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Bundles of holiday learning gifts

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By Claire Green, Parents' Choice President

Bundles about space

With NASA's recent decision to send a mission to repair the Hubble telescope, nascent space travelers have reason to celebrate. Aspiring astronauts will find a universe of fun and learning with the following suggestions.

If You Decide To Go to the Moon
Ages: 4 to 8
Author: Faith McNulty
Illustrator: Steven Kellogg
Publisher: Scholastic Inc./Scholastic Press
Hardcover price: $16.99

McNulty's text and Kellogg's illustrations coalesce dramatically to capture both the factual minutiae and the lyrical poetry of space travel as a young boy (too bad it's not a girl as well) travels to the moon and back. Readers will truly feel what it means when they turn a page and find a tiny spaceship, the only touch of color in a vast black double-page spread sprinkled with stars, and read the accompanying text: "Don't look back at earth. It would make you even lonelier." Youngsters curious to know what it's really like to sleep aboard a rocket or walk on the moon will come away feeling that they've actually been there. A lushly colored, vibrantly active double-fold-out panorama marks the young explorer's return to Earth, and if the final message seems a bit heavy-handed - "Air and water are Earth's special blessings. We must guard them well." - it is nevertheless an important one for kids to hear. This will make a great replacement for worn-out copies of David Getz's Floating Home (Holt, 1997). Kristi Jemtegaard ©Parents' Choice

DK Space Encyclopedia
Ages: 8 and up
Authors: Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc.
Hardcover price: $29.95

A feast for the eyes with vibrant illustrations and photographs, and food for the brain with detailed text, charts, biographies and timelines, this encyclopedia and CD-ROM set provides an interactive and intergalactic journey into space. In addition to explaining the universe clearly and comprehensively, the book emphasizes career opportunities and the ethical, social and environmental issues of space exploration. Most of the content and vocabulary would be difficult for lower age groups to comprehend, but for older children, this set offers a balanced, multidisciplinary approach to space science and astronomy.© Parents' Choice

Slooh Explore Space Live Telescope Card
Ages: 8 to 14
Publisher: BlueStorm Productions; Windows/MAC
Price: $10

At 4:10 p.m. EST I logged onto the online telescope at, clicked "current mission" on the launch-pad page and in seconds my computer screen was transformed into a live telescopic view of the moon. Not an image of the moon but the actual moon as it revealed its half-glowing, cratered, lunar self at that very moment in the skies above the Canary Islands off the northwestern coast of Africa.

That's the location of the Observatorio de Teide and the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, two observatories that combine as one of the largest assemblages of telescopes in the world. And thanks to the partnership of and Astronomy Magazine which launched the Slooh site, the deep-space heavens those powerful professional telescopes focus on are now available to you. So never mind that backyard telescope that never worked all that well, and forget about the city lights and ozone haze that diminish the spectacle in the sky above. Now, any time you please, you can access the distant galaxies, planets and amazing celestial events that the pros are aiming their 'scopes at-right at your home computer.

This $10 Explore Space Live member card is a great deal for anyone who likes to look up at the nighttime skies. It buys 50 minutes of live access. Slooh also offers other memberships: The Observer membership costs $4.95 for 10 live missions; the Explorer, $29.95 for 100 missions, and the Commander, $99.94 for unlimited missions. Not convinced? The trial membership may do the trick. Don Oldenburg ©Parents' Choice

The Little Prince (software)
Ages: 6 to 10
Publisher: Tivola Publishing; WIN/MAC
Price: $19.99

Tivola gets big points just for recognizing the ascetic and philosophical value of introducing Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic tale on the computer. True to Saint-Exupery's moral parable about a pilot, crashed and stranded in the Sahara Desert, and his friendship with an unusual boy from a small asteroid in space, this multimedia version is an important contribution to computerized literature.

Integrated nicely with the original story are new multimedia games: One has the child maintaining the ecosphere of the Little Prince's tiny asteroid; another has the reader patiently taming a wild dog on Earth. Also included is an interactive photo album that tells about Saint-Exupery's life.

If introducing your child to truly wonderful literature is important to you, this modern masterpiece adapted to software is a smart and gentle way to do it. Don Oldenburg ©Parents' Choice

Lunar Lockout
Ages: 8 and up
Manufacturer: Think Fun
Price: $12

There's an emergency aboard the spaceship, and the astronaut must dock with the mother ship in order to save the mission. The problem is that he can move only in a straight line, and unless his path is blocked or deflected by a "helper bot," he will go off into outer space and be lost. The only way to reach the mother ship's entry port is by strategic deployment of five "helper bots" to create a path. The instruction booklet illustrates a step-by-step solution to an intermediate level puzzle card, then offers 10 "pre-flight training" challenges (with solutions). After this introduction, players will be ready to tackle the 40 puzzle cards on their own. Ruth B. Roufberg © Parents' Choice

The Big Space Shuttle
Ages: 3 to 8
Publisher: Little Mammoth Media
VHS price: $14.95

In a superbly organized fashion, this video teaches everyone about the mysteries behind the space program - specifically, the topic of space shuttles. Viewers are treated to the multitude of tasks that are preparatory to the launch. Nothing is excluded, as we visit the astronauts in flight and witness the science experiments on board. The physics involved is reduced to understandable terms, with photos, charts and animation. We meet the personalities involved, from the astronauts and Mission Control to the skilled technicians who check and recheck every piece of tile on the rocket's exterior. While many of the segments are visually stimulating for younger children, they will most likely get bored during the explanatory scenes. Older children will be fascinated by the facts and the amount of work that it takes to reach that thrilling countdown. There is also a segment on children at Space Camp, additional inspiration for interested youth. Family viewing is encouraged as adults will find no better introduction to this part of our space program. © Parents' Choice

Comments from readers

"Amazing treasure of information and finds!!! Thank you for taking the time to put it together. "