H. G. WELLS: First Citizen of the Future, by Keith Ferrell (Evans, $9.95; ages 10-16). Wells always claimed that he was born with a very ordinary mind; be that as it may, he clearly possessed extraordinary self- discipline. This biography outlines the history of a poor boy--son of a dressmaker and a gardener--who transforms himself into a novelist, journalist, historian, and social philosopher. Important in his day in all these fields, he remains the pivotal figure in the history of science fiction. The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Island of Dr. Moreau have each spawned whole subgenres. This biography, a first for young people, briskly describes the whirlwind life, emphasizing the visionary novels, but also discussing Wells' Fabian polemics and his several love affairs.
MAGAZINE: Behind the Scenes at "Sports Illustrated," by William Jaspersohn (Little, Brown, $12.95; ages 10-up). In earlier books Jaspersohn focused on "a day in the life of" a marine biologist, veterinarian, and television news reporter. Here he takes readers through a week at Sports Illustrated; he begins with a Monday editorial meeting, follows two reporters while they cover the Avon Tennis Finals, and generally describes every section of the magazine as manuscripts and art slowly come together into the latest issue. Fine black and white photographs support pen portraits of people and their jobs, the combination deftly capturing the demanding beat of lives spent on deadline.
RONIA, THE ROBBER'S DAUGHTER, by Astrid Lindgren; translated by Patricia Crompton (Viking, $12.50; all ages). Ronia, like Lindgren's famous Pippi Longstocking, is no sweet young thing: born in the mountain fastness of Matt the robber, at 11 she is daring, strong, resourceful, and wise in the ways of nature. And she'd better be, for the labyrinthine forest with its Shadow Folk can be as frightening as any in The Wizard of Oz; harpies descend from the sky to claw for human blood, gray dwarves lurk and threaten, Unearthly Ones sing in the mist to lure the unwary to their doom.
To her father Ronia is a wondrous creature; yet both Matt and her no-nonsense mother Lovis know enough to encourage their daughter to roam the woods freely, to learn about herself, to grow. As could be expected, Ronia soon becomes a "sister" to Birk, the son of a rival robber chieftain; and this bond forces Matt to choose between his daughter and his fiercely-held principles. Beautifully told (and translated), Lindgren's book charms like a folktale but also subtly instructs parents and children in the various responsibilities of love.
OUTLAWED INVENTIONS, by Chris Winn and Jeremy Beadle (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $9.95; ages 9-11). "Deep below the busy streets of Central London lies a top secret bunker" that houses "a complete collection of forbidden devices . . . guaranteed to make any child's life bliss." This album provides cartoon-like illustrations--part Charles Addams, part Rube Goldberg-- of some of these treasures, including the plush velvet sofa that converts into a coffin, a Victorian plate smasher, a spectacle case encyclopedia (indispensable at exam time) and, of course, the horrible and notorious Automatic Pesterwheel of Montmorency Snout. Kids will delight in the iconoclasm of the authors' descriptions of the inventions, but much of the humor will strike grown- ups as, well, pretty childish.
ROBOTICS: Past, Present & Future, by David C. Knight (Morrow, $8.50; ages 10-up). Clockwork automatons, Rossum's Universal Robots, Tik-Tok of Oz-- the idea of the mechanical man has intrigued and worried people for centuries. Until recently, robots have usually been perceived as disturbing travesties of man, always threatening to escape human control and assert their own soulless mastery. Knight hopes to dispell this nightmarish vision by reemphasizing that a robot is just a machine, whether an 18th-century glockenspiel figure operated by cams and pulleys or a sophisticated industrial robot equipped with sensors, computer feedback, and voice command. Nevertheless, the book's many illustrations belie the cool scientific approach: The image of Gort from The Day th Earth Stood Still and of Maria, the robot woman of Metropolis, still awaken uneasiness about what makes a human being human.