27th October 2000 at 01:00
START READING SERIES: Four Freckled Frogs. Two Blue Cockatoos. Sixteen Fleecy Sheep. Ten Tiny Teddies. Belitha Press pound;9.99 each. Paperback editions pound;4.99 each. Teacher's Resource Book pound;14.99. START WRITING SERIES: Amazing Stories. Adventure Stories About Things I do. About People and Places. Belitha Press pound;9.99 each. Big Book formats pound;15.99 each; Teacher's Resource Book pound;14

This bright and breezy new series to help with the early stages of reading and writing should appeal to early years teachers and parents keen to help children at home. Each of the four Start Reading titles focuses on one aspect of phonics. Each sound is accompanied by examples and pleasantly daft assonant phrases or tongue-twisters.

Strong illustrations and conversation prompts complete the page. A list of all the words in the text and brief notes are provided. Four Freckled Frogs explores consonant blends; Two Blue Cockatoos is interactive in playing with rhymes, while Sixteen Fleecy Sheep concentrates on vowels. Ten Tiny Teddies illustrates initial letter sounds and the three consonant blends, ch, sh and th. This particular title includes slightly over-simplified advice on reading strategies such as: "Children need to learn the sound that represents eachletter."

The first page of the book, "The acrobat annoys the angry alligator", makes clear that teaching "a as in cat" quicly leads to annoying (sic) pronunciation. "Letter names do not help children read and spell and can be learned later," is another debatable point.

Some will prefer to explain that letters can represent more than one sound. Many sounds, including initial sounds, for instance gj as in giraffe and jelly, can also have different spellings. It's a pity (spelt, not sounded, P-I-T-Y) that English isn't quite this simple.

The Start Writing collection provides encouragement for children planning, drafting and editing. Amazing Stories offers six traditional stories as models, followed by a framework to help the young writer emulate the characters, settings and construction. The books encourage the beginnings of literary analysis by considering how to incorporate a build-up, conflict and resolution.

Adventure Stories is a collation of popular themes, such as the desert island story. For each theme, double-spread artwork is annotated with labels and prompts providing security while encouraging writing freedom and creativity.

About Things I Do and About People and Places promote non-fiction writing by giving a clear and entertaining brief. Menus, invitations, reports, letters and adverts are among the models of writing which these two books successfully explore.

Jon O'Connor is head of Parkside primary school, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire

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