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Kids' Books

Titles to Keep Kids Busy, Parents Sane

November 01, 1998|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whoever it was who said the days grow shorter as the depths of winter approach never spent a cold, rainy day trapped inside with kids. Even 100 channels of cable TV and a video-game library worthy of the Smithsonian can only delay, not prevent, the inevitable onset of boredom.

Or anarchy.

Which is where books come in. Among the fastest-growing and most innovative segments of the children's book market is the interactive one, featuring books of crafts, books with flaps and books that require all manner of reader participation. Just the thing for a rainy day.

"The Kids Guide to the Millennium" (Kids Can Press, by Ann Love and Jane Drake, illustrated by Bill Slavin, 64 pages, $7.95) contains enough games and activities to last through the next millennium. The book, aimed at children 8 to 12 but suitable for a much wider range, was obviously produced on a shoestring budget. Yet what it lacks in glossy photos and eye-catching design it more than makes up for in content. There are detailed directions for more than a dozen projects, from building a compass with a pencil and a water glass to making a panpipe from eight plastic straws.

The authors have also mixed in hundreds of fun facts and a time line that runs from AD 1 to 2000.

Only slightly less educational are three September releases from the World Wildlife Fund. "Habitats" (24 pages, $14.95), for example, is an activity book for ages 4 and older that challenges children to place 40 reusable press-and-peel stickers in the correct setting. Beautifully photographed and laminated two-page spreads feature a savanna, a tropical rain forest, the Arctic and a coral reef. Brief bios on each of the animals and their habitats help guide the young wilderness explorer.

"Where Do I Live?" and "Look Who's Hatching!" (both 24 pages, $12.95) are warmly photographed books that pose simple questions on one page while hiding the answer behind a flap on the facing page. Both are for children 6 and younger.

For beginning readers--or better yet, beginning spellers--Kingfisher's "I Can Spell" books offer a unique way to learn. The two books, which sell for $8.95 each, feature rows of 26 flip cards, one for each letter of the alphabet. Below each row are 26 easily recognized objects, such as a cat, a boat or a lion. The challenge is to arrange the flip cards in the right order to spell the word; turn over the object card to check your spelling and to see each word used in a sentence.

Older children are more likely to be challenged by Viking's "Origami" (Steve and Megumi Biddle, 96 pages, $22), which explains the ancient Japanese art of paper folding. The book, which comes with 48 brightly colored sheets of origami paper, includes detailed instructions for making more than 30 models.

But even the patience and concentration of the origami artist may be tested by Abrams' "The Great Creepy Maze Book" (24 pages, $12.95), one of three puzzle books by Juliet and Charles Snape. The goal is to negotiate a route through nine mazes, and once you've succeeded, lift a flap and a whole new maze appears.

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