Reading suggestions for a successful summer vacation


CERTAINLY there is a family out there somewhere with memories of a fun family vacation. OK, maybe two families. The )) rest of us settle for a week or two of relative relaxation with relatives, happy if the bouts of carsickness, Nintendo withdrawal and near-fratricide can be kept to a minimum.

xTC For those not-so-perfect families, here are a few books that might help parents and kids survive this summer's vacation -- even if they never leave home.

* "Going Places: The Young Traveler's Guide and Activity Book," by Harriet Webster, illustrated by Gail Owens (Aladdin paperback, $4.95, ages 9-12). If everyone in your family is perfectly happy spending a week at Ocean City each year, sticking to the beach by day and the boardwalk by night, forget this book. It's crammed with projects and suggestions for folks who like to explore.

Many of the chapters deal with traveling. Kids can read library books -- fiction and non-fiction -- about their destination before they leave. There are ideas for keeping a scrapbook of the trip, such as mailing a picture postcard to your home address each day, with a note about what you did and saw.

Kids can also learn how to draw their own maps, make a compass and find out exactly what airline crews do to prepare a passenger jet for takeoff. There's a chapter on camping out, complete with directions on how to tie-die a camouflage shirt for observing animals in the wild.

Parents and kids who stay close to home can enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at museums and zoos. This is also the place to find out how motels got started and why trolley companies built the first amusement parks. Any book that reduces the number of times you hear the dreaded words, "I'm bored," is worth the investment.

* "Dinosaurs Travel: A Guide for Families on the Go," by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (Joy Street Books -- Little, Brown and Company, $13.95, ages 3-7). This is a picture book for families who like to take adventures, big or small.

Before their first plane trip, kids can see how the dinosaur family put bags in the overhead compartments and pushed the buttons for the overhead light. There are fun drawings of different kinds of transportation -- taxi, bike, sailboat, bus, train and ocean liner. One chapter offers kids hints for traveling alone, and the last chapter shows all the things there are to enjoy when you return home.

* Bart Simpson has a name for his family's vacation: Bummer in the Summer. And of course the mass-marketing genius that has brought us Bart suction cup dolls for the station wagon windows is offering a cure: "The Simpsons Rainy Day Fun Book," by Matt Groening (HarperPerennial paperback, $7.95, all ages).

Actually, this book is a lot of fun. There are puzzles, mazes, optical illusions and even a rebus that reveals Marge's hairdo secret. Printed on high-quality paper, the book includes cut-outs of all the TV show's characters to put on your own sitcom. There's a complete deck of official Simpsons playing cards to cut out, as well as Grampa's Zoetrope, an optical toy that will create moving pictures after much cutting and taping.

Krusty the Clown gets into the act with his 3 Rings-O-Fun, which includes the disclaimer: "We promise, not one dime from this book will go into that clown's pocket." There are also some super-sweet recipes and several magic tricks that say, "adult supervision required," though you know Bart would ignore such advice. Finally, there's the page of solutions to all the puzzles. "Why not do what Homer does? Start reading the book here!" the author advises.

* Another "gimmick" book that proves to be more entertaining and useful than expected is "Beach" by Harriet Ziefert, illustrations by Susan Baum (HarperCollins paperback, $4.95, ages 2-5). This time the gimmick is stickers that you stick on the last few pages to create your own story about the beach.

Toddlers will put the stickers wherever they want in this simple book of opposites. The bright, bold artwork invites such participation, and the stickers really can be re-used at least a few times before they rip or remain permanently affixed. This is a nice present for a youngster leaving for an ocean vacation.

* Finally, any vacation at the beach or in the country or even a night camping out in the back yard will reveal a summer sky full of stars. If you can get away from the lights of the city (and the horrid humid haze) for a little while, help kids learn about the night sky with "The Constellations: How They Came to Be," by Roy A. Gallant (Four Winds Press, $14.95, ages 12 and up).

This includes some of the easiest-to-understand star maps around, as well as fascinating explanations of the mythology behind constellations.

Any youngster -- or adult -- who spends some time with this book will want to go star-gazing. Pack it for that trip to Ocean City, read it on the beach and use it at night when the boardwalk gets boring.

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