Judges choose plots over platitudes

STRONG stories win out over worthy sentiments on the shortlist of titles selected for the leading book awards for children with special educational needs.

From a rural community's nurturing of a child with learning difficulties in the 1930s to the ethical dilemmas that result from a transeugenics transplant, the shortlist of 1998 NASEN Special Educational Needs Children's Book Awards, announced today, offers young readers an enjoyable route to a greater understanding of special needs. The awards are sponsored by The TES and the Educational Publishers Council.

Pig-heart Boy, Malorie Blackman's novel published by Doubleday, follows Cameron, whose survival depends on a pig's heart transplant. A "fascinating visit into what creates a person - your heart or your soul", said the judges.

The first non-fiction series to be shortlisted for the award, When It's Hard To I HearSeeLearnMoveEatBreathe by Judith Condon (Watts) for older primary pupils and impressed the judges with its "clarity". The rest of the books on the list are pitched at young teenagers, but some might attract 10 and 11-year-olds.

Dick King-Smith's The Crowstarver (Doubleday) - "a beautiful, evocative story" - tells the tale of the foundling Spider, whose affinity with the animal world makes up for his academic shortcomings.

Me and My Electric, edited by Elizabeth Laird (Mammoth), is an "illuminating" collection of poetry and prose by young people with disabilities. Alwena's Garden, a novel with an historical setting by Mary Oldham (PontGomer), "argues for the rights of children with learning disabilities to create their own lives". And Secret Songs by Jane Stemp, in the Hodder Signature series "shows great insight into the thoughts of a teenager with hearing loss."

The shortlist for the parallel NASEN TES award for academic books is also announced today. Values into Practice in Special Education, a collection of articles edited by Geoff Lindsay and David Thompson (David Fulton); Children with Visual Impairments by Alec Webster and Joio Roe (Routledge); Theorising Special Education by Catherine Clark, Alan Dyson and Alan Millward (Routledge); Asperger's Syndrome: a guide for parents and professionals by Tony Attwood (Jessica Kingsley); Children in Difficulty: a guide to understanding and helping by Julian Elliott and Maurice Place (Routledge) and The Making of the Inclusive School by Gary Thomas, David Walker and Julie Webb (Routledge).

The awards will be presented on November 5 at the Special Needs London exhibition by TES editor Caroline St John-Brooks.

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