Upbeat down under
Voyages originates from Nelson's Australian sister company and provides a substantial supplementary reading resource of 240 books. The books are organised in four levels based on increasing "difficulty, complexity and challenge". At each level, the sets include books to support four different teaching approaches: reading to children; shared reading; guided reading; independent reading. Thus, at each stage, there is a journey from complete teacher support, through teacher guidance, towards independent reading.
The status of each book is indicated by a discreet symbol on the back cover. The belief that systematic teacher direction is required at each stage of learning to read is built into the framework of the resources.
There has been a general trend towards including a variety of genres or types of text in initial reading materials. At the same time, recognition is growing that different kinds of books require appropriate and distinctive reading strategies. The necessary modelling and scaffolding of children's reading of new genres, including kinds of non-fiction, are helpfully integrated into Voyages' framework.
Another strong guiding principle, made explicit in Margaret Mooney's Exploring New Horizons with Voyages, is that reading progress goes alongside progress in the other three language processes: talking, listening and writing.
There is a clear framework for progression and an exciting mix of books of different shapes, sizes and types. At the Setting Out stage, the books are intended to encourage young readers to use predicting and confirming strategies: to use cues in text and illustration to make meaning. Some books, for example My Dog Ben, enable the teacher to draw attention to letter sound associations. Themes for young learners at this first stage include home, school and precious possessions.
Picture books include Up the Stairs which helps with the language of number and Does A Duck Eat Honey? - a "mix and match" book which will cause great amusement. Grandma's Hospital is a transition from a picture book towards a first storybook with more text. About a third of the books at this stage are early types of non-fiction. I particularly like two useful and attractive procedural books - Make a Pizza Face and This is the Book I Borrowed.
The themes of the books in Well Underway tend to draw young readers into the wider world. The Hippo Bus is about a fantasy journey and Blossom follows the adventures of a small dog in a big city. Sentence structure is more complex and forms more varied - On Top of Strawberry Hill has a range of poetic styles.
A number of the books in the Forging Ahead sets require children to use inference and deduction to understand some of the more subtle meanings and moods. Themes are more demanding; sometimes there are longish timespans (The Ghost Tree) and sometimes exploration of feelings and ideas of emotional relevance (Aunt Wilhemina's Will).
A range of fiction genres including realism, fantasy and traditional tales are all well represented. Both Lizard's Song, a play script, and Pen Pals, written entirely in the form of letters, could be the starting point for children's own writing in different genres. The non-fiction books for this stage introduce more technical vocabularies, for example, Collections,Growing Sprouts and Eva's Sprout Diary.
Books at the Gathering Speed stage explore more mature themes about the differing values people have and how they face up to the consequences of human actions - sometimes taken up in a humorous way, as in What a Haircut!Characterisation goes beyond description to learning about a person through noticing what they say and do: this is apparent in Hannah and her Dad.
The non-fiction books include more systematic use of retrieval devices and structural guides, such as chapters and subheadings and the labelling of diagrams. Hands and Feet is a clear non-narrative information book relating the physical structure of animals to function. There are also useful books contributing to language awareness. Raewyn's Got The Writing Bug reveals the power and the purposes of writing while Drawing My View and Shooting It Straight introduce children to interviews and writing biographies. Quality books on the roots of words, proverbs and aspects of grammar would be welcome additions.
A great strength of this resource is its flexibility. A helpful Voyages Comparative Reading Chart is provided in A Teacher's Introduction indicating how Voyages collections at each stage fit with and extend what is offered in the main core reading schemes and approaches. However, with the growing interest in phonological awareness, a more systematic approach to this aspect of learning to read is needed.