What adults do during the day;Children's books

29th October 1999 at 01:00
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A: Farmer, Baker, Dentist, Bus Driver, Vet, School Caretaker, Train Driver, Footballer. By Carol Watson and Harriet Hains. Watts pound;8.99 each.

PEOPLE WHO HELP US: At School. By Erica Burt. In Hospital. By Dr Janet Harbour. Police Force, Fire Service. By Jillian Powell. Wayland pound;9.99 each.

People at Work: in TV News, Making Cars, for an Airline, at a Vet's, in Mountain Rescue, Making a Film. By Deborah Fox. Evans Bros pound;9.99 each

Topicality is crucial when looking at the world of work, writes Tom Deveson

Every primary school library has dozens of books explaining how work impinges on our lives. But because children are quick to sniff out anachronisms, an Eighties haircut here or an obsolete television screen there can make every page of those books seem archaic.

So while the titles from these new series may look familiar, it is good to report that the new Day in the Life of a variety of adults look authentically up to date, even for the most trend-conscious key stage 1 reader. A female farmer checks out the work of her shepherd and the nitrogen content of her clover field before logging on to the office computer. A Eurostar driver announces his train's speed in French as well as English.

The story of each worker's day (two for the footballer - training and the big match) makes a simple narrative. Children of the appropriate age feature in several of the storylines, leaving a toy boat behind on the bus or arriving at the dentist's with a broken tooth. A nice touch comes in the final pages: in a reversal of the traditional pattern, children are invited to consider how they might help the adults.

People Who Help Us is cast in a more conventional mould. Each book describes the collaborative endeavours of an institutional team - the emphasis is on shared responsibility, where midwives and porters or headteacher and playground staff rely on one another's skills and conscientiousness.

There is a noticeable inconsistency within the texts - people in the school are referred to by their proper names and take on a greater degree of intimacy than the hospital and police personnel, who are described only by their job titles. And the two pages of Topic Web Activities are a bit of a let-down.

For In Hospital, "find out about figures in history" is glossed only with the name of Florence Nightingale. For Police Force, "write a rap about safety" might seem a touch ironic to inner-city teachers.

People at Work is for key stage 2 children and accordingly deals in more sophisticated concepts, showing the interlocking processes of a professional enterprise. Each book has a first-person narrative, with "interviews" in small panels to explain the contributions made by co-workers.

Children should find the sheer range of grown-ups' tasks interesting. We meet a vet taking an X-ray of a swan with lead poisoning and helping a boa constrictor against mouth-rot; a car designer who needs the very human contribution of an engineer in addition to the mechanical expertise of a robot welder.

Perhaps the book that will evoke most interest is the story of the television film Goodnight Mr Tom as told by its 11-year-old co-star. He lets us know about the work of location managers, costume designers, sound recorders and the props team.

And adults at least will be pleased to solve at last the mystery of the role of gaffer and best boy.

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