Sunday, 23 June 2019

Book Review: 'The Adventures of Harry Stevenson' by Ali Pye

Adults love to recommend children's books. But what do kids actually think about them? For this review I decided to get my daughter's thoughts as well as give my own. And it only seemed right to let my daughter (who is in year 2) share her thoughts first:

Harry is a guinea pig who is always getting lost. Billy and Harry are best friends who always tell each other everything.

At Billy's birthday party Harry floats away and although he is scared he is determined to get back to Billy.

This book is about friendship, finding your feet and it talks a lot about a football team called 'The Sparky F.C'.

The illustrations of Harry are really cute and they are really interesting to look at.

It is simple enough for 7-11s to read but definitely entertaining.

Harry Stevenson is a really good book and it is very enjoyable to read!

And here's my review:

Harry Stevenson is a guinea pig - of course he is, what else would he be with such a name? Harry lives with Billy and is pretty much his best friend and confidant. In this new book from author and illustrator Ali Pye we get not one, but two of Harry's charming and barmy adventures.

In the first story, Billy and his family move house and in a bizarre twist of fate (or twist of the cage's latch) Harry gets left behind. Of course, he finds his way back but not without severely spooking a dog, having a close shave with a cat and ending up in a box of pizza (which he doesn't even eat as he sticks closely to a proper guinea pig diet).

The second story also sees Harry let loose in the outside, this time in an even more crazy set of circumstances - Ali Pye's illustration of a beat up VW van in hot pursuit of an airborne rodent is one I'd love to have a print of!

Speaking of the illustrations, their screenprint-style of limited, but bright, colour palette are what makes the book immediately appealing - so much so that when my copy arrived it was promptly removed from my shelf and read within a 24 hour period by my 7 year old daughter.

Once the illustrations have hooked in their readers young and old, all will delight in the warmly told stories of a boy and his guinea pig. Pye opens up the mind of a devoted pet and confirms what everyone who keeps an animal secretly hopes - that they completely understand their humans and their complicated lives and love them unconditionally. Harry's mixture of wisdom (when it comes to how Billy must be feeling about loving house, starting a new school and hoping that his football team win) and daftness (when he dreams he's eating spaghetti but is in fact chewing the strings of helium balloons) is quite delightful!

Unlike many books aimed at this age range (I'd say 6-9ish), it's one that will appeal to grown ups as well as children. It's funny without being silly, or rude, and far-fetched in such a heart-warming way that no one could dislike it! It falls into the category of 'great books to introduce children to reading chapter books', of which I've not yet read enough - thanks Ali for writing a good one!

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Book Review: 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' by Christopher Edge

Thinking back on this book there are certain things which I'm really unsure of: when was it actually set? I'd assumed here and now, but as I've thought about the mind-bending events of the story I'm now not so sure. Did some of it occur in the imagination or were there actually slips in time? A book that keeps you thinking long after you've read the last page has got to be a book worth reading.

In fact, the questions it leaves you with really give you no option but to read it again. As someone with a To Be Read pile that takes up an entire bookshelf (and that's just the children's books) re-reading is not usually an option, but in this case I think I'll have to. The knowledge that Christopher Edge has put together one of his playlists to accompany the book is another point in favour of picking up this excellent novel again, especially as it contains The Cure, Paul Weller, Beastie Boys, James, The Kinks... the list goes on.

Charlie and Dizzy are lost in the woods, looking for some strange symbols that they think might be clues as to who lives in the woods - is it spies, or is it monsters? Or is it Old Crony? And Jonny, the school bully, has ended up with them too. But as night falls (or does it?) things begin to get strange. Trippy even. And suddenly the book is kind of a World War 2 novel - but not one like you've ever read before.

The children experience strange things which are genuinely quite scary - nightmares become a kind of questionable reality where neither the characters or the reader can quite understand what is going on. However, Edge has written it cleverly enough for readers to begin to build up a picture of what might be going on - especially those who have some background knowledge of theories about time, Greek mythology and World War 2. But for those who don't know what's going on, nearly all is explained - perhaps that second read-through will reveal all, though?

