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The Independent Culture
Water colour. Now there's a technology you don't see enough of in digital media. It works on screen, the colours don't run, and it's a natural vehicle for traditional European children's tales. While this inspired German electronic publisher, Tivola, has been collecting richly- deserved awards at Continental multimedia bunfights, we've had to wait for its range to be released in English editions. Now we can see what we've been missing. The first batch was issued in August, and this month sees the release of some more titles. All work on both Windows and Macintosh platforms, and all have something to offer users of almost any age. Together, they make up a range of charming and clever titles that should be the envy of every other children's multimedia publisher in the world.

For children aged between three and seven, there is a dog called Max who hails from a village called Rightaroundthecor-ner, in Dog's Fairyland. In "Max and Marie Go Shopping" (pounds 20), he visits Veryfar-away, another fine Germanic compound which can be seen in its original form, Ganzweitweg, with a single click on the appropriate flag. It is also available in French, as Tresloindici. The translation facility may be ahead of the age group, but it gives older children and adults an excuse to play with the program. More ambitiously, Max helps save the Leaning Tower of Auntie Lisa in "Max and the Secret Formula" (pounds 20).

Tivola's light but lively touch is applied to the good old stories in "Snow White and the Seven Hansels" (ages four and upwards, pounds 25). This whimsical hypertext uses the interactive formula to twist the stories together. Lead Snow White to Grandmother's House, and the Wolf gets a more substantial meal than Little Red Riding Hood. Snow White's homely charms are a thousand miles from Disney's studios, but just what a European peasant would find exquisitely beautiful. I'm not sure the brothers Grimm would have done it this way, though.

For four- to eight-year-olds, a young balloonist called Oscar pilots a lovely craft that would not look out of place on the wall of an 18th- century nursery. It takes Oscar to each of the four seasons, where he and we can learn about forest and farm - those German roots again - at each quarter of the year. "Oscar and the Secrets of the Forest" and "Oscar Discovers the Farm" both sell at pounds 25. Also for the same age group, there's "Floating, Flying, Fluttering Machines", a build-your-own guide to airborne stuff, be it a bird or a plane.