Showing posts with label book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book. Show all posts

Friday, 17 May 2019

The Primary Curriculum Leader's Handbook


I am pleased to say that I have a short essay in John Catt's 'The Primary Curriculum Leader's Handbook', edited by Roy Blatchford who has 'has brought together some of the sharpest thinkers in education in a brilliant mixture of both practical and conceptual essays about what makes for a positive primary curriculum'.

Here's the opening of my chapter which is entitled 'Apprentices and Masterclasses' and which reflects the current practice that my school and my colleagues have been developing:

The National Curriculum, with a degree of effort, is fairly easy to cover, once you’ve got to grips with what some of the statements mean. If everything is planned out well, a school can ensure that all the statements are ticked off, at least in their intent, even if sometimes some objectives are lost at the implementation stage. But is that the sort of curriculum you want? One that is concerned with ticking
boxes?

You’ll have seen the delivery of this sort of curriculum in action. An afternoon’s art lesson often concludes with 30 pieces of near-identical artwork, 31 if you include the teacher’s piece that ‘inspired’ all the children. A Design and Technology unit that is concerned with making sure that at the end of the half term all children proudly present their parents with a glue-gunned photograph frame that, choice of embellishment aside, is the same each one of their classmates’...

The book costs £15 and is out on 22nd May abut it can be pre-ordered here now: http://www.johncattbookshop.com/titles/the-primary-curriculum-leader-s-handbook

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Book Review: 'Girl 38 Finding a Friend' by Ewa Jozefkowicz

'Girl 38 Finding A Friend', brings to life not only a narrative of present and past, but also introduces a third storyline in the form of an imaginary story which is being written by the story's main character, Kat.

In her second novel for children, Ewa Jozefkowicz draws on the second world war experiences of her own grandmother in Poland. Her story is told by the lips (and paintbrush) of Kat's elderly neighbour Ania, who tells her life story in installments throughout the book. The modern day storyline focuses on the arrival of a new boy at school - a boy who Kat's supposed best friend is intent upon bullying. But Gem doesn't do her own dirty work - that's what she's developed her toxic relationship with Kat for.

If Kat's conscience isn't enough to put her off the cruel things that she's putting Julius through, then Ania's story is. The book itself is a celebration of the power of narrative; through listening to someone else's tale, whilst simultaneously creating her own comic strip, Kat develops her empathy towards others.

And that's just what this book will do for its readers. The elderly are not to be snubbed or looked down upon - they are wonderful people with vast experience and understanding of life and what it is to be human. Newcomers are always potential friends - people who can expand our horizons and open our eyes. Friends are supposed to be friendly - they are meant to do good to you, not harm. It even hints at the fact that even the nastiest people might have a back story that we need to know so as to understand their negative behaviour.

As with other narratives in this vein - Once by Morris Gleitzman and The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailier, for example - there is also the exploration of how, in war, not everything is black and white - there are good people trying to do good things despite their circumstances; despite looking like the enemy.

Suitable for children in upper key stage 2 and older, this delicately written yet compelling book would be a great read for those who enjoy history and slightly more grown-up themes in their reading material. Very much a coming-of-age novel, 'Girl 38 Finding a Friend' (a clever title with dual meaning) will sit well alongside recent books such as 'Armistice Runner' by Tom Palmer and 'Closest Thing To Flying' by Gill Lewis, as well as the aforementioned older books.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Book Review: 'The Middler' by Kirsty Applebaum

I knew nothing about 'The Middler', nor Kirsty Applebaum, before I decided to read this book. Yet I was drawn to it. Perhaps it was the fact that I hadn't seen everyone raving about it before I read it - I'm not much of a fan of being part of the herd.

But now I am. I am now just adding to the many voices who are singing the praise of Kirsty Applebaum's debut novel. It would seem that I was not the only one to be drawn by the magic of a book which gives very little away at first glance.  It's funny that I should mention magic, actually. This isn't yet another MG book relying on magic to provide all the answers, but it is a magical book. Not only was I unable to resist this book when came the time to start something new, I was also in thrall to it throughout - I read it at an unnatural pace.

Gently unsettling, at least to begin with, the reader is drawn into the mindset of a small town, a town which could be anywhere, who appear to venerate their eldest children above all others. Things begin to appear gradually more menacing as it is revealed that no one is allowed outside of the town, that any outsiders (or 'wanderers') are regarded with deep suspicion, worse even: hatred. And then there's the matter of all eldests being sent off to fight the silent war.

The depiction of family life within a close-knit, closed-minded community is reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird; the air of mystery is akin to that in Holes. And when you find out where the eldests are supposedly going, one can't help but think of The Hunger Games. Now I don't usually make comparisons in reviews and honestly, I'm not making comparisons here, either. Truly, The Middler stands tall amongst the aforementioned tomes and in no way is a derivative of anything else. Despite my making links between this and other books, I would happily claim that this book is unique, something else - a new experience.

When Maggie, a quiet middle child, meets Una - someone she's been indoctrinated to hate - she battles internally with her feelings about the developing friendship. Her heart tells her there is no reason for her to despise her - her head, fed with songs and lies about outsiders, tells her otherwise. If this story line isn't a lesson in empathy that most of us could learn from, then I don't know what is.

Perhaps this is a deeply political novel with themes for children and adults to unpick together, and to relate to current affairs or historical events. Perhaps it's a perfect introduction to post-apocalyptic literature. Or maybe it's really a story about family, friendship, loyalty, curiosity, challenging the status quo and doing the right thing, even when everyone else seems to think it's wrong.

Whatever it is, however we might choose to define it (we, because you will read it - you must), its absolutely certain that 'The Middler' deserves all the praise it gets. Kirsty Applebaum is certainly a name to watch out for in the world of children's books - I'm already looking forward to the next one. Perhaps I'll just read this one again.

Kirsty Applebaum has written a blog post for me entitled Showing Instead of Telling in The Middler which gives advice to budding writers about how to make sure the reader know what characters are like without telling them.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Frank Cottrell-Boyce - Reviewed By Children


To celebrate the new republished, redesigned versions of Frank Cottrell Boyce's well-loved books 'Millions', 'Framed', 'Cosmic', 'The Astounding Broccoli Boy' and 'Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth' I've gathered together some reviews from the people who really matter: the children who read and love them.

