Bewitched hours

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Samantha Cardigan and the Genie's Revenge. By David Sutherland, illustrated by David Roberts.

The Surprise Party. By Tony Bradman, illustrated by Martin Chatterton. Egmont Red Bananas pound;3.99 each.

Aristotle. By Dick King-Smith, illustrated by Bob Graham. Walker Books pound;7.99.

Titchy Witch and the Wobbly Fang. Titchy Witch and the Stray Dragon. By Rose Impey, illustrated by Katharine McEwen. Orchard Books pound;8.99pound;4.99.

Magic In My Pocket. By Alison Uttley. Jane Nissen Books pound;7.99.

Rocky. By Rebecca Lisle, illustrated by Tim Archbold.

Shredder. By Jonathan Kebbe, illustrated by Sarah Nayler. Corgi Pups. pound;3.99 each

Michael Thorn chooses stories for new readers

The Red Bananas series comes between Blue and Yellow in the Bananas hierarchy and introduces new readers to chapter-length stories, while retaining speech bubbles and lots of colour illustrations. The most distinctive new title is Samantha Cardigan and the Genie's Revenge, a bizarre adventure in which Samantha and her rabbit have to, among other things, help a sheikh whose daughter has floated to the top of a tent. The Surprise Party is another adventure set in the Land of Sand that's also barmy.

A less hectic story by far is Aristotle. Although the paperback is due out in August, opt for the hardback, which is a model of design and page layout and is printed on sleek, smooth paper. Bob Graham's informal and softly-coloured artwork is the perfect foil for Dick King-Smith's tale of an accident-prone witch's cat, told with his usual mastery of expression and timing.

Cat-a-bogus is the bossy, ingenious black cat belonging to Witchy-witch in the splendid Titchy Witch series. These witty first readers, dominated by Katharine McEwen's colourful illustrations, can't help but encourage faltering readers to become more confident. In Titchy Witch and the Wobbly Fang, wanting to get as many presents as possible from the Fang Fairy, Titchy Witch brews a spell that makes her teeth drop out. She is encouraged by Dido, her pet dragon introduced in Titchy Witch and the Stray Dragon. As in all the books, it is the commandingly resolute Cat-a-bogus who brings about a satisfactory resolution.

The Titchy Witch series is unmistakably contemporary, whereas Dick King-Smith's book might have been published in another era. The King-Smith style is not too far removed from that of Alison Uttley. Magic In My Pocket, a selection of her countryside tales made by Eleanor Graham, was originally published in 1957. Its reissue provides adults with a handy number of stories that are ideal for reading to the very children who will be trying to read independently the other books mentioned here. The story of The Crooked Man - recounted as an explanation of the rhyme: "There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile" - is a first-rate introduction to Alison Uttley's manner.

In Rocky by Rebecca Lisle, a kitten has been given to Ruby's big sister for her birthday. Ruby sulks because she's told she's not old enough to have a pet for her birthday. She finds a rock with markings that lend it the appearance of a face and promptly adopts it as her pet.

With expressive line-drawings by Tim Archbold, this short chapter-book cleverly develops the way in which Ruby's adoption of the rock turns the tables in her relationship with her sister. Suddenly, it is Jane who is jealous of Ruby. Peace and harmony are reinstated after both the kitten and the rock win prizes.

Corgi Pups have a reputation for building confidence in new readers and Jonathan Kebbe's Shredder - written from the point of view of a class gerbil - is another good example of what this series does so well. Using black-and- white illustrations, they tend to be less wacky stories than Bananas and the style is accessibly undemanding, yet captivating at the appropriate level.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm Primary School, Hailsham, East Sussex

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