Part of writer-director Tim Burton's genius lies in his ability to construct solid fables out of what would be flimsy concepts in other hands. For example, he's the only person to date who's been able to make a credible film about a guy who dresses up like a bat and beats people up. Burton's new book of light verse and short-short stories—accompanied by a generous number of his own illustrations—should not disappoint fans of his black wit and empathy for the wounded. The subjects of The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy & Other Stories are all deformed or visibly traumatized children: Mummy Boy is a maladjusted, unloved loner (dismissed as the result of "an old Pharaoh's curse"), Junk Girl and Char Boy identify so much with garbage that they literally become piles of rubbish, and Stick Boy is too frail to handle anything difficult, particularly love. Burton presents their defects and marks of shame in a series of short, light poems which are by turns hilarious and poignantly sad. The surreal humor and symbolism are sometimes pointed: For example, Robot Boy's parents hate him because he's a constant reminder of mom's affair with a blender, while Anchor Boy is conceived in a desperate attempt to hold together a relationship. But the most haunting stories are about those children who can't quite tell if they're gifted or cursed: In one story, a boy meets The Girl With Many Eyes in the park, and is initially taken by her beauty and abilities of perception. But he ultimately remains at a degree of distance: "It's great to know a girl / who has so many eyes / but you get really wet / when she breaks down and cries." The imperfect, childlike meter of these poems masks a genuinely chilling and heartfelt mourning for childhoods lost.