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Author pens another hilarious tale for children

By Sonja Bolle

Newsday

``The Scrambled States of America Talent Show,'' by Laurie Keller. (Henry Holt, $16.95) Ages 6 and up.

Ten years ago, the talented Laurie Keller sent the 50 states on a little vacation in the enduringly popular picture book ``The Scrambled States of America.'' Now, she tells another hilarious geographical tale. ``It all started quite simply,'' she writes. ``In the middle of the night, New York woke up from a dream and shouted, 'Hey, everyone _ let's have a talent show!'''

Soon all the states, each with a distinct face and personality in Keller's cartoony illustrations, are in on the act. Readers quickly identify states by their shapes, which makes for a good game when Washington, D.C., takes the stage as host, and the states in the audience appear in the foreground in silhouette.

There are geographical terms sprinkled punningly throughout. Hawaii _ the Big Island surrounded by a swarm of smaller islands _ tries on her costume and asks: ``Does the grass skirt make my butte look big?'' As with all of Keller's work, the multifarious jokes and asides make the books suitable for a wide range of ages; not all kids will understand every joke, but everyone will find something amusing.

In the talent show, ``Iowa's corny jokes and Wisconsin's cheesy sculptures got the crowd laughing,'' while Colorado, wearing Florida upside down on his head to impersonate Idaho, does a whole riff on potatoes. (Idaho, giggling in the audience, admits: ``I DO love potatoes!'')

The shy state of Georgia learns the key trick for overcoming stage fright: Imagine the audience in their underwear. This makes for a humorous last page. What kind of underwear do you imagine Missouri wears?

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