Steven Lenton (who illustrated the older versions) has designed new covers which are sure to give these modern classics a new lease of life and a brand new audience, but why should you and your children read them? Let's find out...

Cosmic - a review by Thomas Groves, age 13.

Everyone loves space don’t they?

Liam is a very, very tall boy for his age. He’s so tall in fact, that people often mistake him for a grown up. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Book Cosmic embraces this when he is mistaken for the new teacher at his new school and has to present an assembly and also when he later nearly gets away with test driving a new Porsche!

Things only get more laugh-out-loud funny when he is mistaken for his father by a woman who offers him the chance to take part in a very special competition that will make him ‘a hero in the eyes of his children’. He takes up the offer, wins and then ends up being launched into space with four other children. When things go wrong, can he save the day?

My favourite character is Liam because he is very plucky and easy to relate to and because he gets into lots of scrapes which only get more and more hilarious as the story goes on.

I like this book because it is very funny and moving and shows good and bad human qualities and a great plot.

I would heartily recommend it for all ages.


Broccoli Boy - a review by Jake Niemi, age 9

Broccoli Boy is an interesting, adventurous story about a boy called Rory Rooney, who is being bullied by a horrible bully called Grim Komissky. (That’s not his real name, Grim would be an odd first name.) One day, on a school trip, Rory turns bright green and is taken to the hospital. Imagine his shock and surprise when he finds out he’s there, and trapped, with none other than his bully! After believing turning green means he’s a superhero and he’s going to save the world he finds out he’s not actually the only one who’s green.

This book is brilliant, it’s cool, interesting and amazing. It has all the things that kids need: laughter, friendship and a reminder that adults don’t know it all even if they act like they do (in fact, adults should read this too!) I rate it 5/5 and think any child would love this book, in fact you’ll be wanting the whole collection of books! Hope you enjoy reading!

Remember, as the book says, ‘The thing that makes you different is the thing that makes you astounding.’


Sputnik’s Guide To Planet Earth by Shannon Finlan, age 14

Sputnik’s Guide To Planet Earth is a light-hearted fun tale of an orphan boy named Prez who has an encounter with a dog who is actually an alien, whilst living in the countryside in a foster home. Prez is a young carer to his Grandfather who has been dignosed with dementia. Caring for his Grandfather is a fun day-to-day chore for Prez, with laughter and games around the house... Or so it seems. 


As we delve deeper into the book however, we learn that the protagonists grandfather’s dementia is no longer a laughable silly matter and it’s actually quite heart breaking and sad. I could really relate to this with my personal experience of my Grandad’s dementia. With personal experience as a child seeing my Grandad’s memory deteriorate, I didn’t fully understand the severity of the condition at the similar age that Prez is in the book. Towards the end of the book as Prez begun to understand the condition more, I could relate to when I also began to understand that Dementia was more than silly jokes about things like forgetting about the rules of card games, getting names wrong, to forgetting completely those close around you.

Frank Cottrell Boyce uses an excellent ratio of light-hearted humour to sadness to make the book having you want to laugh and cry. This is an amazing viewpoint into a young carer's life to which Frank Cottrell Boyce has shown how a child, such as Prez, would interpret the situation at hand. I cried for hours after I had finished reading the book, it really pulled at my heart strings. I would highly recommend this book to children and adults alike.

Now head over to my Twitter to feed to take part in my competition to win a whole set! (Competition runs from 21/2/19 to 24/2/19 at 8pm)

Don't forget to look out for Frank's new book for World Book Day this March: The Great Rocket Robbery is a brilliant little story perfect for new and old fans alike.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Book Review: 'The Closest Thing To Flying' by Gill Lewis

If you're looking for a book to provoke conversation with children and young people, then this would be a good choice. Especially if you want to tackle, or just discuss, issues such as bullying, discrimination against women and human trafficking.

Semira, a refugee from Eritrea, discovers an old diary of a girl living at the end of the Victorian period. As she reads it, a bond spanning the chasm of time develops between her and Henrietta. Samira identifies with the plight of voiceless 19th century British women and is ultimately inspired by their courage to escape her own situation. Although this concept isn't original, it is certainly done well in 'The Closest Thing To Flying'.

I've read several books for children and young adults centring around the lives of refugees but this is the first one which truly takes on the theme of human trafficking. Robel provided safe passage for Semira and her mum when Semira was little but now, in the UK, he is controlling them, forcing Semira's mum into a sham marriage, taking all the money from the jobs she works and providing them with inadequate food and living conditions. Whereas many of us are aware of the term 'human trafficking', there is still little understanding of what this can incorporate, or how we can help.

But the diary isn't Semira's only lifeline. Thankfully she has school - another new one - where she meets and makes good friends, particularly with Patrick. Patrick has known life with an abusive father, however his mum's current partner provides the antidote to the other patriarchal (and just plain vile) male adults in the story. He up-cycles bicycles, bakes delicious cake and always has time to listen. Patrick's family's response to Semira's plight is a real example of how people can actually help those who are being trafficked.

Gill Lewis skilfully weaves the historical and present storylines together with various strengthening threads: readers will love spotting the links which focus on birds and bicycles. Henrietta is present at the formation of what is now known as the RSPB (all the names mentioned are actual historical people - lots of scope for further research and learning) and Patrick is an avid birdwatcher. The hat that Semira finds with the diary has on it a bird which she has memories of from her home country. Henrietta rides one of the first bicycles whilst delivering leaflets about the Society for the Protection of Birds and Semira discovers her own love of cycling. All of these links definitely mark this out as a work of fiction (a very well-realised one) yet they are what makes it such a joy to read, despite its tough content.

This would be a perfect read for children in upper key stage two, as well as children in key stage three. I'd totally recommend that parents and teachers read it if their children are reading it - not because the content is tricky, just because it would be such a shame to miss the opportunities for discussion that it affords!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Book Review: 'The Dog Who Saved The World' by Ross Welford

'The Dog Who Saved The World' is Ross Welford's fourth book since 'Time Travelling With A Hamster' was published in 2016. In his latest novel for children Ross returns to the North East of England - Whitley Bay to be specific - and to the theme of time travel.

