Rusty Dreamer

Reviewed by Heather Govier
This review first appeared in MAPE Focus on Literacy Autumn 1998

If you think talking books are just for tinies you should take a look at Mike Matson's Rusty Dreamer. Here is a story with an interest level and reading age that are definitely Key Stage 2. The sleeve notes describe this program as an interactive, multimedia, reading experience... designed to provide independent reading practice across a wide ability range... and to stimulate a range of work away from the computer in support of the National Curriculum for English.

The package certainly has the potential to do all of this. The story takes the form of a typical picture book with the top two thirds of each page being the illustration and the lower third the text. Six different levels of text are available, offering short and long versions of the story at three different reading levels. The range of complexity is considerable with the total vocabulary for the simplest, short text being 2500 words while the long text at Level 3 has a vocabulary of 24700 words. The program could thus be used with the struggling reader in Year 3/4 or provide a considerable challenge to the most able Year 6 pupil.

The top part of the page provides far more than just a picture. The illustrations are an intriguing combination of still photographs, movies and animation and the reader is drawn in, and given a feeling of being there, both by the panoramic views which can be scrolled to give an all-round view and by the enchanting, rustic sound effects; bird song, animal noises, church bells and so on. A pleasant female voice (with a middle England accent) provides narration, an option which may be turned off if required.

As one might expect from a Mike Matson package, there is a booklet full of ideas for use in the classroom and a multitude of associated worksheets offering extension activities involving speaking, listening, reading and writing. An OS style map is provided, setting the context for the story and this is available both on screen and in paper form. On screen it is possible to zoom into the map and look at a smaller area in greater detail and to view photographs of many specific locations.

The screen text is the same size at all reading levels and this is plenty large enough for a pair or small group of children to work through Rusty Dreamer together, which means that there are a number of slots in the literacy hour where the program might fit. The multimedia format would certainly provide extra motivation for the reluctant reader and the story itself (essentially a fantasy on the good versus evil theme) is gripping. My one reservation is to wonder how boy-friendly this story is. The chief character is a girl who does girlie things like working in an animal sanctuary, sketching and daydreaming. Reluctant readers, usually boys, who might well be stimulated by this type of presentation might, sadly, be turned off by the content. We could do with another story about Shiny Doer. What about it Mike?

Rusty Dreamer, a triple format CD (for PC, Mac and Acorn), is available from:
Sherston Software Ltd, Angel House, Sherston, Malmesbury, Wilts SN16 OLH.
Tel 01666 840433
Fax 01666 840048

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