Scaled up

27th November 1998 at 00:00
Huw Thomas surveys the latest thing in monster-size new books

The literacy hour may be settling down in primary schools, but there is no stemming the tide of Big Books to go with it. The latest batch includes some innovative ventures into non-fiction, with books that use their size to full advantage. Rome and the Romans (Usborne Pounds 9.99), for example, provides fascinating views into Roman buildings, while The Drop Goes Plop (MacDonald Young Books Pounds 13.99) imaginatively mixes text and illustration in its account of the water cycle. Titles such as Mapwork 1 (Wayland Pounds 12. 99) move beyond the straight presentation of information with an interactive guide to maps.

The photography in some recent titles is also striking, notably the close-ups in Natural Inventions (Channel Four Learning Pounds 8.95) and the vivid colours of Coral Reef (Cambridge Reading Pounds 34.50). School (Wayland Pounds 13.99) also uses photographs to compare schools past and present, resulting in a resource that effectively spans literacy and history. There is also evocative artwork in Big Blue Whale (Walker Pounds 12.99), which presents non fiction material in literary language. It lacks the index and contents that seem obligatory in non-fiction texts, but offers an alternative, exciting way of presenting information.

Alongside the new information books, there are more favourite fiction titles in big book format, such as Amazing Grace and Anancy and Mr Dry-Bone (Frances Lincoln Pounds 12.99 each). Pass the Jam, Jim (Red Fox Pounds 11.99) and Dear Greenpeace (Walker Pounds 12.99) are not just much-loved tales, they provide stimuli for work on rhyme and interactive writing. Also welcome in this format are the short novels, Taking the Cat's Way Home by Jan Mark and Anne Fine's Care of Henry (Walker Pounds 12.99 each).

Cambridge Reading continues to reproduce its texts in large format, with a good emphasis on humour. The non-fiction books such as Dinosaur (CUP Pounds 20.50, including a guided-reading set of six individual copies) are particularly recommended and include features such as the use of a small typeface to add extra information. However, I wonder if Cambridge's packaging of Big Books with texts for guided reading is necessary. Teachers may not want to repeat the same text in shared and guided reading. Concerns have been raised that, as the literacy hour progresses, Big Books will lose their novelty. With these refreshing new titles, it seems unlikely that will happen.

Huw Thomas is a primary school teacher in Sheffield.

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