‘Really awesome’… ‘Cool quiz’… ‘The questions make you think’… these were just some of the comments that a group of 10 and 11 year old primary schoolchildren shared with me as we explored a range of titles in DK Reads, a new reading series launched this month. Twenty titles are published for three different levels of reading, ability being the distinction rather than age group. At the lowest level are titles for children beginning to read; next are books for children starting to read alone, and at the highest level are books for proficient independent readers.
Primary classrooms are filled with reading schemes, from Oxford Reading Tree to Collins Big Cat, and parents soon become familiar with Biff, Chip and Kipper and other characters that populate the books travelling to and from school in the bookbag. Many of these schemes include a proportion of non-fiction titles, but what sets the DK Reads apart is the fact that the entire series has a basis in non-fiction. Series Editor Deborah Lock explains: ‘These are like fictional chapter books but based on non-fiction subjects – narrative non-fiction if you like – with examples of different genres woven into the narrative. This approach allows children to experience a variety of styles of writing that they will come across in their reading. It enables them to develop fluency, to build grammatical experience and apply these skills to aid comprehension.’ Appealing, action-packed subjects are presented in chapters of carefully levelled, lively narratives. ‘The important thing is to engage the reader, through exciting stories.’ And here DK’s highly visual and often photographic approach is certainly helpful in engaging the reader’s interest. The chapter book approach also builds confidence in beginner readers by breaking down the book into manageable chunks.
The books at the youngest level include titles on a new puppy, a dolphin, on bugs, machines, dinosaurs and pirates – all subjects likely to appeal to this readership. The second level, ‘Starting to read alone’, builds on the non-fiction story narrative by including other genres such as a diary or commentary. Rainforest Explorer for example follows the journey of a schoolgirl travelling to Brazil to join her uncle on a research station. The narrative sections comprise her blog, recording the research work in the rainforest, interspersed by information spreads on the wildlife, the cultural and historical background to the Amazonian people inhabiting the area. African Adventure takes a similar approach in another continent, while Battle at the Castle follows a historical theme. The Great Panda Tale includes not only the account of a young volunteer zoo keeper, but information spreads on panda diet, babies and life cycle, interspersed with Mandarin words, pronunciation guides and characters.
All of the titles include a guide for parents, not only to help explain the different levels through which a child might be expected to progress, from using phonics and blending consonants to understanding how punctuation is used, but also advice on how to support a child with their reading and to share and enjoy the books together. Series consultant Shirley Bickler, longtime advocate of carefully crafted engaging texts for young readers, was a key proponent in the introduction of the National Literacy Hour. She has been a strong voice in ensuring that the texts include appropriate vocabulary, grammar and content for each stage but also that the illustrations help provide contextual support for the reader, so important at the lower reading levels.
The third level of the series, ‘Reading Alone’, is designed for proficient readers, and includes a mix of adventure stories drawn from non-fiction subjects including real-life accounts. These books include rich descriptive vocabulary and full use of grammatical ranges comparable with contemporary fiction and press reports. The primary schoolchildren I spoke to were attuned to the topical approach in titles such as Galactic Mission, a space adventure, and The Mummy’s Curse, where time travellers need present-day digital skills to escape from the past.
The National Curriculum may have been thoroughly revised with the introduction of the New Curriculum for English, with genres taking a less prominent role, but the guidelines continue to emphasise the inclusion of non-fiction and the need for children to develop skills in different styles of reading and writing in order to become fluent and confident readers. Certainly my primary school ‘guinea pigs’ responded positively to the different styles of approach, the variety of page layout, the mixture of fact and fiction, the visual diagrams and photographic spreads. But it was the scarlet ribbon bookmark that won every heart. It’s a helpful inclusion, and come to think of it I’d like one in all my books too!
Beginning to Read (48pp)
Playful Puppy Charlotte Hicks 978 1 4093 5188 7
Little Dolphin Sue Unstead 978 1 4093 5177 1
Bugs Hide and Seek Laura Buller 978 1 4093 4820 7
Mega Machines Deborah Lock 978 1 4093 5184 9
Pirate Attack! Deborah Lock 978 1 4093 4728 6
Deadly Dinosaurs Niki Foreman 978 1 4093 4726 2
Starting to Read Alone (64pp)
Shark Reef Niki Foreman 978 1 4093 5474 1
Battle at the Castle Rupert Matthews 978 1 4093 5196 2
Rainforest Explorer Rupert Matthews 978 1 4093 5191 7
Space Quest: Mission to Mars Peter Lock 978 1 4093 5193 1
African Adventure Deborah Lock 978 1 4093 4725 5
The Great Panda Tale Laura Buller 978 1 4093 4119 2
Reading Alone (128pp)
Clash of the Gladiators Catherine Chambers 978 1 4093 4821 4
The Mummy’s Curse Catherine Chambers 978 1 4093 5185 6
In the Shadow of the Volcano Caryn Jenner 978 1 4093 5192 4
Twister: A Terrifying Tale of Superstorms Samone Bos 978 1 4093 5194 8
Galactic Mission Richard Platt 978 1 4093 5182 5
Ballet Academy Lorrie Mack 978 1 4093 5195 5
Terrors of the Deep Deborah Lock 978 1 4093 4727 9
Pony Club Patricia J Murphy 978 1 4093 4729 3
All £4.99 hbk
Sue Unstead has a background in children’s non-fiction publishing as both author and editor.