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Classic tales of drink, drugs and murder

Living Classics:

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson by Europress CD-Roms for Windows Multimedia PCs (486 recommended, with 4 megabytes of memory), Pounds 29 each. Can also be used on an audio CD player.

From software dealers and Europress Software, Europa House, Addington Park, Macclesfield SK10 4NP. Tel: 01625 859333.

As Alice herself says at the beginning of Alice in Wonderland, "What is the use of a book without pictures and conversation?" A new interactive story book of Lewis Carroll's classic might have kept her from throwing herself down the rabbit hole, since it has both conversation and moving pictures.

Alice in Wonderland and another classic, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, are interactive story books aimed at the home market. But they could also be used in a lower school library or in a junior class book corner.

Both programs contain abridged text. In the case of Alice, this means a great deal of text sometimes too much on the page. However, the story is delightfully read and the dialogue is spoken by experienced actors.

These voices are used to great effect in Treasure Island in which the Dolby Surround sound gives the effect of nasty pirates breathing down your neck. A cannonball explosion in Treasure Island made me jump so much I pulled my earphones out, so be warned.

For Alice, the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel have been coloured and animated. Unfortunately, Alice seems to have lost rather a lot of her character and her face has become washed out. With her rather eerie blue eyes with no pupils, she is more reminiscent of a Star Trek alien than a spirited girl.

The cartoon illustrations in Treasure Island are well conceived and animated. There is a "hot words" feature in the text which reveals a scroll to explain unfamiliar terms and give juicy snippets of historical background.

Although the illustrations are appealing, the interfaces need to be smoother and easier to use. The story map on the front page is a strong feature, but the text and buttons used in the instructions in Alice seem rather amateurish. This is improved in Treasure Island, but still needs further thought. Some of the buttons were hard to click on and it wasn't always clear how to get from one part of the program to another.

Both programs come with four games (of variable quality). I enjoyed the game where Alice has to collect a series of keys to escape from the rabbit hole, but her battle with the menacing crockery in the Duchess's kitchen was terrifying. One to avoid before bedtime!

The Treasure Island games are predictably of the "shoot 'em up" variety but are not too gory. Although I thought it a little insensitive when the program wished me good luck and happy shooting.

I have found it hard to motivate my two primary-aged children to read classic children's stories and these programs have encouraged them to follow the text. The ability to play the CD in an audio player is useful as children can listen again away from the computer.

A slight technical hitch arose when I tried to install the programs on my PC since they need an audio CD driver which Windows 3.1 does not load automatically. But I got excellent support from the Europress helpline and once my driver was installed the programs ran without any problems, although they were a bit slow.

They are reasonably priced and would be worth buying for home use, or to encourage reading of these classics in school. Whether we should be allowing children to read about hookah-smoking reprobates, children eating magic mushrooms, blood-thirsty despots and alcoholic pirates is another matter!

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