Elaine Moss continues her five-part series
Part 4: THE NOVELS
The experience of entering into another world through a novel is one that many children are denied either because they do not read very well themselves, or because the kind of books that present this secondary world most vividly are not to hand, or because teachers feel that `good’ time shouldn’t be `wasted’ reading fiction to a class most of whose members could be reading it to themselves.
I believe that a teacher who reads real children’s novels aloud to a class of mixed ability is using time productively for every member of that class. The shared novel becomes a living layer of common experience for the group. The book is seen to be not an object whose colour coding accepts you or rejects you, but a casket that, once opened, has riches everyone can share.
So which books? As in the three earlier Lifeline Library articles I am restricting myself to ten. Each of these deserves to be called a novel. None is a work of formula fiction (Dr Who, Willard Price, Blyton) which, however popular with children, make poor material for reading aloud because language, character and dialogue are all pawns to the plot. In a good children’s novel the plot (important always, but not all important) develops from the author’s creation of characters whose personality, actions and reactions ensure a naturally evolving sequence of situations – untidy, like life.
In Part 2 of Lifeline Library (Learning and Listening) I wrote -about stories for `listening’ 5-7 year olds. And I promised to cover 8-11 in this instalment.
If you were to own, and read!, the following ten novels you would be able to choose your favourites to read aloud – your commitment to what you are reading will always be the vital spark that fires your listeners – to Juniors. You would also personally know a book by each of the ten children’s authors represented. This will help you to help children to choose their own private reading, something that is almost impossible for teachers who `haven’t enjoyed a children’s book for years’.
So, for you to enjoy reading to or discussing with Juniors, how about
The Iron Man
Ted Hughes, Faber, 0 571 08247 5, £3.25; Faber Paperback, 0 571 09750 2, 95p
The huge mystery of the Iron Man – ‘Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows’ – is sustained right through the story of how Hogarth, a small boy, perceives the good in the visiting robot and helps him; whereas his elders see only a giant threat that must be contained. A science fiction fantasy readable at any level because it is a modern classic.
The Midnight Fox
Betsy Byars, Puffin, 0 14 03.0844 X, 95p
It was terribly hard to know whether to choose this wonderful story or The Eighteenth Emergency by the same author.
I finally chose The Midnight Fox because children from 8 to 11 are all spellbound by it whereas The Eighteenth Emergency fits the mood of ten-year-olds best. The `midnight fox’ of the title is a black vixen, heavy with cubs. She is Tom’s secret and only friend when he is exiled from town to country. But his uncle is a farmer with a gun, and with chickens to protect. As humourously observed as it is sad, in parts, and gripping.
Astrid Lindgren, Oxford, 0 19 271097 4, £3.25; Puffin, 0 14 03.0894 6, 95p
The wild adventures of a girl with an imagination that is as powerful and vivid as the legendary strength with which she lifts horses, captures policemen. A rollicking read that is as popular with boys as it is with girls.
Stig of the Dump
Clive King, Puffin, 0 14 03.0196 8, 90p
A quite remarkable story, brilliantly told, of Barney, a modern boy who, investigating a chalk pit, finds stone age Stig `making do’. The boys become friends – and, to Barney’s surprise, primitive Stig can teach him a few lessons.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
C. S. Lewis, Collins, 0 00 183140 2, £4.50; Fontana Lions, 0 00 671663 6, 85p
The Magician’s Nephew is the first in the famous C. S. Lewis `Narnia’ sequence but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Number 2) is by far the best known and most popular. Four children, each very different in character, step through the old coats in a wardrobe and out the other side into Narnia, a strange and menacing magic world where `it is always winter, never Christmas’. As `Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve’, they become part of an enduring battle between the forces of good, in the person of Aslan the Lion, and evil, the White Witch of Narnia. An allegory that is also a rattling good story.
Little House on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Methuen 0 416 07140 6, £4.50; Puffin, 0 14 03.0204 2, £1.10
Also the second book in a much loved series, and the most popular. Very far removed from the swashbuckling romance of the formula `Western’, this is the story of a family who set out in a covered wagon for the new frontier on the prairies (having abandoned the Little House in the Big Woods), and of their true adventures with bears, wolves, Indians as Ma and Pa struggle to make a home for Laura (the author) and her sister. A home, one is reminded, is any place where love and caring and loyalty hold a family together.
Mary Norton, Dent, 0 460 05104 0, £4.95; Puffin, 0 14 03.0110 0, £1.00
Best appreciated by the over-nines who respond wholeheartedly and with protective passion to the little world beneath the floorboards. There Homily and Pod, with their daughter Arrietty (even their half-heard names are `borrowed’ from above), use their ingenuity and all the odds and ends they can scavenge on dangerous expeditions `up’ to the house, to make their tiny home, lead their productive lives. The first of a classic series.
The Shrinking of Treehorn
Florence Parry Heide, Kestrel, 0 7226 5458 8, £4.25; Young Puffin, 0 14 03.0746 X, 90p
A tiny masterpiece about a shrinking boy. His predicament elicits no sympathy from parents or teachers who refuse to recognize it because they are helpless to deal with it. `We don’t shrink in this class… but I’ll let it go till tomorrow.’ An hilarious story perfectly matched by Edward Gorey’s all too accurate line drawings.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (The Worst Kids in the World)
Barbara Robinson, Faber, 0 571 10593 9, £3.50; Beaver, 0 600 34526 2, 75p
Not to be opened till Christmas – well, December anyway. This is quite the funniest, most heartwarming story of a Christmas pageant in the making. A family of tearaways only go to Sunday School for the tea. But they grab the best parts in the Christmas pageant and by their unvarnished performance bring a deeper meaning to the Nativity play.
The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler
Gene Kemp, Faber, 0 571 10966 7, £4.50; Puffin, 0 14 03.1135 1, 85p
The most famous of primary school novels is also one of the funniest. This is the story of eleven-year-old Tyke (boy or girl?) who is determined to protect Danny, an ESN friend, from the `system’ – which is equally determined to put him in a special school.
Note: All the books in this list have proved popular with third and fourth-year Juniors, whilst the first six have also been read with great success and enjoyment to first and second-years.
Still to come in the Lifeline Library: 5. Poetry and Traditional Tales. Parts 1, 2 and 3 appeared in Books for Keeps 13, 14 and 15 respectively, all of which are available from the SBA, price 85p each including postage.