Dinah Starkey finds something for everyone in the latest crop of assembly books for primary pupils.
Somebody Once SaidBy David Self. SPCK pound;7.99. www.spck.org.uk
Multi-faith Activity AssembliesBy Elizabeth Peirce. RoutledgeFalmer pound;22.50. www.routledge.com
Assemblies Resources through the YearEdited by Gordon Lamont. SPCK pound;10.99. I Was Only AskingBy Steve Turner. Lion pound;9.99. www.lion-publishing.co.uk
A World of WondersBy Robert Cooper. SPCK pound;8.99. Poems and Prayers for a Better World Compiled by Su Box and Felicity Henderson Lion pound;4.99.
Assemblies loom large in the life of a school. At one end of the scale there's the all-singing alldancing class extravaganza, planned months in advance and performed to the whirr and flash of the parental cameras. At the other, there's the last minute affair taken by a luckless stand-in winging it as best she can. An assembly can be an act of collective worship or a celebration of the life of a school; a lesson in caring or an opportunity to re-inforce the school's values, but it is always greeted with a certain degree of angst, because it must appeal to five and 11-year-olds alike and deliver a clear message which applies to every child, regardless of background or belief.
Now help is at hand and there's something for everybody in the latest crop of assembly books, ranging from no-nonsense collections, complete with learning aims and lists of ingredients, to exquisitely illustrated anthologies of prayer, guaranteed to inspire that sense of awe and wonder so prized by Ofsted inspectors.
But first a source book with a difference. Somebody Once Said is an anthology of quotations for preachers and speakers. It's aimed at an adult audience and is a browser's delight. Some of the quotations are witty, such as Dorothy Sayers' observation that "At the name of Jesus every voice goes plummy", and some are wise, such as the Arab proverb "He who has health has hope and he who has hope has everything". The book provides food for thought and lots of starting points for an off-the-cuff assembly.
Multi-faith Activity Assemblies is more precisely targeted at primary schools. It's no accident that Elizabeth Peirce's previous compilations, Activity Assemblies for Christian Collective Worship: 5-11 and Activity Assemblies for Multi-Racial Schools: 5-11 appear on so many staffroom bookshelves. She knows exactly what teachers need. Now the two have been combined and updated to provide an indispensable resource for teachers.
The book is very well thought out and offers a wide range of material, including stories, poems, playlets and non-fiction extracts. The assemblies really do cater for all ages and provide maximum involvement. The background information for teachers is particularly helpful and the section on places of worship provides enough material to teach a whole topic.
Assemblies resources through the Year is a round-up of ideas first published on the assemblies website (www.assemblies.org.uk), produced by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK). Most of them have been posted by users - mainly ministers and class teachers - and follow a common format, with a clear aim, notes on preparation and materials needed, a story or poem, time for reflection and a song. It's a useful collection, but lacking in sparkle and teachers in search of ideas might prefer to log on to the website instead.
Steve Turner's funny, accessible poems are popular with children and those included in I Was Only Asking (pictured) are guaranteed to hold their attention. He has a knack of encapsulating important truths in deceptively simple language. "Different", in just 25 words, makes the case for acceptance and tolerance more powerfully than any lecture and it's enhanced by a delightful cartoonish drawing and lots of crisp white space.
This is a child-centred collection, with an eclectic mix of the spiritual, ethical and strictly for fun. It could be used in circle time, as well as for assemblies, and certainly has a place in the classroom book corner.
Another collection with a more overtly religious flavour is A World of Wonders. It's a sumptuously illustrated anthology of prayers for children, composed of a series of double-page spreads, each containing a single prayer accompanied by a stunning colour photograph, which explores the theme. The images are tranquil and well matched to the simplicity of the text. The tone of the prayers is conversational and well within the compass of very young children, but the pictures add an extra dimension, conveying a powerful message to the readers.
Poems and Prayers for a Better World is a plum pudding of a book, full of different flavours and textures. Its aim is to explore the hopes, dreams and concerns of young people today, and to do so it draws on a wide range of sources, from traditional chants and a Russian Orthodox prayer to poems by children and adults. It's a very fresh collection, which is thoughtful, but unsentimental. There's plenty of humour, but the authors do not shy away from the more serious issues and the lively line illustrations capture the vigour of the text. This is a great resource for assembly planning and it has wider application in the classroom, too.