31st March 2000 at 01:00
PRIMARY. BBC RADIO ENGLISH:Stories and Rhymes. Teacher's book, five poetry posters and two cassettes, ages 5-7. BBC publishing. Support pack pound;5.99, cassettes pound;2 each

TALES FROM EUROPE. By Kevin Crossley-Holland. Two cassettes and a teacher's book, ages 7-9. BBC publishing. Teacher's book pound;3, book pound;7.99, cassettes pound;2 each

These two new series bear all the familiar BBC hallmarks of careful and subtle presentation, with an approachable air of taking children into their confidence - and the occasional surprise.

Each of the 10 programmes in Stories and Rhymes follows a theme. In the first, "being different" is perhaps unsurprisingly illustrated by the story The Ugly Duckling, in Ian Beck's pleasant retelling, and a specially written poem by Philip Hawthorn. The surprise is Ogden Nash's little gem, The Duck. Other themes include food - involving Shirley Hughes's Teatime, Grace Nichols's Sugarcake bubble and Helen Oxenbury's retelling of The Gingerbread Boy - birthdays and surprises with Who's there? by Judith Nicholls, and clothes, with Moira Andrew's lovely Zebra. This gives an idea of the width, appropriateness and quality of the choices.

The accompanying activities, emphasised in the programmes' structure, are comprehensive. There are word, sentence and text level activities, and a literacy framework is provided in the teache's book. The programmes lead on to child-stimulated discussion: the question "what is a fairy tale?" in the first programme develops over the series into a cumulative examination of the nature of story. The poetry posters are excellent.

Tales from Europe is centred round Kevin Crossley-Holland's eight masterly retellings. Each is read sensitively by well-known voices such as Tony Robinson, Griff Rhys-Jones, Sian Phillips, Josie Lawrence and Helen Mirren. Some stories are familiar: The Pied Piper from Germany and The Ugly Duckling from Denmark. Others refer to established myth: Thor Goes Visiting from Iceland, Persephone Rising from Greece and Arthur the King from Britain. Others are unfamiliar: the haunting Godfather Death from the Czech Republic, Reeta and the Cow that Ran Dry from Finland and The Lady of Stavoren from the Netherlands.

Again, pupils' work is based on word, sentence and text level activities. However, work on the stories as narrative is only referred to, if at all, in activities before the programme.

Even so, this series is well-worth following, especially as it is accompanied by a book so finely produced and illustrated. This and the tapes together would provide a resource to last for years.

Dennis Hamley Order by post from: BBC Educational Publishing, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorks LS23 7EU

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