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Variety and inventiveness are missing in today's "Nadirland" of children's books, writes Tom Engelhardt in the June Harper's.

Mr. Engelhardt, a former editor Pantheon, unfavorably compares the current market-based boom in children's publishing with the previous period of growth in children's books based on "social realism," a genre that flourished in the mid-1960's to mid-1970's. Books such as The Outsiders and The Chocolate War, depicting poor, urban, or alienated youths questioning authority, were buoyed Great Society programs and public-library support, he says.

The series is the most popular genre in this latest boom. In a Publishers Weekly list of the 20 best-selling children's books of 1990, 17 (including seven Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle books, and four Baby-sitter's Club books) are among the highly marketable serial publications Mr. Engelhardt derides as bland, formulaic "junior versions of distinctly adult genres--the TV soap opera, the woman's romance, the thriller."

These cookie-cutter plots and stereotyped characters have ! become wildly popular, he says, but may inhibit the vital development # of imagination: "Where children are eepest, least reachable ... is exactly where this world of books is becoming more shallow, more obvious, more expectable, and yet is weighing more heavily on the young."

With methods of psychotherapy for children increasing and Levolving, the June Atlantic, in a cover story, attempts to clarify some of the choices.

Katharine Davis Fishman, who is currently writing a book on the subject, boils the various therapeutic approaches down to four basic types. Psychodynamic therapy, she says, looks inward," and helps the child understand the causes for his or her emotions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to change dysfunctional behavioral patterns, providing a "structure for hoping" when stressful occasions arise.

The Family-Systems Approach, which Ms. Fishman compares to cultural anthropology," combines elements from both these therapies while emphasizing the rehabilitation of the entire family unit. It identifies and attempts to resolve chronic relational conflicts.

Ms. Fishman emphasizes that, like the "moving target" children they seek to serve, all three therapy types are evolving, with new theories emerging and methods being borrowed from each.

Though consistent figures on the impact of child therapy are lacking, she supports it as the best hope of addressing persistant problems: "If parents inform themselves and do not yield their inherent authority, they and their children may well find relief."--skg

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