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Books for the young scientist

When I was little I thought a tail would be handy, especially for climbing trees and signaling. My mother was shocked and would have none of it. And that was that. Now, however, I see that I was not alone. Marlene M. Robinson, a science teacher, writer, and zoo educator, has produced a delightful little book called What Good Is a Tail? (New York: Dodd, Mead. 48 pp. $10.95) for children aged 7 to 10. Excellent photographs of all sorts of animals' tails give clues to answering the question posed by the book's title, followed on the flip side of the page by a picture of the complete animal and information on how it uses its tail. At long last, somebody u nderstands! Children will be enchanted.

Somebody understands gorillas, too. Koko's Kitten, by Dr. Francine Patterson, with photographs by Ronald H. Cohn (New York: Scholastic Inc. 29 pp. $9.95), tells the now famous story of how the bored captive gorilla Koko adopted a kitten, and of the communication about this tiny pet which occurred between the gorilla and Dr. Patterson, who taught Koko to speak in sign language. Children may already know about this enterprise from National Geographic magazine, but they may also enj oy having their own book about it.

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Moving us farther off the surface of Earth is Space Telescope, by Franklyn M. Branley, illustrated by Giulio Maestro (New York: T. Y. Crowell, A Voyage Into Space Book. 66 pp. $11.50). A very timely book this is, with the United States space telescope due to be launched in the near future. Dr. Branley explains what it is, how it is put together and how it will function, and what scientists hope to learn by using it. Peering at the universe from a vantage point outside Earth's atm osphere removes the veil, as it were. Adults also will find this little book a handy summary.

Saturn and Jupiter, both by Seymour Simon (New York: Morrow Junior Books, William Morrow & Co. 32 pp. each, $11.75), are two more books in a series the same author began with ``Earth'' and ``Moon.'' He uses NASA computer-enhanced photographs familiar to us from the images sent back by planetary probes several years ago. Simon neatly summarizes the information gained at the time, for children aged 4 to 8. One quibble: A photograph taken by Voyager 1, labeled as showing three of Sa turn's moons along with the planet, actually shows only one moon.

All of the books except ``Koko's Kitten,'' ``Saturn,'' and ``Jupiter,'' have indexes, which make them handier for continued use than they would be otherwise.