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There's nothing that encourages young talent as well, for as little money, as good activity software. Good programs provide never-ending supplies of drawing and writing tools. And they trigger the imagination with half-formed ideas that children can complete in many ways.

For several years, Kid Pix has been an outstanding drawing program for youngsters 3 to 12. Its tools include everything from musical paintbrushes to firecracker erasers. It's got a raft of neat, easy-to-draw-with options, and the drawing (even of lines) is easier than many adult drawing programs we've tried.There are whimsical surprises, such as pictures that pop up only when you erase. There's a big supply of imagination-jogging "draw-me's", such as "I'm a hairy eyeball in a ten-foot swimming pool who loves to dance." There's a "small kids" mode that works without any need for reading - and locks tykes out of other software on your hard disk.

One feature changes English-language menus into Spanish - and back again quick as a wink. And if you own a compatible sound card, the program makes sound effects - and speaks the alphabet in either language.

Unfortunately, there was no way to get the program to recognize our sound card, which has an unusual IRQ setting. And we hate to quibble, but we sure would like an index in the 63-page manual.

If your youngsters ever exhaust Kid Pix's supply of tools and ideas, Kid Pix Companion adds more resources and activities. Besides just printing individual pictures (sorry, only in black-and-white even on color printers), it lets you link several drawings into a slide show, and add animation and sound (if you own a sound card and mike).

But here's the best news: New Kid Pix 2 combines both programs into one box. And it lists at a low $40 - less than Kid Pix used to sell for by itself! Sole problem: The duo hogs a huge 11 megs on your hard disk.

In the unlikely event that your kids get bored with Kid Pix 2's tool arsenal (and you still have space on your hard disk), $20 Kid Pix Fun Pack adds another 448 predrawn "rubber stamps," 32 pictures to color, and 10 more hidden pictures.

The programs are all made by Broderbund and are sold in most local computer software stores. There are DOS, Windows, and Mac versions.

Don't confuse Kid Pix with Davidson's Kid Works 2 for DOS, Windows and the Mac. We wouldn't recommend it, just as we didn't recommend its predecessor Kid Works. The program provides tools for children to write stories and draw accompanying pictures. The box claims it's for "kids of all ages," but it offers little to folks under seven or older than ten.

If you have a compatible sound card set the way it likes, the program also reads the stories - if it knows the words or if you "teach" them to it. But it couldn't read our sound card. And unlike Kid Pix, everything that's interactive in the program depends heavily on sound.

If that were all, we might still recommend Kid Works. But there are more substantial problems. First, it uses icons in order to be accessible to nonreaders. But many of the icons are unclear and even confusing. Second, unlike Kid Pix, it offers nothing to give creativity a nudge. No stories on file, or even beginnings of ideas for stories.

Yet - and here's the rub - the program version we tested comes on a CD-ROM. Considering that the whole program uses less than seven megs if you transfer it to hard disk, we'd say that about 96 of the CD is completely unused. At $50 list, it's priced awfully high for what it does.

Way back in 1986, we told readers about The Print Shop. It was one of the first programs ever that could help youngsters (and old folks) design and print signs, greeting cards, banners and calendars. It was a cinch to use, and it ran on MS-DOS, Apple II, Atari, and Commodore computers (remember them?).

To make a card, you selected a border from its onscreen illustrations and a picture from the program's library of drawings. You chose a type font, typed your message, and positioned it on the page. That's it. It was ready to print.

And since most people just had dot matrix type printers back then, the clever program retyped every line several times to get the type to look letter-quality and the drawings nearly professional.

Over the years, Print Shop kept adding features, fonts, and graphics images. It eventually became Print Shop Deluxe, and produced versions for the Macintosh and Windows. The graphics could now be scaled (made bigger or smaller), rotated or even flipped. Folks with color printers could print in color.

Budding graphic artists could start with any layout (and they were all attractive and well-proportioned), drop in and modify any illustrations, and try a large mix of headline and body text styles. Creative experimentation was easy and very rewarding.

Meanwhile, Broderbund, Print Shop's maker, brought out three inexpensive add-on graphics packages including one with business graphics.

Then it created Print Shop Deluxe Companion for designing and printing certificates, envelopes, business cards, and fancy postcards. It ran stand-alone, but its designs complemented those in Print Shop.

Print Shop Deluxe still lists at the $60 the first package cost in 1986 (and sells for a lot less in stores). But if you own Windows and a CDROM player, new Print Shop Deluxe CD Ensemble is the package to buy.