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BOOKSHELF / FOR YOUNG READERS

A New Year Comes With New Fears

September 11, 1997|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walk into any bookstore today and you are likely to find such a wide and eclectic selection of books for children and young adults that trying to choose the best among them is almost like trying to find the best grain of sand at the beach.

Still, here are a few books that deserve attention this month as students in the Southland begin their school terms:

"Amanda Pig, Schoolgirl," by Jean Van Leeuwen with pictures by Ann Schweninger(Dial, 48 pages, $12.99), is a collection of four stories taking place on Amanda's much-anticipated first day of school ("I have been waiting my whole life to go to school," she says). But not everyone is as excited: On the bus, Amanda meets a shy girl who is afraid of school. With Amanda by her side, the girl soon overcomes her fears and a fast friendship is formed.

Helping children get past that frightening first day is also the goal of "Sally's First Day of School" (Simon & Schuster, 10 pages, $4.99), which features characters from TV's "The Busy World of Richard Scary." The story is told colorfully, with 12 flaps and eight peekaboo holes revealing surprises on every page.

"The Awful Aardvarks Go to School," by Reeve Lindbergh and illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson (Viking, 28 pages, $14.99), is a clever, well-drawn story that makes school seem funny. It is told in rhyming verse, reminiscent of the best of Dr. Seuss.

"Sparky and Eddie: The First Day of School," by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Susannah Ryan (Scholastic, 32 pages, $13.95), is a slightly more complicated tale of best friends who find themselves assigned to different teachers. The boys make a pact to boycott school if they can't be together. But after the first day, they find they actually like the place, even if they are in different classrooms.

If you think the first day of school can be traumatic, how about the first day of preschool, which for many kids is their first experience away from home? Writer Steve Metzger and illustrator Hans Wilhelm address that theme in "It's Time for School" (Scholastic, 32 pages, $2.99), one of four books in the Dinofours series of stories with Dinosaur themes aimed at 4-year-olds.

In this one, shy Albert finds that the first day away from Mom is never easy. But he is shaken from his own sadness by the sound of another Dinofour crying: Brendan misses his mother too. Together they make it through the day and discover that school might not be so bad after all.

(The Dinofours series--among the most affordable quality children's books at $2.99 each--goes on to address such common preschool challenges as making friends and learning self-control. The illustrations are well-done and the stories are well written, making each of these four books worth the modest investment.)

Older readers are more likely to be drawn to inspirational tales, such as "A Ripple of Hope: The Life of Robert F. Kennedy," by Barbara Harrison and Daniel Terris (Lodestar Books, 129 pages, $16.99). The authors invoke a simpler time when Americans looked to politicians for hope and guidance. Many, certainly, looked to Kennedy, who seemed assured of the Democratic presidential nomination before he was gunned down in Los Angeles in June 1968. The book includes three pages of "Sources of Information," which can guide readers to additional material on Kennedy and his family.

Spencer Christian's World of Wonders science series also should prove interesting to older readers (including adults). The weatherman from television's "Good Morning America" has joined children's author Antonia Felix to create "Can It Really Rain Frogs: The World's Strangest Weather Events" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll: The World's Most Amazing Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Other Forces" (John Wiley & Sons, 121 and 122 pages, respectively, $12.95 each).

These books are short on color but long on information: You'll learn, for example, whatmakes a twister twist, what causes thunder and that the deadliest volcanic eruption occurred in 1815. Both books include glossaries.

Finally, several interesting study aids have hit the market just in time for the new school year, led by The Macmillan Dictionary for Children (Simon & Schuster, 864 pages, $16.95), a child-friendly volume with more than 1,100 full-color photographs and illustrations highlighting more than 35,000 entries.

* Kevin Baxter will review books for young readers every four weeks. Next week: D. James Romero looks at books on pop culture.

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