A CHILDREN'S ZOO by Tana Hoban (Greenwillow: $11.75; 24 pp.; ages 3-6).

One of the towns I lived in 20 years ago was immensely proud of its zoo, a tiny park with just two cages. In one, a mountain lion paced along a cement floor and in the other sat a forlorn bear. Most of us felt sad for their loneliness but curious as well. We wanted to see more creatures, "real" ones, and not just the stiff drawings in our textbooks.

How we would have appreciated these exhibits of captive animals, photographed in natural and cheerful surroundings. In "A Children's Zoo," huge white letters on a black background spell, for instance, "PARROT" with three words describing it ("red, blue, squawks"), followed on the opposite page by a bright photo. All of the 11 animals here are vivid except for the seal, which looks like a plug of licorice. This is a friendly tour for little ones, with a minor glitch: The illustrated glossary says seals are from the Arctic and Antarctica, not mentioning they also originate in the Galapagos Islands and on the coasts the Americas.

ANDY BEAR: A POLAR CUB GROWS UP AT THE ZOO by Ginny Johnston and Judy Cutchins (Morrow: $13; 66 pp.; ages 7-10).

In the Arctic, a male polar bear will kill any newcomer, even its own baby, so mothers hide with their newborns beneath the snow in large dens for several months. Not much is understood about their needs and, as a result, few cubs born in captivity survive. So when the Atlanta (Georgia) Zoological Park found that its mated polar bears had a newborn, the little bear was quickly rescued by zookeeper Constance Morgan. What follows is the heartwarming story of Andy Bear's first year, the round-the-clock care by Constance, and finally his move to a custom-built cage with swimming pool. Including more than 60 photos, this book shows youngsters one of the better situations for captive animals.

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