Just the Facts

New and updated reference guides for beginning readers aim to improve vocabulary and all-around knowledge. According to PW, Kingfisher First Dictionary by John Grisewood and Angela Crawley sports "a highly accessible design," with its copious illustrations, photos and examples. Kingfisher First Thesaurus by George Beal, illus. by Martin Chatterton, also updated, employs line illustrations over the requisite synonyms, antonyms and homonyms. Games and more in-depth looks at selected topics broaden its appeal. (Kingfisher, $9.95 paper each 176p ages 5-8 ISBN 0-7534-5807-1; 144p ages 5-8-5808-X; May)

The Scholastic Kid's Almanac: Facts, Figures, and Stats updates their Kid's Almanac for the 21st Century. Divided into 38 sections including astronomy, government, health and the zodiac, this exhaustive guide teems with charts, graphs and informational tidbits sure to be of use in school projects, homework aides or stumping parents. (Scholastic Reference, $12.95 paper 352p ages 9-up ISBN 0-439-56078-0; June)

Arriving in time for the summer events in Athens is Swifter, Higher, Stronger: A Photographic History of the Summer Olympics by Sue Macy. This account of the modern Olympics, beginning in 1896, covers women's entrance into the games, star athletes who broke records, and expectations and controversies including racism, terrorism and drug scandals. Photographs, charts of record-holders and an introduction by Bob Costas round out this timely release. (National Geographic, $18.95 96p ages 10-up ISBN 0-7922-6667-6; June)

Fans of the Playhouse Disney Cartoon will welcome the paper-over-board Stanley's Great Big Book of Everything by Ronne Randall, highlighting full-bleed pictures and illustrations made to look taped or clipped onto the page, as in a scrapbook. Little-known facts about members of the animal kingdom ("Hippo sweat is pink or red!") accompany the artwork. A glossary, list of baby names and an index also are included. (Hyperion, $14.99 96p ages 4-7 ISBN 0-7868-3384-X; July)

Back to School, American Girls

Planners, guidebooks and stories from American Girls help prepare students for the new school year. A Smart Girl's Guide to Starting Middle School: Everything You Need to Know About Juggling More Homework, More Teachers, and More Friends! by Julie Williams, illus. by Angela Martini, helps preteens deal with the increased stresses and responsibilities that come with starting middle school. Topics include making friends, handling bullies and managing extracurricular activities. (Pleasant/American Girl, $9.95 paper 96p ages 10-up ISBN 1-58485-877-X; June)

The spiral-bound School Smarts Planner features a dateless weekly planner that alternates with tips ("Locker Decorating 101"), recipes, jokes and inspirational phrases ("I can make my future bright!"). Other accoutrements: a sleeve on the cover to insert friends' photos, a flexible 6" ruler, stickers and bookmarks. ($9.95 112p ages 8-up -876-1; June)

Math Smarts: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets for Making Math More Fun! by Lynette Long, illus. by Tracy McGuinness, does just that, with clever aids such as a cardboard "Smart Chart" that slides to reveal multiplication and division tables. Paper punches allow girls to tuck it into binders, and the text helps dispel negative attitudes toward math and dispense reasons why it's a worthwhile subject ("Figure out the price of that cool shirt on the 25-percent-off rack"). Practical strategies for successful note-making and test-taking round out the volume. ($8.95 paper 64p ages 8-up -875-3; June)

The latest Hopscotch Hill School title from Valerie Tripp, Teasing Trouble, illus. by Joy Allen, focuses on Hallie when she loses her two front teeth. Well-meaning class clown Spencer's jokes hurt her feelings. Miss Sparks sits the pair down to discuss how "words can hurt and words can help." ($3.99 paper 48p ages 4-6 -767-6; June)

What Would You Do?: Quizzes About Real-Life Problems by Patti Kelley Criswell, illus. by Norm Bendell, poses hypothetical, entirely plausible situations, and offer readers multiple choice answers penned by girls nationwide who posted them to the American Girl Web site. Copycat friends, compulsive lying and whether or not to attend a dance at a new school number among the topics. ($8.95 paper 64p ages 8-up -874-5; June)

Cuddly Coconut features in School Book: Rip It Up, Tear It Out, Use It All Year Long!, illus. by Casey Lukatz. An address section, state capitals, mathematics tables, stickers and more fill up this tidy paperback. ($7.95 paper 56p ages 7-up -906-7; June)

Two Mothers, Two Fathers

Alyson Wonderland reissues three picture books by Johnny Valentine centering on the lives of gay and lesbian parents and their children. When a pair of siblings with two Moms decide to build The Daddy Machine (1992), illus. by Lynette Schmidt, it won't stop popping out papas: " 'I've got a bad feeling,' Sue whispered to me,/ 'That our moms will be just a bit mad,/ when they walk in the door, and then can't take a step,/ without running smack into a dad!' " (Alyson Wonderland, $16.95 32p ages 4-8 ISBN 1-55583-887-1; $10.95 paper -846-4; May)

Five fairy tales teach tolerance in The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans: And Other Stories (1991) by Valentine, illus. by Schmidt. "The Frog Prince" leaves his own wicked parents to live with his rescuer, Nicholas, and his family. In the title story, a duke decrees that all children must have one mother and one father; the kids, mocking this and other silly laws, reveal the duke's folly. ($10.95 paper 32p ages 5-10 -847-2; May)

Two children compare fathers in One Dad Two Dads, Brown Dad Blue Dads by Valentine, illus. by Melody Sarecky. Responding to his friend's questions, Lou talks about all the things he does with his two blue dads: " 'Of course blue dads work!/ And they play and they laugh./ They do all of those things,' said Lou./ 'Did you think that they simply/ would stop being dads,/. Just because they are blue?' " ($10.95 paper 32p ages 2-6-848-0; May)