Summertime delving into adventure, mystery, computers, friendship, family life
''This was really interesting - there are a lot of things in here that aren't in normal books,'' says fourth-grader Jennifer Clark of Sharron Gilligan's The Three Wishes (Bantam-Skylark Book, $1.95, ages 7-10). Plopping the book onto a diminishing pile, she picks up another to critique. A roomful of children follow her example, plowing through a bunch of ''Choose Your Own Adventure'' and ''Pick a Path'' books which allow the reader to decide which actions to take in a number of pivotal points in the plot.
These books - called by some the ''Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys of our time'' - have been around long enough now to gain a certain reputation among children, who can tell you which ones are worth the $2 price tag. So we held an adventure book party recently to glean this expertise.
Literature lovers tend to throw up their hands at such books, pointing to their wooden characters, insipid (and occasionally ungrammatical) prose, and unbelievable plots. But it isn't the writing that children rate, we found - it's the choices.
''This book was pretty neat,'' said fifth-grader Ricky Nyman about R. A. Montgomery's Trouble on Planet Earth (Bantam Books, $1.95, ages 8-12). ''It had a choice on nearly every page.''
Girls sometimes bristle at the lack of heroines in overly macho adventures -'' 'The Star Crystal' was very, very adventurous, but they should have added a girl to the adventure I read,'' said one fifth grader. Boys have the same gripe about The Super Trail Bike Race (Pick a Path, $1.95, ages 7-10). ''They should have changed one of the girls to a boy,'' said one of our readers of this action-packed book.
But the multitude of choices invites children to read the books over and over again, and the unlikely adventures may spur imaginations, says one children's librarian. ''I'd rather see them reading than watching TV,'' she says, ''and I have to say that these books are very popular - we can't keep them on the shelf.''
Even the picture-book set are taking to them, with a new series called Your First Adventure, published by Bantam ($2.50). Using full-color drawings and half-page inserts, Marcia Leonard (author of ''Little Owl Leaves the Nest'' and ''Little Pig's Birthday'') gives children two ways to resolve a dilemma. ''I liked the pictures and thought it was funny,'' said a second-grader in our group who's been exposed to lots of these adventure books, ''but there wasn't enough choice. Maybe little kids would like it,'' she added with a sophisticated sniff.
For our money, adventure lovers would do well to investigate David Budbill, a stunning writer who has penned two haunting and beautiful wilderness tales - Snowshoe Trek to Otter River and Bones on Black Spruce Mountain (Bantam-Skylark Books, $1.95, ages 7-10). Each details, in ways a naturalist will love, the bond between two boys and their northern wilderness. ''Bones'' is the better of two good choices; in it, an orphan, recently adopted by a farm family, searches for the bones of a boy orphaned and left long ago on Black Spruce Mountain. The search outside parallels the search within himself, and helps him come to grips with his desolate childhood and face the coming years with a renewed sense of the joy of life.
Another adventure story based on reality is The Blooming of the Flame Tree, by Roberta Kehle (Crossway Youth Books, $3.95, ages 8-12), a teacher who works with Asian refugees in Washington State. In it, Tran, a Laotian villager, escapes the soldiers who invade his home, boards a rickety boat, endures a Malaysian refugee camp, and finally finds a home in America where he can practice Christianity without fear of imprisonment. The book is slow going at first, but provides insight into the lives of these courageous people.
If reality seems too harsh, fantasy lovers will appreciate Douglas Livingston's Journey to Aldairoon (Crossway Youth Books, $4.95), a perilous quest full of unicorns and lurking dangers that fulfills the fancies of those who enjoy playing dungeons and dragons.
William Sleator also writes works outside reality that tantalize children. Apple Paperbacks has issued his Into the Dream ($1.95, ages 8-12), a UFO tale with a twist. Two children - hardly friends - are haunted by the same dream, and finally join forces to uncover a child and dog who speak by extrasensory perception, saving them from adults who would use their strange power in nasty ways.
Things are not going well for the Black Hand Gang. The teller at the bank they just tried to rob was confused by their note - ''Stick em up, I've got a bun'' - and tells them - after explaining that a ''g'' has a loop with a tail that goes down, not up - that the bank has only $7. Then there was the train robbery (''I felt silly, standing around on that platform with my gun out, just watching the train go through'') and the cattle rustling (''If you'd told us you were afraid of cows, it would have helped'').
