Back to School: Add some books to your trolley - 'Working-at-home' books are flourishing. Colin Hughes looks at some of what is available in supermarkets and bookshops

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WORK-AT-HOME books are one of the fastest-growing branches of the publishing business. Parents prowling around the supermarket can find themselves browsing among pre-school readers by the baked beans shelf.

Sainsbury supermarkets have stocked books for small children for some time. Tesco has recently launched new titles, and Safeway is entering the market with its 'own brand' books this autumn. W H Smith offers a wide range of Ladybird learning-at-home titles and many other offerings.

The problem for parents is deciding what's best. Are you helping your child by buying a spelling practice book, or a numbers game pamphlet? Or are you burdening them with your own anxiety?

In fact, virtually everything on the market is responsibly compiled. All the main publishers are aware of the national curriculum and know their titles will not sell well unless children - and parents - actually enjoy them.

However, it is worth looking carefully at what you're buying. The working-at-home books on the market cost from 99p to about pounds 2.50 and most of them look quite similar in design and content. But flick through the books; think about what your child enjoys doing. Many, for example, demand a huge amount of colouring in and drawing. Others expect children to progress from drawing a simple line to writing full sentences in the space of one 20-page workbook - which is absurd. A better book is one which stays at the same standard throughout, so a child can complete it and feel satisfied.

The new 'Basic Skills' Tesco series is very good. The A4 size books are attractive in colour, with an enjoyable story and prompt questions for parents. The Safeway series is more general than the work-at-home books, but good value: colouring books at 99p each, and counting and nursery rhyme books at pounds 1.49.

The value-for-money award should go to Oxford University Press, for its 'At Home With' series. They cost pounds 2.50, but are huge. They offer an excellent way for parents to find out how their children are doing, and are good for amusing them in quiet moments. Ladybird products are also among the best-priced. The 'Learning at Home' series cost 99p each.

Pan Macmillan's 'Learn Together' series is attractive, but make sure your child is up to it. There are some appealing features - little reward stickers, for example. They cost pounds 2.50. Letts Educational 'Back to Basics' practice books, pounds 2.25, have good ordering of skills. Their 'Activity' series ( pounds 2.50 each) is fun, particularly those aimed at children in junior school. Invader offers a huge range, clearly labelled for age ranges, and mostly excellent.

Dorling Kindersley's pre-school products are some of the most delightfully designed children's books available. My First Number Book, My First Word Book, and My First Book of Time ( pounds 6.99 hardback) are, I think, the best of their kind on the market.