Emotional journey

20th October 2000 at 01:00
HELPING HANDS. Evans pound;8.99 (pound;4.99pb) each. Teacher's Resource Book 1 (for paperback titles) pound;12.99. Teacher's Resource Book 2: pound;7.99. COPING WITH GROWING. Audiotapes written and narrated by Diane Louise Jordan, Backbone Productions pound;8.99 eachTel: 020 7281 0445.

he words "helping" and "coping" in the titles of these series might be misunderstood. Plenty of literal-minded books and formulaic photo-stories already exist in which children's anxieties are dissipated by an understanding adult. It's an intriguing change to see fantasy and the irrational given their proper place, and children's own responsibilities for their more difficult feelings acknowledged.

Evans's stories cover a variety of themes, including the death of a grandparent, fear of bullies and getting lost in a shopping centre. The happy endings are essential for reassuring the target audience of six-to-nine-year-olds, but are also plausibly and honourably achieved.

The central characters are shown in realistic homes and schools, but their troubles are given due weight. This is partly achieved by illustrations, such as snipped family photographs (divorc) and a goldfish with grandad's face, (bereavement). These give symbolic but concrete expression to the things children truly fear.

The children are likeable enough to be heroines and heroes of their stories without exaggerating the measure of their distress or the ease of finding its antidote. While most look white and relatively prosperous, the issues they face exist in every class and ethnic group.

Diane Louise Jordan's modern fairy-tales are each about 45-minutes-long. They come with 24-page booklets of explanatory materials forparents and advice from experts, as well as endorsements from trusts, foundations and associations. Much effort has gone into making them attractive and useful, so it's unfortunate that the stories fail to support these aims. The author's reading voice is marked with the ingratiating over-demonstrativeness of a television presenter and the magic involved in the stories is arbitrary, contradictory and uninspiring. The audiotapes do not even allow listeners to skip to the better bits. Parents listening with their children may find the experience penitential rather than pleasurable.

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