Two lumps of clay have only just gotten to know each other when a pair of hands reaches down and changes them into a wolf and an owl. After their initial shock, and once they learn they can mold themselves--and each other--they realize: "Wow, this IS fun!" One piece of clay is gray and bold while the other is brown and shy, but both are unstoppable once their imaginations take flight. Drawing on the art supplies around them, they transform quickly, assuming the shape of figures like an elephant, a peanut and even an octopus with tentacles made of sculpting tools. When their creator returns, they are very nearly caught--but after another brief spell as wolf and owl, they prepare for a new round of reinvention.

Readers and pre-readers alike will be delighted by the comic panel-inspired layout of Claymates and the story of two new friends who just want to make "something wonderful" together. Illustrated by dynamic photographs and word bubbles filled with charmingly silly dialogue by Dev Petty (I Don’t Want to Be a Frog), the value of play for the sake of play shines above all else. Photographic illustrator Lauren Eldridge manages to take a pair of googly eyes and some simple sculpted features and give each lump of clay more personality than the human hands that controls it.

Fair warning: do not read this book out loud unless you have a lump of clay to offer newly inspired sculptors at its end. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library (Conn.)

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