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Pictures and answers for inquisitive kids

It's no secret that children are naturally curious. As many a parent knows, often the first word learned after ``Mommy'' and ``Daddy'' is ``Why?'' Here's a selection of delightful nonfiction picture books guaranteed to answer children's questions on a variety of topics: Gail Gibbons again demonstrates her expertise at illustrating and explaining subjects of interest to the younger reader with her two latest books: The Milk Makers (Macmillan, 32pp., $12.95, ages 5 to 8) and Fill It Up! All About Service Stations (Thomas Y. Crowell, unnumbered, $9.95, ages 5 to 9).

``The Milk Makers'' takes milk off the supermarket shelf and back to the pasture. In clear, straightforward terms, the reader is walked through each step of the milk-production process -- from cow to dairy to breakfast table. Interesting and informative for adults as well as children.

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``Fill It Up! All About Service Stations'' gives the young reader a behind-the-scenes look at a busy service station -- the repair shop, the underground gas tanks, and the employees and their varied tasks. Nicely illustrated.

Franklyn M. Branley's Volcano (Thomas Y. Crowell, 32 pp., $11.50, ages 4 to 8) highlights three major volcanic eruptions -- Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Tambora, and Mt. St. Helens -- and explains how volcanoes are formed. Marc Simont's bold, colorful illustrations draw the reader into the slightly more involved text.

Gardening can be a fun family activity, and with a little guidance, children can learn to be active participants. In My Garden: A Child's Gardening Book (Macmillan, 32 pp., $12.95, ages 4 to 7), by Helen and Kelly Oechsli, offers step-by-step advice for the budding gardener on everything from preparing the soil to planting and weeding. Mr. Oechsli's whimsical illustrations promise that this book is one that will be read and re-read -- for pleasure as well as practicality.

Heather Vogel Frederick is on the Monitor's staff.

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