And it's not just the intrigue of the plot that makes this such a captivating read - the writing itself is so evocative. I would defy anyone not to feel transported to those woods with those children on that night:

"Above our heads comes a sudden hushing of leaves, the treetops swaying with a leathery creak... Beneath the tunnel of leaves, dappled light swirls along the path like reflections on a river, but beyond this, the thick ferns and bushes straggle into shadow."

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon takes a look at how, with the benefit of understanding the bigger picture of life, some things which once seemed so important become trivial - what's the point in being at enmity with those around you when the world holds much greater enemies and threats? But it does the opposite too: if you can change the small things in life, then perhaps you can change the big things too - once one has changed one's own world, maybe they can go on to change things in the wider world.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Book Review: 'Lubna and Pebble' by Wendy Meddour & Daniel Egnéus

There are plenty of books out there that tell the story of how a child befriends an inanimate object, but none are as pertinent or as substantial as 'Lubna and Pebble' by Wendy Meddour & Daniel Egnéus.

The title page gives the adult reader a good idea of the story's context: a beautiful illustration of a boat, laden with passengers, Arabic script on its hull, is seen from below the waves as sunlight pierces the water's surface. The boat is painted with flowers - this is a story of hope, yet it is the story of a small girl running from the certain horrors (never explicit) of her home land. Children will need to read the story to understand all that this image depicts.

Lubna and her Daddy are searching for safety. But where are her brothers? And where is her mother? And how will she and her father weather the winter in the camp? Pebble will help. And Daddy. Young children will identify with Lubna as she speaks to her pebble but the surprise they find in her not having a cuddly toy to provide solace will spark conversations, allowing empathy and understanding to grow.

The comfort that is afforded Lubna allows her to pass the kindness on when she meets Amir. With illustrations that are rich in imagery and simple but powerful text, even the youngest readers will feel the emotions at play here. Not only should they begin to understand, at an appropriate level, of the plight of other children in the world, they are also shown that kindness costs nothing.

Although there are plenty of picture books out there that aim to open the eyes of more privileged children, there are few which manage to achieve that with this level of simplicity and implicitness. Egnéus' imagery cleverly weaves motifs of hope - glowing light and blooming flora - with a use of colour that speaks to children's hearts. The text nearly always leaves the reader wanting to know more: why did they arrive on the beach at night? Why were Daddy's arms salty? What was the World of Tents? Why did they have to stay in the tent during winter? In this way, Meddour sensitively allows the difficult answers to be discussed between the adult who knows the child reader best, never presuming to be the one who knows how best to tackle the issues.

In a culture of entitlement, books like these are so important for our children. Although this could be read alone, I'd recommend that it is one that adults take the time to read with children. If you are struggling to explain the plight of refugees to your children then this book is a brilliant starting place.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Geography Key Questions To Ask When Learning About A Place

When reviewing and revising our curriculum to ensure better humanities coverage I began to think about how there were potentially missed opportunities for children to be revisiting and re-enforcing geography knowledge and skills.

For example, when children learn about the Ancient Romans, they might learn about Italy, or indeed any of the other places in the Roman Empire. As well as ensuring that children can place the historic period on a timeline and so on, I think it is also worth them knowing about the places where events took place.

I began to think that a common approach to learning about these places might help teachers to provide sufficient and consistent information about them. I decided a set of questions that could be asked and answered whenever a new place was 'discovered' might be a good way to structure this common approach.

The hope is that, with these questions, children will begin to build up a) a good knowledge of the world, and b) a good bank of questions that they might begin to ask more autonomously whenever they come across the mention of place that they do not know much about.

I used the National Curriculum as guidance for the following questions with the intention that NC objectives would be covered multiple times during a child's time in school.

As well as sets of questions, I've also proposed some actions that might be undertaken each time a new place is learned about - one of the main aims of these actions is that children know where in the world each place that is studied is located.

