From comic cartoons to teen magazine romances, the picture story remains a perennial favourite. Slightly ambiguous pictures set the tone from which even the laziest reader wants to understand what's going on. When, as in Phototh que, the pictures are glossy photos, characters come alive and give a brief tantalising glimpse of "real life".
The storylines in this set of four books are uncomplicated teenage tales: holiday experiences, pocket money issues, entering competitions. Even so, they all have a fairly racy feel and include trips to the ski slopes, wanting to buy a guitar or a scooter and entering a competition on Parisian monuments.
But the racy feel is more than compensated for by an overriding theme of happy relationships with friends old and new, parents, teachers and older people.
This gives the books a pleasantly optimistic tone. Combining a birthday party with dad's new-found job, helping an old man in need, losing a younger brother at a theme park - these are the kind of situations most pupils will relate to. Characters are seen discussing problems and ideas with parents and teachers, being in turn disappointed, delighted, irritated with the various outcomes.
The language is up-to-date but avoids the fashionable franglais of "cool" which rapidly dates. It all adds up to easy reading and avoids the sometimes slightly childish material of some readers.
But perhaps the greatest advantage of Phototh que is the range of exercises following each of the three stories. There is an excellent assortment, showing more imagination than is often put into basic language work. Instructions are in English and French and will allow for independent work. Pupils should particularly enjoy tackling exercises which relate directly back to the story, for example, correcting mistakes in statements, identifying the photo on which a comment was made, unjumbling sentences, finding the French for . . . and so on.
The format of these exercises is stimulating, non-repetitive and integrated with the stories. These pages also include brief and straightforward grammar sections. While there is a useful emphasis on verbs, many smaller points are also addressed - question forms, "avoir" expressions, the correct use of "tout, toute", and so on.
The clothes and fashions in Phototh que will date, but its integrated approach makes it a sound investment.