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Book of the week: In Mrs Tully's Room

Vivian Paley is a former kindergarten teacher and author of numerous wise books about early childhood, including The Girl With the Brown Crayon, You Can't Say You Can't Play and The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter .

It's clear, however, that her encounter with Mrs Tully in In Mrs Tully's Room (Harvard University Press pound;13.95) has opened up something new for her when she writes, "I do not want to leave this place where stories are being explained to me in new ways".

She sees, for example, how stories can defuse arguments and tantrums. A spat between two boys is calmed by Mrs Tully's invocation not of stern rules but of Miranda, a cow from her own childhood, familiar to the children: "'My, my,' she says over the din. 'Our Miranda would cry and cry if she saw you boys'."

The book is full of wisdom and lessons for those who work with young children. The messages are about taking time with them, telling them your own stories and listening to theirs.

Above all, perhaps, it's a celebration of the work of childcare workers who, like Lillian Tully, are not teachers and yet know the true value of stories and of the loving mentoring of children.

  • Picture: the very young find several layers of meaning in stories
    • A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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