A downloadable version of the below is available for free on TES: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/geography-key-questions-linked-to-ks1-2-national-curriculum-12133248

Thanks must go to Geography Meg on Twitter for inspiring me with her CLOCC acronym.

KS1

When learning about a new place (for example, during non-geography-based units, such as history-based units) always ask and answer these questions:

COWWS:

  • CONTINENT – Which continent is it in?
  • OCEANS AND SEAS – Which oceans or seas are nearby?
  • WEATHER – What is the weather like there? Is it hot or cold there? Is it near the equator or the poles?
  • WHO AND WHAT – Who (people) and what (animals and plants) live there?
  • SEE – What would we see there? What is natural? What has been made by humans?

A pre-populated COWWS grid - a blank
version can be found in the TES download.
When learning about a new place (for example, during non-geography-based units, such as history-based units) always carry out these actions:

• 1st: Locate it on a map of the county/region it is in (and show and discuss, using simple compass directions and locational language, where it is in relation to: other places previously studied; our country; our location)
• 2nd: Locate it on a map of the country it is in (and show and discuss, using simple compass directions and locational language, where it is in relation to: other places previously studied; our country; our location)3rd: Locate it on a map of the world (and show where it is in relation to: other places previously studied; our country; our location)
• Locate it on a globe (and show and discuss, using simple compass directions and locational language, where it is in relation to: other places previously studied; our country; our location)
• Locate it on a plan perspective or on aerial photographs
• Show images of the place (avoid only showing stereotypical images, especially when studying a whole continent or country)

KS2

When learning about a new place (for example, during non-geography-based units, such as history-based units) always ask and answer these questions:

General questions to ask about location:

HOTCLUB:

  • HEMISPHERE - Which hemisphere(s) is it in?
  • OTHER PLACES - Where is it in relation to other places we have studied or know about, including countries and continents (using 8 points of a compass)?
  • TIMEZONE - Which timezone(s) is it in?
  • CLIMATE - Which climate zone(s) is it in? (Tropical/Dry/Temperate/Continental/Polar)
  • LATITUDE - Where is it in relationship to the main lines of latitude (using 8 points of a compass)? (Arctic Circle/Tropic of Cancer/Equator/Tropic of Capricorn/Antarctic Circle) What is its latitude and longitude?
  • US - Where is it in relation to our village/town/city/county/country?
  • BODIES OF WATER - Which bodies of water are nearby?


A pre-populated HOTCLUB grid - a blank
version can be found in the TES download.
Questions to ask about the location…

…Of a continent:

• Which countries are in this continent?

…Of a country:

• What is the capital city?
• Which major cities are in this country?
• Which other countries are nearby?

…Of a city/town/village:

• Which country is it in?
• Which continent is it in?
• Which other cities/towns/villages are nearby?
• Which county/region is it located in?
• What is its grid reference?
• What are its origins?

General questions to ask about any continent/country/city etc:

Human Geography

• Who lives there?
• Which major landmarks are found here?
• What human-made features are found here?
• How was the land used here now and in the past?
• What types of settlement are found here?
• What kinds of economic activity happen here?
• Which natural resources can be found here?
• What is its population?
• (If studying a country) What do they export and where do they export it to?
• (If studying a country) What do they import and where do they import it from?

Physical Geography

• Which (terrestrial) biomes are found here? (Rain Forest/Deciduous Forest/Desert/Temperate Grassland/Tropical Grassland/ Taiga/Tundra)
• What lives there?
• What is the elevation like?
• Which major rivers and valleys are found here?
• Which major mountains are found here?
• Which natural disasters are known to happen here?

Additional, non-essential questions to ask (a non-exhaustive list):

• What is the place famous for?
• What kind of food is eaten there?
• Which religions are followed there?
• Which famous people are from there?
• What are houses and buildings like there?
• What happened there in the past?
• Which sports are played there?
• What is it like to live there?

