The magic of reading aloud

Michaela Morgan offers some tried and tested traditional tales for more confident readers

Traditional tales "sow the seeds of a lifelong passion for story," says Kevin Crossley-Holland in his excellent foreword to Folk and Fairy Tales: A Book Guide. These stories, he adds, "have the power to quicken a child's imagination in an intense way that is rewarding in itself".

For a teacher wanting to sow those seeds and reap those rewards there is no better place to start than with this guide from Booktrust.

Browse and you'll find selections with brief critiques of folk and fairy tales, myths and legends, including contemporary versions. Pictures of the relevant book jackets help convey tone and style. Sections are divided into broad age categories, all attractively presented with illustrations by Quentin Blake.

Besides the helpful and inspiring foreword, there's a short but informative piece on Hans Christian Andersen to celebrate his bicentenary. No articles on the Brothers Grimm, Perrault, Jacob Joseph et al, but there is a good bibliography for those who want to research more deeply. This guide provides an essential starting point for teachers.

So, armed with your selection of traditional tales, what now? Why not follow the storytelling tradition and tell them aloud? Helen Ward's Anthology of Aesop's Animal Fables will serve you well: stories are economically and poetically retold. The moral provides stimulus for discussion of beliefs and attitudes - and phrase origins ("fool's gold", "sour grapes" etc). More importantly, they read aloud wonderfully and the imaginative typography will help the novice storyteller with pace, emphasis and delivery. A delightful book, sumptuously produced, and appropriate for all ages. A real treasure.

Great for reading aloud also is Tales Told in Tents: Stories from Central Asia. As co-founder of The Company of Storytellers, Sally Pomme Clayton is a master of the oral tale. She has travelled widely and listened well. She passes on 12 stories in this collection, illustrated with painterly pictures by Sophie Herxheimer. The exotic plots are interwoven with songs and riddles, poems, notes and nuggets of information. They provide potential for follow-up work - in history, geography, poetry, craft, discussion, and the exploration of different cultures and beliefs.

There is a useful glossary, and the map is helpful if you don't know your Kyrgystan from your Tadjikistan. Both these books could be read alone by confident readers.

The White Wolves series published by AC Black can also be read alone, but the series has been designed for guided reading. The books for each year group are designed for various reading abilities. The Year 5 books include three retellings of traditional tales each chunked into five short chapters. The Path of Finn McCool is aimed at "the less confident reader" but all would enjoy this tale of the "terrible, big, boasting fellow" who built the Giant's Causeway. It's retold by Sally Prue in a conversational manner with lively illustrations by Dee Shulman.

Taliesin, a Welsh "tales within a tale" story, is beautifully retold by Maggie Pearson in a traditional way, reeking of magic. It is aimed at "more experienced" Year 5 readers. Celtic knots and full page, seriously atmospheric illustrations by David Wyatt add to its appeal.

The Barber's Clever Wife by Narinder Dhami with illustrations by Katya Bandlow is for "independent readers". Based in the Punjab, this is the story of the various clever ruses the barber's wife employs in order to make their fortune. This is a simply told tale that never quite attains either the magic or the humour of its two companion titles.

For reading alone, Tony Bradman and Tony Ross have teamed up to produce The Greatest Adventures in the World series. The latest is Arthur and the King's Sword. Well told and illustrated with verve, the story is divided into four short chapters with a concluding note dealing with the origins, context and themes of the story.

Terry Deary, famed for his Horrible Histories, has contributed his versions of the Greek legends. Teachers may flinch on reading in a description of the siege of Troy: "Hector's dead and that nasty Achilles has made a right mess of his body" but children from Years 4 to 6 will probably love it.

Deary presents the stories in a variety of ways: first-person accounts, playlets, wanted posters, letters, quizzes, newspapers, mock Sats and so on. These could be used as a springboard to writing activities in class.

But do make sure your class also has access to the power of a traditional retelling of the stories because, to quote from Tales Told in Tents , "Stories are the gold you pass on to your children".

Michaela Morgan's latest book for children is 'The Beast' published by Barrington Stoke

Folk and Fairy Tales: A Book Guide Booktrust pound;5 inc postage package (cheque to Booktrust) Orders: D Hallford, Booktrust, Book House, 45 East Hill, London SW18 2QZ Tel: 020 8516 2984. Email:

An Anthology of Aesop's Animal Fables Retold and Illustrated by Helen Ward Templar pound;14.95 Tales Told in Tents Retold by Sally Pomme Clayton Illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer Frances Lincoln pound;12.99 (hbk)

The Path of Finn McCool Retold by Sally Prue Illustrated by Dee Shulman

The Barber's Clever Wife Retold by Narinder Dhami Illustrated by Katya Bandlow Taliesin Retold by Maggie Pearson Illustrated by David Wyatt Both AC Black: White Wolves pound;4.99 each

Arthur and The King's Sword By Tony Bradman Illustrated by Tony Ross Orchard Books: The Greatest Adventures in The World pound;8.99 hbk pound;3.99 pbk

Greek Legends As You've Never Read Them Before By Terry Deary Illustrated by Michael Tickner Scholastic: Twisted Tales pound;4.99 pbk

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