Undivided delights

26th September 1997 at 01:00

CARRIE'S WAR By Nina Bawden Written and devised by Linda McGrath and Bob Bibby

JOURNEY TO JO'BURG By Beverley Naidoo Written and devised by Linda McGrath and Bob Bibby

THE IRON MAN By Ted Hughes Written and devised by Debbie Randle

TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN By Philippa Pearce Written and devised by Sue Priest National Association for the Teaching of English. Each title is available in packs of five, Pounds 14.50 each (Pounds 16.50 non-members). From NATE, 5O Broadfield Road, Sheffield S8 OXY

I sometimes wonder if many people think the two commonly accepted functions of reading - "for information" and "for pleasure" - are mutually exclusive. Certainly, with the demands on children and teachers at key stage 2, it is tempting to assume so. But if this were true, then "for information" would be arid and "for pleasure" forgotten - and so much for another generation of readers for life.

One thing the national curriculum should have taught us is that reading is indivisible. Narratives, for example, are more than quarries for knowledge with plots attached - and perhaps more also than aesthetic experiences. Appreciating novels means taking in the whole - setting and period as well as character, plot and structure - so these shared-reading booklets from the National Association for the Teaching of English are welcome. They are detailed and inclusive in ways which no busy teacher could provide alone, but they do not take over the classroom or trammel children's responses.

Each booklet deals with a children's novel of distinction - reverberating stories representing important genres with strong background themes. Journey to Jo'burg is a classic quest story - its themes are apartheid, human dignity and how societies are organised, and it has strong historical and geographical elements.

But although the booklets emphasise the relevance to other areas of the national curriculum, the authors put the novel's power as narrative first. The Iron Man raises ecological considerations - the timelessness of its mythic associations make it an important story. Carrie's War has all the irony of the child's-eye view; Year 6 readers may remember it when they encounter To Kill a Mockingbird. But this too involves so much else in its vivid evocation of the Second World War. In the same way, Tom's Midnight Garden leads children into Victorian England as well as giving an insight into the workings of time. Children love this story, while adults sometimes find it almost unbearable in its nostalgic intensity.

The booklets share a common structure. Before Reading ends with meeting the author; During Reading gives an active guide to progress; After Reading brings re-creation work and more books to read. This design has become an accepted way into books. The strength lies in how well it is done. The descriptive information for the language co-ordinator quotes Logan Pearsall Smith: "People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading." Many might curl their lips, but work such as this might make them believe.

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