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Roy Norris (Madrid, Spain)
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Cambridge English First for Schools 1 Self-study Pack (Student's Book with Answers and Audio CDs (2)): Authentic Examination Papers from Cambridge ESOL (FCE Practice Tests)
Cambridge English First for Schools 1 Self-study Pack (Student's Book with Answers and Audio CDs (2)): Authentic Examination Papers from Cambridge ESOL (FCE Practice Tests)
by Cambridge ESOL
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars One or two parts too difficult, 16 April 2015
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At the time of writing, this is the only book of practice tests from Cambridge for the new exam. If you use it, be careful with the following tasks.

Test 4 Listening Part 2 (Greenwood Wildlife centre): This is an overlong script which is read too quickly. Consequently, even my best students (including a couple of bilingual children) found this extremely difficult. It shook their confidence and had one girl in tears.
Test 2 Reading and Use of English Part 5 Multiple choice. (Kayak Rex) Similar story - way beyond the level of my students. Seemed more like an Advanced test than First.

Not good, particularly when you're trying to build students' confidence shortly before the exam.


The Thirteen Treasures (13 Treasures)
The Thirteen Treasures (13 Treasures)
by Michelle Harrison
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cleverly crafted, 10 Feb. 2014
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I am reading this book for the second time - this time to my second daughter, aged 9. She loves it and so do I - and I'm a 55-year-old dad, possibly not the kind of reader Michelle Harrison intended the book for. The plotline you can get from other reviews, but I just wanted to say it's an extremely well crafted book, with cliff hangers and twists and turns that make it very difficult for me to stop reading to my daughter, who insists I carry on once I get to the end of a chapter. It can get a bit scary for a 9-year-old (but in a Doctor-Who-hide-behind-the-cushion kind of way), so I'm now reading it to her in the morning before she goes to school rather than in the evening before she goes to bed. But my first daughter is less easily frightened and it was never a problem for her at that age. She went on to read the next two books in the series on her own (always a good sign) but I think I'll be reading them aloud to my younger daughter. And I'm looking forward to that just as much as she is. A great read, and one which the publishers should make an audiobook of - it would work really well.

PS We've just finished it and my daughter has pulled the second book in the series off the shelf and begged me to read it to her because she is desperate to find out what happens next and she wants 'to share it with' me. Great stuff.


The Penderwicks
The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 5 April 2013
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This review is from: The Penderwicks (Paperback)
This is a cracking book. I read it to my 8-year-old daughter and we both loved it. She was so motivated by it, she asked to read the other two in the series herself - a defining moment, since the next one (The Penderwicks on Gardam Street) has been the first long book without illustrations that she has read. She's really chuffed with herself. The characters are well-rounded and charming and as my daughter says 'I just want to spend more time with them'. You can read the plot line elsewhere on this site, but if you want to read more reviews, go to Amazon.com, the American site, where there are over 150 reviews. It deserves to be as popular in the UK as it clearly is in the States. The English in it is not culture-bound to the US and there are few Americanisms - it's almost as if Jeanne Birdsall wrote it to appeal to a universal global-English market. My 11-year-old daughter has also read the series herself and liked the books very much. Let's hope there are more on the way.


Alana Dancing Star: Stage Sensation
Alana Dancing Star: Stage Sensation
by Arlene Phillips
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grandpa's a bit harsh, 12 Mar. 2012
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It's a bit unfair for there to be just one review of this book here (at the time of writing) and for that review to be a one-star. Grandpa may have had problems understanding the plot but my seven-year-old loves this series and can't get enough of it. OK, it's formulaic, OK, so being beamed into other countries may lack literary finesse. But any book which keeps a child engrossed for long periods at a time is fine by me. As with most series, it's always good to start with the first one, and that is Samba Spectacular. So, fair enough, Grandpa, it's not the best book in the world, but neither is it rubbish. I've enjoyed being able to discuss the books with my daughter after we have both read them on our own - and that kind of experience merits five stars for me.


Treasure Island (Hear it Read it)
Treasure Island (Hear it Read it)
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Poor adaptation, 14 July 2011
Sorry, but I just can't recommend this. As an adaptation it falls well short of the mark - I'm reading it to my nine-year-old and I have to keep stopping to explain what is meant. Surely the job of an adaptation is to make it accessible to children? The context isn't always enough to help a child make sense of what he or she is hearing/reading. To take one example at random: "Dick's square" we are told in the apple barrel scene. It probably means 'Dick's all right, Dick's one of us', but in the context, it could mean anything - could be positive, could be negative. There is not enough supporting language to help the reader make sense of it.
Also, the illustrations are poor. The one on the front cover is as good as it gets - the others inside are not much better than anything I could produce - and they're all black and white (unlike the one on the cover).
I bought this version partly because of the CD. We'll listen to it in the car afterwards, but we've had to put a lot of work in beforehand to make that pleasurable.


The Jungle Book (Templar Classics)
The Jungle Book (Templar Classics)
by Rudyard Kipling
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Treasure, 2 Dec. 2010
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My nine-year-old daughter is in the scouts and wanted to read this. We both chose this version on the strength of the illustrations we saw in the Look Inside feature, and we weren't disappointed. It's a weighty book and a challenging read for a nine-year-old, but its size and weight together with the quality of the illustrations have led her to say 'This is my treasure'. It's clearly very special to her. She loves curling up with it on the sofa, reads it whenever she can and loves talking about it. Definitely a good choice.