With this record, they're willing to submit themselves to wiser leadership - wisdom they find in Arthur the Kid, by Alan Coren (Bantam-Skylark, $2.25, ages 6 -8), a slapstick, goofy, but good-hearted book for young readers.
The same age group should enjoy Roald Dahl's gruesome plot in The Enormous Crocodile (Bantam-Skylark, $2.95), who sets out in search of a tasty tot: ''The sort of things that I am going to eat/Have fingers, toe-nails, arms and legs and feet!'' He informs the other animals of the mission, taking swipes at each of them as he goes.
This behavior alerts and alarms the animals, who proceed to save several children from a ghoulish end. Dahl's scrumptious language makes this a treat to read aloud: ''Oh, you horrid hoggish croc! You slimy creepy creature!''
Older readers will enjoy the quieter humor of Diane de Groat's Toad Food & Measle Soup (Puffin Books, $3.50, ages 7-10), a title that plays on the words of Leo, who adjusts to his mother's latest cooking kick - vegetarian entrees made of tofu and miso - until he and his Dad sneak into a fast-food joint and catch the family cook gobbling hamburgers.
The family in Johanna Hurwitz's Tough Luck Karen (Apple Paperbacks, $1.95, 8- 12) provides a supportive background, helping Karen - stretched between childish inclinations and grown-up dreams - learn to take on baby-sitting responsibilities and use her past success as a pen pal to turn out a difficult English assignment. In between there are disasters and relapses, and the strain of living with a child still finding herself. A well-written, humorous book.
Publishers of paperbacks do parents a favor by reissuing classics, providing quality reading for children at affordable prices. This summer's choices include Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys (Puffin Classics, $2.25, ages 8-12) - last in the series demanded by Miss Alcott's readers, which describes Jo's boys at Plumfield , a haven for ''poor orphaned boys''; and Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays (Puffin Classics, $2.25, ages 8-12), probably the first of the school-tale genre and still relevant today. Puffin has also reissued Thomas Hardy's only book for children, Our Exploits at West Poley ($2.25, 8-12), originally written in 1883, just before ''The Mayor of Casterbridge.'' The words may seem a little thick today, but the boys' exploits in the caves around West Poley generate familiar feelings of boyhood adventure and excitement.
Newbery Award winners have become the children's classics of today; three of these appear in paperback this year. Filmmaker Joseph Krumgold - the first writer to take two Newberys - has both of his 20-year-old prizewinners out as Harper Trophy paperbacks ($3.95 each, ages 8-12). These sensitive stories describe children in the middle: And Now Miguel, a middle child in a sheepherding family in the American Southwest, struggling to find his niche, and Onion John, the story of a boy torn between his father and the town misfit.
In 1950 Marguerite de Angeli took the Newbery for The Door in the Wall, a beautiful bit of historical literature that even children who dislike history will love. The medieval tale, an Apple Paperback ($1.95, ages 8-12), centers on Robin, a crippled child in plague-ridden London, taught self-reliance by a local monk who tells him ''we must teach thy hands to be skilled in many ways, and we must teach thy mind to go about whether thy legs will carry thee or not. For reading is another door in the wall.'' Through such doors, Robin finds a way to aid the king during a castle siege, and wins his knighthood.
A recent biography of Beatrix Potter on ''Masterpiece Theatre'' may have increased the flow of fans for this Victorian children's writer. Bantam continues to issue her works in paperback ($2.25 each, ages 3-6), coming out this year with The Tale of Two Bad Mice (who wreak havoc in a doll's house), The Roly-Poly Pudding (a cat, a rat, and a dirty dumpling), and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (who wants to raise a family). Warm color drawings by Allen Atkinson add charm to the little books.
A more recent writer of picture books is Stan and Jan Berenstain's son Michael, who draws creepy, funny black-and-white creatures called the Dwarks. Book 2 of their adventures, The Dwarks Meet Skunk Momma, is out as a Bantam-Skylark Book ($1.95) for early readers.
