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This convention is one for the books. And the magazines and the video and/or audio tapes, the maps and charts and posters and puppets - or anything else that will invite a child to learn.

When I went to the Salt Palace Thursday evening to browse through the exhibits set up for the American Association of School Librarians, I knew I'd need an expert at my side. So I took my 9-year-old grandson, Justin, who's a bit bookish and all boy.He had, to use the vernacular, a ball.

"I've read some of these," he exulted as he spotted a display of Power Tales, books on famous people, printed, interestingly enough, by Eagle Publishing of Provo. He also recognized old friends such as "How To Eat Fried Worms" and "Timid Timothy's Tongue Twisters."

What he hadn't read, he wants to read, and he made mental selections from the mind-boggling array of children's books to last him easily into adulthood.

He met a real author, Lorraine Salem Tufts, who was there to talk about her "Yellowstone and Grand Teton" book featuring wildlife photos of these scenic areas. Justin wondered just how you get close enough to a grizzly bear to get that kind of photo and Tufts confessed that those particular photos were taken by other photographers - with very long lenses. About 20 percent of the photos, however, are her own.

The highlight of the evening was an appearance by four of the California Raisins. The joshin', jivin', singin' and swing-in' quartet had school librarians from all over the country swaying along.

Dragged reluctantly from the crowd, Debra Goodrich couldn't have guessed when she left Michigan that she'd come to Salt Lake City to boogie with a raisin.

While it was their fancy footwork in size 20 tennies and the "yo, Bro," up-and-down hand slaps with size 15 mitts that delighted Justin, it was their message that intrigued me. The Raisins are joining hands with the National School Library Association to get the word to thousands of schoolchildren this year - reading is cool. Kids will be invited to join the Cool Raisin Reading Club.

Justin spent a few minutes "on stage" himself, with a couple of kitten puppets, part of the display brought from Portland, Ore., by Bob Jonas. He said his WatchMe Blossom puppets grew out of his own experiences as a classroom teacher.

"We did all kinds of theater in my classes," he said. "We used refrigerator boxes or anything else that we could find. Puppets enhance the teaching experience and increase the kids' enjoyment. They can be part of a holistic approach to teaching children." Children who can't overtly express emotional hurts often can role play them, he said. Jonas began creating puppets in his basement and grew into a 10,000-square-foot manufacturing space.

Among his displays were plenty of witches (Halloween is just around the corner), frogs and dogs and ladybugs and crabs and hippos and even the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. You can tell when she swallows a fly because she has a window in her tummy.

Hervey Evans of Peru, Ill., got into the spirit of things with a fanciful cricket headdress - advertising for Cricket children's magazine.

Say "Britannica" and the next word automatically becomes "encyclopedia," but Blaine Mathews of Mesa, Ariz., pointed out that the noted reference company reaches children in many ways, including four different encyclopedia collections, books, magazines and electronic versions.

While Justin gleefully filled a goody-bag with posters and pens, bookmarks and magazine samples, balloons and even a puppet of his own, I talked with teachers from across the country. In general, their library/media services appear to be in better shape than in Utah, where outdated collections and lack of certified personnel have reached crisis proportions. However, they talk about the same issues.

In Montana, a new set of accreditation standards has been developed, said Phyllis Williamson of Great Falls. By 1994, every school with more than 125 students will be required to have a certified librarian. "Those people are the key to success," she said. "The school media center has become an information source, and we have to get the information into it so it is available to students."

Diane Gutman of Portland, Ore., bemoaned tax problems, which sounded very Utah-ish, but said that "more people are sensing the importance of good school libraries." Too many school administrators went to school years ago, she said, and part of her challenge is convincing them that money spent on libraries is money well spent.

The convention, which has attracted several thousand library/media specialists from all over the country, will continue through Sunday.