MOST CHILDREN LIKE to be read to, especially at bedtime. But you don't always have to wait until the kids (and you) are sleepy to hear a good story. Visit a children's bookstore and listen to the author of a favorite tale or another storyteller make fictional friends come alive -- all during daylight hours.
On a Saturday morning last fall, 30 children ages 4 to 8 trickled into Storybook Palace in Burke with parents in tow. Some immediately picked out their name tags and others paused to say hi to the five-foot-high stuffed Palace guard in the window. The focus of the free story hour, complete with face-painting, was Martin Hansford's book "Where's Waldo" -- Waldo being the elusive little man whom thousands of children (and parents) try to find in the pages of his books.
"He's probably more popular than the Berenstain Bears," explained owner Chris Bury to a customer who asked who's Waldo.
The children quickly grabbed a place on the carpeted floor and inched as close as possible to hear what the storyteller had to say. Their excitement was heightened when giant pages from the newest Waldo book were passed out, along with freshly sharpened pencils.
"I found him!" sang out one 5-year-old.
"Keep looking, you'll find him," urged a parent to another child.
"Don't peek," mumbled a 7-year-old, as papers slid closer together.
And as the children continued their search, the face-painters stepped in to paint Waldo's likeness on faces, hands or arms.
"How long will he last?" asked 8-year-old Erin Lesar.
"I'm getting this one on my hand, so I can hide him and surprise everyone," explained her 6-year-old sister Kristin.
When the story hour was complete, all the kids left clutching official membership cards in the Waldo Fan Club.
In children's bookstores, young readers can often listen to their favorite authors read from their works, get to shake their hands and even hold a brief conversation.
"This will be great for show and tell," Kristin said as she got her autographed copy of Chris Van Allsburg's "Polar Express" last November at Storybook Palace.
Some of the more popular characters from children's books also appear now and then. When the Berenstain Bears
Brother and Sister Bear appeared at Storybook Palace, "the kids were beside themselves," says Bury. Children received a "bear paw" autograph on each newly purchased book and a free box of bear cookies.
The Bears have scheduled a return engagement at Storybook Palace on Dec. 1, while Clifford the Red Dog, another reader favorite, is expected at the Book Nook in Fairfax this fall.
A Likely Story, a children's bookstore in Alexandria, sponsors a program called "Read With the Stars," in which local politicians and administrators share their favorite books. Betty Hobbs, principal of the Cora Kelly School in Alexandria, was a recent reader; the vice mayor and sheriff of Alexandria have also participated.
In addition to story hours, children's bookstores sponsor craft workshops, performances and chalk talks for aspiring authors and autograph collectors.
Beginning in August, nature lovers of all ages will be able to peek in the butterfly window at the Cheshire Cat Bookstore in Northwest Washington and get a first-hand view of the life cycle of monarch butterflies. They can be observed as they grow from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis. And if you're lucky enough to be there at the right moment, you can watch the adult butterflies go free. BOOK NOW
The Carousel listings give times for story hours at many public libraries. As with some bookstore events, they may require reservations. Most children's bookstores offer free newsletters with book reviews and schedules for story hours and special events; call or stop by to get on the mailing lists. Here are some upcoming events:
BOOK NOOK --
10312 Main St., Fairfax. 591-6545. Open 10 to 6 Monday through Saturday, 10 to 8 Thursdays; closed Sundays.
June 2 at 10:30: Teddy bear stories, for ages 3 to 5. Bring a favorite teddy bear and listen to stories. Free; call for reservations.
Tuesdays at 10: Craft workshops for varying ages, from the last week of June through the end of August.
CHESHIRE CAT --
5121 Connecticut Ave. NW. 244-3956. Open 9:30 to 5:30 Monday through Saturday, 9:30 to 8 Thursdays; closed Sundays.
Aug. 25 at 11: In-store butterfly field trip. Free.
A HAPPY THOUGHT --
4836 MacArthur Blvd. NW. 337-8300. Open 10 to 5:30 Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays. Call to be put on mailing list for fall schedule of free family events.
IMAGINATION STATION --
4530 Lee Hwy., Arlington. 522-2047. Open 10 to 6 Monday through Saturday, 11 to 4 Sundays.
June 22 & 23 at 3, June 24 at 2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appear.
A LIKELY STORY --
1555 King St., Alexandria. 836-2498. Open 10 to 6 Monday through Saturday, 1 to 5 Sundays. All events are free.
Saturday at 11: Meet Eloise Greenfield, who will read from her books "Daydreamers," "Me and Nessie," "Under the Sunday Tree" and others.
Thursday at 4: Paul Masem, superintendent of Alexandria public schools, reads from his favorite books.
June 16 at 11: Authors Mary Downing Hahn ("The Dead Man in Indian Creek") and Claudia Mills ("Dynamite Dinah") talk to fans and sign autographs. At 1: "American Girl" workshop series begins with Kirsten's quilting bee, for ages 8 to 10. Reservations required.
June 23 at 11: John Porter, principal of T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, reads from his favorite books.
June 30 at 11: John Kloch, Commonwealth attorney for Alexandria, reads from his favorite books.
July 31 at 1: Flag Day workshop with "American Girl" Samantha, for ages 8 to 10. Reservations required.
Aug. 11 at 11: Meet Lyle Lyle the Crocodile in costume, for ages 2 and up.
Aug. 25 at 1: Camp crafts workshop with "American Girl" Molly, for ages 8 to 10. Reservations required.
STORYBOOK PALACE --
9538 Old Keene Rd., Burke. 644-2300. Open Monday through Saturday 10 to 6; closed Sundays. All events are free; reservations are required.
June 16 at 10: Kay-Dee Puppets present "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Three Billy Goats Gruff," for ages 3 to 8.
July 7 at 10: Circus stories and face-painting by Creative Faces, for ages 3 to 7.
July 21 at 10: "Sesame Street" stories with Jan Ritchie, for ages 3 to 4.
Aug. 3 at 6: Bedtime stories with Jan Ritchie, for ages 4 to 6.
Sept. 17 (time TBA): Jack Prelutsky, author of "The New Kid on the Block" and "Something Big Has Been Here," appears.
Oct. 27 at 10: Halloween stories with Jan Ritchie, for ages 3 to 8. Costume appearance by George and Martha the hippos from 10:30 to 12:30.