If any further evidence is needed that children's sidelines are among the fastest growing niche in a rapidly expanding industry, look to these new products from companies both old and new.

The aptly named Kid Galaxy of Manchester, N.H., announces two new stars in its panoply of children's playthings and products. Bendos are colorful, quirky plastic characters that bend and pose (reminiscent of Gumby but far more elaborate) and are intended to offer an imaginative alternative to the proliferation of licensed, often violent, action figures. Standing tall at 5.5 inches, Bendos have hands that grip, hold and connect and weighted feet to keep them balanced and stable. The 45 characters in the first series of Bendos range from bungee jumpers to barnstormers, construction workers, cops, aliens, snowboarders and an accident-prone Johnny D . Slightly retro, highly tongue-in-cheek, each Bendo comes with its own accessories and attitude. Coming this fall are Bendos action sets (one figure with even more accessories or vehicles) and a national Bendos contest in which kids can design and name a new Bendo action figure. The winning figures in two age categories will be reproduced and may be included in a future Bendos series. (Contest rules are available in detail at www.bendos.com or by writing Bendos Contest at Kid Galaxy Inc., One Sundial Ave., Suite 310, Manchester, NH 03103).

In a completely different vein, Kid Galaxy premieres Dream Doll Designer, the first CD-ROM that enables kids to design, dress and personalize (plus order, if desired) their own dolls. Using a simple-to-operate program, children can quickly create dozens of dolls with varying face shape, skin color, hairstyle, hair and eye color, eyebrow shape and color, lip color, blush style and color and freckles style and color, not to mention hundreds of outfits. Each doll can be further personalized with her own name and a scrapbook that can be printed out. If ordered, the favorite customized Dream Doll (freestanding, 18.5 inches tall, with movable limbs), plus clothes and accessories (at additional cost), should arrive within two to three weeks. This is an intriguing mix, interactive software for doll play. Call Kid Galaxy at (888) 809-0608, fax (603) 645-6323.

The marvelously kid-friendly folks at Peaceable Kingdom Press, in Berkeley, Calif., continue to branch out from their basic line of high-quality greeting cards reproducing illustrations from classic and contemporary children's literature. Story Stickers, a new line of sticker sheets that incorporate words and images from classic children's literature, are designed to embellish notebooks, backpacks or any other inviting flat surface and can be used to create one's own version of a time-honored tale. Each Story Stickers title appeals to a range of readers, from beginners (Things That Go; Goodnight Moon) to more advanced readers (Toot & Puddle; Alice in Wonderland). Both individual flat packs (at least 40 stickers each) and rolls of stickers are available for nine licenses (among them the phenomenally popular Lilly and Friends). Call (510) 644-9801, fax (510) 644-9805.

Peaceable joins forces with Klutz Press, in Palo Alto, Calif., to extend its charming greeting-card line upward in age toward the hard-to-please preteen crowd. The new Klutz Kardz line debuts with Klutz Activity Kardz and Real Kidz Kardz. The activity cards are tri-fold birthday cards with art and antics from the pages of Klutz activity books. One example features a fortune-telling "cootie catcher" with the question "What kind of a birthday will you have?" Zany tips and detailed directions on how to create a cootie catcher meld entertainingly with real-life kid photos and the accustomed Klutz flair for graphics. Another card gives how-to pointers on tabletop football, including full directions for making your own, while wishing the recipient "Happy Birthday! You score!" Kidz Kardz offer a slightly less sardonic edge, showcasing photographs of real kids in their cutest and cleverest moments, taken from the Klutz archives. In one, a girl dressed in a purple smock and work boots sports a metal pail over her head while advising the reader to "Have a Happy Birthday (but don't lose your head)." Currently available in eight different images. Call (510) 644-9801, fax (510) 644-9805.

The folks at MerryMakers Inc., in Oakland, Calif., have been growing their product line of utterly delightful soft dolls and toys based on the best of children's literature by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. Their expanded Kevin Henkes (author of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse) offerings now feature a veritable boutique of Lilly merchandise, ranging from a Lilly doll and musical purse to Lilly's movie-star sunglasses and, for back-to-school, Lilly's school set of pencil case with pencil, ruler, scissors and purple purse-shaped eraser; finger puppets of Lilly and her exquisite little mouse friends are also available. (The bookstore boutique itself could be further developed with other Lilly licenses, among them Gamewright's Lilly games [call 800-638-7568, fax 800-735-7020], Galison/Mudpuppy Press's Lilly puzzles [call 212-354-8840]; Peaceable Kingdom's greeting cards [call 800-444-7778] and William Morrow & Co.'s Lilly book and doll packages [call 800-843-9389].) Other astonishingly cute new critters from MerryMakers include the Dumb Bunnies finger puppet set, based on Dav Pilkey's The Dumb Bunnies; Lyle Crocodile, from Bernard Waber's Lyle the Crocodile series; Munching Mouse riding a watermelon slice, from Denise Fleming's Lunch; and Rulers of the Nile dolls (pharaoh and queen), just because they look great (and are historical, too). Call (888) 989-0454, fax (510) 596-9033.