4th February 2000 at 00:00
FIRST STORIES FOR THINKING. By Robert Fisher. Nash Pollock. pound;9.99 76pp.

There are no illustrations in this book of stories to readto small children - the pictures created are allin the mind.

Robert Fisher has devoted much time and thought to promoting philosophical enquiry among those considered too immature to submit to its rigours, but his faith in ethics for infants is well-judged.

There are 30 short fables and tales from around the world, some with characters from Aesop's bestiary, others featuring resourceful tricksters, poor children and wise gods.

Each story will take no more than a few minutes to tell but can generate hours of fertile exploration. Fisher also provides 10 queries to make sure children have folowed the plot, and a further 10 that open up larger themes.

These might lead to discussion of a relatively "safe" factual kind - "What things don't you share?" - or into more enigmatic areas - "Is it ever good to feel angry?"; "What things do you know that you cannot see?" These are not merely questions to approach as part of the literacy strategy, although they are vital to any full notion of readership - to ask them is what makes us human.

Fisher's notion of the teacher as guide to a "community of enquiry" rather than as an authority sounds familiar. So it should: the same approach worked in Athens more than two thousand years ago. And as this book shows, the Socratic method is still good for another millennium.

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