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Try some of these great new kid's books.

BABIES AND TODDLERS:Many parents have fond memories of the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In recent years, HarperFestival has issued picture book versions of the works, to great popular acclaim. Now, the publisher goes one step further and simplifies the stories to a board book level. While there's not much of a story line, the books are charmingly illustrated and serve as a simple introduction to Laura and her family. The four books in the series, which cost $3.95 each, are: "Laura Helps Pa," "Bedtime for Laura," "Hello, Laura!" and "Laura's Garden." (Ages 2-5).

One dark night, three little owls wait for their mother to return to their nest. At first, they are brave. But, as the night wears on, the owls grow more and more nervous that their mother might never return. In "Owl Babies" (Candlewick Press, $6.99), author Martin Waddell writes a delightful story that gently reminds young readers that Mommy will always come home. This book is a board book version of Waddell's now-classic tale, and the illustrations by Patrick Benson are just wonderful. (Ages 2-5).


The concept of time is difficult for young children to grasp. Author Lisa Grunwald gives them a handle on it in "Now Soon Later" (Greenwillow, $15). Aided by Jane Johnson's clear illustrations, Grunwald helps young readers make sense of time in an entertaining way. (Ages 3-5).

All children are fascinated by the story of their own birth. Author Robie Harris transforms this fascination into a wonderful new book, "Happy Birth Day!" (Candlewick Press, $16.99). Although each birth is an individual experience for parents and child, Harris manages to capture the universal aspects of the event, from when the baby first emerges into the world to the baby's first meeting with friends and family.

Harris' text is clear, and doesn't shy from important details like the clipping of the umbilical cord. But her main focus is on the joyfulness of birth. The illustrations by Michael Emberley are full of warmth and emotion (Ages 3-8).


Encyclopedias used to be full of dull but important entries, enlivened only by a few black and white photographs and line drawings. "The Kingfisher First Encyclopedia" (Kingfisher, $16.95) is the antithesis of those old-time encyclopedias. It's a volume full of brightly colored illustrations and easy-to-read, in-depth entries about everything from maps to reptiles to camouflage. Kids will enjoy just leafing through this useful, entertaining book (Ages 6-10).

Scholastic's new "First Grade Friends" series offers some fun reading for beginning readers. The four books in the series cost $3.50 each, are aimed at ages 5-7, and tackle various challenges that face first graders. The titles in the series are: "The Gym Day Winner," "Recess Mess," "The Classroom Pet," and "The Lunchbox Surprise."

Although it was written a century ago, Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" retains its power and fascination for readers. Now Lesley Baxter has crafted an abridged version of Dickens' classic that makes it easier for modern young readers to understand and enjoy. This new version, "Oliver Twist" (Dial Books, $19.99), is a large-size volume that makes it easy to handle when reading aloud. It also features richly colored illustrations by Christian Birmingham that add immeasurably to the reader's enjoyment of the book. (Ages 8 up, although children as young as 5 would probably enjoy hearing the book read aloud.)