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PSHE

JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER... By Bob Skeldon. SEMERC. Five titles, on CD-Roms, pound;39 each (single user); books, pound;2.95 each

Oliver suffers from morning sickness - he has to go to school in the morning. In Just Like Every OtherI Morning we see him with head down toilet, hand reaching for chain. Oliver is friendless and bullied but goes to great pains to hide his problems from his mum and teacher. By the end of this 17-page text, Oliver acquires a friend in a similar plight and discovers a sense of hope.

This series aims to enable children and teachers to explore issues relating to their emotional wellbeing, behaviour and learning. The stories deal with isolation, pressure and relationships. Characters' perceptions of themselves, their classmates and their situations are sensitively explored.

The stories are written to leave the reader with a sense of hope because circumstances can and do change, and "sometimes small things make a big difference".

Marketed for key stages 2, 3 and 4, the pupil books ("hard copy technology" as the blurb has it) are written with enough humour to avoid being too politically correct or too flippant about these serious issues.

Just Like Every OtherI School Bell!, for example, contains a nice running gag about over-competitive dads in the playground, with children catapulted into trees from fathers' exertions on the seesaw. The illustrations (by Darren Shore) are vibrant with a hint of (non-scatological) South Park about them.

Some of the endings are unfeasible - in School Bell, violent parents stop bashing one another following a simple phone call from teacher, while in Pupil, Peter, pressured to succeed at any cost, finds mum and dad easing up. In the context of the books' uplifting aims, this is a minor quibble.

The CD-Roms include a reading of the story alongside highlighted on-screen text. The quality of the audio is mechanical despite the reader's best efforts, while the animation is limited to jerky on-the-spot movement.

One activity is to rewrite the story on screen, using picture clues and a word bank (click on a word to insert into your text, avoiding copying out). While children can hear the words in the word bank by pointing at them, they cannot hear the text they write themselves.

Another on-screen activity involves matching words to pictures of characters, but the facial expressions are too alike to ascribe different feelings to them without recollection of the text.

The CD-Rom graphics are described as "stunning", but this will seem hollow to children used to fast, 3-D, high-tech wizardry.

Even given these reservations, the humour and hope embodied in the series, together with the range of issues explored, could make it a valuable addition to your PSHE resources.

Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands primary school, Fareham, Hampshire

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