We absolutely loved the original Project X series which was designed by Oxford's University Press to motivate boys to read. The action and adventure, as well as tapping into childhood fantasy meant my son found this series more exciting than video games and his reading ability sky rocketed progressing several years in a matter of months, So when I hear they had a brand new series - but this time based on a phonetic approach I couldn't wait to start collecting them. I was actually advised not to buy this book, by none other than Oxford themselves. When I wrote asking questions about the correct order to buy these in I was told this series was designed for children with special educational needs or reading disabilities, and the lower levels in this series would not suit a 7 year old with an advanced reading age. Thankfully, I already had a large number of them and was only inquiring to get the right order in which to collect the higher levels.
This book is only at Bookband level 4 - blue which suit a child of roughly five years of age. The text appears to be printed according with Dyslexia Association guidelines in mind which specify a large, standard text in black on a light coloured background, in this case a dull cream coloured background. The text is large and widely spaced. The only possible conflict with the recommendations for dyslexia friendly text is the use of a gloss type paper - but while the paper this is printed on is quite smooth to accommodate rich colour illustrations, there is almost no glare whatsoever, even under very bright lights. Where you can get a slight light reflection - and I really tried turning this every which way under a bright light - it does seem to be only over the darker areas of the illustrations. the dull grayish cream used for the text boxes seems to absorb rather than reflect light. *
The text is also quite simple and easy to read. There is only one sentence per page, and the vocabulary is limited by requirements that the first story be 100% phonetically decodable ** and the second part of the story at least 80% decodable**. Normally these restrictions would make for a story that is too dull to capture the imagination of an older, proficient reader. But these books are very highly visual, you can get most of the story from the pictures alone - and in fact we get quite a lot more from the pictures, adding our own story bits in and creating storied loosely based on this series all of our own. The main characters in this story have watches that allow them, among other things to shrink to micro sized and travel through time . We have our own stories about dinosaurs who escaped extinction by using similar technology as a gift of the Team X - the possibilities for a creative storytelling are endless. I believe these books have tapped into a universal childhood fantasy of changing sizes and exploring new words on a miniature scale. It is this fantasy brought to life that makes these books interesting for a very wide age range, making them wonderful bedtime stories for pre readers, primers for learning to read,or refresher courses in phonics , as well as just being plain fun for older children.
This particular book is part of the Wild Cluster. This is a set of 4 books that make up a single story ( and you do need all 4, this is not a stand alone book). The theme for this cluster is vehicles. The micro friends will race in a red race car, fly in another race car that converts to an airplane and ride on a speeding bullet train. The race track has loops like a Hotwheels set and a dangerous adversary the Byte, or boss for this level - a Monster Truck with huge teeth and giant spiked wheels. In this book Tiger and Ant race after the Byte in the red race car. There is a crash, ejector seats and plenty of excitement as the team race after the Monster Truck - all interested in 3d computer generated imagery with a quality level comparable to the best modern video games. These books do have quite a lot in common with video games - and I believe this is another major factor in their appeal.
I do like trains and airplanes, but in all honesty I did not find this cluster as interesting as many of the others - it is all action - and not very much plot - speeding trains, race cars, wild stunts all that sort of thing. But it isn't my opinion that counts. My sons both thought this set was brilliant. They absolutely love the illustrations, and although the text is limited - you can always spice it up with your own dialogue. They did pay for this themselves, using Christmas money and they are currently saving up for more books in this series, as well as my son having placed another set of these on his birthday wish list.
This is just the sort of thing to get boys reading, and I can't imagine many young boys who wouldn't enjoy this set - it is really hard to believe this is a part of phonetic reading programme, but it does have a couple of pages where children are introduced to new phonemes and carefully sound out words which will feature in this story. My youngest is only just getting the basic phonemes from this - I don't think he is ready to try blending yet and I don't want to rush anything as he is only 4. My oldest is a bit to old for this at age 7, but we have been going over the sounds anyway - and I do believe it has helped with his spelling. From an education standpoint, this is one of the very best products I have come across, but from an entertainment standpoint it is even better.
I will certainly continue to buy these books until our set is complete and hope to have many years of use from them. I understand Project X has a new series in the works as well, Alien Adventures. I really can't wait to get started on these as well.
These books cost £3.38 each from The Book Depository - and £4 each from Amazon. Used books are offered at much higher prices than new - £8.30 for one book. You do need all 4 books to a cluster to make a complete story so this should cost £13.44 for a single cluster. Considering that these books do work at their best with a whole set - and there are 14 clusters in all this could get quite costly, and we are having to collect these bit by bit. In spite of the cost - I do consider these value for money. After all - literacy is priceless.
** Phonetically decodable can be a misleading term as what is phonetically decodable to one child will not be to the next. These books should be phonetically decodable to a child in the British school system reading at level 4. These levels are comparable to the Oxford Reading Tree levels - but this also assumes your child attends a school that is using phonics. As there is a big push to return to phonics this is quite likely, but if in doubt check with your child's teacher. If your child has not been taught to use phonics though, I would expect most children reading at a level 4 in Oxford Reading Tree could pick this up with minimal adult assistance - and they will learn some phonics from this. If however - you are a home educator using a programme like Hooked on Phonics, or Bob Books, which use only soft vowel sounds for up to a full year of reading instruction - this series will not be phonetically decodable until your child has learned long vowel sounds as well - usually well into the 2nd year - but this depends completely on the child as each child will progress at their own speed and some may go quite slowly for a long time only to surge ahead at a later date.
* For further information on dyslexia friendly text please see : The British Dyslexia Association http:// www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/ about-dyslexia/ further-information/ dyslexia-style-guide.html
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