Tomi Ungerer's Moon Man (Harper Trophy, $4.95), for the same age group, is in full, rich color. It tells the all-too-human reactions that occur when the Man in the Moon decides to fall to earth, winds up in jail, escapes when the phases of the moon gradually make him invisible, and shoots back home in a rocketship launched by a sympathetic - and status-seeking - scientist.
A child is the adventurer in Jasper Tomkins's The Hole in the Ocean (A Star & Elephant Book, $8.95, ages 3-6), who falls through a whirlpool to a land identical in all ways to his own home. When he tells its residents that they lie beneath the sea, no one believes him. Only he and the fish he finds in his vest know the truth set out in rhymed couplets in this delicately illustrated book.
The pictures tell all in Friso Henstra's Mighty Mizzling Mouse and the Red Cabbage House (Little, Brown & Co., $4.95). The Dutch writer in this sequel to Mighty Mizzling Mouse shows his hero sawing a red cabbage into boards and building a dream house for himself and his redstockinged lady, only to have his dream gnawed to oblivion by a rabbit. But the last picture in this wordless book - of the mouse facing an oak with an ax - offers hope.
Would-be detectives enjoy the Sherluck Bones books of Jim and Mary Razzi, doggy satires of the famous London sleuth which give readers a chance to find the solution before the answer is revealed. Bantam-Skylark put out Book 5 this year ($1.95, ages 6-10), six stories with clever but scrutable solutions.
David Adler's character, Cam Jansen - so-called because her mind works like a camera, memorizing all it sees - is out in Dell Yearling paperbacks ($1.95 each, ages 7-10). Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Babe Ruth Baseball reveals the sneaky theft of a precious ball; and in Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Gold Coins, Cam and her friend Eric have to prove that there has been a theft in the first place - and then find the thief.
Nate the Great fans, who look forward to each of Marjorie Weinman Sharmat's books, will be happy to learn that Dell Yearling issued Nate the Great and the Snowy Trail this year ($1.95, ages 6-8). In it, Nate and his dog, Sludge, must find a birthday present lost by Rosamond who is, in his words, ''strange.'' So is the present - and its hiding place.
Older readers (8-12) will enjoy C. S. Adler's Footsteps on the Stairs (Dell Yearling, $2.25), a ghost mystery in which two stepsisters, adjusting to their parents' marriage, get caught up in the middle of a jealous quarrel between two young sisters from another time. Their solution is a dangerous one which will keep readers glued to the page - instead of the TV.
Summer seems to sprout summer camp stories; Gordon Korman's I Want To Go Home (Apple Paperbacks, $1.95, ages 8-10), fills this genre with a funny if unbelievable tale of Rudy Miller, the camper who won't fit in. His problem isn't lack of ability - indeed, the author would have you believe that young Miller is ready for the Olympics in all areas - but a simple refusal to conform which leads him and companion Mike Webster to a dozen different escape routes, all amusing.
More believable, and perhaps more touching, is Jessie Haas's Keeping Barney (Apple Paperbacks, $1.95, ages 8-12), a story of a horse that is everything the Black Stallion is not - old, grumpy, stubborn, and eccentric. Sarah learns to care for him during the school term when Barney's owner is away and grows herself in the process from a dreamer to a responsible kid.
Growing is also the subject of Bette Green's Get On Out of Here, Philip Hall (Dell Yearling Book, $2.25, ages 8-12), a touching sequel to Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe, about her upbringing in a small, black Arkansas town. In it, Beth takes a nearly lethal blow to her pride and decides to move in with her grandmother in the next town. While nursing her wounds, she discovers that leadership abilities can shine brighter through humility. A super book.
Finally, good readers might enjoy watching the summer Olympics with a copy of Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, by Shirley Glubok and Alfred Tamarin (Harper Trophy, $4.95, ages 10 and up). The authors, who write compelling histories of art for children, include tidbits like the tale of Herodorus, whose ability to blow two trumpets at once won him the trumpeter's competition for 10 successive Olympiads, and the difficulties of quenching (let alone bathing) thousands of early Olympic spectators with the nine freshwater sources available. Black and white photographs of Greek vases and scenes bring further freshness to this book.