Picture books could make a contribution to peace in Northern Ireland if both Catholic and Protestant schools could be persuaded to use them, a leading educationist in the province argued this week.
Stuart Marriott, senior lecturer in primary education at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, says teachers are missing an opportunity in not introducing pupils to fiction with cross-cultural or anti-conflict themes.
He believes that the books available for individual reading in primary schools continue to have either a Catholic or Protestant focus, as shown in a 1985 survey of school libraries (which revealed O'Connell Man and Boy and Irish Myth and Magic on one side; Gunpowder Plot and Great Men and Women from Britain's Past on the other).
"Although the evidence is only anecdotal, from what one sees as one goes round schools there has been very little change. Broadly speaking, teachers tend not to use picture books and fiction."
Speaking at the European Children's Literature Symposium in Douai, France, he recommended David McKee's Two Monsters and Michael Foreman's War and Peas as picture books which would promote cross-cultural understanding. "Two Monsters in particular could have been written about Northern Ireland."
He also suggests two collections of stories by Sam McBratney, Today and Yesterday and What's Time to a Pig? and Other Tales, published by the Northern Ireland Centre for Learning Resources on behalf of Education for Mutual Understanding. "These books are selling well but are not making the move into the classroom," he said.
One aim of last week's symposium, organised by Penni Cotton of Kingston University, is to build up a collection of picture books from all European countries which could be used in schools in all member states in their original languages, with an accompanying teachers' booklet.
Ms Cotton is applying for European Task Force money for the project.