Folens and Barrington Stoke publish useful material for weak teenage readers, and both these series have broken new ground in finding ways of telling a story without making the characterisation bland and patronising.
Folens's On the Edge series is very promising. Set in the fictional town of Brightsea, it isn't afraid to spend a bit of time describing the sea air and the feeling of sleaze that goes with the sea-front atmosphere of candy floss and fish and chips.
Storylines concern themselves with nightclubs filled with under-age teenage drinkers. These narratives are good on the internal thoughts (hopes, ambitions and fears) of a world of characters which this series creates and builds on.
We often pick up on a storyline that has already-developed characters, but the clever resume on the first page of each book brings low-aged readers in quickly, so each little narrative is a stand-alone.
The stories are well crafted vignettes of teenage life, written by a team of three writers who seem to be working to the same overall character briefs and settings. There is a glossary of difficult words to help pupils with comprehension. This might have been better if it had highlighted key words in the text as readers progress.
Living with the Fishes by Mike Gould is a story of intrigue around the Brighton marina. Two of the regular teenage characters, Phil and Mick, stumble on an immigration scam on board a luxury yacht. What is good about the story, unlike so many other low-aged readers on the market, is that there's some really good character delineation.
What's Going On by Mary Green examines a simple daily-life situation involving adolescent girlfriendboyfriend trouble, but does so in a way that remains true to the Brighton setting for teenagers. Relationships are developed in a similar way to those in television soaps - chunk by chunk and episode by episode.
Journey to Fear by Trevor Millum seems to be, on the surface, a macabre tale of how a finger comes to be lost in a car door. But there are deeper layers examining relationships within a broken family, within the story. In this way stories manage to keep their simplicity, but also refer to their own deeper settings of character and place.
Barrington Stoke prides itself on its special needs materials, but this latest series of decent length "gr8reads" shows real signs of creating some "hard-edged" yarns. Johnny Delgado: Private Detective is written in the style of a Raymond Chandler crime novel. The writer, Kevin Brooks, has apparently been commissioned to do a series of these Delgado action settings in the coming year.
Brooks is sufficiently graphic in his description of a shapely 17-year-old gangster moll to grab the attention of teenage boys. The storyline makes a reasonable attempt at creating gang-land atmosphere on a council estate, with its creaking, smelly lifts and deserted corridors.The dialogue is convincing and the story moves at a quick pace.
The length of the story makes it a real book, which pays serious regard to the fact that poor readers are often patronised by books that are wafer thin. They might not read them well, but they have still polished them off in 10 minutes.
Not all the attempts at gritty street lingo work. Robert Swindell's Snapshot is not as effective as Stone Cold, his classic on teenage homelessness. There are some artificial "cockney" interchanges, where words are spelt the way they sound phonetically. "Think" becomes "fink" and "birthday" becomes "birfday". One cannot help feeling that the author is trying too hard to be streetwise and the audience could take it as being naff.
Them by Lee Weatherly is another strong work. This story examines those who are bullied at school and how they will do anything to others to be accepted. In this case "anything" leads to the persecution of another pupil. Like the best of this new literature for weak readers, the story is multi-layered and looks at the family background of the heroine, Kylie, and her escape from domestic violence.
There is lots of promise in these two new series and a real attempt to break new ground and give weaker teenager readers a real run for their money.
Paul Blum is deputy headteacher at Islington Green School
On the edge
Reading programme in soap opera format set to encourage and keep the readers attention. Characters can be visited on the Folens website.
Evaluation pack pound;39.99
Written by award-winning authors, these books from Barrington Stoke look like "real" books and have illustrated covers appealing to teenagers.