Except, there's a nice modern twist to the time travel aspect of the plot: Georgie Santos must travel forward in time in order to bring back a cure for a worldwide epidemic which is killing dogs and humans. Oh, and she doesn't actually need to really time travel - she's going to a virtual-reality 3D version of the future!

It all starts when Georgia and her best mate Ramzy meet the mysterious Dr. Pretorius when walking Mr Mash, the dog who will eventually go on to save the world. But before he does Georgie and Ramzy are going to wade through composting dog waste to rescue him, keep him secretly in a barn, evade the police in a rickety VW campervan, barricade themselves inside the Spanish City and nearly win the lottery. To begin with, the reader is left wondering how all the aspects of the story presented in the first half of the book will eventually entwine; this gives way to an adrenaline-filled sequence of events which results in triumph for the heroes of the story.

Once again bringing sci-fi themes to easily accessible children's literature, Ross Welford assembles a realistically diverse cast of well-drawn characters to embark on this barmy adventure set in the near-future. Along the way, Welford subtly causes readers to think. What was life like for Ramzy before he came to the UK if he had to slash the tyres of rebel soldiers without being shot? What's it like for children like Ramzy who don't have much money? How would I feel if my mum had died and my dad had a new girlfriend - could I grow to love her? How would we deal with a world-wide crisis?

The story is all told from Georgie's point of view and children will enjoy the chatty, informal style but will benefit from this being really well written. Although written from a child's perspective, perceptive readers will pick up cleverly placed clues and be one step ahead of Georgie at times - that feeling of being let in on secrets by the author is a very enjoyable one for children to experience.

A great holiday read for upper key stage 2 and key stage 3 readers, 'The Dog Who Saved The World'  will be enjoyed by girls and boys alike, and if its a shared read aloud, parents too will be happy to dig in and get involved.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Book Review: 'Football School Seasons 1, 2 and 3' by Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton

Knowledge-rich curricula are all the rage in schools at the moment, and rightly so. And what better than knowledge-rich books to supplement what's being taught at school? I'll tell you: really interesting, really fun knowledge-rich books. Such books as Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton have written together: the Football School books.

The front cover of each of the three books carries the tagline 'Where football explains the world'. And although on each book the word 'explains' is crossed out and replaced (by 'rules', 'saves' and 'tackles') it really isn't just rhetoric. These books truly transcend football by using it as a conduit through which to explore a whole world of general knowledge as well as the football trivia.

The three books all follow the same format, kicking off with a contents page designed like a school timetable covering traditional subjects such as PSHE, History, Geography as well as some more specialist ones like Psychology, Philosophy, Business Studies and Computer Science.

Football lovers will devour the wealth of facts about football teams, players, team strips and will enjoy picking up playing tips too: there's a whole section on the psychology of taking a penalty, for example!

But the books' really majesty is in the fact that they are full of general knowledge that is unrelated to football. From sections about World War 1 to profiles of famous footballing countries such as Brazil readers will come away knowing about much more than just football. Book 3 even has a whole section about sleep which introduces its readers to terminology such as 'transitional phase' and 'circadian rhythm'.

And, just to make sure that some of the information is remembered, each section (or lesson) ends with a quiz about the chapter. With a multiple choice format these quizzes don't just focus on the football information but also on the general knowledge featured in the books.

But this sort of book wouldn't get a look-in without illustrations - Spike Gerrell's cartoon style makes for that winning formula of facts plus funny pictures; that format made popular by the Horrible Histories books. Children who love those and who are fans of books such as Diary of the Wimpy kid will be immediately drawn to these books. And it's not just the illustrations and the texts that appeal - the layout keeps things fresh with every page has its own interesting layout. Boredom will not be an issue whilst children (or adults) read these books.

With their simple yet engaging language the Football School books are pretty much an essential for any school bookshelf. Not that they would stay on the shelf for long - these are the exact sort of books that non-fiction lovers will be queuing up to borrow.

Book Review: 'Roy of the Rovers: Scouted' by Tom Palmer

This isn't just another football book to hook reluctant boys into reading. And it most certainly isn't a poor spin-off of the Roy of the Rovers comic strip which first appeared over 60 years ago in British comic Tiger. No, this is so much more and Tom Palmer has more than done justice to the Roy Race of old.

As a non-football fan I approached the book somewhat hesitantly thinking that maybe it wasn't for me. However, that hesitance was tempered by the knowledge that Tom Palmer really does write a good book - if there was any football novel I was going to like, it was going to be this one.

What this book, and its follow-up 'Kick-Off' (a graphic novel by Rob Williams and Ben Willsher), has made me realise is that one of the reasons why people love football so much is the narrative, the story, that goes along with it. It isn't just 22 players kicking a pumped up bit of leather around a piece of grass - it's everything that happens in between as well: the pre- and post-match analysis, the news stories about signings and finance, the drama of a game as seen from both the pitch and the stands, the rivalry between fans, the common ground it provides. It is the individual and interweaving human stories that make football the world's favourite sport - and Tom Palmer portrays that so well.

But 'Roy of the Rovers: Scouted' goes much further than just the football. Roy's dad's brain tumour operation went wrong and now he's paralysed down his left side and can't speak. Roy's mum is trying to work enough to provide for the family and lots of the caring falls to Roy and his sister. This theme is explored sensitively throughout as Roy's loyalty to both his game and his beloved dad are tested. Themes of love, bullying, friendship and commitment are weaved throughout the whole plot making this such a rich, emotional text.

There's also very strong female representation in the book - both Roy's sister, Rocky, and his new friend, Ffion, are excellent footballers and die-hard football fans - there's a great part near the end where Ffion calls Roy on his ignorance of women's football right before Rocky discovers that there is a team she can play for.

Football-lovers will love the description of on-pitch action which is pacy yet satisfyingly detailed. Lisa Henke's stylish illustrations, in particular cases are works of art - it's a shame her bold and stylised images didn't make it onto the front cover.

