£34.99 AND £39.99 DISCIS

This is a delightful collection of popular children's picture books brought to the television. Each one is operated in the same way, so in effect we'll deal with them as one collection. The series is biased towards American books with American narrators and American spelling, but since the majority of children's television cartoons are now American-made, that would only be a problem for the fussiest of English parents. It also gives rise to an interesting feature of the series, in that every book can be read in Spanish, America's second language, if you so wish.

The format is the same for each book. The book is spread open in front of you, with the illustrations from the original printed versions reproduced in digitised form. And they're nicely digitised, too. The words are printed in large, friendly text, with never too much to read on one page. And there's music playing throughout, too, which makes the hole experience very like watching Jackanory.

To move through the book you click on the dog-eared bottom-right corner to turn the page or move a slider at the right-hand side. If you just want to listen to the story, you click on the little loudspeaker icon at the start of each paragraph and the narrator will read, turning the pages, to the end of the story. Each sentence is highlighted while it is read.

The interactive element is that you can click on any word on the page to hear it spoken, or hold down the button to hear an 'in context' description of the word. You can also click on any part of the picture and the word that describes whatever you've clicked on will appear on the screen and be spoken.

The only mild problems with the control system is that the CDTV tends not to take input when it's doing something else, such as loading the next piece of music or narration. This means that sometimes you click and nothing will happen; which could be just a bit too fussy for impatient little fingers.

The CD books are just as likely to become treasured possessions for younger children as 'real' books do already. They're nicely presented to a very high professional standard. Of course, different stories will be preferred by different people according to the subject matter - we've tried to give you an idea of which we preferred and why below.

All in all, the only question you have to ask yourself is do you really want to pay that much more for a CD than a book? Kids' books have very few words, which translates into very few minutes of CD-watching, which makes them expensive at only one story per disc.

Books have a 'feel' as objects which is entirely their own and many parents would prefer to get their kids away from the telly to read. On the other had, if it keeps them quiet and encourages the kids of the video age to pay attention to words, it has to be good. Your decisions. It's the price that really makes it seem unviable.


Discis produce digital versions of a number of popular childrens' storybooks, all of which use the same basic system, so before we even start looking at the individual titles, it is worth explaining here how the system works. Essentially, what you have on the screen is the left- and right-hand pages of an opened book. This has the words and the pictures, all digitised in pretty good colour from the original text and illustrations.

By clicking in the corners of the page you can turn pages forwards and backwards and a slider at the righthand side means you can jump around the book several pages at a time. The easiest option is to watch and listen to the whole book: a narrator speaks the story from a hi-fi soundtrack, music plays in the background and the pages of the book are turned automatically. At any time, you can jump in and stop the story, and use the other 'interactive' features of the system.

You can click on any of the words in the text to hear them spoken out loud and you can click on parts of the pictures to have whatever you have clicked on described. An option also means the story to be read in Spanish, America's second language.

This system is consistently good, though the flaw in seeing delicate watercolour illustrations in a digitised form is obvious. Inevitably, Discis books vary in appeal according to the story.

Discis Book Series: Cinderella logo

A particularly wishy-washy and very American version of the fairly tale standard and stuffed with over-pretty characters.

Discis Book Series: Heather Hits Her First Home Run logo

A slightly slushy tale of American kidhood. As if you could not have guessed.

Discis Book Series: A Long Hard Day at the Ranch logo

Another title that is just that little bit too sentimental for UK tastes, the tale of a little boy's vivid imaginative plots.

Discis Book Series: Moving Gives Me a Stomache Ache logo

One of the more charming stories, with particularly lovely pictures, and an educative angle on handling new situations.

Discis Book Series: Mud Puddle logo

This has to be the best of the titles. Great 'I can relate to that' storyline and mercifully little sentimentality. Yet it is still very cute. So, how did you get covered in mud, then?

Discis Book Series: Paper Bag Princess logo

A great little modernised fairytale with a feminist twist. Compulsory for little girls.

Discis Book Series: Scary Poems for Rotten Kids logo

Collection of creepy-crawly rhymes is a jolly little collection. If Roald Dahl is your style of thing, this one should be right up your trouser leg.

Discis Book Series: The Tale of Peter Rabbit logo

This Beatrix Potter classic stays mercifully faithful to the original - even English narration - and needs absolutely no introduction.

Discis Book Series: The Tale of Benjamin Bunny logo

Another relatively unspoilt Beatrix Potter Classic.

Discis Book Series: Thomas 'Snowsuit logo

Sweet American childhood tale that turns, as you would expect, a little sickly.