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Celebs' Alter-Egos Thrive In Picture Books

Michael Phelps channels dinosaurs in a world absent scandal over bongs. Julianne Moore relives her red-haired childhood in a standoff with a school bully. Both are among the celebrities keeping up production in the boldface name factory that churns out children's books.

Silly and serious, singsongy and slapsticky, some are more prolific and proficient than others.

Here's a look at the latest from people who earned fame some other way:

"Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully" (Bloomsbury, $16.00, ages 4-8) by Julianne Moore and illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

Moore and her cute-as-a-button alter ego are back, this time facing down a large and daunting dodgeball player who throws way too hard. Our girl heroine with copious freckles uses her imagination and a dose of compassion to win over Windy Pants Patrick, who as it turns out has fears of his own. It's Moore's second book to feature the character.

"How to Train with a T.Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals" (Simon & Schuster, $17.99, ages 4-8) by Michael Phelps with Alan Abrahamson, illustrated by Ward Jenkins.

This is Phelps by the numbers as he puts his workouts ahead of Beijing into context for kids. He trained for six years. That's 42 dog years. He swam 60,000 meters a week. That's 183,040 trips around the bases on a baseball field. His legs were strong enough to press nine tons in one workout. That's a Tyrannosaurus Rex and 10 velociraptors!

"I Am a Rainbow" (Penguin, $16.99, ages 3-5) by Dolly Parton and illustrated by Heather Sheffield.

Simple rhymes and even simpler drawings of children express emotion as colors, including red for anger, blue for sadness and green for envy. You get the picture. All proceeds go to Parton's Imagination Library, which works with local community sponsors to provide books to preschool children.

"SheetzuCacaPoopoo: Max Goes to the Dogs" (Penguin, $16.99, ages 6-9) by Joy Behar, illustrated by Gene Barretta and colored by Dave Silaber.

Another celeb sequel. Behar's high-energy mutt tries to survive doggy day care after trashing the house of his girl owner, Evie. At home, he's king of the castle. Thrown into a big-dog mix, he's lower than dirt. But Max rallies the little guys and goes snout-to-snout with a bully named Brutus for the benefit of all.

"Silly Street" (HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 4-7) by Jeff Foxworthy and illustrated by Steve Bjorkman.

"When was the last time you dressed like a pig? Or walked around town in green pants and a wig?" You can find just about anything in rhyme on Silly Street. Look for big ponies that eat fried baloney, baton-twirling raccoons and a quacking cow. Bjorkman's drawings do the rhymes proud. This is a street Foxworthy knows well.

"Sugar Plum Ballerinas: Toeshoe Trouble" (Disney, $14.99, ages 6-8) by Whoopi Goldberg and Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Maryn Roos.

At age 9, Brenda Black studies diseases to get a jump on medical school and hangs with her multicultural friends at the Nutcracker School of Ballet. All is well in their New York City world until Brenda's rich, bragging cousin hits town. There's theft of something truly special and an evil yap dog, but the Sugar Plum Sisters pull through. Second in a chapter book series.

"Little Red's Autumn Adventure" (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, ages 3-6) by Sarah Ferguson and illustrated by Sam Williams.

What I wouldn't give for a sack of smiles and magic dust like cheery, big-hearted Little Red. But then one risks the loss of said perks, just as Little Red does in her fourth picture book, this one featuring tiny lost mice and large leaves as fall sleds. With its Buttercup Cottage and Bluebell Wood, the feel of the series is Winnie the Pooh-ish. Out Aug. 4.

"Momma Loves Her Little Son" (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, ages 4-8) by John Carter Cash and illustrated by Marc Burckhardt.

In his first children's book, the Grammy-winning music producer and only child of the late June Carter and Johnny Cash brings a mother's love alive as they watch whales, ride a rhino and sit along a stream telling their secret wishes to a salamander. Burckhardt's Americana-style paintings are vivid visuals for the dreamy text. Cash said the title is something his mom used to tell him often.

"The Wackiest Wildest Weirdest Animals in the World" (Thomas Nelson, $19.99, ages 9-12) by Jack Hanna with photography by Rick A. Prebeg.

"Jungle Jack" shares his travels from his TV series in a playful kid-friendly format that doesn't hit them upside the head with dry facts. "Baboons are bananas!" Hanna declares, with brief eat, live, growth stats and a reason for why they're wacky. There's a cute little binturong, Tasmanian devil and a naked mole rat. He's included a blooper DVD. His third book for Nelson.
By Leanne Italie

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