Magic in the Dark: A Young Viewer's History of the Movies, by Nicholas E. Meyer (Facts on File, $17.95; ages 10-up). Parents have never had much trouble in getting kids to go to the movies -- getting them to read can be another matter, though. Meyer helps bridge the abyss between the silver screen and the printed page by providing young cinephiles with a clear, informed and brisk account of the film industry. He breaks up that history by decade, zooms in on key films (Potemkin, Citizen Kane), highlights major figures (Garbo, Brando), and concludes with a survey of French new wave, Eastern European film-making, and contemporary masters like Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas. The black-and-white stills leave much to be desired -- being fuzzy, minute, and somewhat dull -- and the text moves along at a breathless pace, but few young readers will mind as they learn that there were movies worth watching before Star Wars.
Flying to the Moon and Other Strange Places, by Michael Collins (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, paperback, $4.95; ages 9-up). Several astronauts have written about their experiences, but none so well as Michael Collins. This account of his lifetime passion for flying -- a juvenile version of his earlier memoir Carrying the Fire -- may help reinspire (and reassure) young readers shocked by the recent shuttle disaster. Collins captained Apollo 11's historic moon landing, but also journeyed into space on Gemini 10; before that, he flew fighter planes (many of which are pictured). His book describes his training as an astronaut, the discoveries of NASA's manned and unmanned flight programs, and the technical details of space travel. This is just the book to give the child whose parents made Yeager and The Right Stuff best sellers.
Flies in the Water, Fish in the Air: A Personal Introduction to Fly Fishing, by Jim Arnosky (Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, $11.95; ages 9-up). Like reading mysteries, fishing is one of the preferred recreations of noble minds, and for the noblest minds of all nothing will do but fly fishing. Jim Arnosky is the author-illustrator of numerous books about field and stream -- among them Secrets of a Wildlife Watcher -- and this splendid manual is one of his best. It chronicles Arnosky's discovery of and subsequent passion for fly fishing; chapters detail the intricacies of the sport (choosing the right equipment, walking and wading, using flies); and throughout pencil sketches depict mayflies, trout, river bank wildlife, and fishing techniques. Though this chatty guide may be marketed for youngsters, it should appeal to anyone who likes to fish, especially those who would like to ascend the angling hierarchy, leaving pole and worm behind to partake of the finer pleasures of the fly rod.
Babar's Counting Book, by Laurent de Brunhoff (Random House, $6.95; ages 1-up). The Babar books of Jean de Brunhoff are justly considered masterpieces of illustration and storytelling; but Jean wrote only a half dozen or so before he died (prematurely) and left his son Laurent to continue the saga of the green-suited king of the elephants. This latest album stars Pom, Alexander and Flora, the adorable children of Babar and Queen C,eleste, who learn to count to 20 with the help of the monkey Zephir. What makes the book delightful are the colorful pictures -- three race cars, 10 storks, 15 snails -- and the warm, simple drawing. Not a great picture classic like The Travels of Babar, this is nonetheless a good numbers primer for toddlers, especially those with a passion for animals.
When Did it Happen? edited by Leslie Firth (Simon and Schuster, $8.95; ages 8-12). When this reviewer was a child, the Lorain Journal ran a feature called Why Daddy?, a nationally syndicated column that answered the kind of questions parents are always plagued with: How old is the universe? Who invented paper? When did the Trojan War take place? Children were encouraged to submit questions by the lure of prizes, chiefly reference books. By the time my sisters and I were teenagers we had managed to acquire two sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica Jr., several big dictionaries, and various other laudable works. When Did It Happen? recalls those years because it's just the sort of reference a child will devour: concise answers, with charming (though sometimes irrelevant) illustrations, to the really important questions -- like "Which dinosaurs could run the fastest?" (Answer: The ornithomimids, and wouldn't you like to know why they were so quick?). A particularly good value, this oversized book should while away many an hour -- as well as help out stumped Moms and Dads.
The Weighty Word Book, by Paul M. Levitt, Douglas A. Burger and Elissa S. Guralnick; illustrations by Janet Stevens (Bookmakers Guild, Longmont Col. /University of Colorado Foundation, $21.95; ages 8-up). Despite the off-putting title, this is quite a charming book -- a vocabulary-building guide that uses short stories to teach new words. The macguffin here is that each tale ends with a phrase that puns on the new word to be taught. For instance, a bear who works for a large company falls into disgrace; he is removed from his office on the 40th floor and forced to work in a basement. "So whenever a person has been lowered in position or rank or office . . . we say that person has suffered ABASEMENT." The theory is that any child who has read the tale of Benjamin Van Der Bellows will never forget the word that describes his downfall. (The technique recalls the ingenious punning stories, by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, that conclude the BBC radio program, My Word.) Other naratives illustrate such challenges as "nostrum," "bifurcate," and "coruscate." Not, perhaps, the sort of words you want to come home to, but nice to visit from time to time, no matter what your age.