This way to literature

7th March 1997 at 00:00


My Home By Roderick Hunt,illustrated by Cliff Wright from the Rhyme and Analogy strand of the Oxford Reading Tree, Oxford University Press


Klondyke Kate and other non-fiction texts Edited byBarbara Bleiman,Sabrina Broadbent and Michael Simons The English and Media Centre National curriculum English has been relatively stable now for all of two years, a lengthy period of calm by recent standards. It seemed a good time to make English the focus of the Schoolbook Award. This year's harvest of books at secondary level reflects a heavy investment in tailor-made packages for the new Order - either an educated gamble or real confidence on the part of publishers that the latest curriculum is here to stay. For key stage 3 and key stage 4 there were lots of useful books.

As the judges conferred, we found that "useful" became a less and less enthusiastic term. The new generation of English courses - New Oxford English, Heinemann English Programme, Hodder English, and Longman English Solutions - are all aggressively useful. They have so many virtues in common that it would be invidious to separate them. All are beautifully printed and designed, all provide a thoughtful, expert, often imaginative range of work, all have efficient support packages equipped with photocopiable

resources, Office for Standards in Education-proof grids of coverage, extensions, keys to differentiation, and standard aids to office work such as students' self-assessment sheets.

These are highly professional and in some ways admirable publishing achievements. They are also expensive. One judge pointed out that to buy a set (a tempting option for the insecure teacher) would be likely to consume an entire year's departmental capitation funds - often under #163;5 per head - as well as standardising teaching by a bridge too far.

As judges we were looking for originality, for books that enlarge and liberate national curriculum requirements into personal insights and meanings, giving teachers a creative share in the enterprise and students a sharpened awareness that "English" does not stop at half-past three or the school gate.

Commendable near-misses for the short-list included Geoff Barton's Revision Guide: English to GCSE (Oxford University Press #163;9) and Discover Grammar (David Crystal with Geoff Barton, Longman #163;5.99). In both cases an austerely functional, deterrent title masks a lively book which goes beyond the merely "useful". English to GCSE has a crisp and friendly author-to-reader tone which respects the student and transmits a wealth of knowledge and advice in visually attractive form. Discover Grammar benefits from clarity and focus: its two-colour printing and two-page spreads, ease of reference and spread of examples make it at least a book for the department shelf. Also there should be Dramaworks (Allan Owens and Keith Barber, Carel Press #163;13.50), a lucid and illuminating theory-into-practice drama-teaching handbook which we excluded from contention only because it is strictly for the teacher.

Four strong entries came from the English and Media Centre. Two of them just missed the short-list. They were Key Stage 3 English Units (Sabrina Broadbent and others #163;49. 50), a loose-leaf pack which does imaginatively what the course books do, without the colour and production pyrotechnics but with greater flexibility and more active partnership with teachers, and The Poetry Pack (Barbara Bleiman and others, #163;39.50), described by one judge as "magnificent . . . almost a complete in-service course on reading and teaching poetry".

The third loose-leaf folder from the English and Media Centre excelled even these and commanded its place on the short list. The News Pack (Jenny Grahame, Mike Jempson and Michael Simons, #163;59.50) is an astonishingly comprehens ive briefing on all aspects of the newsprint media. Used selectively, it has abundant topics and activities covering the range from key stage 3 to A-level. There is a mass of information, but the student is constantly drawn into the role of practitioner. The News Pack is itself a brilliant piece of investigative journalism on behalf of schools.

We were all impres-sed by the anthology Poems Deep and Dangerous (edited by Jo Phillips, Cambridge University Press #163;4. 95). Chastely designed and printed, reticent in editorial comment, this book trusts the poems to work for themselves. And they do. The book is full of enjoyable surprises, mixing famous, half-forgotten and unheard-of, near and distant times and places, in a remarkably effective blend. This is that rare thing, a truly readable anthology, ideally placed to show students at key stage 4 what poetry can do.

The third choice on our secondary short list was entered in this category with key stage 3 in mind, but Spotlight on the English Language: a practical approach (Sandy Brownjohn and Gareth Gwyn-Jones, Hodder amp; Stoughton #163;6.50) is just as suitable for key stage 2: its age-range is 8-13. This is a highly entertainin g introduction to Knowledge About Language. Given the deplorable shortage of good publications for key stage 2, it matters all the more that such attractive and intelligent books as this should not be overlooked.

The clear prizewinner, however, was Klondyke Kate and Other Non-fiction Texts (edited by Barbara Bleiman, Sabrina Broadbent and Michael Simons, English and Media Centre #163;6.50). The judges were unanimously hooked on this beautifully produced and enterprising anthology. It gave us all great pleasure, and will introduce key stage 3 students to advanced and sophisticated textual questions by way of accessible entertainment. Ethnic and gender issues are sensitively represented, political and moral questions opened up, past and present revealingly juxtaposed, and non-fiction given its proper (and prescribed) curricular status as significant literature. Editorial support for the teacher is substantial but unobtrusive. This is a ground-breaking book.

The primary scene, by contrast, left the judges heavily underwhelmed by both the quality and quantity of entries. We struggled to achieve a short list of three. Stories for Thinking (Robert Fisher, Nash Pollock #163;8.95) is an unusual, clear and systematic attempt to teach skills of thinking and introductory philosophy by way of story. Although schematic and over-utilita rian in its use of narratives, it offers some valid and challenging tasks, usually neglected at key stage 2, which many children will relish. We also liked the Kingfisher I Am Reading series for key stage 1, and picked out the engagingly dotty Barn Party (Claire O'Brien, illustrated by Tim Archbold, Larousse #163;3.99) as the best of an effective series.

The winner by a distance, however, was the Rhyme and Analogv strand of the Oxford Reading Tree (Oxford University Press) from which we chose one marvellous item to represent our enthusiasm for the whole. Rhyme and Analogy is a reading scheme which declares its theoretical base in Usha Goswami's Teacher's Guide, and translates theory into practice through an extensive range of books, tapes and supportive activities. Central to the scheme are the Story Rhymes by Roderick Hunt (Packs AB #163;8.80, Big Books #163;38.50, Teacher's Guide #163;12, Photocopy masters, #163;25, tapes, #163;27.80), with a variety of gifted illustrators. Among these we admired The Mungle Flap (pictures by Nigel McMullen) but most of all our single winner My Home (pictures by Cliff Wright). My Home is proof that a book can be useful and functional but nonetheless a work of art - a lovely miniature of verbal and pictorial imagination to stand with the best of picture books. Children who experience it, especially its final page, are truly learning both to read and to be "friends of the earth".

Peter Hollindale

Peter Hollindale is senior lecturer in English and Educational Studies at the University of York. The other judges were Chris Breese, head of English and Expressive Arts at Marriotts School, Stevenage and Carol Fox, senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Brighton

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