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KID BITS

SOMETHING TO READ
The Haunting by Joan Lowery Nixon, Delacorte, $15.95, 192 pages.

Her mother and grandmother always seem disappointed with 15-year-old Lia's lack of spunk.

Spunk is a tradition with women in Lia's family, all the way back to one Charlotte Blevins, who single-handedly saved the family mansion, Graymoss, from being burned by Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Bookish Lia's energetic mother has a grand scheme to move into Graymoss and fill it with cast-off children, a sort of group home, with Lia as the big sister. Lia's grandmother, though, wants the mansion destroyed; the house is reported to be haunted by evil, and no one has lived there for years.

It turns out Lia's parents aren't the only ones with big plans for Graymoss. There's a greedy realtor who wants the property for an expensive subdivision, a nosy woman from the local historical society and a rabid collector of antiques with his eye on the furniture.

Lia reads Charlotte's diary and first meets the spirits inhabiting the house when a copy of Edgar Allan Poe's tales flies off the library shelf. The secret to the evil lies somewhere in a Poe story. But which one is it? And does she have the spunk to drive the ghost away?

Nixon is a four-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best young adult mystery, and "The Haunting" is as good as anything she's done. The setting of an abandoned Southern mansion is appropriately creepy, the historical underpinning of the story is fascinating, and the plot has several surprise twists along the way.

Jean Westmoore
SOMETHING TO DO
A replica of the schooner America -- which defeated 14 British cutters and schooners in an 1851 race around the Isle of Wight -- will be docked at the Erie Basin Marina and open for tours during the Fleet Waterfest from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The free family event will include a regatta, hands-on programs, a "species parade" featuring kids in costumes of their own design, live music and food.

SOMETHING TO WATCH
The Disney Channel has created two way-silly kid shows, "Mad Libs" and "Off the Wall." "Mad Libs" contestants do stunts while trying to build or solve funky word equations. In a show we saw, kids pulled "nose hairs," which were actually scrolled-up words, out of a gigantic nose. In "Off the Wall," kids compete against video challengers in crazy contests. When we watched, kids tried to stuff crackers into piggy banks using only their mouths. Locally the shows will debut from 7 to 11 p.m. Sept. 5.

Q&A
Q. What is the largest animal in the U.S.?

A. If you count ocean animals, the answer's easy: the blue whale. It's the heaviest creature that ever lived on Earth. Some blue whales have weighed more than 300,000 pounds. They might also be the longest ever, up to 110 feet.

But you might say the animal has to spend at least some time on solid ground. If so, let's stick to wild animals, since zoos have elephants and rhinos. The winner then would be a creature that's as long as a giraffe and heavier than a hippo. It's the northern elephant seal, which is found on islands off the West Coast. It can be 19 feet long and weigh 6,800 pounds.

Perhaps the only longer U.S. animal is the American alligator, said to reach 20 feet.

After northern elephant seals, the next heaviest are walruses, at up to 12 1/2 feet and 2,700 pounds. They can be found in Alaska.

But suppose you want an animal that lives only on land. The bison, or American buffalo, is the biggest, up to about 12 1/2 feet long and perhaps more than 2,000 pounds. Grizzly bears, which can be 10 feet tall, would be next, at about 1,700 pounds.

Ready for a surprise? Count farm animals, and the bison would lose! At least one pig topped 2,500 pounds, and a cow weighed 5,000.

-- Knight Ridder