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CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF

KIRBY PUCKETT'S BASEBALL GAMES, By Kirby Puckett and Andrew Gutelle (Workman Publishing: $13.95) : PATTERN BLOCK CITY; RODS RODS RODS; RODDY! (Planet Dexter: "Pattern" is $14.95, "Rods" is $17.50, Roddy! is $15.99) : THE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE HANDBOOK, By Hugh McManners (Dorling Kindersley: $16.95 hardback, $12.95 paperback)

June 30, 1996|MARTIN ZIMMERMAN

Ah, summer! The solid thwack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the roar of the stomach when that Dodger Dog hits! When I was a kid, we had my old man and a policeman-turned-Little League coach to explain the intricacies of the game to us; pee-wee players today have parents of both sexes, head coaches and base coaches and, now, major league all-star Kirby Puckett to lend a guiding hand. That's progress!

Kirby Puckett's Baseball Games, by Puckett and Andrew Gutelle, is a delightful, comprehensive, kid-friendly guide to the diamond sport that starts from ground zero. The game is explained in short bits that include such topics as how to choose the team, batting basics, how to pick a bat and so on. These segments are complemented by "Kirby's Tips," which are spread throughout the book. (The inspirational: "Don't give up when something is hard to do: The more you practice the better you'll get." The practical: "Run smart! Know how many outs there are. Keep track of the ball and the other runners on base. You need to use your head when running with your feet!")

The meat of the book is the 34 games to develop newly learned skills. The games are rated from "rookie" to "all-star" level and range from the simple ("Flipper": Two players throw the ball back and forth as fast as they can) to the intricate ("Hole in One," a variation on "Flipper": Two players throw the ball back and forth through a hanging target).

The book comes with a "soft-hit" safety baseball that has Puckett's motto--"Be the best you can be!"--printed on it. Now, if they could only figure out how to include some Dodger Dogs. . . .

*

The folks at Planet Dexter are doing their best to corner the pattern-block activity book market, admittedly a small corner of the activity book universe. Nonetheless, there must be gold there because they keep prospecting, offering an intriguing array of material for the 4- to 7-year-old group.

The lure completely escapes me, but every kid I've tried these on gets quickly hooked. Good news for parents: They go off and spend hours--quiet hours--on the carpet, just noodling around. Each book comes with a set of plastic pieces that are simple manipulatives. Pattern Block City comes with 32 blocks in different geometric forms that unobtrusively teach counting, sorting and matching and the concept of symmetry.

Rods Rods Rods and Roddy! feature Cuisenaire rods--named for the educator who realized that kids and adults grasp number concepts easier if those concepts are represented by physical models--that teach size relationships among objects. Along the way, the child learns the relationship of numbers to each other.

Kids noodling around, just having a good time while learning--what a concept!

*

The Outdoor Adventure Handbook by Hugh McManners is a nice pee-wee version of his encyclopedic "The Complete Wilderness Training Book." McManners is a former combat survival trainer who appears to know his stuff. The handbook covers everything from how to choose a campsite, build a shelter and make a warm, dry bed to projects like making a rain gauge or a compass and skills like reading a map or tracking animals.

This handbook fits nicely into backpacks and/or glove compartments and is useful on any trip into the great outdoors--even if junior is just pitching a tent in the backyard on a hot summer night.

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