``Let's put on a play.'' With those five words, many a winter afternoon's entertainment begins. Give most youngsters a box full of old hats and shoes, and a tube of pink lipstick, and they'll throw together an show that would dazzle Broadway.
In between painting themselves and their sets, the neighborhood cast can enjoy two engaging new books about the theater.
Angelina on Stage, by Katharine Holabird, with illustrations by Helen Craig (Clarkson N. Potter, $7.95, ages 4-8) takes young thespians backstage to visit with two of their favorite mice. In this sequel to ``Angelina Ballerina,'' the graceful leading lady is invited to play a fairy in a grown-ups' ballet. To Angelina's unconcealed dismay, Cousin Henry (who does a wobbly arabesque, at best) also is asked to take part.
How these would-be stars remember their lines and salvage their friendship is the story at the heart of this light tale. Even more appealing are the glimpses of the make-believe world behind the footlights.
What lifts ``Angelina'' above the everyday into the magical, however, is the author's understanding of what performing and play-making mean to very young children. Her prancing mice may fidget and fuss, but they love what they're doing and ultimately they succeed.
For the older dramatist, there's Theater Magic: Behind the Scenes at a Children's Theater, by Cheryl Walsh Bellville (Carolrhoda Books, $12.95, ages 6-12). Carolrhoda is a Midwest publisher with a reputation for producing high quality non-fiction books, and the mix of black-and-white and color photos in ``Theater Magic'' is up to their usual standard.
As the author follows the members of the Minneapolis Children's Theatre Company through auditions and dress rehearsals, she also turns the spotlight on the behind-the-scenes workers who design wigs and weld flats.
Because so many terms are defined, from ``cues'' to ``blocking'' to ``backdrops,'' this book apparently is intended for newcomers. That's unfortunate, because while the author does a good job of portraying the technical workings of a children's theater, she fails to communicate the kind of excitement that comes from being part of a show.