Leave them alone and they might surprise you

THE ACB WITH HONORA LEE<br>Kate De Goldi<br>Random House
THE ACB WITH HONORA LEE
Kate De Goldi
Random House
As busy adults, it is often easy for us to organise our children's lives to suit our own ends, and in the process stifle their opportunity to discover things about and for themselves.

The ACB with Honora Lee by New Zealand author Kate De Goldi is a gentle reminder of what they can achieve when left to their own devices.

Perry is what could be described as a ''problem child'' - curious, precocious, inattentive and easily bored (the kinds of behaviours that can see bright kids labelled ADHD).

Her parents, both overworked professionals, decide the solution is to ensure her out-of-school time is filled with other people and educational activities; music and movement lessons, clarinet, piano, homework group.

Perry doesn't find any of these particularly interesting, and when her movement group is cancelled she decides that it is her turn to choose what to do. This turns out to be weekly visits to her grandmother, Honora Lee, at the nearby Santa Lucia rest-home.

Although Honora is unable to remember her from visit to visit, when her granddaughter asks ''Gran? Who am I?'' she receives the tart reply: ''If you don't know, I can't help you''.

She retains a sharp intellect and still acts like the teacher she once was, so Perry decides to involve her in an educational project - an ABC based on the rest-home and its residents. Over the next few months, the book grows in a haphazard fashion depending on which letter Honora decides to respond to on the day, with additional contributions from everybody who lives and works at Santa Lucia.

In the process, Perry finds new friends, learns about life and death and finally manages to apply herself to something for an extended period of time.

Although this is probably aimed at a younger audience, it is also a great read for adults. De Goldi has a real talent for capturing the perspective and behaviour of children, and part of my enjoyment came from the sheer familiarity of some of the situations: ''Perry?'' ''Yes,'' said Perry. ''If you want to say something you come and talk quietly and face-to-face in a civilised way.'' ''Gurg,'' Perry said.
''Perry?'' ''Rawk.'' ''Perry!'' ''Yes,'' said Perry, meekly.

The accompanying illustrations by Gregory O'Brien, some (or all) of which represent the ones drawn by Perry herself, complement the text beautifully. A small and perfectly formed hardback, this book is a little treasure.

 - Dr McKinney is a Dunedin scientist.