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Children's Bookshelf

BEN : by Victoria Shennan, illustrated by Michael Charlton (Bodley Head: $5.95; distributed by Merrimack Publishers, 47 Pelham Road, Salem, N.H. 03079: 32 pp.; ages 3-6).

March 02, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

For most parents, Down's Syndrome isn't something we remember to discuss without our children. That is, of course, not until we happen to be out in public and they point to a person with the chromosome abnormality, then to our embarrassment, blurt, "Who's that? " Do we mumble some benign answer or just turn the grocery cart down another aisle?

Unfortunately, this picture book doesn't help adults know what to say at that moment. But it does speak to youngsters about a loving little boy and Ben, his mentally handicapped brother. Ben goes to a special school for slow learners with teachers who try to help them join in with the outside world. What distresses the brother is that other kids are "very unkind." Like so many of us, "they can't understand anyone being different."

Bright illustrations show Ben in his daily adventures, a round-faced happy child. He boards a bus under the watchful eye of his brother, explores an outdoor market with his class, then joins his family in the park and later at a carnival.

This warm, tender story shows that "different" is OK, that Ben is equally cherished by his parents and siblings. The more we can familiarize our kids with all types of people, the more easily they--and we--will share a friendly world. As Ben's brother says, "Friends mean a lot to families like ours."

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