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From Chinese emporers to kindly animals

LEARNING that people are essentially the same, no matter where they live and play and dream, is a lesson that can have a lasting impact. It can be appreciated at a fairly early age, too, as these six new picture books prove. Paul Goble, a transplanted Brit who now lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota and is an adopted member of the Yakima and Oglala Sioux tribes, has shared legends of the Plains Indians in 10 previous books. He won the Caldecott Award in 1979 for ``The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses,'' and his latest book is equally as elegant.

Her Seven Brothers, (Bradbury, New York, 32 pp., $13.95, ages 5 to 9) is based on a Cheyenne legend about the creation of the Big Dipper. It tells the story of a young Indian girl and her seven adopted brothers who are chased up a pine tree by a stampeding herd of buffalo. They climb and climb - until they reach the sky. There they stay, becoming the seven (eight, actually) stars of the well-known constellation. Mr. Goble's colors are as stunning as a desert lupine, and his spacious illustrations are filled with Plains wildlife and Native American designs.

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Another Indian star myth is featured in The Star Maiden, retold by Barbara Juster Esbensen and illustrated by Helen K. Davie (Little, Brown, Boston, $14.95, 32 pages, ages 4 to 9). This gentle Ojibway tale is about a lonely star who appears to an Indian brave in his dreams and tells him that she wants to live on Earth. It makes a good daytime or bedtime story, with watercolor illustrations that are as compelling as the poetic text.

The Ringdoves, retold and illustrated by Gloria Kamen (Atheneum, New York, $13.95, 32 pp., ages 4 to 9), is a folk tale adapted from the popular Fables of Bidpai, first told in India about 300 BC. These moralistic forerunners of Aesop's fables taught young princes how to rule and have been enjoyed by children in the Near East for centuries. This particular story, inspired by a request from a king who had heard too many tales of deceit and envy, focuses on the unusual friendship and loyalty that grows between four animals generally thought to be enemies. It's a theme straight out of Sesame Street - the value of cooperation. The author's muted drawings are a nice support for the appealing story.

Animals also take center stage in Two Ways to Count to Ten: A Liberian Folk Tale, by Ruby Dee, illustrated by Susan Meddaugh (Henry Holt, New York, $12.95, 32 pp., ages 4 to 6). This lighthearted story from the jungles of Africa, which features a talking King Leopard and a number of bumbling contenders to the throne, ought to give aspiring one-to-10 counters an encouraging pat.

In Vassilisa the Wise, a Tale of Medieval Russia, retold by Joseph Sherman and illustrated by Daniel San Souci (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and San Diego, $14.95, 32 pp., ages 5 to 9), readers will follow the adventures of a clever and beautiful heroine. It's a tale straight out of Mother Russia, based on a 12th-century folk ballad about the real-life Prince Vladimir. In this version, Vlad is outsmarted by the wife of a brave young merchant and has the sense to realize he's been bested. Rich watercolors depict heroic landscapes and costumes that will be the envy of young dramatists.

The Emperor and the Kite, told by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ed Young (G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, $13.95, 32 pp., ages 4 to 7), is a new edition of the author's and illustrator's 1967 retelling of a classic Chinese folk tale. Briefly, an emperor is imprisoned in a tower and then cleverly rescued by his smallest daughter. The story has a comforting message for dreamy younger siblings, but what brings the text to life are Young's stylized line drawings, adapted from Oriental paper-cut techniques.

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