!'' They do, in fact, find a modest but rewarding buried treasure.

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The adventure is one part of the book; but the main theme is the relationship between a boy and his dog friend. The story tries to bring this relationship to light as a kind of reward in itself. Fergus and Bridey's affection for each other will appeal to children with or without pets, and most readers would probably find the book entertaining.

It may not actually have enough substance and ``grabbing'' power, however, to be regarded as excellent children's literature.

Perhaps it is just a bit too precious, too much the author's personal delighting with his own memory of an ocean vacation with his dog, which we are told inspired the story.

The retelling is spare, unpretentious -- yet maybe a little too ``nuts and bolts'' to succeed in touching the reader either with the thrill of the hunt or the abiding love of the boy-dog relationship. We never quite get beyond the author's static snapshot-like recounting into a more moving and lasting reading experience.

Still, there is something admirably elemental and restrained about this story, which spells out its plot in sparse terms. This may well be a big plus for the book as many young readers identify strongly when a tale has been boned to the minimum. It makes grasping the plot easier.

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