Activate to educate

10th July 1998 at 01:00
ACTIVATORS. 11 titles including ballet, riding, skateboarding, astronomy, cycling and bird-watching. Hodder Pounds 3.99 each

THE USBORNE RIDING SCHOOL: Understanding Your Pony; Gymkhanas. Pounds 3.99 each

CROSS COUNTRY. Pounds 5.99. Usborne. Age range: 9-14.

They're cheap, very cheerful, and they'll get children outside and exhilarated. Graham Hart puts his skates on.

Activators are sports and pastimes that are great for children, don't have to cost a lot and are ideal for the summer holidays. Bird-watching, astronomy, skateboarding and cycling are typical examples.

Hodder has clearly made a number of policy decisions about its Activators series, all of which have paid dividends. The authors can write well, know their subject, and use language that will appeal to a young audience. Skateboarding exemplifies this approach: "You can also combine an ollie with a shove-it to create a pop shove-it. But first you have to learn the shove-it. " I assume this has street cred. It's certainly great fun to read.

Another key decision has been to keep the price low by using cheapish paper, black-only printing and a small format. These books face tough competition from all-colour, hardback titles, but I think the decision is right. Spend only Pounds 3.99 on the book and you have money left over for your cycle helmet, bird box ... or telescope.

Astronomy - like all the titles - does a great job of illustrating the text, humorously and informatively, within obvious budgetary constraints.

The approach is practical, with the emphasis on things to make and do. Cycling is a good example. Not only does it give all the standard stuff on repairs, safety and equipment, but it also includes advice on touring, games, cross-country riding, fitness and so on.

Ballet does not quite fit into the DIY format, and Riding does involve one rather expensive piece of equipment but, in the main, these are excellent books for young people with time (but not too much money) on their hands. They would be useful additions to the school library, but better to give them away as prizes on the last day of the summer term.

On the subject of riding, it should be noted that Robbie Williams is not every girl's dream; that honour belongs to ponies. Usborne recognises this with its series, which emphasises riding skills and horse husbandry for young people.

These books are the opposite to Activators, with their larger format, colour and much shorter text. But they are just as appealing, only in a different way. The texts are in simple chunks and the photography is excellent. Importantly, the books have indexes.

It would be misleading to single out one of the titles, as all are spot-on. All you need is a pony. . . and the great outdoors.

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