Boys' literacy has long given cause for concern, but no convincing reason has yet been put forward for why they make slower progress than girls. They become preoccupied with football, we are told, or with sex, or they don't see their dad reading so they have no role model. (An obvious solution would be for all dads to be seen reading about sexy football. Gets my vote, anyway.) The problem is exacerbated by the dearth of age-appropriate books that use vocabulary aimed at a lower reading age. Your mates are reading the latest Terry Deary or J K Rowling bestseller - who wants to be seen dead reading some sad volume no one's ever heard of?
In response, Heinemann has produced Springboard, a reading scheme that aims to offer motivating and enjoyable fiction and non-fiction appealing to key stage 2 readers who have a key stage 1 reading level. For these children, improving self-esteem is as important as improving phonic knowledge.
The main Friends texts feature a multi-ethnic group of boys and girls in lively and contemporary stories. The text evolves from word balloons in the lower stages to conventional picture book format, gradually developing reading stamina. Flyers are complementary texts, including non-fiction, to extend and enrich vocabulary, understanding and reading experience.
The books and support materials (including text-by-text notes) dovetail with the national literacy strategy and its emphasis on phonic work. Audio cassettes of the texts and photocopiable activities are available. Worksheets should not be used indiscriminately, however, as some of them are poor. Guidance on assessment is an integral part of the whole package.
The publisher claims that by the higher stages the books are designed to resemble the kind of paperback novels the children's peers might be reading. A laudable aim not entirely achieved; these look like scheme books.
The subject matter and choice of genre, though, is broad and appealing. Don't Panic, for example, helps the reader through such lighthearted traumas as "the gerbil ate my T-shirt" and "my feet smell" - unputdownable for upper juniors.
Kevin Harcombe is head of Orchard Lea junior school, Fareham,Hampshire