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The hard way;Reviews

CHOICES. By Althea



Dealing with Racism, Bullies and Gangs, When People Die, My Parents' Divorce, Our New Baby, My Stepfamily, Loneliness and Making Friends, Looking After Myself. Watts pound;9.99 each

We used to have Aesop's fables to teach children life's little - and not so little - lessons. Now we have picture books on personal and social education. Is this progress?

For the unconfident teacher or parent, books on such things as dealing with anger or shyness, bereavement or racism, can be a useful starting point. But they can never replace discussion. This means that an adult will have had to sort out their own feelings about the issues: if you cannot rely on wisdom from Aesop, you will need some internal grounding in experience.

Despite wise afterwords by psychologist Dorothy Rowe, the Choices series is far too external in approach and seems to gloss over the complexities of life. Will it really help a shy person to read in Feeling Shy that, "It's more important to be friendly than to worry about what you say." If it was as easy as that, who would be shy? Nor does the series escape the danger of patronising children, in assuring them, for instance, that "friends make you happy", although much of the text of Being Friends is about what happens when friends fall out. Telling the Truth and Feeling Angry likewise offer a smug view of the world in which situations - the broken plate, the angry word - are easily resolved. There are, however, good suggestions for follow-up reading.

In contrast, the How do I feel about... books from Watts are right on the button. Using a mix of fictional case-studies, analysis, children's own words and discussions, they use photos and line drawings to produce books that, at least partially, reflect children's real experiences. The best of the series are Dealing with Racism and Bullies and Gangs, the least successful When People Die, in which the stress falls back into that patronising tone adults tend to adopt that negates suffering. The same five children, pictured left, are used throughout, ensuring continuity and a sense of normality during troubling experiences. It may not be Aesop for our times, but then these are not the times for Aesop.

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