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Adventures to remember

QUICK now - what was your favorite book as a child, and why? Did you love ``Winnie the Pooh'' for the sharing it taught - or because you never tired of visualizing Pooh Bear pretending to be a small black rain cloud, with all those bothersome bees buzzing about? Did you read ``The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew'' under the covers at night because it was about family togetherness - or because you wanted to savor the smells and sounds of an old-fashioned Christmas?

Very often it's the details we remember best - the vivid evocations of time and place and character - that made our favorite books so real and believable, that gave them staying power.

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A preview of this fall's new titles for children indicates there will be writing rich in detail. They come from both well-known and first-time authors, representing a number of popular genres: high fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction and humor, mystery and survival tales, as well as picture books.

One bold newcomer to children's publishing features a list that's strong on all counts. In its remarkable debut, Orchard Books, a division of Franklin Watts Inc. of New York, is a microcosm of the best that's to come this season. Three intriguing titles prove the point.

Newbery Medalist Paula Fox, author of ``The Slave Dancer,'' ``Blowfish Live in the Sea,'' and ``The Stone-Faced Boy,'' is known for her sensitive portrayals of youngsters' often conflicting emotions.

In her first book for Orchard, Lily and the Lost Boy ($12.95, 160 pages, ages 11 to 13), Fox explores the jealousies that can crop up between an older brother and adoring younger sister, and also the idealistic tenderness that can rise above sibling rivalries. In the process she comes up with a strong story of tested friendship and compassion.

The setting is the Greek island of Thasos, where wild thyme blooms in the hills and fresh-caught octopus is hung to dry on clotheslines. Eleven-year-old Lily Corey and her 13-year-old brother, Paul, become fellow explorers for three months one spring while their professor father is on sabbatical. They dig for shards and coins at the local acropolis, and Paul even allows Lily to read aloud to him from her book of Greek myths.

Enter Jack Hemmings, a troubled American teen-ager who reminds Lily of ``an engine racing, with no place to go.'' As Paul gradually turns his back on his family to spend more time with Jack, the tension builds. It culminates in a tragic evening that ends with the accidental death of a young Greek child.

It's grim ground in many ways, but author Fox balances the anxious moments with overflowing images of place and time - of weathered fishermen in sturdy caiques, of mandolin-like bouzouki music floating up from the village wharf, of ancient amphitheaters filled with today's applause.

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Like another recent teen novel set in Greece, ``The Morning of the Gods,'' by Edward Fenton (Delacorte, $14.95, 184 pages, ages 12 and up), ``Lily and the Lost Boy'' is a coming-of-age story that will be remembered both for its emotional impact and for the sensory impressions that linger long after the last page is turned.

A more unusual time and place are portrayed in Devil Storm, by Theresa Nelson ($12.95, 224 pages, ages 10 to 12). Although this is only the author's second novel for teens, it reads like an accomplished storyteller's. Nelson, who grew up near the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas where the book is set, has based her narrative on a true story of an old black man who rescued a family of children during the Galveston hurricane of 1900.

When the floodwaters begin to rise, readers may unconsciously pull up their feet - it's that engaging. The child-hero, 13-year-old Walter Carroll, is left in charge of his two younger sisters and high-strung mother while his father goes off on business across the bay.

His parents don't know that Walter has befriended a local tramp, the target of the locals' wildest imaginings. It's Old Tom, of course, who eventually saves the day - but not before some harrowing moments.

Pirate tales add some fun here, along with a barnyard full of Texas-size critters, including an old rooster named Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett, the dog. At a time when ``Uncle Remus'' stories are making a comeback thanks to Julius Lester's sensitive retellings, the Southern dialogue that animates this book crackles with down-home expressions and honesty.

Author Nelson has done her homework well. The tactile images she creates - of watermelons warmed by the midday sun and moonlight running silver through the Gulf of Mexico waves - are lovely, indeed.

In The Daymaker ($11.95, 176 pages, ages 10 and up), Ann Halam combines a stirring ``quest'' tale with a futuristic vision of high fantasy. The author, who writes science fiction for adults under the name Gwyneth Jones in her native England, transports her readers to a post-industrial time when cities no longer exist: The so-called ``Daymakers'' of old have been destroyed, and there is no power in the world but magic.

Halam's young heroine is Zanne, a curious 12-year-old who lives in a rural community committed to a ``covenant'' that requires its people to live in peace with ``all creatures of the natural world.'' Zanne, who has the gift of magic, is sent to a far-off, underground school to perfect her abilities. She jumps the gun on the proscribed curriculum, however, and sets out with a friend on a ``choice journey'' to find her niche in life.

As Zanne's quest takes her outside her known world to a realm where outlaws reign, she sees for the first time what anger, fear, and hatred can do to people - and she herself is tempted by material comforts and possessions. How she eventually makes the ``choice'' at journey's end and how she learns about the love that's needed to keep her magic ``safe'' makes for a compelling story in many ways.

``The Daymaker,'' however, is probably not a good choice as an introduction to fantasy books. It's intended, instead, for mature youngsters who've had some exposure to the genre and who have learned to make substantial leaps of imagination.

Diane Manuel reviews children's books regularly for the Monitor.

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