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Trio of books to beat the rainy day blues

In New England, it's called ``mud season'' - that soggy, in-between time of year when winter hasn't quite departed and spring hasn't quite arrived. For little feet itching to be outside, yet another rainy day cooped up indoors can be agonizing. Curling up with a good book is a perfect activity for such an afternoon, and when it's a picture book that takes the reader outside into the bright sunlight of a summer day, all the better. Here's a trio of titles well suited for reading aloud together, books that children will enjoy reading on their own as well. They happen to feature girls, but can certainly be enjoyed by boys too.

In Sarah's Questions by Harriet Ziefert (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, $11.75, ages 3-6), we tag along as Sarah and her mother explore the countryside around their home playing ``I Spy'' and observing the ducks, bumblebees, and rambling clouds.

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Sarah is full of questions about everything she sees, something any child can relate to! It's not an enthralling story, but it's pleasant, and Susan Bonners's impressionistic illustrations evoke all the warmth of a summer day.

Illustrations are the strong point in Barbara Helen Berger's When the Sun Rose (Philomel Books, $13.95, ages 3-7). Glowing with bold color, they entice the reader into this imaginative tale of a solitary girl and the unusual playmate who appears one day on her doorstep. The story is allegorical, and can be read on several levels, but the simplicity of Berger's text make it accessible to even the youngest reader, and her eye-catching artwork will have children asking for it again and again.

The third book is geared to slightly older readers. Nora's Castle (Philomel Books, $12.95, ages 5-10) follows the adventures of a little girl and her playmates (some four-legged, some of the stuffed toy variety) who go out for a bike ride one day and end up discovering a deserted castle. Satomi Ichikawa's watercolor drawings are filled with detail, and children will enjoy poring over them as they hear how Nora and her friends host a party for the castle residents - an assortment of animals including an owl, a rabbit, a bat - and even a toad and a spider. The story was translated from Japanese by Simon Piggot.

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