Geography Units

If carrying out a geography-specific unit use the majority of the questions from STEEP in addition to the above questions in order to ask more in-depth questions about the place:

• Social
• Technological
• Economic
• Environmental
• Political

(Thanks to Geo Josie on Twitter for STEEP)

When learning about a new place (for example, during non-geography-based units, such as history-based units) always carry out these actions:

• 1st: Locate it on a map of the county/region it is in (and show where it is in relation to: other places previously studied; our country; our location; lines of latitude; hemispheres)
• 2nd: Locate it on a map of the country it is in (and show where it is in relation to: other places previously studied; our country; our location; lines of latitude; hemispheres)
• 3rd: Locate it on a map of the world (and show where it is in relation to: other places previously studied; our country; our location; lines of latitude; hemispheres)
• Use computer mapping (e.g. google maps) to zoom in to and out of the place, discussing location in relation to other known places
• Locate it on a political map (and look at nearby countries and borders)
• Locate it on a physical/topographic map (and look at elevation, mountains, rivers, bodies of water)
• Locate it on a climate map (and look at the colours used to show different climatic areas)
• Locate it on a map with a satellite image overlay
• Locate it on a globe (and show where it is in relation to: other places previously studied; our country; our location; lines of latitude; hemispheres)
• Locate it on an Ordnance Survey map (and identify its grid reference and use symbols to locate local features)
• Show images of the place (avoid only showing stereotypical images, especially when studying a whole continent or country)

Useful resources for preparing information to help children answer HOTCLUB questions:

HEMISPHERE - Which hemisphere(s) is it in?

Use Google: type in ‘ + hemisphere’ e.g. ‘Algeria Hemisphere for the following, or similar:


OTHER PLACES - Where is it in relation to other places we have studied or know about, including countries and continents (using 8 points of a compass)?


https://www.climate-zone.com/ - gives information about where any country is located in relation to nearby places


TIMEZONE - Which timezone(s) is it in?


Use Google: type in ‘ + timezone’ e.g. ‘Madagascar timezone’ for the following, or similar:



https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/personal.html - use this customisable site and the snipping tool to get a snip of clocks showing GMT and any other city in any other time zone e.g.:



https://www.worldatlas.com/ - click on a continent/country; use the ‘time’ tab to find out about timezones


CLIMATE - Which climate zone(s) is it in? (Tropical/Dry/Temperate/Continental/Polar)


Tropical (A)/Dry (B)/Temperate (C)/Continental (D)/Polar (E) are the main 5 classifications in Köppen’s climate classification system. More information can be found at the following sites:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6ppen_climate_classification


https://www.mindat.org/climate.php - use the colours on the map to ascertain climate zone


https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Geography/Climate - some of the terminology here is slightly different to Köppen’s climate classification system but it is useful nonetheless.


LATITUDE - Where is it in relationship to the main lines of latitude (using 8 points of a compass)? (Arctic Circle/Tropic of Cancer/Equator/Tropic of Capricorn/Antarctic Circle) What is its latitude and longitude?


https://www.climate-zone.com/ - gives the geographic coordinates for any country


https://www.worldatlas.com/ - use a world map from this site (or similar) to find and describe a place’s location in relation to the main lines of latitude. This site also gives latitude and longitude of any country and its main cities.

US - Where is it in relation to our village/town/city/county/country? 


Use a map to locate both places and describe position using compass points with reference to the prime meridian (Longitude 0º, Greenwich Mean Time) as this runs through the UK e.g. ‘India is to the south east of the prime meridian making it south east of the UK’


Use Google: type in ‘ to distance’ e.g. ‘UK to India distance’ for the following, or similar (add ‘km’ to search to change unit of measurement):



BODIES OF WATER - Which bodies of water are nearby?


