Coded romance in Rioja
Caracol is a collection of 16 readers for beginners in Spanish. Modelled on the format of Bibliobus, its successful French counterpart, each pack includes two copies of each of the 16 eight-page readers and a teacher's guide.
The readers are colour-coded according to their level of difficulty and national curriculum attainment levels.
Given the difficulty of encouraging young people to read for pleasure, expecting them to do so in a foreign language only exacerbates matters. Caracol tries to address this dilemma by producing structured, but accessible, user-friendly booklets with relevant subject matter.
The pupils are encouraged to organise their own reading and to assess their own understanding by a series of comprehension-testing activities at the end of each story.
Each booklet has its own vocabulary list but teachers are advised to have a supply of dictionaries during this activity and, indeed, the reading session would provide the ideal opportunity for discussion and practice of dictionary skills.
A photocopiable book marker in the teacher's guide gives specific instructions on how to approach a booklet: "Before you read your book: 1. Look at the cover. What do you think the book is about? 2. Do you understand the title?" Similarly, there is another photocopiable page giving the pupil the opportunity to assess his or her own comprehension in Spanish with the categories of: Sobresaliente, Bien, Asi asi AAy de mi
A continuation of this page allows the pupil to record new words and, perhaps more importantly, to assess the interest value of the book and illustrations. Answers to the activities are also photocopiable from the teacher's guide.
The booklets in the collection vary in subject matter from humour to adventure and romance. It is nigh impossible to produce readers with appropriate language for beginners without it sounding contrived and stilted, but to the authors' credit there is an abundance of colloquialisms which help to overcome the limitations of such a task.
The comic format allows the booklets to use a quasi-telegraphic speech form which is easily understood. There is an obvious move to a more lengthy speech form in the later, more complex booklets,for example, Bravo Charo from the red, most advanced level (corresponding to attainment target levels 3 and 4).
This booklet is a detective story with a challenge - the reader is left to solve "whodunit".
Some of the booklets are informative on Spanish cultural background, such as A finales de Vendimia which is set in Rioja and Pili y su C mara set in Barcelona. To balance the spread across the Spanish-speaking world there are titles such as El Templo del Sol, set in Mexico, and the thought-provoking Una Chica Colombiana with its insight into the richpoor divide of Colombia.
This collection is welcome. The booklets are in black and white, but then the cost of colour would probably inflate the price.
Used in a thoughtful, structured way with a few introductory sessions, the collection could provide the opportunity to monitor students' reading skills or be implemented as part of a mixed activity class.
Mary O'Sullivan is a lecturer in Spanish at the University of Hertfordshire