My friend Nell knew a little boy who was a real terror, and, much to her surprise, he grew up and turned out to be a superb father. "How do you do it?" she once asked. "What makes you such a good dad?" "The Little Prince," he told her. "I've always loved that book, and whenever I need help, I just think about what advice it has." Yes, this is a book that teaches the important things in life, and teaches it well. Nell's friend is hardly alone in his reverence, since The Little Prince is said to be rated just below the Bible as one of the most widely read books in the world. In fact, that little fellow has kept translators busy telling the tale in 95 different languages In honor of the 100th anniversary of Saint ExupŽry's birth, Harcourt has issued a new English translation from the French by award-winning translator Richard Howard, complete with newly restored art. And what a treat it is, whether you're an old fan or a newcomer to this special story.

Readers may wonder why it was necessary to translate a classic after 57 years of unflagging popularity. Many are bound to be suspicious, in fact. But scholars have long criticized the previous edition as being unfaithful to the original French text. Readers should be relieved to know that Howard is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and his language is much smoother and more natural than that found in previous editions, all the while preserving the charm of the dialogue between the little prince and the stranded pilot who befriends him.

Consider, for example, this short sample of Howard's work: "I really like sunsets. Let's go look at one now. . ." "But we have to wait. . ." "What for?" "For the sun to set." At first you seemed quite surprised, and then you laughed at yourself. And you said to me, "I think I'm still at home." Now take a look at the same passage in the old translation: "I am very fond of sunsets. Come, let us go look at a sunset now." "But we must wait," I said.

"Wait? For what?" "For the sunset. We must wait until it is time." At first you seemed to be very much surprised. And then you laughed to yourself. You said to me: "I am always thinking that I am at home!" This less stilted speech is accompanied by Saint ExupŽry's original watercolors, now more closely matched to the colors he intended. For instance, the author-illustrator painted the prince's cape green, when lo, these many years it's been blue.

Here, Little Prince fans, is the definitive edition. Happy birthday, Saint ExupŽry, and may your book inspire not only happy readers, but future fathers and mothers as well.

Alice Cary writes from her home in Groton, Massachusetts.

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