This is a book that I am looking forward to putting on the shelves at school - I know already that it will be a popular title amongst our football-loving children (not just boys!). The fact that is part of a growing 'saga', published by Rebellion, is another plus point - those who are hooked by the first two books will hopefully have more to access afterwards, not to mention Tom Palmer's own back catalogue of sport-related books.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Book Review: 'Little Bits of Sky' by S.E. Durrant

If I were to be lazy I'd describe 'Little Bits of Sky' as an emotional rollercoaster of a story about two children in care. But I have to do better than that - this book really deserves a review that does it justice.

In any case, it's not truly an emotional rollercoaster because S.E. Durrant so accurately depicts how life, even in tough circumstances, runs on the parallel tracks of opposing emotions. Siblings Ira (real name Miracle) and Zac live in a children's home and they know only too well how any given moment can be both joyful and full of sorrow. Readers of this book will experience just that - within a paragraph they will likely feel the urge to laugh aloud but be stopped from doing so by the lump in their throat.

And it is Durrant's beautiful prose that makes this possible. The writing is supremely believable as the thoughts of a child, recorded in a semi-diary form. The authenticty comes as a result of the inclusion of the small details that an optimistic child wanting to make the best of their life would focus on. Surprisingly it is these small details that keep the reader hooked - the storyline itself is slow-moving allowing plenty of space for a realistic portrayal of the world Ira, Zac and their fellow housemates live in: the coming and going, the behaviour of other children, school days, the relationships with social workers, siblings, teachers, friends, the coping mechanisms, the questions about parents.

What this everyday-ness ultimately achieves is a real feeling of empathy towards the children and a sense of mounting elation (and some dashed expectations) as the children go away to stay with Martha, a retired teacher who lives in a town outside of London. The story also contains some great twists as well as a surprising amount of history: the previously unchartered waters (in children's fiction) of the Poll Tax Riots in the late 80s are the setting for this brilliant novel.

Old or young, this moving story prompts reflection on the need for love and a sense of belonging, and the human ability to overcome adversity. Quite frankly, I wish every book I read were like this one - its gentle exploration of what it is to be a child, to be a person, is stimulating and somehow satisfyingly enjoyable. Substance, meaning and authenticity flow out of every page of 'Little Bits of Sky'. Do read it - everyone I've recommended it to so far has not been disappointed.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Book Review: Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me by Eloise Greenfield and Ehsan Abdollahi

In this heartwarming book of poems from Tiny Owl, poet Eloise Greenfield and illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi have collaborated to entertain and educate their young readers.

Veteran author Elosie Greenfield convincingly occupies the mind of both a young boy (Jace) and his puppy (Thinker). The majority of the poems in ‘Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me’ – kind of a book version of a concept album – are written from the perspective of the puppy, and the results are far better than that makes it sound. The naïve and innocent view point of the dog will cause young readers to stop, wonder and to consider the world they live in – adults too.

“tell me, why cold, cold water turns to ice, why some folks are mean and some are nice…”

And this isn’t just a collection of poems. They are sequenced in a chronological order so that a story is told: the puppy arrives, he is named, he gets to know his family, he wants to go to school with his boy but can’t, he stays home with his boy’s little sister, then triumph! he is allowed to go to pets day at school – the proud crescendo of this lovely little book.

As children read they will be unwittingly exposed to a wide range of poetry – much of it free verse, but not exclusively. There’s also a haiku, a rap and other forms which are intriguing to explore and possibly emulate with children (Birds Fly has a 2/3/4/4/3/2 syllable structure). Greenfield herself leaves a short comment on poetry at the end of the book helping children to understand a little more about what they have just read or heard.

Abdollahi brings a great deal to the table here too. Tiny Owl’s mission to bring a “greater awareness of the diverse and colourful world we live in” to their readers is helped massively by the vibrant pictures which accompany the text, and sometimes occupy whole double-page spreads. This is an impeccably-presented book making it seem more than the sum of its already considerable parts – in fact, it feels like a gift, something to be treasured.

Children and adults alike will love the inspiring philosophical playfulness of this beautiful tome: it’d make a perfect family present – one which will allow all generations to share in the joy of these poems.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Book Review: Red and the City by Marie Voigt

Retellings of fairy tales are not exactly few and far between: whilst some of them take the original route there are others which add something of a twist to the tale. And plenty of these retellings are great and are genuinely enjoyable. But ‘Red and the City’ by Marie Voigt doesn’t quite fall into either of the aforementioned categories – it is something else.

On one level it is a retelling where, instead of going through the woods to grandma’s house, Red goes through a city. But it’s actually deeper, and arguably far darker, than the original story. In Voigt’s version there is no literal wolf – the wolf is the allure of the city, or, more accurately, the potentially-damaging attractions and dangers of real life.

Spotting the wolf in each picture provided great amusement when reading this with my own children. But enjoyable isn’t all this book is – it is also highly thought provoking: why has Voigt decided to make billboards, fast food outlets, ATMs and so on into the big bad wolf in her version of the story? You’d be surprised at how easily children understand the metaphor with a little discussion.

In fact, it’s the brilliant illustrations, and the red, white and black colour palette, that really helps children to understand how dangerous some of life’s pleasures can be when they are given too much importance. The fact that Red is temporarily drawn in by these things instead of visiting her grandma is not lost on children and the red heart-shaped flowers that lead the way to grandma’s are a hint at what the author thinks is truly important in life.

There is an awful lot to talk about with this book but it can be read and enjoyed without doing so. Because of this it’s a book that could easily be read and understood by a wide age range, not excluding adults. It stands up admirably to repeat readings – readers will notice new details in the text and the pictures each time they open it. Reading it alongside others reveals further interpretations too making ‘Red and the City’ a great talking point. A must read.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Book Review: 'Ottoline and the Purple Fox' by Chris Riddell

Two of my daughters (year 1 and year 3 currently) became instafans of Chris Riddell's Ottoline character after I picked up a hardback copy of 'Ottoline at Sea' on a whim. I then borrowed a copy of 'Ottoline and the Yellow Cat' from the school library (must take that back before I leave this summer) which they subsequently devoured. 'Ottoline Goes to School' was purchased with pooled pocket money and enjoyed just as much as the others.

Then came 'Ottoline and the Purple Fox' - time for me to really see what the fuss was all about. Published recently by Pan Macmillan in paperback, you soon forget it doesn't have the fancy covers and extra bits and bobs (Bog Goggles, school badge collection, postcard collection) - the richly illustrated pages draw you in that much. Chris Riddell fans will just revel in the sheer volume of his wonderful images.