Use a map to locate nearby major oceans and seas


Use Google: type in ‘rivers longest’ or similar e.g. ‘rivers France longest’ for the following, or similar:



Generic resources, useful for answering most of the questions:


https://www.climate-zone.com/ - gives official name, capital, area, climate, location, geographic coordinates, comparative area, land boundaries, coastline (length), terrain and elevation extremes for any country.


https://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/flags/flags.htm - flags of the world


https://www.worldatlas.com/ - for each country there are various maps (including physical, outline and location maps), basic information (including area, population, population density, currency, largest cities), history, famous natives, weather, general facts, historical timeline and more.


https://www.mapsofindia.com/worldmap/ - a wide selection of world maps can be found here including physical, political, outline, climate, tectonic plates, world time and religion maps (these maps cannot be downloaded but can be viewed on screen)


https://askabiologist.asu.edu/sites/default/files/resources/articles/biomes/world-biomes-map.gif - a useful map of the world showing biomes closely matched to the biomes selected to use (its accompanying article is useful too for defining the different biome types: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/biomes)


https://www.internetgeography.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/world-map-biomes-.png - a useful map of the world showing biomes closely matched to the biomes selected to use (its accompanying article is useful too for defining the different biome types: https://www.internetgeography.net/topics/what-is-a-biome/)


https://www.britannica.com – use this site to search for information about a place – best for countries, but also works for cities too – information for towns is limited.


https://www.kids-world-travel-guide.com/


https://www.natgeokids.com/


https://tutorful.co.uk/blog/learning-geography-useful-websites-and-resources-that-will-rock-your-world - a huge list of websites and apps to support geography learning

Monday, 10 June 2019

Empathy: A Superpower by Sita Brahmachari

"Reading helps young minds to imagine lives beyond their own: how they would cope in a crisis, if they were a refugee, or had just lost someone they loved. Books are scientifically proven to help us develop empathy.

Empathy Day is catching fire because in these divided times, our partners share our belief that empathy is a beacon of hope. Story-based strategies offer a concrete way of helping us understand each other better."

- Miranda McKearney OBE, founder of EmpathyLab

Now here's Sita Brahmachari to tell us more about her experience of Empathy Day and of writing books which develop empathy in their readers: 

For Empathy Lab last year I worked in Sheffield Libraries and met families at Empathy cafés. We read from my stories 'Worry Angels' (Barrington Stoke) and 'Tender Earth' (Macmillan Children’s Books) and I held Empathy workshops with young people including those from Beck School in Sheffield.

We explored joining hands together, meeting new people and building empathy within the community. Many wonderful interactions were formed and afterwards a young family sent me a letter (left). When I first met Tanisha and Nawzad and their mother the girls had silky hair down to their calves. At the second meeting the girls had cut their hair and sent it to children with cancer who needed children’s downy hair for their wigs. They said after the workshop they wanted to do something that meant a lot to them. They were so proud of their empathetic action telling me that their hair would grow and they were happy to think that a child they would never meet would find some comfort from their healthy hair.

As with all truly empathetic actions their kindness and generosity moved me. In my forthcoming story ‘Where The River Runs Gold’ (Orion Books) Shifa (meaning healing in Arabic) cuts her hair too in an act of empathy towards her family. Feelings of empathy once seeded grow more empathy.

Empathy is the golden treasure to be discovered in fiction and in life and I think of it as the superpower that can be quietly ignited in the minds and hearts of readers as they discover characters in worlds they may not yet have travelled to, or indeed may never, in reality, have access to. I believe that stories can open children’s empathy portals and offer them a life-long exploration of what it is to be human.

At a recent event at Shropshire Book Award with wonderful authors and human rights activists Liz Laird and Beverly Naidoo a student asked a question that was hard to answer: How do you write such humane books?

It set me thinking that it’s often hard for authors to talk about their process because to do so there is a temptation to make writing in empathy ink seem much neater and tidier than it ever is. Communication is complex; to truly meet another human being requires time, care and space. As Amy May in ‘Worry Angels’ says: ‘If you have a friend and you don’t share much of the same language you have to put spaces between things when you talk to each other. … I like that space when you can rest. I think if I could have that space with everyone, no matter what language they speak , where I have time to read people’s body language and look in their eyes and time to take in their words, then I wouldn’t worry so much.’ ( p77 ‘Worry Angels’)

In this story Amy May makes friends with Rima who has recently arrived from Syria with her family. Through play, art and observing each other closely Amy May and Rima discover that they have much in common though they come from very different worlds. Amy May discovers something truly precious: ‘When I sit with Rima I understand that most of the things we want to build in the sand are the same’ (p75)

Through my work with Jane Ray at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants in London I know this to be true and when presented with stories that open the empathy portal in them, children recognise it too.

