I have always thought my computer was an American. The label says it is Irish but as the software talks in American, it might as well be.
Living Books is among a few US software companies sensitive to what people over here call that American accent. The company is working through its catalogue of read-aloud storybook CD-Roms, where early readers click on the words to hear them, and translating them into Oxford English, French and German.
The latest release is Just Grandma and Me, now told with just a whisper of East End English, never mind Oxford. It is a sweet and young story where "me", a misshapen little critter, goes to the beach with Grandma, eats ice-cream and tickles her toes before heading home for bed. The book is included too, important for something aiming to encourage reading.
And while the book leaves all to the imagination, the computer version leaves little: when umbrellas on the beach turn into rockets and a starfish does a dance. There's so much charm that parents, and teachers, will enjoy it too.
On the same disc, you'll find Grand-M re et Moi, and Nur Oma und Ich, not only worth hearing to find out how much French and German you have forgotten but to wonder if there is a useful languages angle. It is interesting that several teams of experts worked on these, just to dub them so that lip movements matched the new dialogue. The differences between the new Grandma and the US original are few. But in The Tortoise and the Hare, one of Aesop's fables, the hare gets a personality change to become more of a "Hey, old chap" type. They are worth comparing, especially where the hare calls the tortoise a slow coach. In the US copy, they say "slowpoke", which is alarmingly funny.
Kid Pix Studio, a suite of drawing tools, from Br?derbund, Living Books' parent company, gets similar treatment. This is state-of-the-art free expression. There is paint that sparkles and puppets that dance to music as children press the keyboard. Nothing happens very quietly, but you can turn down the sound as pupils make characters run comically around the screen or assemble a slide show of their work.
They can paint using lines and circles, but that is passe because they have got striped paint, colourful stamps and messy effects, such as covering their picture with cobwebs or blowing a wind over it. For those in need of a little stimulus, there are picture starters where they are told: "I'm a humungous fungus, and I glow in the dark. Draw me."
The original US version is available for Apple machines, and, as with Grandma, it is little different: that accent has gone, and that letter z is pronounced "zed" rather than "zee". It is a nice surprise when the computer starts talking English, even a little startling. There's never been a good excuse to avoid these pretty good titles, unless you're waiting for them to arrive in Welsh, Scottish or Scouse.
* Just Grandma and Me,The Tortoise and the Hare(dual format AppleWindows CD-Roms).Ages 3-7 * Kid Pix Studio(Windows CD-Rom).Ages 5-10.Prices around Pounds 30.Available through mail-ordersuppliers, Research Machinesand TAG