For young readers -- a close look at nature

By , Children's book editor of The Christian Science Monitor

In keeping with the year-long theme of nature designated for 1982 by the Children's Book Council, publishers have outdone themselves by producing an outstanding array of books on subjects from snowflakes to spiders. I've selected five of the best to recommend here especially for Children's Book Week (Nov. 15-21).

Into Winter: Discovering a Season, written by William P. Nestor and illustrated by Susan Banta (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 176 pp., $9.95, for Grades 5-9), is a fine outdoor sourcebook. From it young naturalists in cold climates can learn to discover life in deceptively silent winter woods, fields, ponds, and streams.

Not only does the book provide plenty of facts but also suggests such activities as observing the structure of snowflakes with a magnifying glass, and learning to recognize the tracks of various animals from examples given as well as their daily activities from reading such clues as dropped shells, cones, feathers, or bark in the snow.

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The book includes an interesting section on how to recognize birds by size, shape, and coloring, and on various details to watch for at a feeder. Children can also learn how to make suet-seed cakes and to coax birds to eat out of their hands.

Sections on plants and trees show how to identify species by examining a twig , the placement of buds, and the shape of the pith in the stem. Included are tips on exploring ponds and marshes, collecting specimens, and keeping field journals.

This volume could help turn some youngsters into fine junior naturalists and give them numerous ideas for winter projects outdoors. And if nature study isn't enough, a final chapter devoted to recreation shows how to make snowshoes from conifer branches or wood slats, activities that come high on my own list for winter fun.

Other worthy books include The Spider (with pictures by Barbara Firth) and The Fox (with pictures by Kenneth Lilly), both from a British nature series written by Margaret Lane and distributed in the United States by the Dial Press, at $9.95 each.

Ms. Lane's previous books have been highly praised for their beauty and conciseness, and these are no exception. In fact, they may be the most attractive nonfiction picture books of the season. The layouts include a series of double- page, full-color illustrations each with a brief text.

In ''The Spider,'' author Lane succeeds in making the reader appreciate this creature's unique role in ridding the ecosystem of many troublesome insects. What's more, Lane may even turn a few readers into spider enthusiasts.

In ''The Fox,'' she presents an often misunderstood animal in a new light, showing how foxes live, sometimes ever so quietly in the backyards of suburbia, though most of us are unaware of them. These books are ideal for Grades 1-4.

Edna Miller's Mousekin's Fables (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall Inc., pages unnumbered, $9.95, Grades 1-4) is part of the Mousekin picture book series. This addition has delightful illustrations of picturesque woods. For the text, 12 of Aesop's fables have been adapted to suit each month of the year. For January, the reader is treated to a fable about Mousekin quietly nibbling grass at the edge of a frozen pond. He's being stalked by a house cat, who unthinkingly pounces, only to find himself in deep trouble. The moral? What else - look before you leap!

As the months go by, the handsome illustrations reflect the changing seasons and show how they affect such forest animals as the bobcat, fox, and the familiar tortoise and hare. One confusion detracts slightly from the overall effect: the text, with its ragged line endings, looks like poetry, but the expected rhyme and meter aren't there.

Animals that Migrate, with text by Caroline Arnold and pictures by Michele Zylman (Minneapolis, a Carolrhoda On-My-Own Book, 55 pp., $5.95, Grades 1-3), should delight beginning readers who want to try their new skills on a science book. The migrating habits of seven animals are described in a fairly interesting way, even though the vocabulary is limited to words an early reader can recognize and understand. As author Arnold explores the reasons for migration - extremes of heat and cold, the need for food, and for a safe place for babies to be born - she spotlights arctic terns, which fly 11,000 miles each way from pole to pole; South American green turtles; and Lapland reindeer.

These books represent only a sample of this year's nature smorgasbord. Treat yourself and a special young reader to at least one nibble during the season.

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