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Books for Young Adults : NONFICTION

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Santa Monica author Lynda Madaras is known for her frank chatter in her growing-up guides for adolescents (“What’s Happening to My Body?”). Now she Talks to Teens About AIDS: An Essential Guide for Parents, Teachers, and Young People (Newmarket Press: $12.95, cloth; $5.95, paper; 106 pp.)--and she is as candid as a bold best friend. Madaras doesn’t care if her intimate details make you blush--after all, nobody has ever died of embarrassment. But scores of people--kids included--are dying from this infectious disease and she wants to help stop its spread.

Considering the mounds of ongoing research, her medical information is as up to date as possible. She discusses symptoms, history, rumors and startling statistics: More than 12 million teen-agers in this country are sexually active, which is half the teen population. “If you’re having sex, you’re at risk.” Madaras advises abstinence as the best prevention and to stay away from drugs (such as contaminated needles). She is right in believing we need to give kids as much information as possible.

Diagrams and a chapter addressed to teens on how they can enjoy safer sex will shock many adults. Madaras adds wholly unnecessary fun by suggesting “sexy” ways to apply condoms and ways to carry them safely, such as in a “glamorous antique cigarette case.” A misguided teen-ager could easily interpret this breezy shop talk as a “how to” rather than a “why not to.”

Perhaps it’s idealistic to hope that every kid who picks up this book will take questions and concerns to a caring elder. The preface urges adults to communicate and, despite any objections to premarital sex, they should merely express their views to kids, not moralize. Some will feel this is a wimpy attitude. History has demonstrated that knowledge without morals can produce unhappy results.

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My Friends’ Beliefs: A Reader’s Guide to World Religions (Walker: $18.95; 183 pp.) will be useful for kids intrigued by various religions and could possibly entice them to evaluate their own spirituality. Since there are an estimated 300 religious bodies in the United States, Hiley H. Ward limits the bulk of his study to major world groups (Jewish, Christian, Hindu, etc.). He covers such diverse groups as Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses and Unitarians, which loom smaller on the world scene even if they are large in the United States.

Some of the most interesting pages are profiles of young Americans: A Buddhist monk shares how he arises at 5 a.m. to meditate and do breathing exercises, a ritual that would have most teen-agers groaning in protest; a 13-year-old describes the joy of her Bat Mitzvah; a Cherokee Indian tells how her belief in God and her Christian baptism parallels her Native American heritage.

The text is brightened, if only slightly, by a handful of historical paintings and black-and-white photos, some of which appear twice. However, readers who dare to dig in will admire the dedication and depth of their peers portrayed in this work.

Sumptuous reproductions from artist-adventurers George Catlin, Karl Bodmer and Charles Russell will invite kids (and adults) to stare at these pages time and again. Buffalo Hunt by Russell Freedman (Holiday House: $16.95; 52 pp.) tells of how millions of these shaggy beasts once roamed the Great Plains and how the Indians considered them sacred, life sustaining animals. Unfortunately, by the 1860s, Sioux Chief White Cloud lamented--accurately--that “Wherever the whites are established, the buffalo is gone and the red hunters must die of hunger.” Freedman delivers another history as equally elegant as “Lincoln: A Photobiography,” for which he won the 1987 Newbery Medal.

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Birth of the Republic (Franklin Watts: $9.95; 96 pp.) is one in a set of four pleasing volumes (“Colonies in Revolt,” “At the Forge of Liberty,” “Darkest Hour”) on the American Revolution, all new by Alden R. Carter. An index, suggested reading list, a table of contents, six easy-to-read chapters and at least a dozen period illustrations sprinkle life onto what is often a dry history lesson.


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