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Allan and Andre in the hen coop;Literacy;Reviews;Books

FAST FOX, SLOW DOG SERIES. Chicken, Chips and Peas. Slow Dog Falling. The Hen House. By Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Andre Amstutz. Puffin pound;4.99 each.

Being a real reader means a child can do many things, one of which is select books critically. Readers of this brilliant AhlbergAmstutz series will want to return to the books again and again.

This latest collaboration by a long-term partnership whose successes include Funnybones (Heinemann) and Monkey Do! (Walker) is one to consider for all early years and reception classrooms. Fans of Ahlberg's Red Nose Readers and Happy Families books will find that the Fast Fox, Slow Dog books fit neatly between the two in terms of difficulty and will encourage early readers to become independent.

Each of the three stories has great momentum, with the characters portrayed in both text and illustrations. Fast Fox is always hungry, Slow Dog is always sleepy, Mother Hen is always on the phone and her chickens are always in trouble. The reader can predict what will happen as sleepy old Slow Dog stumbles into each crisis, for each time he unwittingly saves the day. Despite all his ingenious tricks, Fast Fox never gets Mother Hen's chickens - at least, not in books one, two and three. (A fourth title, Grandma Fox, will be published in September.) As in many a fine tale, the words tell only half the story. The subtext is gleefully outlined in Amstutz's illustrations, and Ahlberg's words have a magical rhythm and lilt which add delight to the joyfully visual jokes. The strong storylines present many opportunities for use of prediction skills, and the vocabulary is similar in all three books. The sentences are clear and simple, with skilful use of repetition. Children will quickly become familiar with the words as they linger over the pictures, or rapidly turn the pages. All three stories would provide excellent material for drama. Each book concludes with a tempting taster from one of the others.

They are more expensive than many of the thousands being produced for the literacy hour, but they are of lasting value. They would be great confidence builders, and splendid for story times, individual reads or in guided reading during literacy hour, with the earliest of readers. And they are great fun - I shared the books with children who loved them, for all the reasons one hopes that children will love books.

Gwynneth Bailey is language co-ordinator at Aldborough county primary school, Norwich

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