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Books for balmy days

”The Little House Books,” ”River Parade,” and ”Life in a Tidal Pool” are some of the children’s books to keep your kids entertained during the summer

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Summer holidays are prime time for family reading — poring over nature books before a country hike, reading aloud on evenings by the campfire, or, best of all, sprawling on a raft, a dock, or a shady porch and sinking into the imaginative world of fiction.

One good place to start is The Little House Books (Laura Ingalls Wilder; illustrated by Garth Williams; Harper & Row, $29.95 for a boxed set of nine paperbacks; Ages 7 to 12) These sturdy classics of American children’s fiction, vivid chronicles of a waamly devoted pioneer family and its challenging life on a frontier farm, are perfect for ”immersion” summer reading. When you finish one book and surface reluctantly to the real world, you can always plunge right into the next volume. My own three kids once spent a whole summer racing through the adventures of Laura and her family and then play-acting the stories in the woods. Now grown, they swear they can still smell the scent of wood smoke and prairie flowers rising from the pages. A+

Preschoolers need not be left out. Keep them happy in the car with My Play a Tune Book Series (JTG, $15.95; Ages 3 to 8), complete with an eight-note electronic keyboard attached to sturdy plasticized pages. Even nonreaders will be able to play the simple tunes on the color-coded keys. B

River Parade (Alexandra Day; Viking, $12.95; Ages 3 to 8) is for more stationary moments. In shimmeringly lovely pictures and simple text, it tells of a small boy’s rowboat ride down a river with his father. First he tows his favorite toys on a string; then he overcomes his nervousness about the water and learns to swim. The rich colors recreate the sensual beauty of water and woods. A

When rain spoils a day at the beach, craft books come to the rescue. Barbara Reid has won awards for her dazzlingly bright and original illustrations made of Plasticine (soft, colorful modeling putty) and photographed for children’s books. She shares some of her secrets in Playing with Plasticine (Morrow, hardcover $11.88, paperback $6.95; Age 8 to 12), a how-to book that’s great fun. In clear black-and-white drawings, Barbara Reid shows how to invent bugs, monsters, animals, flat pictures, and free-standing play people, complete with play furniture, out of the irresistibly squishy stuff. A

For more ambitious creators, Bats, Butterflies and Bugs (S. Adams Sullivan; Little, Brown, $14.95; Ages 8 to 12) shows how to make action toys out of household objects. Bat costumes, gliders, magic-wand butterflies, bug kites, and giant attack bugs — get the scissors ready and stand back. Detailed directions are provided, as well as interesting snippets of bat and bug nature lore. A

Life in a Tidal Pool (Alvin and Virginia Silverstein; illustrated by Pamela and Walter Carroll; Little, Brown; $14.95; Ages 7 to 12) is one of the more unusual and useful nature books offered this season. It’s a leisurely narrative description of the minute life-forms found in seacoast tidal pools, accompanied by graceful black-and-white drawings. Because of its narrative approach, it’s informative without being baldly scientific. A

Don’t forget to pack good fiction for your older children. In Summer Light (Zibby Oneal; Viking, $12.95; Ages 12-plus) is a dreamy, intense, and richly textured novel about 17-year-old Kate’s struggle to work out her relationship with her domineering father, a famous artist. A