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Children's dreams

DREAM TIME WITH CHILDREN: learning to dream, dreaming to learn. By Brenda Mallon. Jessica Kingsley pound;13.95.

According to the Talmud, "an uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter". Fine, except that a letter, when opened, always reads the same while the possible interpretations of a dream are as various as there are fish in the sea. But this is never a deterrent to those who are sure they always get them right, among whom must be included the author of this book.

A counsellor and staff development consultant, Brenda Mallon has written several other books on dreams and dreaming. This latest work may impress those already impressed by her absolute self-confidence in this most controversial of areas, but is unlikely to win converts from those who are more sceptical.

In essence, Mallon's main argument has a lot going for it. Children are, indeed, fascinated and sometimes worried by their dreams, and it therefore seems sensible to provide opportunities where they can talk about them. But her approach of setting up groups where children can discuss their dreams, keep records and draw or act out any dream, all in the company of others, raises difficult questions.

How can any group facilitator be sure that the children involved may not be giving more away about themselves and their domestic situation than may be advisable? And in the case of nightmares, described by the author as "part of our early warning system", interpretation can still be notoriously difficult, not to say damaging should a counsellor decide there is something worse going on in an individual's subconscious that later on turns out to be the case.

One short chapter looks at the Harry Potter novels, which the author uses to buttress her theory that dreams such as Harry has can reveal events that are otherwise hidden from waking knowledge. But while this is nearly always true in fiction - otherwise why include any dream in the first place? - real dreams tend to be far more inconsequential. For every wise, prophetic or healing dream, there may be thousands of equally memorable and compelling dreams that are impossible to interpret convincingly.

A similar mixture of the profound and the questionable is also found within these pages, where accurate summaries of scientific dream and sleep research co-exist with speculation about dream telepathy, astral projection and out-of-body experience.

Containing many quotations from children, and illustrated by numbers of their own drawings, this remains an interesting book but not always a convincing one.

NICHOLAS TUCKER

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