A story told just as much in the pictures as in the text, Ottoline and Mr. Munroe's latest adventure is as zany and quirky as one might expect. In actuality, this is a love story, complete with poetry - it's Ottoline's task to discover who the mysterious poet is and who they are in love with. On the way we meet a crazy cast of characters including shy gorillas, library flamingoes and the bear who lives in the basement (not to mention a dream sequence featuring one of Chris Riddell's other characters, Goth Girl).

Every now and then Riddell includes a page of drawings too intriguing to skim over quickly - the richness of the pictures are sure to prompt lots of conversation between an adult and child reader. In fact, reading activities abound within the pages of this book - this one should be on the shelves of all teachers in lower key stage two.

And Ottoline is such an adorable, non-typical girl character that I'd say it's pretty important for boys and girls to get to know her. She's strong-minded, independent but also thoughtful and kind. Her inquisitive mind and penchant for problem solving makes her a great role model, albeit a fictional one.

Now excuse me whilst I go and read the others - this one has certainly whetted my appetite!

Friday, 8 June 2018

More Books That Encourage Children To #ReadForEmpathy

Last year for Empathy Day, organised by Empathy Lab UK, I recommended 6 books that encourage children to read for empathy: 'The Unforgotten Coat' by Frank Cottrell Boyce; 'Oranges in No Man's Land' by Elizabeth Laird; 'The Goldfish Boy' by Lisa Thompson; 'My Dad's A Birdman' by David Almond; 'Tall Story' by Candy Gourlay; and 'Noah Barleywater Runs Away' by John Boyne.

Back in October I led a workshop at the Reading Rocks conference entitled 'The More-ness Of Reading'. In it I provided a more extensive list of books that are great for developing empathy as well as whole host of quotes and research explaining why reading for empathy is such a good idea: https://wherereadingrocks.wordpress.com/2017/10/14/the-more-ness-of-reading-by-thatboycanteach/

Since then I've read rather a few more books that easily fall into the category of books that develop empathy in their readers. And with the second Empathy Day taking place on June 12th 2018 it seemed right to produce another list.

Given that my last list contained no non-fiction, I'd like to begin by highlighting a few titles, which, whilst still narratives, tell the stories of real life people.

Coming To England: An Autobiography - Floella Benjamin

Although open and honest about the difficult experiences of a child moving to a new country, this book is written in such a simple way that it is very accessible for young readers - I'd recommend it for emotionally ready year 3 children and upwards. It is fairly hard-hitting - younger readers will definitely benefit from being able to discuss their reading with an adult - but is a great gateway to helping children understand how others feel when they arrive in a strange place where they experience prejudice and hardship. Given that this is a live issue for the UK it is important that children up and down the country understand as they help their new classmates to settle in.

Dear World - Bana Alabed

Another autobiography, this time written by then 8 year old Syrian Bana Alabed. Whilst still in Syria and experiencing firsthand the terrors of civil war in Aleppo Bana took to Twitter in order to share her story - her first tweet read 'I need peace'. As with 'Coming To England' this book is written in a simple way making it accessible to children the same age as Bana and upwards. It is a truly moving account - I admit to crying several times - and is the book I remember more than any others when I consider what I can do to help those fleeing such crises. People who seek refuge in the UK need to be welcomed by open arms, especially the children, and it is books like this that will help our children to resist the racist rhetoric that can be so pervasive and instead show kindness to those who are fleeing their homes.

Malala Yousafzai - Claire Throp

Presented in the usual non-fiction format that you'd typically find in a school library this informative book tells Malala's life story. It's both eye-opening and inspiring, and whilst being an obvious heroine for Muslims and girls there is encouragement to all our young people in the account of Malala's life. As with the previous two books, this volume explains carefully another reason why people might leaving their country in search of another life - to learn about the prejudice and oppression Malala faced from the Taliban in her own country should prompt children to assess their own attitudes towards women and minority groups.

And now for some fiction:

The Kites Are Flying! - Michael Murpurgo

Set in the West Bank this short story explores how Jewish and Palestinian children live in the shadow of the wall and the war that divides them. Contains such a tingle down the spine moment that this is absolutely essential reading. This is a story that will begin to give children an idea of the unrest that goes on overseas, as well as an idea of how this affects children such as themselves. This is 'The Kite Runner' for children.

Skeleton Tree - Kim Ventrella

Death. A tricky, tricky subject for children's books. From my review: "Ventrella cleverly explores the very real experience of how mixed emotions come into play during the loss of a loved one. The skeleton is funny (there are laugh-out-loud moments) and he brings some light relief to what is otherwise a very sad story... The book may help some children to explore the emotions felt during a bereavement."

The Light Jar - Lisa Thompson

This book tackles a rare subject in children's literature: domestic abuse. From my review: "'The Light Jar' is a book that digs deep into human emotion, validating the gamut of thoughts and feelings that children the world over will feel on a day-to-day basis. And with all the current news of young people's mental health issues, books like these are crucial in normalising and validating the responses our children have to difficult life circumstances; 'The Light Jar' will provide illumination in the darkness of some of its readers' lives."

Sky Song - Abi Elphinstone

From my review: "Sky Song is an important lesson in why tribalism, whilst comfortable, will not save the day - a political message that might give children a starting point to thinking about what their role on the world stage might be. Flint's character provides hope that people can change their ideological views in order to become more mindful of others. The character of his sister Blu, based on Elphinstone's own relative who has Down's Syndrome, is also a possible discussion starter for readers to explore and change their thoughts about those with genetic disorders and resulting learning difficulties."

The Wonderling - Mira Bartok

The Wonderling is an Oliver Twist-style adventure with, er... a twist. It is set in a world inhabited by humans, animals and humanoid mixed-breed creatures - foundlings - who are despised by the others. It focuses on the adventures of one such orphan foundling as he escapes the workhouse in order to discover who he really is. This book is a great starting point for empathising with children of the Victorian era who suffered in poverty but it also has modern parallels to children still living in similar situations all over the world.

