Early "easy readers" for children who had difficulty reading were uncomfortably like books for much younger children. The print style, the illustrations and, most damaging of all, the stories often grated on the frequently self-conscious sensibilities of the target audience. In short, they were a dead loss.
But the new Livewire books from Hodder (in association with the Basic Skills Agency) and Heinemann's Impact series both represent a huge advance in the battle to stimulate struggling teenage readers.
Both series are gradedand feature non-fiction, plays and stories supported byteacher resource books.
The Livewire biographies, from Queen Victoria to Will Smith, are interesting, well-illustrated and keenly devoured by the teenage (and adult) readers at whom they are aimed. Most importantly, they are real books which don't have the stigma of a spurious "easy reader" style.
However, I have two reservations. First, some of the Youth Fiction titles are visually disappointing compared to the rest of the series. Second, while short lines help the weaker readers, they also have the effect of making the prose look almost like poetry.
In contrast, the Impact series uses conventional line lengths and the text flows more naturally. But the Impact series really scores with its retellings. Frankenstein and Crown of Blood (a reworking of Macbeth) are oustanding.
Chris Breese is head of English and expressive arts at Marriotts school, Stevenage