In a blow against dull and contrived reading material, California's Board of Education has moved to reverse the "dumbing down" of student textbooks and recapture the magic of reading.

The 11-member board on Friday approved a list of 25 children's books educators said will replace stultifying, formula-dictated texts with literature and classics of richness and diversity.At the same time, board member Armen Sarafian, responding to criticism about lobbying by textbook publishers, demanded an investigation by the state attorney general's office into the book selection process.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig had said he thought some board members had become "too cozy" with the publishers, accepting free rides and other things of value.

California, with 11 percent of the nation's annual $1.5 billion textbook expenditure, has great clout with the publishers.

Honig and the board agreed, however, that the new books will go a long way toward reviving the magic of reading for youngsters, and exposing them to good writing.

The exercises in the books stress comprehension rather than single-word fill-in-the-blank answers that do little to help kids understand what they have read, Honig said. Textbooks determine an estimated 90 percent of what teachers teach, state education officials say.

Current prescribed texts meet a so-called "readability formula" based on rote, repetition, numbers of syllables in a word and the word-count in paragraphs - a dust-dry formula critics say robs children of the very elements that might motivate them to read.

As an example, critics pointed to the "dumbing down" of "Little Red Riding Hood" by one textbook version apparently still in use. The passage cited has Little Red repeating to exhaustion the fact that she's got a bunch of apples. Says Red:

"I can put red apples in my basket . . .

"I can put red apples into my basket for Grandma . . .

"I have red apples . . .

"I have big red apples . . .

"I put the apples into my basket."