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Toy tales strange and seasonal;Sideways look;Briefing;The Week in Education

MORE CONTENDERS for the Christmas toy market, Barbie raised to an art form, and the sad spectacle of the sub-teen band; but first to Harry Potter.

The young magician in Joanne Rowling's mega-selling books has fallen foul of South Carolina's Board of Education, which is considering withdrawing them from schools because of their "dark and evil" content. One mother said the stories have a "serious tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil". But the author rightly refuses to turn her character, Voldemort, into a pantomime villain.

She might agree with Michael Boulton, a child psychologist from Keele University, who defended Hallowe'en, after learning that some schools were shunning it for fear it would give youngsters nightmares. He said: "The world can be a scary place and maybe Hallowe'en is one way of breaking children into that knowledge gently."

No such chance for four little girls from the Barbara Speake Stage School in Acton, West London. The under-12s are being propelled into the pop world by record producer Bill Kimber as BreZe, the youngest group ever. Their parents clearly haven't heeded the lesson of Lena Zavaroni. Famous at nine, Lena died recently, at 35, after years of suffering anorexia and depression reckoned to be a legacy of her early fame.

Barbie, an icon for more normal little girls, is the focus of around 50 artists for a fund-raising event at the Natural History Museum backed by Sir Elton John's Aids foundation. The doll is being sprayed with red paint, incarcerated in a concrete block and threatened with burning at the stake as Joan of Arc.

The museum's dinosaurs will be pleased to know that miniature versions of them are tipped to be the top-selling toys for Christmas, following the BBC's successful animated documentary, Walking with Dinosaurs. Good news for old-fashioned toy - and farewell to Furbies?

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