Pop-Up Books -- ''Curious George,'' ''Worms Wiggle,'' and ''Fire Fighters'' are some of the titles recommended

Seeing a story’s figures come to life adds an element of excitement to reading and heightens the anticipation of turning the page. Parents who remember pop-up books as fragile curiosities, more to be admired than handled, should know that publishers are now making them sturdy enough to withstand the wear and tear of children eager to test moving parts. Even so, a few of the new books require careful handling, and, depending on a child’s dexterity, sometimes parental supervision. Hope may spring eternal, but a mistreated pop-up book won’t. Here are some of the best new titles.

Small Talk
Jan Pienkowski
A nonsensical tale built around the way small talk is altered as it’s passed from one animal to another, this story will hold kids’ attention: The brightly drawn creatures seem to spring off the page, closing their mouths as the book is opened. A

Worms Wiggle
David Pelham; Illustrations by Michael Foreman
Small enough for little hands, this brightly illustrated book will delight young children because it combines the mystery of a lift-the-flap book with three-dimensional figures. The left-hand pages feature pictures of animals; the right-hand pages contain the flaps, under which the animals hide, or in this case, glide, slide, creep, and leap. Amazingly, those movements are mimicked expertly. A

Curious George
H.A. Rey
They’re all here: George the monkey, the man with the yellow hat, the angry firemen, and the balloon man. Thankfully, the charmingly innocent drawings are just as they appeared 50 years ago in the first edition of this popular book. The text is altered only slightly (George, evidently now health-conscious, skips his after-dinner pipe.) While several of the pop-up scenes are effective, a few are difficult to see unless the top of the book is tilted down about 45 degrees. This, like George, is very curious. B

The Wheels on the Bus
Adapted and Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Kids familiar with the song for which this book is named will enjoy seeing the lyrics brought to life by wheels that go round and round and wipers that go swish, swish, swish. (For those who don’t know the song, the words and music are printed on the back cover.) Parents of very young kids might want to give a driver’s ed. course of sorts before letting them solo; some of the book’s tabs require nimble fingers, and some flaps are easily torn. A-

Fire Fighters
Peter Seymour; Illustrated by Norm Ingersoll
Like many pop-up books, this one has plenty of appealing mechanical effects, but it also has a substantive text. Young children who might not understand the writing will be fascinated nonetheless by fire fighters who seem to leap off the page as they aim a nozzle at a building ablaze. Elsewhere in the book, characters slide down poles and jump into safety nets. Older children can read about fire-fighting equipment and can even find out how dalmatians came to be linked with fire stations (it’s because dalmatians get along well with horses, the animals that pulled fire wagons). A

What’s in the Prehistoric Forest?
Peter Seymour; Illustrated by David A. Carter
Suspense lurks on every page of this short, inviting book that asks children to guess the identity of hidden animals. The answers lie behind flaps that reveal drawings or pop-up figures of such creatures as a triceratops and a stegosaurus. The climax comes on the final two pages, with the startling appearance of the biggest animal, which may leave some small children tyrannosaurus wrecks. A

When the Wild Pirates Go Sailing
Kees Moerbeek and Carla Dijs
A cute story about a fearless band of pirates provides the pretext for the appearance of a creature on each set of facing pages. The animals are imaginatively engineered so that several of them extend to almost double the height of the book. In fact, some children initially may be frightened by the dramatic rise of the octopus, sea dragon, or polar bear. A

King Arthur and the Magic Sword
Howard Pyle; designed by Keith Moseley; pictures by John James
Although highly condensed, this version of the story of Arthur’s ascent to the throne of England hews close to the style and tone of the 1903 book from which it was adapted. The illustrations and pop-up scenes are appropriately elaborate and lavish, capturing the color of such events as a jousting match and Arthur’s attempt to pull a sword from an anvil. This book’s sure to keep older kids up for knights. A