Early years

20th October 2000 at 01:00
FIRST TIMES SERIES: My First Day at School. My First School Play. My New Sister. My First Visit to London. My First Visit to Hospital. My New Dad. My New Home. My First Pet. By Rebecca Hunter and Chris Fairclough. Evans Brothers pound;6.99 each.

FIRST EXPERIENCES SERIES: Going on a plane. Going to the hospital. Going to the dentist. Going to school. Going to the doctor. Moving House. The new baby. By Anne Civardi. Illustrated by Stephen Cartwright. Usborne pound;3.99 each.

Both these series examine children's first experiences of the unfamiliar - but they do it in very different ways. The First Times books are probably the more suitable of the two for school use. Each is told in the first person by a named child, accompanied by action photographs of the events described. Not only are there explanatory notes at the end (aimed more at parents than at teachers) but also a rudimentary index and chapter headings.

The Usborne series looks instantly familiar, drawn as usual by Stephen Cartwright with his trademark yellow duck to find on every page - ideal for reading with parents or carers. The style is cosy and reassuring in every line of the drawings and every word of the text.

That is where the major difference lies. First Times actively seeks out the parts of new experiences which can sometimes make children uneasy or frightened - feeling usurped by a new sibling, or lost on the first day of school - and lets the child discuss it honestly. No attempt is made to come up with solutions, but as the book moves on it becomes apparent hat the problems have worked themselves out. The screaming baby sister, for instance, becomes a smiling nine-month-old with real potential for play and fun.

The Usborne books, on the other hand, are often more detailed. The new baby has drawings of a mother both in the early stages of labour and with a newly- delivered baby, with matter-of-fact explanations - but no attempt is made to touch on potential worries.

For under-fives, this positive approach is probably the best to take, rather than introducing the idea of problems which might not exist. And although the text is deliberately simple enough for new readers to tackle, both the style and the everyday nature of the experiences covered (such as visits to the doctor and the dentist) suggest that the intended target group is more pre-school children.

The nature of the drawings, too, makes them ideal starting points for discussion, either in the nursery class or back at home.

Although the First Times series lends itself more to use in schools than the Usborne version, there are niggling problems. The sensitivity of the subjects tackled in some of the volumes, such as My New Dad, means teachers would want to target and monitor their use very carefully. Others, such as My First Day at School, seem rather after-the-event for use even in Reception, although they might go down a storm in nursery.

And My First Visit to London will seem out of date by December 31 - if not before - because it includes a visit to the infamous Millennium Dome.

Susan Young

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