The wacky crew at Planet Dexter has...

The wacky crew at Planet Dexter has done it again, producing an excellent science mix disguised as an ill-fitting toupee. The Hairy Book is just that: hairy, with a delightful black fake hair cover impossible not to rub. No joke is unturned, starting with "Hair It Is: A Table of Contents" and continuing through such topics as "Hairballs and Other Gaggers," "Wig Pigs" and "Colors to Dye For."

The writing is fun and informative, the illustrations by Jack Keely charming and hilarious. Kids are fascinated--teenagers obsessed--by their locks. "The Hairy Book" comes with its own pink comb so kids can fiddle with their body's most obvious feature while they absorb this irresistible hirsute biology lesson.

Weighing in at an impressive 304 pages, The Ultimate Book of Cross-Sections may discourage other publishers from entering and/or continuing in this popular genre. The wonderful graphics are endlessly fascinating and are supplemented by clearly written text, glossaries, technical data and notes. The range of vehicles is impressive, with everything from an excavator to a Range Rover neatly sliced, diced and served up for inspection.

Amphibians & Reptiles is a choice item for nature-minded kids who have computers. This book/CD-ROM makes for a nifty cross-media educational exploration. Dozens of creatures are served up in an appealing, educational way, and the book and CD-ROM nicely reinforce lessons.

Children who can't get enough of the Land of Sweets during the holiday season will enjoy The Magical World of the Nutcracker. The charming box, with its fold-out cover (the kids will treasure the box as much as its contents), contains a small version of the book by E.T.A. Hoffmann, card games, a swan-shaped musical ornament for the Christmas tree (it plays a smidgen of you-know-which Tchaikovsky ballet), a jigsaw puzzle and a board game. The board game is Race to Marzipan Palace--you were expecting Monopoly?--and the puzzle is a rendition of a party at Marzipan Palace. Even the Rat King's teeth would need an extra dose of fluoride treatment after this.

The Missing Cat fills a neglected educational niche: language instruction for youngsters. A boxed set with paperback book and 60-minute audiocassette, this inaugural entry in a series called "Adventures With Nicholas" from the Berlitz language experts uses the story line to introduce more than 200 Spanish words and phrases. The words are presented in a manner that allows the listener to recognize patterns and anticipate words and phrases about food, greetings and the like. Other versions of "The Missing Cat" will cover Italian, French and German for English-speaking children and English for Spanish-speaking children.

Parents of a certain age may think they are having a flashback when they open The M.C. Escher Jigsaw Puzzle Book. This nice stocking stuffer contains eight of his works in two-sided puzzles. Kids will find the brilliant patterns to be, er, groovy.


THE HAIRY BOOK (Planet Dexter: $12.99)

THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF CROSS-SECTIONS (Dorling Kindersley: $29.95)



THE MISSING CAT (Berlitz Kids: $14.95)


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