Novelties Galore! By Alice Cary Whenever our family heads to a restaurant, waiting room, or trip, I bring along a bag of diversions to ensure the happiness of my son, as well as any nearby adults. Here's a gaggle of goodies guaranteed to keep kids busy.

Games, puzzles and trip take-a-longs We're going to the Grand Canyon in September, and along with our hiking boots and camera, one of the first things I'll pack is The Amazing Backseat Book-a-ma-thing (Klutz, $16.95, 1570541698). Publisher Klutz says it's good for Thousands of Miles' Worth of Hands-On Games and Activities, and I have great faith that it will easily get us from New England to Arizona.

This compact, spiral-bound book-a-ma-thing contains everything from a magic writing tablet and a sliding block puzzle to a spring-powered backseat baseball game with four small balls. Kids and adults of all ages will find something fun here.

You'll learn how to play Nim, described as tic-tac-toe's older and smarter brother. Challenge a partner to a penny race (board and spinner included) or a dime race, in which one penalty requires you to snort the first verse to Happy Birthday like a pig. Try body games like Floating Arms or One-Hand Weakness. There's a good mix of one-person and two-person games, along with activities the whole family can enjoy, like gunning down red lights, with your fingers, of course. Klutz isn't advocating road rage, by any means. In fact, with this item in hand, family trips are much more likely to be a breeze.

Another clever time-passer is The Magic Toyshop, a What's the Difference? book by Usborne Picture Puzzles ($6.95, 0746028474). The pages remind me of the popular I Spy books, in which photographs are jam-packed with colorful, intriguing items for observant eyes to find. In The Magic Toyshop, each spread contains two nearly identical photos, between which readers must spot ever-so-slight differences. There are also items to find on every page, including winsome green elves and jack-in-the-boxes. Each spread has a theme with plenty of kid-appeal, such as puppets, a carnival, a doll house, and a train table. Mind you, these puzzles are tricky! Kids will enjoy writing or drawing on postcards from the Sanrio Smiles Postcard Book (Scholastic, $7.95, 0590558242). Sanrio is a Japanese company that has created a cast of wildly popular characters featured on all sorts of accessories, from pens and jewelry to wallets, backpacks, and now, postcards. Here are cards featuring the lovable likes of Hello Kitty, Keroppi the frog, Pekkle the duck, Spottie Doggie, and Pochacco the pooch.

Alice Cary reviews books from her home in Groton, Massachusetts.

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