Shared speeding

15th September 2000 at 01:00
THE BIG ORCHARD BOOK OF FUNNY POEMS. Edited by Wendy Cope. Orchard Books pound;14.99. THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE. By Helen Ward. Templar pound;12.99. SPEEDY MACHINES. By Vic Parker and Tom Connell. Belitha Press pound;15.99 each. OUR FRIENDS IN THE COUNTRY. By Trish Sandbach and Jo Fensome. Leeds DEC, pound;14.95 + pound;3.25p+p. Development Education Despatch Unit, 153 Cardigan Road, Leeds L56 1LJ, Order hotline: 0113 278 4030. PLAY ON THE LINE. By Nikki Daly and Don Harrison. Tower Hamlets Professional Development Centre, English Street, London E3 4TA. Order hotline: 020 7364 6405. LADY LONG LEGS. By Jan Mark and Paul Howard. Walker Books pound;12.99. SLOW DOG'S NOSE. By Allan Ahlberg and Andre Amstutz. Longman pound;12.50.

Size matters with Big Books, but what you do with them matters too. Hence the Literacy Hour crib notes in Wendy Cope's Big Orchard Book of Funny Poems. This upsizing of her 1993 anthology includes both well-known and obscure pieces. There are some hilarious postmodern riddle poems, as well as a funny(ish) poem from Keats. This is not just for shared reading time - it's a book for enjoying with two or three pals, sprawled on the library floor.

Helen Ward's retelling of The Hare and the Tortoise embellishes Aesop enough to make it distinctive. In this format, too, the illustrations come into their own. Each double-page spread is a real treasure trove of detail. A comprehensive factual key to the animals in standard size text is also included as an appendix.

Faster than hare or tortoise is the Speedy Machines series, which includes books on bikes, boats, cars and planes. Tom Connell's dramatic colour drawings heighten the power and speed of the machines as no photograph could, while Vic Parker's boyishly enthusiastic text carries the reader along as exhilaratingly as the Lockheed SR-71, which "can fly so fast that its wings become eight times hotter than the world's hottest desert". Good, too, to see one of the fast cars being driven by a woman (token only, I fear, and looking not unlike Cruella de Vil on her way to Crufts). Perfect for reviving drooping uper juniors on a desultory Friday afternoon.

Our Friends In the Country gives key stage 1 children an insight into the lives of a family in Wajir, Northern Kenya. While I found the House that Jack Built-style commentary slightly forced, the parallel factual text is effective and the colour photographs are eloquent. Certainly, much could be derived from "reading" the pictures with a class. Teacher's notes also include day-in-the-life sketches.

In a similar style, Play on the Line - All Children Have the Right to Play depicts communities in London's Tower Hamlets and Western Sahara, with reference to the UN convention on children's rights. The main large-print text is rather dry, but the photographs and children's drawings are lively and informative. The descriptions of "universal" games and the similarities between the two communities are very well done, but in type too small to be read by a class. Useful for older juniors as starting points for discussions.

The message that bullies must never be allowed to win is always pertinent in schools and is at the heart of Jan Mark's Lady Long Legs (drawings by Paul Howard) about the bullying of a new girl. Very good on school lore and superstition, it features a believable and sympathetic heroine in long-limbed Nisba, while Lucy, her antagonist, reminds us that most bullies are rather sad, if unpleasant, people.

Trotting along sedately before tripping and causing chaos comes Allan Ahlberg's Slow Dog's Nose - a delightful tale in the Fast Fox, Slow Dog series about the clumsy eponymous hero, who this time follows a trail of missing chickens to I Fast Fox's barbecue. It put me in mind of a silent movie - a kidnap, a chase and just deserts for wicked Fast Fox, all executed with humour (slapstick and occasionally dark) and well supported by Andre Amstutz's illustrations. The resolution of the tale is achieved purely through a picture, with no text necessary. Bound to become a favourite with reception and Year 1.

Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands primary school, Fareham, Hampshire

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