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When the lesson is front and center

Simply by telling a story, children's books often teach children about morals, values, and how to make choices. The message in most children's books, however, is a hidden one. A number of recently published books are not so subtle. Often backed by advocacy groups, these books are more obviously didactic, conveying a single message to kids. Do they work? Here are some recent examples:

HUNTING FOR FUR, by Thierry Dedieu (Bantam Doubleday Dell, $8.95).

Originally published in France, Hunting For Fur is a story with a clear-cut message about animal rights. But using violent images (Panda and Koala, the book's main characters, tote guns) is a wrong-headed way to encourage kids to care about animals.

IMPATIENT PAMELA CALLS 9-1-1, by Mary Koski (Trellis Publishing, Inc., Duluth, MN, $15.95).

Pamela is an inquisitive little girl who wants answers immediately. In this book she learns when to call 911 by asking questions of her mother and getting clear answers in return. Pamela learns what a real emergency is when her friend Martin chokes on his sandwich. Pamela runs to her mother for help, and then does what her mother says, which is to call 911. During the emergency Pamela gives her address to the 911 operator, and learns what the emergency medical technician does to take care of people. Koski gives clear examples of what is an emergency and what is not in an easy-to-understand, matter-of-fact writing style. The illustrations by Dan Brown are beautiful and effective.

IF YOU COULD WALK IN MY SNEAKERS, by Sheree Fitch, illustrated by Darcia Labrosse (Firefly Books, Buffalo, NY, $5.95).

Produced in association with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), this collection of poems centers around 15 of the 54 articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. An answer sheet in the back of the book identifies which poems deal with which article. While a valid idea, and well done, the poems' messages are not always clear. Parents need to make their children aware that many children live in places of widespread hunger, or where children's rights are not a concern. The book is one that would work well for older children in a classroom setting.

HOW WILLY GOT HIS WHEELS, by Deborah Turner and Diana Mohler, illustrated by Rhonda McHugh (Doral Publishing, Wilsonville, OR, $14.95).

How do you talk to your children about disabilities? How do you tell a disabled child that he or she is special? Read them this story of a little dog in a wheelchair. Willy, a Chihuahua whose back legs don't work, is a real dog, and How Willy Got His Wheels is the true-life story of how Turner, his owner, made Willy's life easier. Turner bought a little wheelchair and buckled Willy into it, and he adapted nicely. Turner and Mohler provide a clear message that animals, and people can be special as they are, even if they appear different.

THE RIGHT TOUCH, by Sandy Kleven, illustrated by Jody Bergsma (Illumination Arts Publishing, Bellevue, WA, $15.95).

Child sexual abuse certainly is a topic that is difficult to discuss with young children. Parents grapple with how much information to give their children. What is a parent to say? What will scare a child? What will inform a child? What is the right amount of information for a child?

This well-written and wonderfully illustrated read-a-loud is perfect for children and parents working on this issue. Kleven, a licensed clinical social worker, writes a tender story about a mother telling her little boy, Jimmy, about what is good touch and what is bad touch. The story is one with clear examples of what is not a good touch. Little Jimmy learns about the right touch, what is a private part, when it's okay to have his parents or the doctor check his private parts. The answers to Jimmy's questions are frank, but not graphic, and very realistic.

Kristina Porter is a writer who lives in Dade City.