Reading difficulties

6th July 2001 at 01:00
* Crossphrase: WEEVIL K NEEVIL: STUNTBUG. By Colin Dowland. VIRTUAL FRIENDS AGAIN. By Mary Hoffman. THE CRAZY COLLECTOR. By Diana Hendry. OFF-SIDE. By Jenny Oldfield. Barrington Stoke pound;4.50 each. TES Direct pound;4 each

* Secondary JOE'S STORY. By Rachel Anderson. THE DOGS. By Mark Morris. ALL CHANGE. By Rosie Rushton. THE WEDDING PRESENT. By Adele Geras. Barrington Stoke pound;4.50 each. TES Direct pound;4 each.

* THE EXTRAORDINARY FILES. By Paul Blum. The Headless Ghost; Sleepwalker; Killer Robot; Atlanta; Werewolf Eclipse; Alien Implants. Learning Design, pound;1 each plus 50p pamp;p, set of six pound;5 plus pound;2 pamp;p from

Available from TES Direct

Barrington Stoke is continuing to make a name for fiction aimed at children with reading difficulties. Of its recent titles, those for key stage 2 and 3 pupils are the most attractive. Young readers will delight in the absurdities of Weevil K Neevil: Stuntbug by Colin Dowland, illustrated in charming detail by Peter Firmin.

Weevil is a cupboard-dwelling insect who yearns for more than crumbs: he wants "the whole cracker, the full chocolate biscuit". Finding a circus in an upturned coffee-filter tent, he becomes a stunt motorcyclist - riding a plastic model from a cornflake packet - and a cupboard celebrity.

Mary Hoffman's Virtual Friends Again tells the story of a friend Ben creates in a virtual reality game and his dismay when he is trapped on the wrong side of the screen. In Diana Hendry's The Crazy Collector, James's younger sister Tess, an obsessive collector of bath-plugs and stones, throws family life into chaos when she decides to collect grandmothers and a poster advert brings eight "wannabe grans" to the house. Unable to reject any, the family adopts them all.

Jenny Oldfield's Off-Side combines a football story with a first romance tale; Danny finds that a devious tactic on the pitch is mirrored in Joey's deception when both are rivals for the same girl. Well-spaced text and some lively illustrations.

Writing a short novel with teenage interest but a low reading age is a challenge. Bernard Ashley's satisfying story of school romance, Playing Against the Odds, shows how well it can be done.

Some of the photographic covers in Barrington Stoke's older range have the dull, pedagogical branding of the many well-intentioned "easy-reader" series, which pupils can identify at 10 paces. Rachel Anderson's Joe's Story seems to have been designed to look as drab as possible. A pity, as this tale of a boy parted from the grandfather who's cared for him from infancy is poignant; and Anderson leaves the ending open, giving possibilities for discussion or for pupils' writing.

Horror stories are hard to pull off in this limited word length, requiring a more subtle touch than is found in Mark Morris's The Dogs. The pointless gruesomeness of the story is matched by one of the full-page illustrations, and the writing is flat: "Sally Marsden stood there. She had obviously been dead for some time." Rosie Rushton's humorous All Change portrays a girl who attracts a desirable boy by being her clumsy self.

Ad le Geras's The Wedding Present, unusually for this series and teenage fiction generally, has an older main character - Jane, who's just ended an affair with a married man and is looking for a new start.

Paul Blum, head of learning support at Raine's foundation school in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, has written The Extraordinary Files, enlisting his pupils as consultants. Six separate stories are linked by the main characters, MI5 agents Parker and Turnbull. The slim, stapled paperbacks are illustrated by pupils.

Action, thrills, danger and the hint of romance that runs through the series may inspire pupils of lower secondary age to produce their own chapter stories, though books designed to promote literacy shouldn't include such errors as missed question marks, "draws" for "drawers", or "peoples' lives".


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