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Playing with virtual stories

Children's author Vivian French and some assistants try out computer-based activities derived from favourite stories.

STORYBOOK CD. CD-Rom for Pentium PC or Power Mac. pound;14.99. Age range: Pre-five and P1. Scottish Council for Educational Technology, 74 Victoria Crescent Road, Glasgow G12 9JN

When is a storybook not a storybook? When it's a storybook CD-Rom. Perhaps storybook activities might be a more accurate description. Three of my fellow testers thought they were going to read the stories as well as play games based on the characters and ideas. Disappointment led to an initial grumpy response, but soon the children began to enjoy themselves.

The CD-Rom begins with a rather jolly introduction: when you type your name the letters make different noises. Then a menu offers seven stories, by Debi Gliori, Scoular Anderson, Mairi Hedderwick and Frank Rodgers, all much loved authors. You choose a story, point and click the computer mouse (lots of opportunities for control) and a simple statement about the book is used as the basis for a word bank activity and a game.

All seven games ae different to cover core skills such as matching, counting and problem-solving. The makers have gone for the safe answer in every case: if you try to put the jelly on a child's head rather than on the table (Backseat's Special Day), you are told crisply "That isn't correct" - no room for creative play here.

The word banks contain key words that children can either copy or use to build sentences of their own, depending on the level chosen. Supervision is required, as there is no voice to tell pupils if they have done well or not. My testers liked starting with the easiest level: I think they enjoyed demonstrating existing skills before tackling something harder. A Debi Gliori fan rushed to show me the word bank words "in the real book" - a very useful development as he hadn't shown much interest in reading before.

It isn't necessary to have read the stories, although children will undoubtedly want to read the books after seeing the CD-Rom.

Storybook CD is a sound reinforcer for the steady learner; some may find it frustrating. You can't paint Peedie Peebles's face green...

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