When I think of Amy May’s and Rima’s interaction the words of the late MP Jo Cox are never far from my mind and heart. Amy May’s words echo Jo Cox’s call for unity in a time in which we are seeing unprecedented racially motivated attacks.

Taneisha’s and Nawzad’s empathetic action of hair cutting seems to me to be deeply connected to what writing for young people is all about.

The question How do you write such humane stories? can only be answered when I think of a book in the hands of young readers: the circuit of empathy is only completed when the reader roams in the space that Amy May speaks of and feels deeply enough to allow the story to impact on their lives and interactions.

As I return to Sheffield to spend the day with the children of Beck School on World Empathy Day 2019 I feel the importance of this work in our world today. In a whole school empathy focused day we plan to create a river of golden empathetic words on an art wall at the school… as well as an empathy ‘Graffitree’ like the trees artists paint across a dystopian city where children’s imaginations and storytelling is under threat in ‘Where The River Runs Gold’.

 The narratives we share with young people matter deeply. Golden words hold within them the power to open empathy portals in children’s imaginations and impact on their lives and communities. I’m so happy to be part of Empathy Lab’s children’s book community who understand the need to nurture this golden empathy river.

Although many of Sita's books are suitable for older primary aged children, her book Car Wash Wish is featured in Empathy Lab's 2019 Read For Empathy Guide for young people aged 11-16 which can be accessed here. Click here for the Read For Empathy Guide for primary aged children.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Cross-Curricular Links in 'The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon' (Blog Post by Christopher Edge)

One of the joys of writing for children is seeing the inspiration that young readers take from a story you have written. I’m often contacted by teachers via Twitter showing me the amazing creations their classes have produced after reading one of my novels and when I visit schools I get to see this inspirational work first-hand, from Möbius strip sculptures inspired by 'The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day' to playground rocket launches straight out of 'The Jamie Drake Equation' and fabulous creative writing where young authors have taken Albie Bright into many more exciting new worlds.

The 'Longest Night of Charlie Noon' is a story about three children who get lost in the woods, and at its heart it’s a mystery story. As Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny make their way through the woods they find strange dangers and impossible puzzles lurking in the shadows, and I hope the excitement and intrigue readers will find in the story will get them reading closely to find the clues they need to solve the mystery. As readers, they can make inference and predictions as they follow Charlie’s path through the woods, with the twists and turns of the story also maybe challenging assumptions they might make and showing them the rewards of close reading.

The puzzles in the story can also be used to help develop children’s problem solving skills. From decoding ciphers to building circuits to create their own Morse code keys, 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' shows how stories can be used to connect subjects across the school curriculum. As Charlie tries to use the stars to find a way out of the woods, links can be made to the topic of ‘Earth and Space’ in the science curriculum and the movement of stars across the night sky, whilst other science topics such as the life cycles of trees, plants and flowers and how fossils are formed are also touched on in the story. Connections could be made to Geography too, with children learning about changing environments and carrying out nature audits in their own local area, whilst there are also links to History too.

As someone who’s never been much of an outdoor type, writing 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' has helped me to connect to the natural world in a way that has fed my imagination. From mentions of 'The Wind in the Willows' to echoes of 'Brendon Chase' by ‘B B’, there are opportunities to make connections with classic works of children’s fiction and nature writing. A vocabulary of the natural world is woven through the story and I hope that young readers take these words and make them their own, enriching their vocabularies and using this wild inspiration to create their own art and stories.

Teaching resources for 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' are available from my website (https://www.christopheredge.co.uk/resources) and if you read the book with your class, I’d love to hear about the inspiration they find in the story. And please tell them to keep reading and change the world.