In a new QCA project on children's books in translation, Myra Barrs hears pupils discuss an award-winning novel
Eye of the Wolf
By Daniel Pennac, translated from French by Sarah Adams
Walker Books pound;4.99
Eye of the Wolf begins in a French zoo, where a boy called Africa and an old Alaskan wolf stare each other out unflinchingly. This short but challenging novel touches on major issues about the places these two characters come from (the setting moves from Paris to Alaska, then to north Africa and the African rainforest), and about the way humans are destroying many wilder parts of the world.
Daniel Pennac's layers of narrative keep readers engaged and raise questions about what it really means to see from another's point of view.
This is a novel of ideas that engages with grown-up questions. Sarah Adams'
outstanding translation won Eye of the Wolf last year's Marsh Award for children's literature in translation.
Access to world literature is much narrower for children than it is for adults: only 1 per cent of British children's books originate in other countries. The Reading Differences project, launched this month by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, aims to put teachers and children in touch with books from all parts of the world that offer different and challenging reading.
It has also produced materials for teaching eight books, including Eye of the Wolf.
This book meets a range of English text level objectives for Years 5 and 6, especially those that concern investigating "a range of texts from different cultures, considering patterns of relationships, social customs, attitudes and beliefs", viewpoint and narrative structure.
Rhiannon Davies, who used it with her Year 6 class at Christ Church C of E Primary School in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, reported that not many of the children would have chosen the book independently, but "their initial negative reaction was overturned by the end of the first chapter".
Rhiannon followed the teaching sequence devised by Reading Differences. The class made a "questions chart" about the book, planned how to make a film of the first section, discussed the relationships between animals and humans, and traced its locations.
"The teaching sequence was excellent, it freed me up. I wasn't continually worrying about getting the writing out of the reading. It contained really good ideas and activities, which led to collaborative work and a lot of immensely valuable speaking and listening."
Recording children's responses on a whiteboard provided a record of the class's discussions and allowed Rhiannon to review with them how their thinking was changing and how the story was developing. She found they responded to its sophisticated narrative style (although the book has a single narrator, the viewpoint shifts more than once).
The class were invited to think about how to record their discussions as notes or lists, or in graphic form. They quickly became engaged with the issues the book raised: "So what do we think about the way the wolves see humans?"; "The only humans they know are hunters and the only thing the hunters want to do is to kill them"; "The red cubs haven't actually seen a human, they're still immature... They might think they're never going to get caught." The class's experience was apparent in their ability to build on each other's points, float ideas and keep track of their argument.
Rhiannon said: "They enjoy discussion and we've been spending time discussing how to have a discussion. So this work was very well suited to them." She believes that "we underestimate what children can discuss" and thought the book would also be excellent for PHSE and citizenship.
Daniel Pennac deals with a wide geopolitical canvas and a complex narrative in a short novel by hinting at issues rather than spelling them out. Not very many children's novels written in English seem to offer readers of this age this kind of engagement with a wider contemporary world. Rhiannon agrees: "English books go for easier ingredients - a bit of mystery, a bit of magic. This is more mature."
lThe QCA Reading Differences project has published two leaflets about teaching approaches to world literature in Years 3-4 and 5-6. A set of teaching sequences, a discussion paper and a booklist are also available www.qca.org.ukEnglish