Lifetime journey;Primary;Reviews;Books

12th June 1998 at 01:00
Primary Professional Bookshelf Reading and Responding to Fiction: classroom strategies for developing literacy. By Huw Thomas. Scholastic pound;11.99.

In Reading and Responding to Fiction Huw Thomas shows how the "poetics" of literature, the study of structure, narration, etc, can lay found-ations for a lifetime's reading and challenge the limitations of the comprehension exercise or the "now paint a picture" activity.

The complexities of stories are their possibilities, the power to reflect an enhancement of enjoyment. Frequent references to theorists are integral to the argument. Wolfgang Iser's view of reading as star-gazing, for instance, provides a pervasive metaphor. "The 'stars' in a literary text are fixed; the lines that join them are variable" endorses individual response but proposes a secure framework of knowledge.

Use of terms like "nuclei", "catalysers", "macrosequences" and "microsequences" relating to structure is never gratuitous. Rather it encourages the teacher to harness the children's burg-eoning sense of causality by asking "Why?", instead of "What happens?" and choosing, per-haps, a "What if ... ?" exercise: "What if Max (in Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are) had not been sent to his room?" Thomas demonstrates the interdependence of character, setting and narration. Scrooge's character, for example, is suggested when he keeps his clerk "in a sort of tank". The children learn the term "narrator", aware of the privileged insights of reader, narrator, or narratee. Activities like identifying points of view, diary writing and drama illuminate the theory.

The statutory requirements to cover a range of stories are endorsed by a view that sees genre influencing a reader's selection, engendering expectations and making children "aware of where they have still to travel". This sense of lifetime continuity is the hallmark of Thomas's intent and the impetus behind spidergrams in which young children identify happy endings and witches as common to fairy stories.

The distinction between the closed text and the more challen-ging open text is illustrated by Leon Garfield's Lamplighter's Funeral in which Pallcat does not just enjoy embroidering his text - it "made his world seem larger". Such references tran-scend their immediate linguistic purpose to serve as metaphors for Thomas's argument.

Used as a source across the primary years, this book will allay anxiety and excite opti-mism. Enthusiastic teachers know "nothing will replace I a good story read well to ... enthralled children". Thomas shares their conviction while widening horizons.

Jill Pirrie

Jill Pirrie is a former language co-ordinator at a middle school in Suffolk

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