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VALLEY WEEKEND | FOR THE KIDS

Activity Guides List Plenty to Do in Valley

One book is specifically geared to parents. Another publication describes the area's 'natural communities.'

February 29, 1996|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For parents who haven't thought to look on bookstore shelves for places, events or projects that are both Valley and kid-related, now is the time: The 1996 editions of guidebooks have arrived.

But a relatively new entry in this category, from a company with headquarters in the Cahuenga Pass, delivers more than the usual. "The Parent's Guide to L.A.--1996-'97" is not only the heftiest of the guidebooks, at 516 pages, but has the most information specific to the San Fernando Valley.

Actually the guide, from Mani Flattery Publications, has been around for four years as has Frommer's L.A. Guide. But this locally produced compendium has not been as well known. These past few weeks, however, some of the big bookstore chains have been featuring it.

The major national guidebook series such as Fodor's, Econoguide and Frommer's, which devote editions to Southern California, have always been worth a look. They update their material annually and describe the major entertainment attractions between Valencia and Ventura Boulevard, Thousand Oaks and Tujunga Canyon.

Karin Mani, publisher of the "Parent's Guide," calls the compendium a "reference guide for parents," because it covers much more than the usual. In addition to providing families a snappy list of "103 Things to Do in L.A.," it also "gets into referrals about everything from after-school care and acting lessons to weekend camps and zoos.

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Because her office is near Universal City rather than New York City, Mani says she is particularly conscious of the immensity of the Valley, which is well-represented in the book. The amount of kid stuff available in the Valley, in fact, is almost daunting. Her index of activities, goods and services cites almost 700 categories--broken down as specifically as "puppets," "puppies," "toy repair" and "toy trains."

If this sounds like a book that fosters the boomer-consumer type of behavior, well, it is. Its saving grace is that it doesn't promote the bad practice of driving all over the place to shop for or entertain the kids. There is plenty to do in each neighborhood.

Alternatively, for parents whose New Year's resolutions included some kind of consumer self-control--such as taking kids hiking in the canyons instead of cruising through the mall--here's a tip:

Elna Bakker's "An Island Called California: An Ecological Introduction to Its Natural Communities" is a classic in its category. Because of Bakker's Los Angeles roots, this survey is unusually thorough in its description of the where and why of the Valley's flora and fauna.

By reading her chapter on "Hollywood's Real Natives," parents and children who live anywhere between Toluca Lake and Tejon Pass will discover they are near a feat of nature quite worthy of a family outing. And just looking at the book's evocative photograph of the Valley oaks in Agoura makes you want to go out and hug--or picnic among--these local trees.

DETAILS

* READ ON: A new crop of guides to family fun in the Los Angeles area, with information pertaining to the Valley, is in bookstores. Two contain discount coupons valid at local attractions and businesses: "The Parents' Guide to L.A. 1996-'97 from Mani Flatters Publications ($19.95) and "Econoguide '96: Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and Other Major Southern California Attractions" from Contemporary Books ($12.95).

* OLD FAVORITES: Also updated are "California With Kids--Family Travel Guide" from Frommer ($16.95) and "Where Should We Take The Kids--California" from Fodor's ($17.95). A guide to the area's natural wonders is "An Island Called California: An Ecological Introduction to Its Natural Communities" from University of California Press ($10.95).

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