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The above quote is from author John Holt a former teacher and home education advocate. It seems terribly simple - millions and millions of pounds are pumped into literacy every year. The American Reading First Programme alone had 1 billion dollar investment for a programme that was determined to have had no benefit at all. Could it we really accomplish more just by providing children with good books? I think we can. I think if we can find books that a child really wants to read, make reading a source of pleasure, and joy, that almost any form of reading instruction can work. Reading, like many other things, improves with practice, when a child wants to read, and spends a lot of timing reading, they do become better readers.
But what constitutes a good book? In my opinion that varies from one child to the next. Your child may love books about dragons, or princesses, or just ordinary children like themselves. Personally, I love many of the classic books for children, but it doesn't matter what I like. What matters is what my sons like, and right now, that happens to be superheroes. This book was bought a few years back for my oldest, and is now a cherished bedtime story for my youngest. I didn't choose this book. My son did, after looking through Amazon's website with me. I think this is another important aspect in encouraging children to read - let them choose as many of their own books as possible.
At first glance, this book doesn't look very educational. But it is part of a series of books made to provide children with easy to read material to boost confidence and make reading fun. The books were never intended to be used for reading instruction, although many home educators have done just that. They are divided into 4 levels for developing readers, and the idea is meant to be to choose one that your child can read without much struggle. It is simply meant to be fun.
I believe my oldest was 5 when we bought this book. I remember looking at it and thinking it might be a bit hard. It does have some fairly long words for a new reader, like "underneath", and because this series only has 4 levels, to cover as much ground as 14 levels with Oxford, it is not as easy to predict difficulty level simply by choosing the appropriate number or band. This is level two which is billed as "high interest stories for developing readers". Despite my misgivings, he really wanted to read this and after a couple of sessions of shared reading, where we would take turns reading pages, and I would help him if he came to a hard word, he was able to read this on his own quite easily.
He has since outgrown this book, and now it is a firm favourite with my youngest son. At 3, he is far too young to be reading, but he enjoys the short, high action story, and the clear, large text make it easy for him to pick out a few letters and words.
The cover picture is what initially made my oldest choose this, and it an exciting picture for a child. Spiderman is battling against Dr Connors, who has been transformed into the lizard. Even my 3 year old has pointed out that he should be called the crocodile ( or more accurately alligator as this is set in Florida). The picture looks distinctly crocodilian rather than lizard like, but it is a formidable looking beast. The story revolves around Spidey' s attempts to help this creature - preferably without being eaten by it!
I do have some issues with the artwork, I think Peter Parker looks awful, and he is unrecognisable as the same character from other books in this series. Still the lizard is nicely drawn, as is Spiderman. There is plenty of colour, and the pictures do add to the general excitement of the story. Thankfully, Peter Parker is not in many anyway without his Spiderman mask. The story is short, as this is only 32 pages and only has two or three sentences on each page, but it doesn't feel rushed or cut off. It manages to fit a complete story into a short space. It's limited length make this easier for a developing reader to tackle, and also ideal for a quick bedtime story - or in our case one of 10 quick bedtime stories. It has plenty of action and excitement, but no real bloodshed and nothing I would expect to really frighten the average child, even if this is used as a bedtime story for a very young child. I especially liked the ending - and I liked the fact that Spiderman wanted to help this creature - even though it is basically a monster. Another advantage to this book is the price. Amazon is selling this for only £2.21 delivered. At this price even families on a limited budget can afford to add a new book or two to their child's collection every month. Having new books on a regular basis does keep reading exciting as well.
I would recommend this book for children for any child who likes Spiderman, even if they are very young as a story book for parents to read aloud. For children to read on their own I think this book would be best for ages 5-7, but many children at the older end of this range may be ready for more challenging material. I do honestly believe that good selection of reading material, including this book, was far more important in my oldest son developing into a confident reader than any of my instruction. This is a book that has helped my youngest to love books, and one that made my oldest really want to read. I do believe that child brought up in a house full of books they really enjoy will learn to read, and to read well, but of course in their own time.