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Bare essentials

The PM Library provides a path to literacy. Jean Prance and Julia Douetil report

PM LIBRARY. Evaluation Packs. ALPHABET STARTERS AND BLENDS PACK. Pounds 77. STARTERS ONE AND TWO PACK. Pounds 60. STORY BOOK SET A PACK. Pounds 110. STORY BOOK SET B PACK. Pounds 55. By Beverley Randell. Nelson

Any primary school considering expanding its core materials for children who are starting to learn to read should look seriously at the PM Library. Used alongside the many rich literary texts available in primary classrooms, this early years programme should prove a valuable tool in helping children become independent readers.

It was published in New Zealand in 1964 and in the United Kingdom (by Methuen) in 1966. This new edition - by popular demand - brings the characters and style up to date.

Starters One and Two are simple books for young children just beginning to read. They focus on a single idea or have a simple storyline children can relate to. The reader is supported by clear pictures and a text that is close to spoken language, using familiar syntactic structures.

The format and print are clear and consistent, with ample space between words, providing many opportunities for teaching children how to attend to text - about directionality, punctuation and the relationship between letters and sound - and to begin building a reading vocabulary. There are 40 small books in the series, giving plenty of choice for the teacher or child.

The Red, Yellow, Blue, Green Story Books offer wide-ranging opportunities for discussion and prediction in a satisfying context. They help children learn about the process of reading, including more complex visual analysis within an increased selection of text.

The 96 stories cover a wide variety of styles, including fiction, non-fiction, rhymes and songs. And they avoid gender or racial stereotyping while successfully capturing the differing experiences and enthusiasms of many children.

Care has been taken to use familiar sentence structures, but more literary "book language" is introduced. With their subtle repetition of everyday phrases and vocabulary, these books support and extend children who have limited control of English.

The series has a coded gradient of difficulty. This is helpful for struggling readers but probably too finely drawn for the classroom. So teachers should be prepared to be selective, allowing good readers to "sample" the different levels.

Alphabet Starters and Alphabet Blends provide a series of small books, one for each letter of the alphabet and one for each combination of two consonants that make one sound. Alphabet Starters feature a tactile letter on the front cover, which invites the child to trace the shape. Clear photographs enable children to identify objects with ease and make links between letter shape and letter sound across a range of words.

Readalongs comprise one big book and a set of six small books for each title, supported by a cassette tape, designed for shared, guided or independent reading. Much has been written about the importance of rhyme and alliteration for the pre-reader. These familiar songs and rhymes could support early awareness of the sounds of English.

Given the quality of the children's books, the Teacher's Guides are a little disappointing. For example, a pro forma is included for taking a running record of text reading, but no explanation is given of how to make or (more importantly) analyse and use running records.

Each double-page spread of the guide relates to one book, with suggestions for extending activities across several curriculum subjects. But the links sometimes seem tenuous and contrived. Publishers seem to believe they must provide photocopy activity masters, but most primary school teachers are creative enough to develop their own ideas.

There are helpful lists of books for sharing and comparing with the PM Story Books, reinforcing the point that this programme is not meant to be used on its own.

Jean Prance and Julia Douetil are curriculum management consultants for Surrey Education Authority

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