Lively links with the past

4th July 2003 at 01:00
HISTORICAL STORIES SERIES. The Boy With Pale Eyes, a Story of the Indus Valley. By Helen Cannam. The Rat Catchers, a Victorian Story. By Stephanie Baudet. Treetop Hero, a Wartime Story. By Margaret Nash. Sam's Bad Day, a Story of 1948. By David Oaken. pound;4.50 each.

HISTORY QUICK READS SERIES. Indus Valley. By Helen Cannam. Victorian Britain. By Stephanie Baudet. World War Two By Margaret Nash. Britain since 1948. By David Oaken. pound;5.95 each.

ANGLIA YOUNG BOOKS. www.millpublishing.com.

These stories allow teachers to use the literacy hour to teach some history with short books on subjects covered at key stage 2. The latest are set in Victorian England, the Indus Valley and Britain during the Second World War and since 1948.

There are two series covering each period, aimed at different levels of ability, each illustrated with line drawings. The first, Historical Stories, is pitched at good readers of eight and over, with 64 pages divided into seven chapters, and the second, History Quick Reads, are in a slightly larger format with larger print and each contains three short stories (12 pages each) for less-able pupils with a reading age of seven. I liked the emphasis on "quick" rather than "easy" to read, which will not draw attention to slower readers.

The longer books are inevitably more satisfying as characters and plot are allowed to develop, but all the stories build up to a dramatic climax. The Victorian story about the rat catchers is particularly nail biting, and the scene in which the two children have to catch rats is not for those of a nervous disposition. The Quick Reads have simpler plots and lack that excitement. Unfamiliar words are underlined and explained in a glossary and some background information on each period is included, giving them a rather more didactic feel. Historical detail in all books is appropriate and accurate where possible (the author of the Indus Valley books admits to using some licence).

This is a great idea, allowing children of different abilities to broaden their experience of the history topics they are studying. The books would make an excellent addition to classroom bookshelves, particularly for boys of this age who tend to prefer stories based on fact. However, we should not lose sight of the reason for improving literacy, which is to make reading a joyous event, not necessarily always a learning experience.

Fiona Lafferty is librarian at St Swithun's Junior School, Winchester

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