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CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF

February 11, 1996|MARTIN ZIMMERMAN

As the winter blahs begin to kick in, the best cure is often the simplest: a silly book. Or two. Here's a catalog of books that delight, fill up shut-in days and--once you get past the fun activities and wacky illustrations--even provide a fair amount of education.

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Fans of fake vomit will feel immediate affinity for GROSSOLOGY: THE SCIENCE OF REALLY GROSS THINGS (Planet Dexter: $14.99) by Sylvia Branzei, which has a nice chunk of the stuff attached to the book's puke-green cover. And attached to the back cover is a magnifying glass that will help the reader "in your quest for knowledge about repulsive things."

That list of "repulsive things" runs the gamut from slimy to crusty, from smelly to oozy, in chapters covering such staples of grossology as poop, ear wax, farts, dandruff, scabs, zits, burps and spit.

Branzei delivers a dream health class for the target group of 9- to 13-year-olds, covering the skin and respiratory and digestive systems in lessons that get straight to the heart of the matter. Just one example: "Today you will take a poop. . . . 'Take a poop' is rather a silly phrase because you don't really take anything. You actually leave it behind."

Each chapter packs in a nice slice of offbeat and scientific material set off by L.A. artist Jack Keely's wonderful illustrations, which perfectly capture the charming, slightly subversive attitude of the enterprise.

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Now that you've got them reading and learning about their own biology, it will be an easy segue to another unique offering from the editors at Planet Dexter: INSTANT CREATURE: THE SWIMMING CRITTERS FROM WAY BACK THEN ($14.99). The book comes with "instant creature eggs and official pet snack food"--that is, one packet contains eggs from which will spring Triops longicauddatus, tiny crustaceans with a family tree dating back 200 million years; the other packet contains food pellets. The uncredited editors assure us that this bizarre package is "Risk-free! If a kid turns out to be irresponsible, that's OK--Instant Creatures die within 90 days anyway!"

So what do you do with this stuff? Hey, it's simple--just play god and create life in four easy steps. And learn about life, death, heredity, suspended animation and the like while raising a crop of feisty critters.

Buyer beware: The kids will surely want an aquarium after this.

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Not to be outdone by those upstarts at Planet Dexter, the California dreamers at Klutz Press airdropped THE RUBBER CHICKEN BOOK ($9.95) into reviewers' offices. Heck, even those stuffed shirts at the New York Review of Books couldn't resist this "fine collection of bad skits, goofball stunts, frontyard acrobatics and really dumb jokes"--in this case, book-jacket flackery that is right on the money.

"Chicken" comes complete with three rubber eggs and a "squeaker unit" to do "all sorts of immature things with." There are skits to do ("The Fabulous No-Brain Two-Word Skit"), jokes to tell "The Best Knock, Knock Joke on the Planet") and skills to master ("A Few Lovely Pushbutton Telephone Tunes"). The illustrations by Lou Brooks are appropriately loony.

All in all, a lovely way to spend a wet afternoon.

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The same group of great thinkers at Klutz Press are responsible for the slightly more--ahem--refined SHADOW GAMES ($10.95), which comes complete with a small flashlight for the double-A impaired.

There are instructions in how to make hand shadows ranging from a moose to a wolf, from a rooster to a sea monster. But far more enjoyable are the cutouts inside. Now, anybody can beam such creations as "Blubber Lips," "Bronco T. Shirtski" and "O. Pen Wyde" on the wall after the parents have dozed off for the night.

And in the process, scare the monsters under the bed into submission--buying time to make it to morning once again.

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