You survived the beach vacation with Aunt Agnes and the rest of the family, only to return home just in time for school to begin. It seems to never end, this hustle and bustle that permeates your life. But fear not, my friend, we're here to help you and the kids start back to school on the right track.

What gift doesn't require registration, late bells, and forms in triplicate? Why books, of course! 

The Brain Quest series has been around since 1992. Its curriculum-based, question-and-answer game formats help children learn facts, but the friendly presentation encourages deeper understanding. Recently Workman gave Brain Quest a facelift, with newer (and more) questions and new packaging. With questions for children from toddler age to teenage, there's an edition of Brain Quest that's just right for your child.
 
For example, Preschool Brain Quest (0761115145) covers first numbers, rhyming words, animal riddles and a Panda named Amanda; 4th grade Brain Quest (0761110240) covers syllables, suffixes, the solar system, Maya Angelou and the numerator; 5th grade Brain Quest (0761110259) covers polygons, homophones, the Aztecs, Shakespeare, and the 15th amendment; 6th grade Brain Quest (0761110267) covers equations, archipelagos, metaphors, Mother Teresa and the Magna Carta. There's even Brain Quest Extra: For the Car (0761115382) to keep children sharp during lazy summer months or holiday breaks. At $10.95 each, they're quite a bargain, and the wealth of knowledge received is immeasurable.
Cut down on homework stresses with Scholastic's Kid's Almanac for the 21st Century ($18.95, 0590307231, ages 8+). Chock full of lists, facts, profiles and timelines, this book is an easy reference tool for all those science and history reports. Its colorful, fluid design and stylish layout will appeal to young researchers, and its up-to-date entries mean this book will not be dated anytime soon.

What goes up and never comes down? College costs! Get a head start on college planning with The Scholarship Book 2000: The Complete Guide to Private-Sector Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Loans for the Undergraduate (Prentice Hall Publishers, $25, 0735200793). Author Daniel J. Cassidy has assembled thousands of scholarship sources and pertinent details regarding each award. Some of these details include amounts, deadlines and contact information. Good news: You do not have to earn straight A's and thousands of extra-curriculars and honors for most of these. Cassidy provides easy cross-referencing, enabling readers to look up information alphabetically or categorically. The entries are carefully explained and indexed. The Scholarship Book 2000 will put you way ahead of the financial aid race.


And while many scholarships do not require stellar grades, test scores and the like, it's no crime to succeed in these areas, either. How can busy college-bounders prepare for those standardized tests? The Princeton Review has an answer their Word Smart audiobook series features Word Smart SAT Hit Parade (Living Language, $25, 0609604406) and Word Smart + Grammar Smart (Living Language, $39.95, 0609603515) among others. SAT Hit Parade contains four 60-minute audiocassettes that cover 250 words commonly found on the exam, including spellings and definitions of each word. This list is taught in The Princeton Review's SAT prep courses and books, and includes interactive quizzes. Grammar Smart's CD edition contains six hours of more than 200 essential words, parts of speech and common grammar goofs. Both are perfect for students on the go, audio learners and anyone who wishes to communicate more effectively.


When your favorite scholar is packing for the fall, one item that cannot be left behind is Chicken Soup for the College Soul: Inspiring and Humorous Stories About College (Health Communications, Inc., $12.95, 1558747028). Amid pressures to achieve academically and socially, very often the college soul can be neglected. These essays, varied in voice and perspective, offer insights into leaving home, college classrooms, dating, and the looming future. Parents may want to purchase a second copy for themselves as a memory refresher.


Determining a major course of study is often scarier than the major itself. Too often students are afraid of making an error that is irreversible or, worse yet, discovering their preferences long after their college years have passed. The College Majors Handbook: The Actual Jobs, Earnings, and Trends for Graduates of 60 College Majors (Jist, $24.95, 1563705184) seeks to narrow that gap, helping students determine their strengths and weaknesses, interests and values as they choose their course of study. Authors Neeta P. Fogg, Paul E. Harrington and Thomas F. Harrington provide information about the majors themselves, types of courses and training involved, actual jobs obtained with a given major, salary and employment outlooks and much, much more. And while students need to be reassured that there are no specific formulas or guaranteed results to life's decisions, books like The College Majors Handbook certainly help inform them of their options.
 

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