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Books on the box - and the radio

Television can make a real contribution to increasing skill and pleasure in reading. Channel 4 and BBC2 have not only to make sure their programmes are in line with what is being taught in schools, but do it in a way that will engage children who are already sophisticated users of the medium.

This year, Channel 4 has taken up the literacy gauntlet. The English Programme (from November 2, for ages 14-19) joins the Royal Shakespeare Company for an illuminating guide to theatre craft and production, and follows the progress of two new RSC productions, Measure for Measure and The Tempest.

There is a new series made in association with the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board, Passwords (November 2-9), that features selected poets and poems from the new GCSE English and English Literature Anthology. There are star turns by Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy and Ted Hughes.

For primary children, Channel 4's Book Box continues to aim for quality literature. This series is designed to encourage pupils to grow into more sophisticated and thoughtful readers, through adaptations of contemporary fiction. Last year it brought us animated versions of Morris Gleitzman's Blabber Mouth and Sticky Beak, as well as Bill's New Frock by Anne Fine. This year it goes for something epic in scope, The Odyssey no less (September 21 - October 14, for 7 to 11-year-olds).

Another Book Box series, Off with Roger McGough (September 22 - October 22, ages 7-11), sees a further odyssey of sorts, with the poet embarking on a magical tour through the world of poetry.

The BBC has embraced recent government diktats and presents two series designed to get parents reading with their children. Books for Babies (BBC1 and 2, from October 24) will begin at the beginning, so to speak, and DynaMo (from October 2) will combine with the BBC's Internet service to help parents teach children core literacy skills.

The autumn and new year will see further initiatives. Stories and Rhymes (from September 22, for 5 to 7-year-olds) introduces children to different types of storytelling; Words Alive! (from September 25, ages 7-9) uses stories, poems and drama as well as myths and legends; Listen and Write (from September 25 for 9-11-year-olds).

Two television in-service training programmes are due for transmission in October: Boys Can Do Better will examine the real problem of boys' under-achievement in literacy. The Literacy Hour will also look at sample lessons, teaching plans, materials and methods to help teachers introduce formal literacy lessons. Next year there is a phonics special in Words and Pictures (from January 12, for 5 to 7-year-olds).

Janette Wolf

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