Going it alone

15th November 2002 at 00:00
Michael Thorn's choice of fiction for newly confident readers

Get Ready For Second Grade, Amber Brown

By Paula Danziger

Hodder Children's Books pound;4.99

Flying Foxes series

Magic Mr Edison

By Andrew Melrose

Illustrated by Katja Bandlow

That's Not Right!

By Alan Durant

Illustrated by Katherine McEwen

A Tale Of Two Wolves

By Susan Kelly

Illustrated by Lizzie Finlay

Red Fox pound;3.99 each

A Martian Comes To Stay

A Martian In The Supermarket

By Penelope Lively

Illustrated by Alison Bartlett

Hodder Children's Books pound;3.99 each

Tommy comes up to the teacher smiling. "Read this one all by m'self, Miss. Was great. Can I have another?" If this is the first book Tommy has read by himself, the next one or two he puts in his book-bag are crucial. They need to offer him as likely a chance as possible of repeating the same combination of success and pleasure.

Fortunately, most books published for the beginning-to-be-independent reader come in sets of four or more. There is no other reading audience for which the notion of series publishing is more justifiable. Even a faltering reader will get through a short illustrated chapter-book in a day or two. The bestselling US author Paula Danziger has written a new set of Amber Brown adventures for exactly this audience, published under the collective title of "A is for Amber", and featuring a younger Amber Brown than the girl who appears in Danziger's popular longer chapter-books. As its title implies, Get Ready For Second Grade, Amber Brown (Hodder pound;4.99) is published without any attempt to Anglicise. Mum is "mom", secondary school is "high school", and a Tony Ross illustration of a car interior shows a left-hand drive. But it would be daft to think the accessibility of the stories is hampered by such Americanisms.

The text is broken into short lines, the illustrations are large and the humour is spot-on and encouraging. Meanie Hannah Burton teases Amber for turning up on the first day with a backpack shaped like a teddy bear: a second-grader shouldn't wear a "baby backpack". But Amber soon feels OK when friends also turn up with animal bags.

The new teacher, Ms Light, has lightbulb-shaped earrings and other eccentricities. Her first lesson is about electricity and how she wants her new class to "shine", to be "Bright Lights". The positivism certainly works on Amber. "By the end of the year," she pledges, "I, Amber Brown, am going to be able to read a story book all on my own."

More electricity in Magic Mr Edison, from the new batch of Flying Foxes, a series of highly-illustrated stories designed to bridge the gap between picture books and chapter-books. Each title opens with the statement: "I read this book all by myself", with space for a child to sign their name. Schools might want to paste in a sheet to give room for lots of children to enter their names.

Written by Andrew Melrose and illustrated by Katja Bandlow, Magic Mr Edison is set in New York, 1879, and tells of a boy's encounter with Thomas Edison, the inventor. Other features of each Flying Fox title include the Meet the Author and Meet the Illustrator pages. This excellent series with its range of strong writers and artists can be given a blanket recommendation, but two other titles deserve special mention. That's Not Right! by Alan Durant and illustrated by Katherine McEwen is an inventive multi-perspective story about stepping on a woodlouse. It is a good early reader and could be used in "guided writing" as a model for writing from different viewpoints.

It is not always easy to find narratives that embrace institutional aspects of citizenship, especially for key stage 1, so A Tale Of Two Wolves by Susan Kelly and Lizzie Finlay, which sees a falsely accused wolf brought before judge and jury, will be a welcome double-edged resource.

To help move children on to slightly longer chapter-books with black-and-white illustrations, try them with two of Penelope Lively's Martian stories, re-illustrated (and rejacketed) by Alison Bartlett in these new editions. When Tommy finishes them, he'll be able to say, "I, Tommy Stone, can read a book with seven chapters," and the imperative of finding him similar success-and-satisfaction-guaranteed reading material will no longer apply to the same degree.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex

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