An unusual textbook published by the Prince George's school system explains the history and civics of Maryland's most populous county.

It sounds like an awfully nice place to live.

"Most of our people have money for their needs. Food and clothing can be bought. Most people in our county live in homes they own. Many live in apartments. Our housing is good. Most homes have plumbing. They are not crowded."

The last and shortest of the 21 chapters, however, is called "Problems."

"Money is a problem," the book notes. "Our government wants to provide the kind of services people want. Yet people do not want to pay high taxes."

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the longest chapter is called "Education," which happens to consume about 60 percent of the county budget.

The 105-page book is published under the copyright of the Prince George's County Board of Education and it fills two instructional gaps at the same time -- a textbook suitable for the slowest readers that covers the history of Prince George's County.

Seventh-graders at 15 county schools are testing the book for readability this fall. It is the fourth in a series of glossy covered social studies texts printed on the school system's own presses and written by its staff. "Asia," "The Middle East" and "The U.S.S.R." are being used to teach seventh-graders who read below grade level at every junior high school in the county this year.

"Prince George's County" is the story of the county written at "about a third-or fourth-grade level," according to social studies teach Mydia Cottrill.

A quick reading shows that it is a place with some hills and plains, and lots of rivers, where Catholics and indentured Englishmen grew tobacco and raced horses until, "in 1865, the slaves became free. Farm life changed." After that came something called "urban life," which was imported from Washington, where they did not race horses, according to the text.

It also points out in at least two places that Prince George's County schools are among the best in the nation.

Students in Cottrill's 8:50 class at Bowie's Benjamin Tasker Junior High had studied as far as the section on agriculture. The 13 students, 11 of whom lived closer to Washington than the curing barns of Marlboro, needed help with the number one crop in the county.

"It's not something you eat," said Cottrill.

"Is it wood?" asked one student.

"Is it some sort of poison?" asked another near the end of a five-minute guessing game.

"Well, maybe," said Cottrill. "Some people have a hard time giving it up."

"Tea!" cried a 12-year-old.

Some of the students were bright and enthusiastic about the book and the county.

"It makes you feel great about our own county and state," said Tina, 12. "It tells you all about what we have. I can brag about it to the people that don't live here. I can tell them stories about it."

"I didn't know it had so much tobacco." piped another.

"Some of our food comes from here," said a third.

"All the lakes," said Lynda.

"At first I thought this was just a little county," said Benny with bashful pride. "It winded up being big," added Lynda.

In addition to the printed text, the book contains skill-building exercises for using maps, charts and graphs.

"I love it," Cottrill said of the book. "It does so much for the teacher. And it is written on a level they [students] can understand. There is a real need for more material about the county that could be used by all levels of students. It's part of our curriculum, but often it's sloughed off and ignored because there is so little material."

Tasker Principal Karl Taschenberger remembered that when he started teaching geography in 1963 he couldn't find a map of the county. He was glad to see an alternative to standard textbooks that assume that all communities are the same.

The book fills a need left unmet by textbook publishers who "are not going to write about Prince George's County," he said.

Cottrill said the book will help integrate new students into the community.

"We have a very transient population. That feeling of belonging is something that many of them would not get from their parents," she said.

Indeed, Benny, whose family moved to Prince George's from Washington, wants to know more about his county.

"I want to learn more about the people who started, who formed the county," he said.

In a few years, perhaps, seventh-graders in the county will whistle the tune of "Hail Prince George's," the county song that ends the book saluting the "bulwark of tolerance and true Liberty." The song was copyrighted in 1939 by the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce.