Bandicoots and baseball. Books for young readers. Behind the scenes: a farm, the ballpark

IN spring, whose thoughts don't turn to such things as horseback riding and baseball? Two new books of photographs will give aspiring equestrians and pitchers a head start before summer.

Born to Run, by Neil Johnson (Scholastic, New York, $13.95, 32 pp., ages 5 to 8), is an appealing look at life on a Louisiana thoroughbred-horse farm. The photos are full-color with hints of sepia tones, and crisp enough to catch early-morning dew on the blue grass.

This is a good introduction to thoroughbred racing which provides thoughtful explanations for each new word that's used - ``foal,'' ``colt,'' ``filly,'' ``yearling,'' even jockeys' ``silks.''

As the author/photographer traces the life of a newborn foal through the weaning process and early training on the track, readers learn that all foals have the same first birthday, Jan. 1, and that they have to learn to relax as well as to run like the wind.

What's most important of all for a winning racehorse to have? The ``special winning spirit,'' simply called ``heart.''

Reading At the Ball Park, text and photographs by Ken Robbins (Viking Kestrel, New York, $13.95, 32 pp., all ages), is almost as good as spending an afternoon in the bleachers.

Author Robbins sets out to share the ``things you never see on TV'' and does a fine job of bringing players and spectators closer together.

With brief text and evocative hand-tinted photos (reminiscent of last year's ``Beach Days''), he shows us the early-morning crews painting baselines and bases.

We go into the locker room and watch an assortment of Red Sox, Cardinals, and Mets suit up for a big game.

Then it's out to the playing field for exercises and batting practice. Kids line up at the snack bar and parents hail hot dog vendors from the stands.

All in all, a gently colorful behind-the-scenes look at a favorite American pastime.

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