Prompted by a chance meeting with a teenager who admitted that reading was a major struggle because, as she said, ‘The words just don’t go in’, children’s fiction author, Cathy Farr, has written two books for that young girl and others like her – books they can read.

Cathy’s original fantasy adventure, Moon Chase, tells of a boy wrongly accused of a crime, who sets out to prove his innocence, helped by huge Fellhounds: Cathy’s challenge was to tell that same story to weaker readers in an accessible language that wasn’t boring, or worse, patronising.

Helped by Afasic speech and language specialist, Zein Pereira, Cathy started by considering questions children ask. You know the ones: in a grisly scene in Casualty a mangled body lies under a car; ‘What happened? Is he dead?’ a child will ask. Cathy needed to pre-empt the question by providing the answers in the writing. For example, the original Moon Chase describes the neat dispatch of an early foe as ‘SNAP! He landed heavily and lay motionless with his head twisted round at an odd angle – the rock still sitting snugly in his sling’. Now, as we know, all children love morbidity, so the new sentence read: ‘He landed with a loud SNAP! and lay on the ground with his head twisted around at a strange angle. He was dead.’

Cathy cut her original text by a third, introducing simple vignettes and a glossary for challenging words or phrases, e.g. thwacked, bowled me over; she also provided alternatives.

Feedback from Zein also prompted Cathy to compile an accompanying workbook. In Cathy’s first draft the very first worksheet leapt from a simple ‘fill in the gaps’ question straight to a higher-level question, e.g. ‘Why is the boy reaching for his crossbow in this picture?’ Cathy may have wanted to build-in some learning hurdles, but this one was a whopper!

To help, Zein introduced Cathy to Blanks Levels of Questions, often referred to by SALTs: Level 1 (e.g. What is this?) to Level 4 (e.g. What should he do?). No problem for the average 5 or 6 year old but, as Cathy learnt, any children with speech and language difficulties may struggle.

With another lesson learnt, the second draft featured a far slower progression from Level 1 type questions to Level 4. To avoid derailing a tentative student, lines were added for writing, good font size was selected and questions were simple and singular. Opportunities to re-tell parts of the story or complete a picture from the novel were also included, as too were Additional Activities featuring role play, discussion, creative writing and drawing.

The resulting Bridge Readers are proving popular with teachers and children, and really do bridge the gap between learning to read and reading to learn.

Moon Chase and the sequel, Moon Crossing, are priced £7.99. The accompanying Teacher’s Workbooks are available as individual downloads or as a complete set. Go to Discounts for schools apply.

Share this article

Please login to view this content