Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin. Rowman and Littlefield, $23.95 (240p) ISBN 0-8476-8861-5

Decades of "adultcentric" research have led social scientists to deny the existence of racial awareness in young children. Yet children-even very young ones-are clearly able to understand sameness and difference, say sociologists Van Ausdale and Feagin after studying 58 children, three to six years old, in an urban nursery school. According to their findings, children learn to identify racial or ethnic markers (skin or hair color, eye shape, accent) and use them to gain social control, even in a nursery school with an antibias, pro-tolerance curriculum. Van Ausdale, the fieldworker of the two, spent 11 months listening to the children chat and observing their play, effacing her presence as much as possible. While the authors' validation of the child's perspective is compelling, and their societal approach to the race problem sensible, their study itself is underwhelming. First, the school's racial mix is curiously skewed: of 58 children, 24 are white and 19 Asian, and there is only one nonwhite teacher. The authors continually assert that Van Ausdale functioned as an invisible observer, although this concept is questionable. The most problematic aspect of this report is the anecdotal presentation of the findings. Readers are left wondering about the actual frequency of various types of racist behavior, data that would have given the study more credibility and depth. While the jacket is appealing, no one browsing this book would mistake it for a lively read. Still, early education professionals and interested parents will find it an important addition to their collections. (Jan.)