In these troubled times, taking a not-so-serious look at our country is just the ticket.

It's been 10 years, but the scrambled states of America are back.

In a reprise to her popular picture book from 1998, Laurie Keller gives the wacky states something to do: The Scrambled States of America Talent Show (Henry Holt, $16.95, 40 pages, ages 8 to 12).

"It all started quite simply . . . In the middle of the night, New York woke up from a dream and shouted, 'Hey everyone -- let's have a talent show!' "So begins Keller's silly but informative comedy that has all 50 states participating in a vaudeville-style show: Michigan performs a ventriloquist act with the Upper Peninsula serving as his dummy. Ohio sings a solo while Delaware loses control of his pogo stick and careens off the Buckeye state's head. "Does this grass skirt make my BUTTE look big?" asks little Hawaii. Georgia, feeling ill, undergoes an examination -- including X-rays of her counties and cities -- before the doctor pronounces her ailment as stage fright.

Amid the mayhem, Keller manages to insert a little information about the states, but her main purpose is fun. Young readers will enjoy themselves so much they might not notice how familiar they're becoming with the names and locations of those 50 states.

A more dignified look at our country is found in the beautiful, interactive America: The Making of a Nation (Little, Brown, $19.99, 30 pages, ages 6 to 12). Author Charlie Samuels uses a scrapbook technique to travel America's history, from the Declaration of Independence through to the nation's wars, discoveries, explorations, memorials and symbols.

Each double page contains several fold-out illustrations: the evolution of the American flag with a fold-out replica of the original 13-star flag; a floor plan of the White House; a songbook of patriotic tunes as well as the sheet music for The Star-Spangled Banner; and the climactic item, a true-to-size replica of the Declaration of Independence, folded and carefully contained in an envelope.

The illustrations -- by Sally Launder, Michael Woods and Tom Connell -- are elegant and informative. Readers will find pictures of each of the nation's flags from 1776 through to the addition of the last state, Hawaii, in 1959. Old fashioned-looking postcards highlight attractions such as Niagara Falls and the Washington Monument.

Both a patriotic celebration and a concise, selective history, America: The Making of a
Nation is a worthy addition to the family bookshelf.