A gaggle of lively stories for young animal lovers

Gorillas, geese, and snails - three excellent new books present variety in living to match variety in children's interests. And it might be a good idea to introduce or follow up these titles with a trip to the zoo to see gorillas, an outing to spot Canada geese in flight, and a walk through the garden to look for snails. After all, there's nothing like first-hand experience to stretch a child's interest and expand his or her perspective. Koko's Story, by Dr. Francine Patterson, with photographs by Dr. Ronald H. Cohn (Scholastic, $10.95, ages 10 and up), is a true tale of a gorilla trained in captivity. It tells briefly how Koko learned sign language and then describes some of the things she does during a typical day among her human friends.

Gorillas may be intriguing to many youngsters, but they're neither cuddly nor attractive (in our society), and some of the pictures may therefore seem scary to little children. One picture, for example, shows the shadowy, black gorilla holding a tiny kitten as though it might choke it. Although the text is benign (except when the gorilla bites the trainer), the vocabulary easy, the type large, and the ideas simple and familiar, adults should be careful about reading this book to preschool children. But 10-year-olds and older no doubt will look at Koko with curiosity, pleasure, and cirumspection rather than fear. Still, there could have been more information about gorillas, their habits, and their intelligence, particularly in the wild - as opposed to Koko's artificial, caged environment (when she's not on a strong leash) in suburban California.

City Geese, by Ron Hirschi, with photographs by Galen Burrell (Dodd, Mead, $12.95, ages 8-11), has a lot to tell us about Canada geese. The photographs are especially good. Some feature baby goslings that will surely attract children, and all are packed with the kind of details youngsters love to look for. The book also has a glossary and index, which ought to meet the reference needs of children aged eight and older. The photographs should appeal to all ages, especially if the listener or reader has seen Canada geese in real life.

Of the three books, I enjoyed this one the most, perhaps because it calls us - even those of us who are confined to the steel and stone of urban living - to our natural environment with its depiction of wild, free-flying, beautiful geese.

Life of the Snail, by Theres Buholzer (Carolrhoda, $12.95, ages 10 and up), will be a special favorite with young scientists who can't resist studying small living things, for the photographs and text abound in observable, scientific detail.

This book describes the life and habits of three common land snails and shows how they get about, how they eat, reproduce, grow, and hibernate. It even tells of their estivation - their temporary state of inactivity during the summer. The text refers directly to the photographs and ends with both a glossary and index that are appropriate for young readers. First published in Zurich, Switzerland, and later translated for publication in the United States, it's a good example of international sharing for older children and adults.

All three books are well bound and printed on good, coated paper, with clear, bold type. All have attractive covers to match their contents. With the right child in mind, each can be a fine selection.

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