Read it loud

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
Fiona Lafferty selects short story collections to read to your class.

The Story Giant By Brian Patten Illustrated by Chris Riddell Collins Children's Books pound;14.99 Ghostly Beasts By Joan Aiken Jonathan Cape pound;12.99 The Kingfisher Treasury of Classic Stories Kingfisher pound;19.99 Favourite Ghost Stories Selected by Aidan Chambers Kingfisher pound;5.99 Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales By Brian Jacques Red Fox pound;4.99 Short and Scary!

By Louise Cooper Short and Shocking!

By Maggie Pearson Alien Stories 2 By Dennis Pepper Oxford University Press pound;4.99 each.

Iam a sucker for beautiful editions with good-quality paper, an elegant typeface that has room to breathe on the page, and fine illustrations. Of recent collections of short stories, three fulfil these criteria and I am already hooked, so it is a bonus that the content matches the quality of the production.

In first place is the highly original The Story Giant by Brian Patten, which appeared last year but is now in a large-format colour children's edition. Patten's inspirational Giant has spent thousands of years collecting all the stories in the world, building himself a fortress with their illusions. Now he is dying, and he fears that his castle will crumble to dust and the stories die with him if he cannot find the final story that has eluded him. Four children are drawn to his castle by their dreams in the hope they will provide the missing story. Patten artfully weaves 50 retellings of traditional tales into the Giant's narrative as the tension mounts. Chris Riddell's characteristically precise illustrations, a mix of colour and line drawings, confirm this book as a classic in the making. Read it aloud to key stage 2 pupils, or above.

Joan Aiken is another gifted creator and Ghostly Beasts is a collection of original short stories and poems written over a prolific lifetime. The ghosts, all animals as the title implies, are not at all menacing; more often they are kindly beasts whose loyalty saves or improves a situation. Amanda Harvey has contributed gentle watercolour illustrations that make an elegant edition to read aloud to seven to 10-year-olds.

The Kingfisher Treasury of Classic Stories is an attractive combination of two previous collections of extracts from some of the best children's literature (Classic Girl's Stories and Classic Boy's Stories). Extracts are an excellent way to entice readers towards new authors, and editors Rosemary Sandberg and Michael Morpurgo have chosen well, with examples which will make listeners want to get hold of the whole book. With originals as diverse as Pinocchio, Anne of Green Gables, Tom Sawyer and Little Women, this will be a valuable school library resource for a wide age-range.

The drawing in of the nights makes conditions ideal for dipping into the collections of ghost stories that proliferate at this time of year. Aidan Chambers has many years' experience of compiling such anthologies and has brought together 25 Favourite Ghost Stories, including tales by William Trevor, Agatha Christie, Robert Westall, Jan Mark and Oscar Wilde. The introduction draws a difference between the sensational ghost story and the psychological kind, hitting on what makes them so popular. This collection will provide thought-provoking material for readers aged over 10.

Brian Jacques proves himself an accomplished teller of ghost stories in Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales, originally published in 1991. Some are distinctly chilling and will particularly appeal to boys aged over nine; there is a vampire's tomb, a pact with the devil and a creepy way of dealing with a graffiti artist. The key to a good short story is in the final twist, the sharper the better. These are noticeable in two collections from OUP - Short and Scary! by Louise Cooper and Short and Shocking! by Maggie Pearson. The stories - more than 90 in each volume - are extremely short but hugely entertaining. Both books would be an excellent resource for Years 4 to 6.

Not quite ghost stories, but just as spooky, are Dennis Pepper's Alien Stories 2. His anthologies trawl a great range of experience, including tales first published in the 1950s as well as the 1990s. The idea of there being intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is endlessly fascinating and these stories leave you guessing right up to the end. Children in Year 6 and above will lap them up.

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

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