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I got lost in a bookstore once. Mom and I wandered into different sections to look around. When I thought it was time to go, I realized that the shelves were much taller than I was, and everywhere I turned seemed to be a dead end. The front desk was my only hope. I darted through the poetry section toward the sound of the cash register. Then Mom cut me off at the card section.

``Did you get lost in a book?'' she asked.

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It was much later that I understood what ``getting lost in a book'' meant, and that getting lost in a bookstore was not a bad thing. (Even these days, the shelves are still taller than I am.)

I've always thought of bookstores as places to venture into the unknown - to daydream or take a trip.

Why not the library? Libraries are good, but where I grew up, the town library never let kids into the grown-up rooms. Although the books for kids were great, I felt I was missing out on a lot of things.

Those thick, heavy books that had photos and maps, drawings and diagrams, and big words were waiting to be looked at, even if I couldn't understand them. In bookstores, however, I could look at just about any book I chose.

One of my favorite bookstores is about a mile from where I live. It's a small one-room shop with creaky wooden floors and chairs to daydream in. Sometimes I sit on the floor.

I've come to recognize the salespeople there - the man with glasses the size of quarters, the young woman who looks after the tabby cat. It's not like other bookstores that seem like hotel lobbies with elevators, new carpet, a cafe, and salespeople who look at you as if to say, ``Don't open that book unless you plan to buy it.'' My bookstore is for exploring.

By exploring, I don't mean just looking for books to buy. I mean using your imagination to get lost in books. It's like taking a trip without actually getting in a car or onto a ship, train, or airplane.

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All you have to do is go from book to book, the way a bee goes from flower to flower. Then let the daydreaming begin.

Last night, I decided to do just that, so I went to my bookstore for some adventure. Here's how it went.

AS I walked into the store, aisle No.4 seemed to be calling me. I nodded to the salespeople and headed toward the history section. I picked up a thick book about the American West, closed my eyes and opened it.

There was an old black-and-white photo of some men on cliffs overlooking the Grand Canyon. I read that back in the 1870s, a photographer named William Henry Jackson took photos of the Rocky Mountain West. The men in this particular photo, looking like ants compared with the huge canyon, were part of Ferdinand V. Hayden's geological and ecological survey, which meant they were checking out the territory to put it on maps. One man looks as though he has a telescope.

Can you imagine what it would be like to come up to an edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time? It must have been awe-inspiring. They're up high and isolated. And so am I....

Because now I've turned to a book called ``Treehouses,'' by Peter Nelson. Quickly flipping past the diagrams and building plans, I imagine that I've already built my treehouse in a very tall tree. I'm up here perched so high, I can see the ocean. With my telescope, I can see fishing boats, even the sea spray from the waves.

On another page in the book, some kids have dressed up like pirates in their treehouse, which looks like an old wooden boat.

Hmmm. Now I see a large book in the art section with a woman on the cover who looks a little scared, or maybe she is just thinking. The book is about the artist Jan Vermeer, a Dutch painter who lived in the 17th century.

I flip to a page that shows ``Detail of `Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.' '' She's wearing a small hat and has curls beside her face - and, yes, a letter in her hand. I imagine that her cousin wrote to her from some far-off land. (If she lived in a treehouse, how would she get mail delivered?)

A few pages beyond are paintings Vermeer did of ``The Astronomer'' and ``The Geographer.'' They are similar because both men are thinking by a window, one about the heavens and one about the earth. The geographer looks as if he's thinking about a trip somewhere; there's a globe on a chest, and he has a compass in his hand.

Time for me to chart a course somewhere: Ireland. I've just thrown down the anchor of my tall sailing ship near Inishmaan, part of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The seas are very rough, but the scenery is beautiful.

The book I'm lost in is a travel-photography book about Ireland. One page shows two women walking alongside bright green fields sectioned off by rock walls. The ocean is in the background. I imagine saying hello to them. ``We're going over to see Pat and Claudette. They have a new pup. Come along?'' they ask me. ``No thanks,'' I tell them, ``I'm going out to the cliffs to write a letter.''

OK. Time to chart another course. I float over to Aisle No. 2. The nature section, which is one of my favorites. A huge book on snakes looms in front of me. Yuck, no thanks. But look, something funny: On the shelf marked ``pets,'' someone has misplaced a book on whales.

If I had a whale for a pet, her name would be Moana. She'd be a humpback whale, like the ones in this book by photographer Mitsuaki Iwago. Being a whale looks fun: spouting, jumping, swimming underwater with babies; opening the mouth for fish, and flipping the tail.

I'm back on land now, walking by homes and comparing window boxes. This is a strange change from whales, but I see books on gardening and am drawn to one on window boxes. One photo shows a wooden houseboat with window boxes; what a great idea. Flowers add a burst of color and decoration to the home that hums along the waterways.

All this time, I've been so lost in books that I don't hear the sounds around me. A familiar song is playing ``Is that the Chattanooga choo-choo?''

I look up, and a man rolls one of the bookstore's ladders along the wall rails to another shelf so he can get a book high up. The rickety sound reminds me of trains even more. ``It's time to find something out about trains,'' I say to myself.

Back in trusty aisle No. 4, I spy the large 1994 Guinness Book of World Records. I look in the index under ``railroads.'' Then I read the facts: Wagons running on wooden rails were used for mining as early as 1550 in France. The longest railway in the world is the Trans-Siberian Railway; the busiest is the East Japan Railway, which in 1992 gave 12,306,000 people rides every day.

The fastest train in the United States is the Amtrak X2000, which has a maximum speed of 155 m.p.h. The highest railroad line is the Central Railway of the Peruvian State Railway, which reaches an altitude of 15,806 feet.

Who gets all this information and compares all these trains? I wonder. Which one would I want to ride the most?

I've always liked riding on trains. Looking out the window, you can see clearly where you're going and where you've been, even if the present scene is whizzing by. Like bookstores, trains are good places to daydream.

Oops, daydreaming in this bookstore has almost made me late; I have to catch a train home! Next time, I'll give myself more time to get lost.

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