Pages full of type

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
EXPLORING THE WRITING OF GENRES. By Beverley Derewianka. United Kingdom Reading Association (UKRA). Pounds 5 to non-UKRA members; Pounds 4.50 to UKRA members. Longman Genre Library.

TRADITIONAL STORIES SAMPLE PACK. (contains one of each of Fancy a Folktale? Once Upon A Fairytale, Fun Fables!, The Magic Of Myths, Legends From Long Ago).

MODERN STORIES SAMPLE PACK. (contains one of each of Pure Fantasy!, Sci-Fi Tales, Historic Tales, Contemporary Stories, Modern Fairytales). General editors: Wendy Body, Pat Edwards, Margarette Thomas-Cochran. Longman Pounds 22 each. Also available in teaching packs containing four of each title Pounds 80 each

Carol Fox gets to grips with some explorations of genre.

Beverley Derewianka's booklet provides simple analyses of typical text structures in a variety of literary genres. It does not target a specific age range, although the reader must have some grammatical vocabulary and understanding. It is not clear if pupils are intended to perform such analyses themselves.

Ms Derewianka's approach is descriptive rather than critical. She unpretentiously sets out the basic framework of genre and register (the form of language, such as colloquial or formal, for example) described by genre specialist MAK Halliday, and then describes seven genres regarded as fundamental to education. The presentation is exceptionally clear and straightforward, and could be a useful introduction to this way of looking at texts.

But it would be dangerous to stick with such a reduced version of problematic and complex ideas. Do children or adults learn to use genres and registers by learning their rules? Or should the rules be made explicit as they emerge in practice? Space allows for only one example of each text type, but students need to understand there are good and bad generic practices and that rules change with the needs of the writing task in hand. Moreover, students are given little incentive to change the rules or to come up with better ones.

The author acknowledges that stories are often valued for the way in which they manage to "play around with possibilities and offer something unexpected". But she does not pursue the implications of this observation for genre theory as a whole. Learning by doing with a real purpose and context would arguably be more effective.

The genre problem becomes obvious when one reads the books in Modern Stories from Longman's Genre Library. Each book, intended for eight to 11-year-olds, contains four or five short stories or extracts, but covers so many fiction genres that "modern stories" as a generic term becomes almost meaningless.

The category is determined by 20th-century authors, often well-known writers such as Rosemary Sutcliff, Michael Rosen and Roald Dahl, rather than by form or topic. Modern Fairytales will be familiar to younger readers who have encountered Dahl's Revolting Rhymes and Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess. By contrast Historic Tales (yes, a category of Modern Stories) is more demanding, showing that the books cater for a variety of reading levels.

Traditional Stories, surprisingly, is the more original of these two collections, using unfamiliar stories and employing a variety of formats (including several kinds of comic-book genre) that might entice younger readers. Although colourfully presented, these are short paperback booklets and seem a little expensive for many primary school budgets.

Carol Fox is senior lecturer at the faculty of education, University of Brighton, East Sussex

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