All pulling together

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
Teamwork series By Philippa Perry and Stephen Gibbs, Airport 7502 1560 7. Hospital 7502 1099 0. Post Office 7502 1097 4. Fire Service 7502 1101 6. Building Site 7502 1098 2. Hotel 7502 1561 5. Police Service 7502 1100 8.

Newspapers 7502 1103 2. Wayland #163;8.50 each. Age range 7 -11

From nightly scenes on television dramas, children are used to hospitals and police stations as places where internecine snarls and fevered shouting fill the few gaps left by job stress and ritual humiliation. On the News they hear of work-places disintegrating under the impact of management by aliens in suits. Here are books which tell a different story: of smiles, mutual respect and (as the series title promises) teamwork.

They make their case from the very start, with large and striking double-page pictures of about a dozen co-workers grouped in genial accord. A brief historical survey is then followed by a clear contents page, on which small sharp portraits of all the individual team-players guide you to their own set of pages where the nature of their task is explained. These are accompanied with brief verbatim observations. Some are plain and uncontroversial, like the baggage-handler's: "A lot of people are depending on us and a small delay could hold up the whole system." Others are more evocative: "Fire is like a wild animal looking for food. It can easily get out of control".

Of the 76 faces in the seven teams here, only 18 belong to women and only seven are not white. This may tell children something true about the work-force, but it's a discouraging message to more than half the population. With that proviso, the books say real and straightforward things about collaboration. Hospital gives an account of an appendectomy, in the course of which we meet not just the surgeon, but the radiographer who appeared on an earlier page and the anaesthetist and porter and pathologist whom we are to encounter on their own pages a little later. The sense of being a close-knit crew is made pointed and explicit.

Children will also enjoy finding out about the work of people they see regularly, such as the "delivery postperson" who brings their letters and the counter clerk who sells their stamps, as well as those whose work is more hidden, such as the CFC operator who cancels the stamped envelopes and the NP 4000 operator who sorts them into delivery areas. A real feeling of overt and hidden teamwork develops here, even though the fissiparous politics of the Post Office in the 1990s are not mentioned.

The books also supply telling details of people's professional lives, such as the pump operator in the fire service who has to control water pressure, put errant hoses back under control by crawling along their length, and mix the foam for putting out petrol fires.

These minute particulars are clearly described in a manner which emphasises responsibility. A comparable quiet but manifest pride in their competence comes from the scaffolder, the plumber and the carpenter on the building site. They know that people's safety depends on their skills and their unsung ability to work with colleagues. In this way, the books implicitly debunk the rampant egotism at large in so many glamorised TV work-places.

Glossaries with simple words like plaster and trowel and rarer specimens like theodolite and backhoe digger add factual support. So do boxes with the kinds of statistics that junior children love - the 1,000 light bulbs replaced annually and 3,000 bars of soap used weekly by the Grand Hotel, the 10, 700 pieces of luggage handled per hour by the Stansted baggage system.

So the books make their point. Some of the pictures are clearly posed, but the subjects' smiles are convincing not ingratiating. Co-operation does exist and without it we would be sick, dirty, hungry, lonely, bored, homeless or dead.

If in recent years we have all had to write out a hundred times before assembly that there is no such thing as society, it's good to be reminded that there is still such a thing as teamwork.

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