When childhood waves goodbye

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Michael Thorn looks at how to encourage your pupils to keep reading once in secondary school.

If you're looking for ways to encourage secondary students to continue reading for pleasure alongside completing coursework, then this selection of recent and soon-to-be-published titles should excite most tastes and temperaments. Widely-read individuals tend to be better able to express themselves in their own writing, so teachers of all subjects have a vested interest in fostering adventurous and eclectic reading habits.

Your Last Cigarette, by 16-year-old Joanna Morris - published in the winning selection from the Guardian's and Piccadilly's teenage writing competition, The Perfect Journey (Piccadilly pound;5.99) - was, although just four pages in length, one of the most thrilling reading experiences of last year.

Beautifully understated and painfully evocative in its rendering of a suicidal mood, it combined with the other stories in the collection to demonstrate that there is a much keener identification with emerging adulthood during adolescence than there is any cheerful retention of childhood. Yet, by far the greater amount of reading material directed at the 12-plus audience continues to be published under the title of "children's books".

That said, your Year 7s and 8s not long out of primary school are still likely to enjoy books that could be equally recommended at Year 6. Set to take the UK by storm in February is the latest Aussie import, Andy Griffiths. Just Annoying and Just Kidding (both Macmillan Children's Books pound;3.99) are made up of tersely-narrated, unconnected funny anecdotes.

Griffiths will inevitably be compared with Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman, but it could be the madcap marginalia of illustrator Terry Denton that will carry the strongest appeal. There is an interactive website at www.andygriffiths.com.au and sets of photocopiable teachers' notes are obtainable from the publisher.

For more serious moments, or for readers with a factual mindset, a new series of narrative non-fiction is coming soon from Hodder. The launch title, The Smallpox Slayer by Alan Brown (Hodder pound;3.99), tells the story of Edward Jenner and is presented in brief digestible chapters, yet has many of the accoutrements of adult biography: photo inlays; an index; further reading and so on.

Alan Gibbons, the surprise first winner of the Blue Peter "book I couldn't put down" award with Shadow of the Minotaur, will be hoping that its sequel (the second in an enter-the-computer-game trilogy), Vampyr Legion (both books Orion Dolphin pound;4.99) can take advantage of his suddenly-raised profile. It is always good to see an author, who has been producing solid series fiction (in Gibbons' case, Total Football) and other interesting work for several years, gaining unexpected recognition. However, the Blue Peter association may not work to best advantage with what I see as the ideal readership for this trilogy: 10 to 13-year-old boys.

But awards in general, and shortlists in particular, are first-class ways of bringing exciting reading to the attention of an audience that has much else on its mind.

The sheer weight of the bombardment from other media - cinema, music, magazines, news - ensures that from time to time there are pertinent parallels to be made.

The silver medal for the Nestle Smarties book prize was presented to Beverley Naidoo for The Other Side of Truth (Puffin pound;4.99) the day after news broke about the killing of 10-year-old Nigerian schoolboy Damilola Taylor in south London.

Naidoo's thriller explores the issues of human rights and bullying as seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old Nigerian boy ad his sister, who come to London after their mother is murdered in retaliation for their father's political whistle-blowing.

Another book from last year that touched dramatically on a burning contemporary topic - the impact of Romanian refugees on a south coast community - was Girl in Red, by Gaye Hicyilmaz (Orion pound;4.99). Hicyilmaz is an author for whom a sudden clamour of attention would be richly deserved.

Although no zeitgeist novel, In Flame (Faber pound;4.99), her latest fiction about intense relationships, can be heartily recommended as a means of engaging the sorts of emotional and family conflict with which most adolescents will be able to identify.

A big new novel by Malorie Blackman, Noughts and Crosses (Doubleday pound;10.99), is a compelling mixture of alternative reality and romantic fiction and is due to be published next month. This is likely to prove her most controversial and most successful book to date - it mixes issues of racism and segregation with a Romeo and Juliet-type plot.

Red Fox, the Random House children's books imprint, this month launched a new young adult fiction list, Definitions. The four launch titles are all reissues, with the exception of The Leap, by Jonathan Stroud (Red Fox pound;4.99), whose debut novel, Buried Fire, was widely admired.

All four of the books on the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year shortlist - Coram Boy, by Jamila Gavin, Heaven Eyes, by David Almond, Arthur - The Seeing Stone, by Kevin Crossley-Holland, and Troy, by Ad le Geras - are splendid young adult reads, and significant for the fact that the last two are both, in their different ways, retellings which work beyond the age that myths and legends are normally encountered.

The Marsh award, presented biannually for a children's book that has been translated into English, is due to be announced on January 25. Each of the books on the shortlist (see above) has its own quirkiness and distinct character, emphasising the continuing need for greater access to books from other countries.

Though they don't have to be translated, we sometimes have to wait an inordinate time for the best American teenage novels. One solution is to dedicate a shelf in the library to "imports", and to order in some American editions. See above for my top five US titles not available here.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, east Sussex.


THE FROG CASTLE, by Jostein Gaarder tr. from Norwegian by James Anderson (Orion pound;3.99) - a fairy tale with serious issues.

DREAMING IN BLACK AND WHITE, by Reinhardt Jung tr. from German by Antha Bell (Mammoth pound;3.99) - a powerful novel about the way we treat people with disabilities.

GREG, by Dirk Walbrecker, translated from German by Anthea Bell (Mammoth pound;4.99) - an inspired reworking of Kafka's "Metamorphosis".

DUEL, by David Grossman tr from Hebrew by Betsey Rosenberg (Bloomsbury pound;4.99) - an unusual study of love and betrayal.

TRANSATLANTIC ORDERS: MONSTER, by Walter Dean Myers, is a story of a 16-year-old's alleged involvement in a fatal shooting.

BUD, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis is the story of a 10-year-old's search during the Depression for the father he's never seen.

OUT OF THE DUST, by Karen Hesse. Also set in the Depression, this tells story of pianist Billie Jo's Dust Bowl misfortunes. Written in blank verse.

MR WAS, by Pete Hautman, is a time travel thriller recreated from found notebooks.

DANGEROUS ANGELS, by Francesca Lia Block, is a single binding of the five Weetie Bat books which have cult status in America. Written in Block's racy West Coast overdrive

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