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Children's books


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000

MAKE A BOOK: Six Different Books to Make, Write and Illustrate,by Vivien Frank and Deborah Jaffe (Dutton, $14.99)

What better way to instill a love of books than to have children make one with their own hands. Perhaps as a reaction to the impersonality of reading via computer, the authors' aim is to engulf the senses of young bookmakers in the history, design and feel of a book. Since papermaking came west from China, they start with a Thai folding book and proceed to a Japanese scroll. Next is a Book of Hours styled after a medieval source and then an 18th-century-styled movable. Flip books and newspapers are also included and, while they may stretch the definition, they show the versatility of the printed format. The authors have created a product that is sure to entertain kids, while giving hope to adults that the printed word can continue to adapt to new environs. Ages 7-12.

TRIUMPH ON EVEREST: A Photobiography of Sir Edmund Hillary,by Broughton Coburn (National Geographic Society, $17.95)

This book changed my perception of the man who, with Tenzing Norgay, "conquered" the world's highest peak. If you have an impression of Hillary as a British aristocrat calmly sipping a cup of tea at 29,000 feet while his Sherpa guide toted 100 pounds of equipment on his back, be prepared to be disabused of that notion. It is only after the fact that Hillary became a knight of the British Empire (after receiving a letter from the British Embassy to which he reacted, "My God! I'll have to get a new pair of overalls!"). In reality he was no British gentleman at all but a New Zealand beekeeper, a man of little scholastic accomplishment, equipped with enormous energy and ambition. (And for the record, he never said "Because it is there" when his motivation for the climb was questioned -- that was Englishman George Mallory.)

I worry about holding up mountain climbers and other daredevils as role models for our kids. A recent spate of media offerings on Everest, including an IMAX film and Jon Krakauer's excellent Into Thin Air, expose the dangers of such foolhardy adventures while tantalizing youngsters with the impossible dream of an insurmountable challenge. What would happen if the time, energy and money of these self-styled heroes were turned to the really hard tasks -- say, eliminating hunger or solving the world's ecological crises?

Hillary's life shows that one area of endeavor does not exclude the other. The fame garnered by his ascent of Everest allowed him to succeed in humanitarian causes. After a 1957 expedition across Antarctica, Hillary returned to Nepal and created a school for the Sherpas, whose assistance had been invaluable to him and Norgay. He has continued to promote Nepalese culture throughout his life, and in 1998 was honored by the Dalai Lama for his service to Tibet.

Coburn's spare but thorough text and the superb photographs collected by the National Geographic staff have created a lucid and entertaining record of one of the century's most remarkable achievements. Ages 8-up.

Michael Maschinot is a writer who lives in Decatur, Ga.

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