Short and sharp;Secondary;Reviews;English;Books

11th June 1999 at 01:00
SPLINTERS: a collection of short stories. Edited by Richard Baines. Oxford. pound;7.

Everything about the presentation of this clever, well-designed collection for Years 8 to 10 is bite-sized, but the study it encourages allows plenty of opportunity for expansion and discovery.

Most of the stories are very short, and they range from the leisurely, twist-in-the-tale anecdotal, likely to engage even the most reluctant reader or audience, to the more subtly allusive, of which Angela Carter's "The Werewolf" is the best example. All of them provide much food for thought and are likely to provoke lively discussion. The teaching framework within which they are set is no less immediate.

"Splinters get under your skin," writes Richard Baines in his sparky preface, and "a lateral jump can take place in a microsecond."

He clearly knows what is needed to grab attention and get some good work started within a single period, and his material and methods are tailored accordingly.

Each story is followed by activities grouped under three headings - "Fragments", which asks leading questions designed to highlight narrative procedure, "Chips", which addresses technical devices and introduces a range of terms - contrast, irony, personification and so - and "Scraps", which is far from scrappy in its imaginative suggestions for further writing.

The book has four useful appendices summarising the main topics on which the stories touch (the teacher or pupil wanting a story about "taking risks" or "peer group pressure", for instance, can consult this and turn immediately to the one listed), matching all the technical terms used to the stories that demonstrate them, collecting together the numerous writing tasks in clearly laid-out sub-headings, and offering a resume of the suggested further activities (including drama) again relating each to page numbers throughout the text.

In short, Splinters is a model of its kind, original, up-to-the-minute, a genuinely useful addition to any English department's shelves.

John Mole is the City of London's first official poet and former head of English at St Albans School, Hertfordshire

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