Information books

17th November 2000 at 00:00


A BASIC DICTIONARY OF PLANTS AND GARDENING. By Nick Wright and Bobbie Neate. Children's edition pound;6 each. Teacher's and parent's edition pound;12.75 each.

Three children's texts pound;16.75, three adult texts pound;33; guided reading packs (1 teacher's book and 6 children's books) pound;41.40; bumper bundles (pack as above for three titles, 21 books in all) pound;117 Neate Publishing, 6 Wood-green Road, Winchester SO22 6LH Tel: 01962 620216 Bobbie Neate is well known for promoting structured non-fiction reading materials for primary children. She has taught, lectured, produced and edited books for children. Her latest initiative - Neate Publishing - will be of interest to many.

Her message has been consistent: young children need well-organised and attractively illustrated information books, non-narrative in organisation, which prepare the ground for texts used by mature readers.

Good retrieval devices are essential and chapter and subheadings - "structural guiders" - should be clear and unambiguous. Her belief that children need to be taught study skills to tackle non-fiction, including skimming (discovering the gist of a passage or chapter), scanning (searching for a date or name) and note-taking, is in line with the national curriculum English programmes and national literacy strategy objectives.

The first fruits of Neate Publishing, for key stage 2, stay close to these principles. The format is clear - today's computer-literate children will feel comfortable with the look of the pages and the use of symbols and icons.

Photographs and diagrams are attractive and, as we would expect, extend the information in the text. All three books would feed into literacy hour class and group work, particulrly in Years 3 and 4, and help fulfil objectives in the national curriculum science programmes.

The encyclopaedia and dictionary will be useful for modelling reference genre - careful, scientific comparison between one phenomenon and another will be encouraged by Comparing Giraffes and Polar Bears. The explanatory pages at the front of the Basic Dictionary of Plants and Gardening explain the conventions and format of dictionary entries in helpful detail. The Literacy and Science flaps in the version for teachers and parents are a particularly helpful way of giving support.

There are some excellent ideas. Activities recommended in A Basic Encyclopaedia of Food include transforming information into diagrammatic form (helpful in coming to understand ways in which scientific information is presented) and guidance on making a book. Children will enjoy trying the recipe for Bangladeshi bread.

Teachers will find the wealth of guidance helpful, but creative practitioners will want to decide on their teaching priorities before turning to the ideas here. Neate makes clear, on the first flap of each book, that it is not a good idea to work mechanistically through the activities suggested. I recommend a light touch at home. So much is now demanded in the classroom that the emphasis at home should be on sheer enjoyment.

While these books will certainly prove helpful, I wouldn't want the entire book collection for each year group to be filled with books structured in this way. We need a variety of styles and approaches, and sometimes what has been called "transitional genre" - information narratives for example - is a sympathetic introduction to non-fiction. The best of these have a strong appeal to the imagination and can inspire curiosity and wonder as children begin to wrestle with new concepts, ideas and ways of understanding the world.

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