Scaly Things, Creepy Creatures and Dangerous Animals - not a particularly intimidating Ofsted team, but three titles from Kingscourt's Explorers series of non-fiction texts to support literacy. Developed in New Zealand, the three sets, spanning the age ranges eight to 12, are designed to "amaze, delight and intrigue" as well as entertain.
Wonderful to relate, the pupil books achieve these laudable aims. They do so through the quality of the illustrations (colour photographs and drawings), a lively and uncluttered design and challenging but manageable texts which lend themselves to differentiation.
An 11-year-old reading a text intended for an eight-year-old would not feel the subject matter or design was "babyish". Extensive use is made of bubbles and boxes to present facts and break up text, while each book has an index and glossary. The occasional gatefold page enhances large or complex visual features.
The range of subjects is diverse - weather, astronomy, sport, wildlife and history among others. At 32 pages each, they are suitable for general reference as well as reading cover to cover and make easy work of linking literacy to other curriculum areas.Most of the books include activity ideas for children, including make your own magnetic train, make a helicopter and, my favourite, make a universe using a balloon.
The teacher resource books consist of lesson plans for each text which clearly identify learning objectives and activities for before, during and after reading. "Concluding activities" (or plenaries in NLS-speak) are purposeful and concise.
One very welcome feature is the related website addresses for extending research (and, as websites come and go with even greater frequency than Department for Education and Employment initiatives, they also suggest useful search terms with which to explore the web).
The photocopiable worksheets are, sadly, no better than those I have come across in the northern hemisphere. What educational gains can be made by giving a group a photocopied sheet consisting of a brief closed question and then lots of space for writing? Answers on a postcard, please, to the photocopier company of your choice.
Alternatively, write the question on the whiteboard and save money.
Carping about worksheets aside, this is a high quality resource with books that children will love to read.
Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands Primary School in Fareham, Hampshire