Education Quandary

'Why don't the superstores sell children's books, revision guides and parenting manuals, alongside school uniforms and stationery?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

This parent wanted a one-stop shop for all her start-the-school-year requirements. But, while she was pleased with the quality and price of the uniforms she found, and could buy all the pens and pencil cases she needed, when it came to books she could only see celebrity biographies, cook books and trashy novels. Why, she wondered, didn't the big stores stock a healthier reading diet?

It's a good question. There are masses of wonderful children's books around, as well as a lot of user-friendly maths and English revision books, and terrific self-help books for parents. And everyone, parents and children alike, can benefit from getting their brains into gear for school, after the long weeks of the summer holidays.

So Quandary asked all the big supermarkets this question, but only Asda came back with an answer - which says a lot in itself about how they view the issue. Asda's answer was in three parts. First, they said, books are seasonal, so of course they stock beach books in August. Second, they are expanding their ranges, and now stock a lot of classic story books for young children. And third, if customers want them to stock something specific, they should tell them, so that they can do something about it.

So there's your answer. Kick up a fuss. Ask for what you want. Let it be known that you don't always want the lowest common denominator, and you might eventually be able to put something more useful to family life than the latest celebrity biography alongside the school socks in your supermarket trolley.

Readers' advice

I buy all my books from my local independent book shop. This shop is run by a woman in her sixties; it has been her livelihood for 30 years. She advises people on what to read, and gets in anything that customers want. Her shop is a haven in our small town, but she is already struggling from the competition from the big chain bookshops in the city. She says that she will have to close if the supermarkets get in on the market as well.

Carole Smillen, Kent

Supermarkets always seem to decide what books to have according to what they think people in an area want. My daughter, who lives outside Leeds, always says she is surprised by what is available in the shops near me. She always says that someone, somewhere, must think that people in the North are not as cultured as us Southerners!

Marion Cousins, Surrey

Like all mothers, I would like to be able to sling the books I want into my supermarket trolley. Browsing in any shop is impossible with young children, and bookshops are a nightmare. My children get over-excited by the choice available and start to run around being sillyand annoying everyone. I now do my book shopping online, after they are asleep, but it is not as satisfying as seeing a book before you buy it.

Lara Boyle, Manchester

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

Has anyone else noticed that today's school leavers lack initiative? I employ a lot of them, to help run a chain of summer camps, and since the A-level reforms came in I have noticed a real difference in their maturity and willingness to take responsibility. They seem to be spoon-fed at school, and unable to think for themselves.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 4 September to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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