A Diamond in the Industrial Court

And a monkey inside a fish

Part petting zoo, part museum, the St. Louis Children's Aquarium sits hidden among dismal factories and wholesalers in Hanley Industrial Court. Admittedly, the surroundings are depressing, but as an afternoon activity for kids of all ages, a visit to the aquarium is engagingly odd.

For starters, there's the variety of aquatic creatures. With all due respect to Star Trek, the water is both the real final frontier and the true home of the freakiest life-forms imaginable. The Children's Aquarium hosts some strange ones, including a miniature relative of the crocodile called a caiman, and the monkeyfish, a serpentine beast from the Amazon River that can grow up to eighteen feet long. It feeds by jumping out of the water and swallowing simians -- or small children! (Just kidding.)

When the young ones get bored looking at these creatures, they're allowed to interact in a more finger-to-fin way. There are shallow pools where kids can pet sharks, pick up tortoises (you hold them "like a Big Mac," as the staff will advise you) or feed the fish. (Add in land-based oddities like a two-headed snake, and you may find yourself just as distracted.) The St. Louis Children's Aquarium (416 Hanley Industrial Court, 314-647-9594) is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and admission is $6.95-$8.95. -- Niles Baranowski

Dr. Rex
And Nurse Whiskers

SAT 11/15

It's a common error: You're scanning www.redcrossstl.org for classes in CPR and first aid, and you see the listing for "Pet First Aid for Cats and Dogs," and you think, "man, that would be really helpful if my cats knew how to tie a tourniquet." It turns out the class is designed to teach humans how to respond to pet emergencies. Oh, that makes more sense. For $25, you learn mouth-to-snout CPR, paw bandaging and other medical skills adapt-ed for use on animals, using pet mannequins as stand-ins. Kids are welcome to take the course as long as a parent accompanies them, and class starts at 9 a.m. at Red Cross Headquarters (10195 Corporate Square Drive, 314-516-2724). -- Paul Friswold

These Handcuffs
Are as solid as our pre-nup

MON 11/17

With the early-'80s disappearance of disco-hippie illusionists Doug and Debbie Henning into the world of Transcendental Meditation™, a great, gaping void was created. Unless you count Siegfried and Roy, dazzling, large-scale productions of stage magic by husband-and-wife duos haven't been as common as one would hope and expect (and the future of Siegfried and Roy's act is fairly uncertain).

Fans of espoused enchanters will be happy to know that tonight Kevin and Cindy Spencer bring their Theatre of Illusion to St. Louis Community College-Meramec (11333 Big Bend Boulevard). The Spencers aren't satisfied with merely cutting things in half and making 'em go bye-bye; they've taken the art of illusion to an entirely new level by infusing it with all the emotional dynamics of good theater. Comedy, drama, high tension -- they're there in the Spencers' act, along with all the fog and fancy lights you'd expect. Their show is free and begins at 8 p.m. Call 314-984-7641 for more information. -- John Goddard

Buffer the Children

Sure, Judy Blume and J.K. Rowling are the grand dames of kiddie lit, but don't forget Katherine Paterson. The author of 1978 Newbery Award-winner Bridge to Terabithia, known for her keen appreciation of kids' problems and her fondness for feudal Japan, reads from and discusses her work as part of Washington University's Center for the Humanities Writers Series (8 p.m. Monday, November 17, Anheuser-Busch Hall, free; and 4 p.m. Tuesday, November 18, McMillan Hall, near the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker boulevards, free, 314-935-5576). -- Byron Kerman

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