The Wind in the Willows - Retold from the Kenneth Grahame Original (Classic Starts Series)
The Wind in the Willows - Retold from the Kenneth Grahame Original (Classic Starts Series)
by Martin Woodside
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could be better, 16 Oct. 2010
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The suitability of this adaptation really depends on the age of the child you are buying it for (if indeed you are buying it for a child). For my six-year-old I'm sure it will be fine; it will introduce her to the story, but, as can only be expected, little if any of the descriptive magic of the original version.

I actually bought it for my nine-year-old, who I started reading the unabridged version to but who found some passages of Kenneth Grahame's writing pretty hard going. This 'Classic Start' helped us out of a fix - we got two thirds of the way through the original and she was finding the rather long, descriptive chapter 'Wayfarers all' difficult to comprehend and asked to stop. So I resorted to this adaptation to finish the story.

With the benefit of hindsight (it was the first time I had read this book as well) I would not have done this. It leaves out some excellent scenes from the original which really should be there, including much of the chapter 'The Further Adventures of Toad', in which Toad, dressed as a washerwoman, steals a horse, sells it to a gypsy, hitches a lift in the same motor car that he had previously stolen then ends up crashing it. These scenes are all beautifully narrated by Grahame in language which is accessible for young readers, all very funny, and all important to understanding just how boastful and selfish Toad is - and yet all left out of this Classic Start version.

So whilst this series is undoubtedly very useful in introducing children to the sometimes inaccessible classics, I would not recommend this particular edition if a) you are going to read the book to your child and b) your child is a strong reader/good listener who tolerates a certain degree of language which they do not understand. For this type of child, read the beautifully told original version, but leave out the heavy going chapters 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn' and 'Wayfarer's all'. You'll be doing this child a disservice if you buy the Classic Start version. However, if your child is younger and you just want to familiarise them with the story, then this one, at 144 pages, is probably as good as any.


Jackanory Junior [DVD]
Jackanory Junior [DVD]

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great collection, 12 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Jackanory Junior [DVD] (DVD)
My daughters aged 6 and 9 loved this DVD and have asked for more. There is a good mix of traditional stories (Jack and the Beanstalk and others with Princesses and Kings etc) and more modern, including the 'Last of the Polar Bears' by the late, great Harry Horse, brilliantly read by Martin Clunes. Amanda Abbington had us in stitches with her many different voices reading The Bun Gun and Allan Ahlberg's 'The Woman who won things' is a great opening story, again well-read by Sophie Okondo. Just to correct the previous reviewer, each story lasts 13 minutes, which is a good length for holding children's concentration. Also strong in this respect are the stage sets, changing camera angles and animation, all judiciously added to good effect, guiding younger children through the stories without taking too much of the focus away from the storytellers. If your children like listening to stories on CD, but wish you'd let them watch more telly, this is a great compromise. We thoroughly recommend it!


The Barefoot Book of Faeries (Book & CD)
The Barefoot Book of Faeries (Book & CD)
by Tanya Robin Batt
Edition: Paperback

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good buy, 19 Mar. 2010
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I was attracted to this book because my five-year-old daughter loves fairies and also because the accompanying CD meant we could listen to the stories in the car once I'd read them to her. We're really pleased with it, including my eight-year-old daughter, who isn't normally a fan of fairies. The four longer stories (averaging out at about 9 minutes each) are well illustrated, nicely written and lovely to read, curled up on the sofa together just before bedtime. They're also perfect for our ten-minute car journey to school in the morning. The product description mentions 19th century poems and fairy folklore, but we haven't spent much time on these: the language level is rather high for a five-year-old and challenging for my eight-year-old too. (Of two people who visited Fairyland and returned to 'the mortal world' the author writes 'they became known for their faery gifts of prophecy and healing'. 'What's that Daddy?'). 19th century poems are 19th century poems, but the author could have geared the language of the folklore towards the younger audience as well. Don't let this put you off though: I'd still recommend it. It's worth it for the four main stories, and actually, looking through it again as I write this review, I think I'll have another go at teasing the meaning out of the folklore texts for my five-year-old, as the content is interesting.


The Little Stranger
The Little Stranger
by Sarah Waters
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Be patient, 23 Jan. 2010
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This review is from: The Little Stranger (Paperback)
I found this book compelling and literally chilling reading - I was actually freezing sometimes as I read it. Sarah Waters takes her time building up an atmosphere of calm and normality, only to disconcert the reader when it's least expected and create a sense of unease which lasts throughout the novel. But you need to be patient - it's quietly disturbing, not in-your-face terrifying. It reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro's 'The Remains of the Day' with its depiction of the end of an era, the comparison of pre- and post-war life for the upper classes and their stately homes, and the slow, deliberate style of the protagonist/narrator figure, whose neck you would sometimes galdly wring, or backside happily kick. Review writers on this site have criticized The Little Stranger for being boring: fine, but it's about atmosphere, not action and if you don't want that, then it's not the book for you. Others have said it's too long: but again, it takes time to build up atmosphere and if you find yourself losing patience after the first hundred pages or so, don't read on, because it moves at the same pace throughout. Then there are those who say that some of the characters are two- or even one-dimensional: and on reflection this a fair criticism for one or two of them. But nothing's perfect, not even a Sarah Waters novel. If you like her other books and you find yourself thinking as you read The Little Stranger 'where is this book taking me?', have faith and be patient. It gets there in the end - literally in the end.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 11, 2011 10:42 AM BST


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