Never-ending story

21st November 1997 at 00:00
STORYTIME. BBC2, Mondays. 9.45-10.00am. Age range: 4-5.

STORIES AND RHYMES. Radio 3. Tuesdays. 3.50-4.00am. Age range: 5-7.

WORDS ALIVE. Radio 3. Fridays. 3.40-3.55am. Age range: 7-9.

LISTEN AND WRITE. Radio 3. Fridays. 4.10-4.30am. Age range: 9-11.

Jackanory may be no more, but the tradition of simple story-telling lives on at the BBC. Diana Hinds reports

Stories are the stuff of childhood, so a television programme that calls itself Storytime and devotes itself to fostering children's love of books must be on to a good thing. While it is sad that Jackanory, that classic of traditional storytelling for older children, is no longer deemed viable by the BBC, Storytime ably demonstrates that a story-centred approach can still succeed with four and five-year-olds.

Julia Booth, the series' new out-and-about, smiley-faced presenter, manages to look like neither parent nor teacher, and is particularly engaging as "Lazy Daisy" on her first, disastrous day at school.

But the programme's chief strength is its stories: two for each 15-minute slot, tied in with the day's theme, and chosen from a wide range of high-quality, memorably illustrated books, some of which will already be favourites with many children.

There is pleasing variety, too, in the telling: some stories have illustrations which lend themselves to simple animation, others are read straight to camera, or acted out in lively fashion with children joining in the words and actions.

Aimed primarily at four to five-year-olds, there is enough here to keep three and six-year-olds happy, too. My only reservation is that it tries to cram too much in around the stories, as if nervous of having nothing but books to offer.

Story-telling on the radio is an invaluable way of stimulating a child's imagination and listening powers. Stories and Rhymes compensates for the lack of visual material by investing heavily - sometimes rather too heavily - in sound effects.

Here again, the stories are varied and well chosen, and the rhymes are punchy. The programme also recognises the value of including children's own voices, but the children's contributions - usually comments on a given theme, such as "I think I'm lazy when I can't be bothered to feed my guinea pigs" - are too brief and too obvious to be of great interest.

The ideas in the teacher's notes are similarly brief and unremarkable. With the programme only 10 minutes long, teachers might do better - unless exceptionally tired - to read a story to the class themselves.

Words Alive, for the next age range, makes a brave stab at enlivening the beginnings, middles and ends of story-writing by enlisting "Wallace Wordsworth", his word pool, word workshop and rather less intelligent friend, Benny the Buzz.

But the series really takes off when it starts to look at story-writing in the context of some first-class stories from Norse mythology. Children cannot fail to respond to the adventures of Thor and Loki setting out for Jotunheim to prove their strength against the giants, and with the aid of the teacher's notes this must be as good a way as any of getting them interested in character and setting.

The final three programmes concentrate on an adapted version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, possibly a bit taxing for seven-year-olds. The story is broken up into digestible chunks, with Dickens himself interjecting - via a computer programme - with his own tips on composition.

Attempting to woo a potentially more tricky age-band, the nine-to-11s, Listen and Write puts a spin on grammar teaching by incorporating a couple of grouchy children and lots of new technology.

Preeya and Martin groan about their English homework ("Write a description with plenty of verbs in it"), until Chrissie Disc, a CD-Rom, introduces them to some "vibrant verbs". Punctuation - another groan-making task for this age group - is imaginatively presented through the use of percussion in an orchestra.

The series continues through poetry, drama and factual writing, with useful teacher's notes and worksheets, and concludes with four radio dramas, including The Hodgeheg by Dick King-Smith and Bill's New Frock by Anne Fine.

Further information from: BBC Education Information, White City, London W12 7TS. Tel: 0181 746 1111

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