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New Scholastic Readers

Dave Allen looks at two Hollywood blockbuster titles from the Scholastic Readers series by Mary Glasgow Magazines: “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Dave Allen

The growing interest in graded readers for language learners, driven in part by academic work (e.g. Edinburgh Project of Extensive Reading) and the burgeoning Language Learner Literature campaign which promotes the development of quality literature for language learners, is also a reflection of the improved quality of readers over the years*.

Here I am going to look at two titles from the ‘Scholastic Readers’ series by Mary Glasgow Magazines (Scholastic Ltd). The titles in the series are all Hollywood blockbusters. The ones reviewed here are The Devil Wears Prada and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and other titles include Spiderman and Rocky. Though most students may know these movies, it is less certain whether they will want to read the book, particularly a simplified version of the story. My students often remarked after reading these titles that ‘there is so much detail missing from this book – you should watch the film’. An insightful comment, because in fact watching the film could be equally beneficial for language learning and potentially much more enjoyable. Of course the learning aims will differ for watching movies and reading simplified texts, but the point remains that if students have already seen the film, a reader which covers the same story in around 50 pages is not likely to compare much in terms of its potential for entertainment.

As the aims of graded readers are primarily to develop fluency in reading and also to foster a reading habit, they are undoubtedly a very useful resource for learners. On a recent reading course my students borrowed a book each week and were satisfied by the end that their reading speed had improved slightly (although admittedly this is difficult to gauge in the short-term) but also that they had developed a habit of reading in their free time. The weekly reports students made to each other in pairs/small groups gave them the opportunity to discuss the content and what they did or didn’t enjoy about the books. In general, the comments were positive, particularly for the Scholastic Readers (as compared to some older series), and students were impressed by various features of the readers such as their presentation, colourful pictures and accompanying sections.

To focus on the titles at hand, The Devil Wears Prada is a Level 2 (Pre-Intermediate-Intermediate) title which I read cover-to-cover and which I found to be written in a highly readable style. The prose is not stilted, repetitious or noticeably restricted in its use of vocabulary and grammatical structures. The cover design and movie-stills interspersing the text make the book attractive and enticing to read. The Fact File section is interesting and useful for providing background and possible further teaching activities which relate to the story. Although an accompanying CD is available, I have not heard this yet, but a useful PDF can be downloaded online and provides advice on how to use the text and gives the answers for the tasks at the back. Some of these tasks are related to comprehension but others just memory, so the aim for many of the questions appears to be to make students scan the text for the related section and find the information – an arguably tedious task after one has just read a book, possibly improved somewhat if made into a competitive group task.

The second title, the latest Indy installment Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, is in much the same style as The Devil Wears Prada, but is Level 3 (Intermediate). My students appeared to enjoy this one less, possibly because it’s an action story which is considerably reduced from the movie (and which everyone had been to see!). Second language learners, though lacking the necessary lexical knowledge may have a strong literary interest in their first language and so miss the detailed descriptions of the scenes typically provided in novels, a comment I frequently received from my class. Nevertheless, the ‘Fact Files’, descriptions of ‘People and Places’ from the story and a page on related ‘History’ are helpful for gaining a better understanding of the text and linking it to other topics which can be developed into follow-up activities.

In sum, both readers offer a bite-size slice of Hollywood with attractive presentation and interesting accompanying sections. For learners who have a taste for these kinds of stories, they should find these readers enjoyable additions to a comprehensive study programme.

*For more information on Graded Readers in general, see ‘Graded readers in English’, April 2008. David R. Hill. ELT Journal Volume 62/2

Reviewed by Dave Allen for TEFL.NET August 2009

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