Even the most zealous advocate of the national literacy strategy must concede that it has brought difficulties as well as benefits. One problem has been finding non-fiction texts for older reluctant readers that allow them to tangle with the same genres and exercise the same skills as their contemporaries, but at an appropriate level.
Heinemann Educational has published Take Off!, 32 titles with just that aim. The result is two bright and accessible series which will make the literacy hour more workable for less able pupils.
Many of the books are based on Heinemann's First Library series. Each 32-page book characteristically has three or four sentences per page, with one or two words highlighted and glosse at the back.
There is a picture with inscriptions, a single sentence summarising the theme of the picture, and a general caption. The path to understanding is made smoother, and the tasks of summarising and note-taking are already implicit in the structure of each page.
Pictures are generously spaced and, although some of them, too, were used in the earlier series, they don't give the feeling of having come from standard library sources.
Within the Plants set, for example, are images of cacti, parasitic flowers, algae, coconuts growing into palms and herbal cosmetics, which will provoke discussion and curiosity. Though the reading age is around six-plus, the interest age is more like nine.
A thread of continuity links parts of the series. Photosynthesis and the food chain feature in Life Cycles, What is Weather? and Space Observer as well as in Plants. Maps and photographs appear in several of the geography texts, accompanied by straightforward but challenging questions and activities.
Schools with parallel volumes from the Heinemann First Library will wonder if they need to buy second versions. If they do, they will see that the marriage of thoughtful words and engaging pictures is a happy one.