How To Bee - Bren MacDibble

This difficult yet compelling read is a great dystopian exploration of the gap that exists between rich and poor and as such would be a good way to help children feel empathy for children and adults les fortunate than themselves. From my review: "The subject of domestic abuse – both physical and emotional, towards adults and children – makes this a tough read in places, particularly for the aforementioned age bracket. I would suggest that this book is better suited to teenage readers for this reason."

The Phantom Lollipop Man - Pamela Butchart

From my review: "Despite this looking like a funny book, it actually tackles quite a serious subject matter – so much so that I actually almost had a little cry at the end... It ends up as an exploration of loneliness and old age and is a gentle reminder to any reader to value all members of society, especially those at risk of becoming marginalised. This aspect of the book makes it fully rounded and a perfect read for anyone in lower key stage two..."

The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle - Victoria Williamson

Featuring a Syrian refugee and a girl experiencing severe domestic issues this book is a must-read for upper key stage two children. From my review: "This is a book that I wish every child would read. Politically and socially our children need to be living the out the story in this book if the world is going to have any sort of peaceful future. The book's dual message that differences ought to be celebrated and common ground should be sought is too important for this generation to miss out on. Books such as this are a safe space in which to explore the everyday issues that children might face - we must get these books into their hands."

The Mystery Of The Colour Thief - Ewa Jozefkowich

This is book about how a child deals with the illness of a parent. It also features a positive-thinking wheelchair user and a whole lot of kindness and hope. From my review: "In this beautifully-written story debut author Ewa Jozefkowicz deftly explores issues that young children may well come up against in real life. 'The Mystery of the Colour Thief' will bring comfort to those with similar experiences to those portrayed and will help those who haven't to be that little bit more understanding of those who have."

Illegal - Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano

As Andrew Donkin explains in his guest blog post for me: "We wanted to show our readers the situations that Ebo and Kwame find themselves in and invite our readers to imagine how the brothers might be feeling. We wanted to ask our readers to empathise with them and to imagine how they would feel in their place." From my review: "Rather than seeking to cash in, as the media did for a while, Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano seek to humanise the stories from the news reports. Human beings respond well to narratives and by telling the story of Ebo and Kwame, two brothers attempting to make it from Africa to Europe, the creators of 'Illegal' succeed in making real two of the nameless, faceless victims of whom we read in our newspapers."


Max and the Millions - Ross Montgomery

From my review: "Max loves making models; he’s also deaf. This representation of a ‘minority group’ is important in children’s literature. Montgomery writes sensitively and convincingly about the trials a deaf child might face making this an important lesson in empathy for young readers... [children will] be caused to think about how first impressions don’t always count, how kindness and selflessness are key characteristics to develop in oneself and how forgiveness is an essential ingredient for peace and friendship."

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Guest Post: Changing Personalities by Dr. Gary Haq

In my new children’s book 'My Dad, the Earth Warrior', Hero Trough’s dad has a bump to the head and then wakes claiming to be Terra Firma, son of Mother Earth, sent to protect her.

The notion of a person changing their character and behavioural traits is not new in literature. Miguel de Cervantes’ 'Don Quixote' (1605) is a story of an old nobleman who after reading stories about knights, decides to become a knight-errant and goes off in search of adventures. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' (1886) explores the interplay of good and evil in human personalities with two contrasting characters.

From Marvel Comics the journalist Clark Kent, wealthy industrialist Bruce Wayne and science student Peter Parker are the alter egos of Superman, Batman and Spiderman respectively.


When Mr Benn visited a fancy-dress shop and traded in his black bowler hat and suit for a new costume, he then entered a new world appropriate to his costume and a new adventure via a magical door.


In 'My Dad the Earth Warrior', Dad has become boring to Hero - having taken on the task of updating Cuthbert’s encyclopaedia collection. Fed up with an increasingly distant father, Hero yearns for change. Then one day, Dad has this freak accident and wakes up claiming to be an earth warrior.

In his new persona, Dad is strong and charismatic - determined to achieve his goal of gathering a tribe, becoming a chief and protecting Mother Earth. Hero struggles to deal with Dad as an earth warrior and all the ensuing consequences. However, there are times when he actually is intrigued that Dad is different.

I have always liked the idea of changing personality and have enjoyed dressing up in fancy dress. As you, can see from these photos on the left! Changing from Mr Average to someone different provides the opportunity for many wonderful adventures as Hero and his Dad experience in the book.

Gary Haq is an earth warrior whose day job is saving the planet. He is an associate researcher at a prestigious global environmental think tank and a research scientist at a European research centre. He tries his best to be the change he wants to see in the world and hopes to inspire others with his stories. When he’s not involved in his own eco-adventures, he likes to write, read, learn languages and explore new cultures. Gary lives with his wife and young daughter, and spends his time between York, England and Laveno, Italy. My Dad, the Earth Warrior is his debut novel - available now.

www.garyhaqwrites.com
@drgaryhaq
www.facebook.com/garyhaqauthor
www.worldenvironmentday.global

Book Review: 'Illegal' by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin & Giovanni Rigano

Every now and then a graphic novel appears which pushes itself into the consciousness of the mainstream. Readers unaccustomed to reading pictures and text together suddenly find themselves exercising a muscle that has been resting since their childhood. It would seem though that it takes something pretty special to break this boundary. And 'Illegal' is special.

The death of Alan Kurdi in 2015, and the heart-rending photo of him that shocked the world, brought a crisis to light: those escaping war and poverty were being trafficked in unseaworthy vessels resulting in many lives lost. The media began to report further stories of similar tragedies, but as is the way, these stories soon became old news. But it is still happening. Google 'migrant boat sinks' and you'll see much more recent instances of these horrific events.

Rather than seeking to cash in, as the media did for a while, Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano seek to humanise the stories from the news reports. Human beings respond well to narratives and by telling the story of Ebo and Kwame, two brothers attempting to make it from Africa to Europe, the creators of 'Illegal' succeed in making real two of the nameless, faceless victims of whom we read in our newspapers.

