PRODUCT REVIEWS

'The Times' newspaper-style series

If you're running a reporter's club, looking for examples of non-chronological reports, or simply trying to hook in reluctant readers, then The Times books by Stella Gurney, illustrated by Matthew Hodson and published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books, could be just what you need.

The series includes The Oceanic Times, The Prehistoric Times and The Zoological Times, with more on their way.

The books provide a range of facts, humour and activities in an informal, newspaper-style, A4-format book which can be used in whole class settings to explore an informal non-fiction style of writing, look at report-writing, or learn how to create a newspaper. The books are also great for individual browsing for children aged eight years plus.

We asked teachers and school librarians Sam Phillips, Lucy Newton, Emily Marcuccilli and Jacqueline Harris to tell us what they thought of The Times series:


Q: What do you think of the idea behind the series, to use a newspaper-type layout and features to deliver non-fiction information?


A: "The days when most families have their daily news delivered first thing every morning are a thing of the past and most primary age children rarely see a newspaper," says Lucy Newton. "So when, as a teacher, we try to introduce non-chronological reports, then things become so much more difficult than years ago."

This series provides a great way to hook children into the layout of a newspaper while keeping the content relevant and interesting to them, says Newton. "There aren't that many child-friendly resources for newspapers out there. Often when you find examples to look at, the content is too high-level for them to understand so these are definitely more appropriate," and she adds, "I love the way this book maintains the newspaper format throughout, with headlines, short articles, quizzes and activities."

The books also have great visual appeal says school librarian Emily Marcuccilli. "Once I got my hands on them, I couldn't wait to dive in and find out more. My trio of eager Year 5 reviewers felt the same. We loved the way their design and layout mirrored that of a newspaper and this particularly intrigued my review team."

However, while the format is appealing, teacher Jacqueline Harris warns that the pages are crowded and busy, which might be overwhelming for some children. "The idea of the newspaper is very engaging but the overall effect is hectic!"


Q: Who do you think The Times books would appeal to?

A: The series will attract children in KS2, especially those who have specific interests in the subjects the books cover including dinosaurs, oceans and animals, says Newton. The books would also be useful to look at with a class of younger children (year 2) when learning about newspaper layouts, but older children would probably appreciate them more for independent reading, she adds.

Among the older children who explored the books with Marcuccilli, she reports "much chuckling" as they discovered the many jokes inside the pages. "We enjoyed the use of humour in combination with some quite advanced concepts such as bioluminescence and zoological classification. It is always more fun to learn when you are having fun!"

The children liked the detailed profiles of individual creatures and were keen to search out their favourite ones, she says. Some of the comments from her reviewing children included "This book is interesting and amusing by how dinosaurs act like humans". (Wilf, Year 5) and, "Not too short, not too long; when you read it you will laugh yourself silly!" (Herbert, Year 5). Newton adds, "The humour in these books would also be great for drawing in reluctant readers, or perhaps those who gravitate towards non-fiction rather than fiction."


Q: How useful is the text in the book if you're looking for resources for topic work or styles of writing?

A: "There are loads of useful facts in the books however they are presented in a much more attractive, fun and lively way than usual fact books," says Newton. This makes them a "fantastic resource" to have in the classroom during related topics so children can find out as much information as possible independently.

The 'articles' themselves are humorously grouped into newspaper sections such as Homes and Property, Lifestyle and Sports which, says Marcuccilli , "are rich sources of information for non-fiction topic work".

Without a traditional index, however, children would definitely need to browse for information rather than attempt to locate very specific facts in response to a research task so it is definitely a 'read around' the topic kind of text rather than straight non-fiction, says Harris.

From an English teaching point of view, the books can be used in exploring an informal style of writing and in finding examples of non-chronological report writing says teacher Sam Phillips. "Prehistoric Times, for example, provides a number of examples of with short articles about dinosaurs; their behaviours, food and habitats, which effectively demonstrate the power of selecting the right vocabulary to create impact, interest and still include sufficient detail to address the subject intended."


Q: How could you use the books with children, for example in a reporter's club, in library sessions, to explore non-fiction or as individual readers?

A: The series would definitely be useful in whole class sessions either for topic-based research or for newspaper work in English, says Newton. "I would photocopy pages for them to highlight and annotate the pages to pick out the features for discussion."

Marcuccilli felt that these books would be very useful for generating discussion and ideas around the writing of non-fiction texts. "It would be helpful for pupils to see the wide range of articles that appear, from creature profiles, editorial articles and lists of tips, to puzzles, advertisements and quizzes." Children would, though, need to be warned against completing the activities within the book if it is being used as a class resource.

Harris agreed that the books lend themselves very well to looking at newspaper reports and formal and informal styles. "There are also some other historical humorous newspapers (Greek Gazette, Egyptian Echo etc) which are not as informal and they would make a good comparison."

Children in KS2 could also use the books as a basis to create their own versions of The Times, either on a topic of their choice or within a class topic they are already studying, such as the Romans, says Newton. "You could definitely plan a week or more of English work based on the books if they were going to create their own. They could look at different pages in detail to see the activities and information that is included. Then they could spend time recreating and rewriting the games/articles/quizzes but with their own theme."

Outside of formal learning, the books would be popular on the book shelves in the classroom and/or library for individual readers in KS2, Newton says. "We don't have a reporter's club but I can see how they could be useful in one to inspire children who are particularly interested in newspapers and magazines."


Q: Does the cover price of 5.99 represent good value?

A: "5.99 is very reasonable and I think the cover is one of the best bits. It made me laugh!" says Harris.

Phillips adds, "I have no doubt that this book would appeal to children and adults of all ages; providing a good balance of laughs, stomach-turning detail and factual information."

'The Times'  newspaper-style series
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