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21ST CENTURY A-Z LITERACY HANDBOOK By Christina Preston Pounds 9 plus 90p pp from Project Miranda, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL.

The 21st Century A-Z Literacy Handbook is is a useful resource book with two distinct elements. The simplest to describe comes in the second half and is a catalogue of software which has been recommended as useful in helping to develop literacy.

It is clear and well laid out with each entry consisting of a brief description of the program, target audience, details of supplier and icons to indicate the platform, medium and price. The 126 entries provide a fair coverage of what is available and screen illustrations are shown for some of the more pictorial software.

The other half consists of a series of short (usually single page) essays on a variety of topics, organised alphabetically. These range in subject from practical issues such as electronic communication to philosophical debates, for example about what constitutes a book.

The introduction sets the whole in the context of a definition of literacy which encompasses many media. Christina Preston argues that computers and electronic communications make the teaching and learning of literacy both harder and easier as they, on the one hand, require users to learn new literacy skills and, on the other hand, can support the development of reading and writing.

Although there are some useful pieces in this A-Z of Literacy, the book as a whole is likely to have quite a short shelf life, which rather gives the lie to the 21st Century part of the title. Few items of the software in the catalogue were available five years ago (and quite a few were new to me, such as Complete Lemmings, an adventure aimed at an adult audience!) and many are likely to be superseded in the next five years.

The end of the book has some useful references, such as a list of contact addresses and the telephone numbers of educational software suppliers but these, again, may quickly become out-of-date.

The essays are interesting and may well last longer. When I was an advisory teacher, more than 10 years ago, I kept a file of short articles for use on courses. I still have this, and it is surprising how much of the content is applicable today. Software is far more ephemeral than sound educational thinking. The 21st Century Literacy Handbook contains a bit of both.

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