As is the way with graphic novels, readers need to exert some effort into imagining the characters' feelings - with an economy of words comes more work for the reader. However, Rigano's bold illustrations, simultaneously classically-styled yet original and contemporary, do an exceptional job of conveying meaning - a picture really is worth a thousand words when its as carefully drawn as this. The storytelling of the combined text and pictures is accessible even to those who might normal find graphic novels too visually stimulating and busy - the illustrations are clean, detailed yet uncluttered, and colour palettes for each sequence are carefully chosen to evoke a sense of place, atmosphere and mood. Here, engaging with the images is crucial if the reader is to empathise with the plight of the world's humans in flight.

Although the demands of the text are low, the subject matter is emotionally involving making this book a certificate PG. Teachers, librarians and parents should consider how they present this book to their child - it is one that should be framed by good conversation with trusted adults. For anyone desensitised by the news, or for one who has a hard time knowing how to respond to terrible events in the world, this book will provide an alternative way into grappling with the issues.

In 'Illegal' horror and hope sit side by side, necessary bedfellows in a book which portrays the world we live in as it really is. Essential reading.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Book Review: 'The Mystery of the Colour Thief' by Ewa Jozefkowicz

If you're a regular reader of my book reviews then you'll know there is one quality above all others that I look for in children's novels: the potential for it to develop empathy in the reader. This book has that in spades.

Izzy blames herself for what happened to her mum. Since the incident her relationship with her best friend has suffered and despite many well-meaning adults offering support, she is finding life difficult to cope with. And it doesn't help that her recurring nightmare features a shadowy man who begins to steal the colours, one by one, from her life.

But then she meets Toby - a wheelchair-user who has moved in up the road - and he introduces her to Spike, a young swan and the runt of the litter. She and Toby strike up a friendship and in their dedication to saving the starving cygnet, Izzy finds hope and purpose. She also finds inspiration in straight-talking Toby who, through the wisdom gained from his own experiences, helps her to solve the mystery of the colour thief.

Imagery abounds in this wonderful short novel aimed at Key Stage 2 and 3 children. The gradual loss of colour in the mural of her life that her mum painted above her bed is a sensitive metaphor for the creeping onset of depression. The improving wellbeing of Spike causes and provides parallels with Izzy's improving mental health - in both cases the injured party allows others to help them. The feather Izzy gives to her mum as she lies in a coma is a symbol of optimism and freedom -  a freedom which Izzy eventually gains as she discovers she is guilt-free.

In this beautifully-written story debut author Ewa Jozefkowicz deftly explores issues that young children may well come up against in real life. 'The Mystery of the Colour Thief' will bring comfort to those with similar experiences to those portrayed and will help those who haven't to be that little bit more understanding of those who have.

A must for any library, classroom or home bookshelf - books like this position the current generation  to begin to work for a better, kinder future.

Perfect Partners:

'The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle' by Victoria Williamson - another story in which an unlikely duo bond over caring for an injured wild animal
'My Dad's A Birdman' by David Almond - aimed at a younger audience, and a little zanier, this story also explores how a young girl and her dad feel after the loss of her mother
'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness - aimed at an older audience, this book also explores the feelings of a young person experiencing the illness and loss of his mother

Look out for a guest post from Ewa Jozefkowicz on how growing up in her father's bookshop inspired her to write 'The Mystery of the Colour Thief' - coming to www.thatboycanteach.co.uk soon!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Book Review: 'The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle' by Victoria Williamson

'The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle' deserves to be one of 2018's most lauded books. Tackling racism, discrimination and bullying head-on in a book aimed at upper primary children is no mean feat, but Victoria Williamson does it with great sensitivity.

Reema and Caylin both have their back stories. One is a refugee from Syria, the other lives with her alcoholic mum and is the school bully. Reema pines for home, is worried about her missing brother and is having to start a new school and learn a new language. Caylin looks after her mum, wishes her mum would look after her and feels like she is no good at anything. But they happen to be neighbours and an unlikely friendship develops. But Williamson writes the slowly-flourishing relationship in such a convincing way that 'unlikely' becomes 'blindingly obvious'.

This is achieved by the back-and-forth nature of the story's narration. The girls take it in turn to tell their side of the story, the reader in the middle willing them both to discover their commonalities: they are both unknowingly looking after the same injured fox; they both love, and excel at, running; more importantly, they both desperately need a friend.

With some very stark and honest passages, this book pulls no punches. Clearly Williamson believes that children can hack the reality - a racist criminal setting his dog on Reema for wearing her hijab is not just a fictional occurrence. For children to really grasp the desperate plight of those subject to racism in the UK, such parts of the book are essential. However, the book almost glows with hope and optimism, even at the moments when it seems like things can't get any worse.

And it is not just empathy for Reema as a refugee that is important. Caylin's character is written in such a way that light is shed on the background of a child in need; a child whose needs manifest in bad behaviour. Children with a more privileged upbringing need to empathise with children less fortunate than themselves just as much as they need to empathise with those fleeing violence and oppression (and so do teachers).

This is a book that I wish every child would read. Politically and socially our children need to be living out the story in this book if the world is going to have any sort of peaceful future. The book's dual message that differences ought to be celebrated and common ground should be sought is too important for this generation to miss out on. Books such as this are a safe space in which to explore the everyday issues that children might face - we must get these books into their hands.

Perfect Partners:

'All The Things That Could Go Wrong' - Stuart Foster - another story narrated in turn, this time by two boys, one with challenging life circumstances and one with OCD, who eventually become friends
'Dear World' - Bana Alabed - this autobiography of a Syrian refugee will help children get a feel for what Reema has escaped
'Oranges In No Man's Land' - Elizabeth Baird - a fictional account of life as a child in a war zone; another opportunity for children to consider the horrors of war that refugees flee

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Book Review: 'The Phantom Lollipop Man' by Pamela Butchart

I’m always dubious of the quality of books aimed at the 7 – 9 age bracket, especially ones which feature lurid cartoonish illustrations and crazy typesetting. It can sometimes seem like funny books are the only thing available to children who are just getting into reading longer books, especially when it comes to newly-published material.

And so it was with a degree of forced open-mindedness and some trepidation that I embarked on my reading of ‘The Phantom Lollipop Man’ by Pamela Butchart, illustrated throughout by Thomas Flintham. But, spoiler alert, I loved it and you will too.

