Claire Johnson visits a literary website that helps youngsters find stimulating reading material as well as honingtheir critical skills
Finding real audiences for children's writing is not always easy and giving children real purposes for reading and writing can also be a challenge. So sites such as Kids' Review, which give children a practical use for ICT, are welcome.
More user-friendly than reading lists, and developed by parents Susan Lawes and Martin Hill, the website provides a forum for children's own book reviews and is a useful resource for developing reading, writing and technology skills. After a successful launch in 2001 in Essex, Kids' Review is now available on annual subscription (from pound;159 plus VAT).
The site is an approved Curriculum Online content provider, so subscriptions can be paid via e-Learning Credits. Easy to use, with an uncluttered interface, simple design and minimal graphics, the site provides an accessible resource for library and other reading-related sessions.
Reviews can be saved in draft form for further editing until publication is authorised by the teacher. This provides a real context for pupils to proof-read and edit their writing. Aimed at seven to 14-year-olds, the site includes a database of more than 100,000 children's books, including educational, out-of-print and foreign language titles.
Book information categorises titles according to interest age, reading age and genre. Publishers' front covers and blurbs are also included. The site can be accessed in four modes: Kids, Parents, School and Teacher.
The Parents' section aims to provide reading-related features of interest, although this area of the site is under development. Most of the site content is restricted to subscribers, but access to the search facility and the Top Ten book reviews is free. Subscription allows users to access all areas from home or school.
Website headings include: Suggest: allows children to view a list of suggested titles and to access reviews written by peers, categorised by reading age and genre.
Top Ten: lists reviews of the ten most popular books nationwide - but no surprises here - Jacqueline Wilson and J.K. Rowling dominate. This feature could be usefully expanded to include the top ten best football books or the top ten books most enjoyed by boys, for example.
Authors: here, children discover which books authors enjoyed reading when young and which books inspired them to write. A brief author biography and list of published titles is also supplied.
Reviews: gives children access to published reviews from a master list which indicates reading age, reviewer's age, book title and marks awarded out of ten, as well as whether the title is recommended, or worth a second read. Reviews are mainly of children's fiction - a useful addition here would be popular non-fiction and poetry titles.
Language: catalogues foreigndual language titles and English language teaching books, and allows users to specify their interest age.
A Help section provides an online review template to focus children's responses to books they have read. Instruction sheets clarify how to add, edit and authorise a review, and how to set options and change passwords.
Usefully, teachers can restrict subject choices available to children.
A demonstration log-on is available for schools; alternatively a 45-minute demonstration session is offered to literacyICT co-ordinators and consultants. A newsletter keeps subscribers informed of site developments and other activities.
When so much book information available is written from an adult perspective, it is important to let children have their say; Kids' Review makes a valiant effort to do just that.