Same old story

18th November 1994 at 00:00
GEOGRAPHY QUICK READS, By Richard Butler and Sally Markham David, Stories from England, Scotland and Germany 1 871173 34 5 Stories from Italy, Sweden and Saudi Arabia 1 871173 35 3 Stories from Indonesia, Peru and Australia 1 8971173 36 1 Stories from Kenya, India and Japan 1 871173 37 X, Anglia Books Pounds 5.95. each.

The Geography Quick Reads series is the product of a venerable tradition in geographical education, using child-centred stories to introduce other societies and environments. Content and style have a curiously timeless quality. Kindly, omniscient adults provide bits of information for politely questioning children.

This is Mr Dawson, the new teacher, dealing with school-hating Craig and Gary: "'There's Westminster Bridge,' he said. 'The River Thames goes under 24 bridges on its way through London. It flows past the City and Docklands and then it flows out into the North Sea.' 'The North Sea,' said Craig. 'Oil comes from the North Sea, doesn't it?' Mr Dawson smiled. 'Yes,' he said, 'Oil and gas are both found under the North Sea . . .'" Young readers have had to cope with this sort of dialogue for at least a century. The 15-page stories are followed by a page of explanations of unfamiliar words, and a few paragraphs of "geographical facts for teachers" ("The River Rhine is the most important waterway in Europe. It is 823 miles long.") Geographical education is evidently seen as the acquisition of miscellaneous facts. The series does not deal in concepts or problem-solving. The austere line drawings and minimal maps scarcely contribute to graphicacy skills.

Some of the stories do achieve a narrative dimension; the tedious old lady who points out the Ruhr and the Rhineland to bored Helga is a bank robber. The authors do their best to convey a sense of change: Bedouin rescue Salim when his supermarket-owning father's Land Rover crashes in a sandstorm; Indonesian Rashid uses a bottle of coke to save an orang-utan from the loggers.

Readability levels will make this series accessible to slow-learning key stage 3 pupils; whether the books will also deliver motivation is more questionable. It's unfortunate that children with learning difficulties are often offered an elderly version of geography that doesn't attempt to engage with their own environmental experiences and perceptions. It's even more unfortunate that these rather drab paperbacks might deprive them of the stimulating and colourful mainstream geography materials. Quick Reads are perhaps more likely to find a niche as inexpensive extension material for lower key stage 2.

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