I immediately devoured half the book, even laughing out loud in places where Butchart has clearly written with adults in mind. The fact that the author is a teacher and the book is set in a school (as are the other books in the series) makes for some hilariously insightful gags, all delivered with a touch of real affection – everyone who knows schools will identify with the deputy head who thinks they’re the head teacher, the office ladies who know everything and the teacher who spends lunchtime secretly eating sweets in their classroom.

As is usual with children’s books school life is a touch exaggerated – the children have a den under the stairs in school which they seem to find plenty of time to visit during school hours, Zach carries a smartphone at all times and the group of friends seem to spend a lot of time haring around the corridors. But it is exactly this that children will love; it’s what makes the story more exciting. And after all, Izzy and her friends are getting up to nothing like the Famous 5 and Secret 7 used to – they’re just having adventures that children can relate to more as the setting is so familiar. I quickly introduced it to my children – taking a book to read to them on a train journey was a stroke of genius, I must say – they told me they imagined the whole thing taking place in their own school.

Reading the book aloud was a little bit of a challenge: Izzy’s breathless and tangential narration means assuming the character of an excited year 4 child is a must. But it is this writing style which makes ‘The Phantom Lollipop Man’ an endearing read, particularly as a parent of three girls and the teacher of many more primary-aged children.

Despite this looking like a funny book, it actually tackles quite a serious subject matter – so much so that I actually almost had a little cry at the end. The story involves a group of children trying to solve the mystery of where their normal lollipop man has got to. They misinterpret information from the office ladies and believe him to be dead; sightings of him lead to their conclusion that he is dead, has come back as a ghost and has unfinished business that they must help him with. Adults reading the book will understand their blunder, but children might not. It ends up as an exploration of loneliness and old age and is a gentle reminder to any reader to value all members of society, especially those at risk of becoming marginalised. This aspect of the book makes it fully rounded and a perfect read for anyone in lower key stage two – vocabulary-wise it is perfectly pitched for this age group too with enough new words to explore without it becoming too much.

As a family we’ve already begun reading the only other Pamela Butchart book in the house – her World Book Day offering ‘The Baby Brother From Outer Space!’ – such was our collective love for ‘The Phantom Lollipop Man’. I suspect that next time we visit a bookshop/library we shall be purchasing/borrowing a few more! I will also be less suspicious about brightly-coloured books with words written in bold surrounded by clouds and flashes – lesson learnt.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Book Review: 'How To Bee' by Bren MacDibble

Children’s publishing seems to be experiencing a time of growth; the shelves of book shops are bursting with newly-published books for kids – so much so that it can be hard to choose which books to read. Some seem to garner much attention whilst others arrive quietly, waiting to be picked up and discovered.

‘How To Bee’ is new to the UK market but has already been doing very well in its native Australia. And it would be a real shame if it did not take off here too. Set in a future Australia where honey bees are all but extinct, this is a book about family, friendship, courage and survival and features an extremely strong, but not invincible, female lead character.

Despite being pegged as a dystopian novel, the story portrays a world not dissimilar to the one we live in now. And this is what makes this book so disturbingly successful. Although the story is a chain of largely dismal events, the reader is sucked into Peony’s life – Bren MacDibble makes it impossible for the reader not to be rooting for her as she pursues her dream of becoming a bee – a hand pollinator. But ‘How To Be’ is not without its moments of light and hope – it would be a hard read if it wasn’t. However, with an ending that is weighted more towards the bitter end of the bittersweet scale, it is an important read for those who only ever experience happily-ever-after endings.

Peony’s abduction by her mother and her cruel partner sees her removed from the countryside and placed into a rich household in the city. There Peony is witness to a way of life far removed from her simple, often harsh, but enjoyable life of sleeping in a shed and working amongst the fruit trees. The author cleverly contrasts these two lifestyles in such a way that merit can be seen in both – in the home of the Pasquales Peony experiences a loving marital relationship – a far cry from the relationships her mother has been in; but she also sees how the poor are exploited in order to provide a lavish lifestyle for the rich – there are several other such contrasts. As with any good dystopian fiction, current affairs are explored and commented on in the context of a fabricated domain.

Although sold as a children’s book, with an age recommendation of 9-12, the subject of domestic abuse – both physical and emotional, towards adults and children – makes this a tough read in places, particularly for the aforementioned age bracket. I would suggest that this book is better suited to teenage readers for this reason.

There is no reason why this challenging read shouldn’t be celebrated – it is well-written, introduces children to other ways of life (and a new dialect) and despite being brutal in places is told with a very gentle touch. With its well-formed and believable characters – some loveable, some hateable – ‘How To Bee’ is a book really to get into – I found it hard to put down, such was the grip it had on me.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Book Review: 'To The Edge Of The World' by Julia Green

When it comes to evoking a sense of place Julia Green has done an excellent job in her latest book 'To The Edge Of The World'. The islands and seas of the Outer Hebrides are conjured in the mind of the reader as they read of the journey Jamie and Mara’s friendship takes. With the island setting and a dose of sailing jargon readers of Morpurgo and Ransome will find something they’re at home with here.

Jamie lives on the island with his family although he misses Dad who works away on the mainland during the week. Mara lives on the island too, but away from other people. Mara’s mum is suffering from mental illness (this is hinted at throughout the story) and she too misses her father whom she hasn’t heard from in years. An unlikely pair, Jamie and Mara become friends, but always with a difficult, awkward relationship, and embark (accidentally on Jamie’s part) on a daring and dangerous adventure. Along with the well-developed settings, the fact that Julia Green tackles real-life issues that many young people face is a strength of this book.

Although the story has the reckless voyage to St. Kilda, the Outer Hebrides’ furthest islands, and the friendship dimension to commend it, readers might be left wishing for a little more: compared to other similar stories it isn’t as well-rounded and has the potential to fall a little flat. Also, the story is narrated by Jamie and as such the writing is clipped: the short sentences characterise a young teenage boy well, but aren’t always easy to read.

Having said this, ‘To The Edge Of The World’ will certainly appeal to readers who love reading about friendship or who particularly enjoy stories about island life and seafaring – certainly those who have been charmed by Morpurgo’s tales about the Isles of Scilly. In the classroom, ‘To The Edge Of The World’ might be used to great effect alongside other similar books, particularly as a source of descriptive passages for children to use as inspiration for their own writing.