Showing posts with label children's literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label children's literature. Show all posts

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

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.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Book Review: 'The House With Chicken Legs' by Sophie Anderson

Taking a mainstay of Slavic folklore and re-imagining it for a generation who are most likely ignorant of its origins turns out to be a clever move for ‘The House With Chicken Legs’ author Sophie Anderson. And to write a debut novel for children which is all about death is brave – but Anderson triumphs.

Marinka lives in a house with chicken legs with no one but her grandmother, Baba Yaga, and a Jackdaw for company. Apart from, that is, the dead people who visit her house every night. And she has no chance to make any other (living) friends because every time she gets settled somewhere the house literally ups sticks and pelts across the world to find a new location.

Then there’s her destiny: to be the next guardian of The Gate between life and death. A destiny she does not want at all. She hates the thought of guiding the endless stream of dead visitors into the afterlife for the rest of her living days.

I said the book was all about death, but actually ‘The House With Chicken Legs’ is all about life. It’s about not getting what you want, growing up, learning about other people, making friends, experiencing the pain of loss, making mistakes, making the same mistakes again, finding joy in the little things, regret, seeing the beauty of the world, loyalty, betrayal, love, kindness… see what I mean? It’s about life and it will make any reader thankful for theirs and those they share it with.

To read this book, and to journey with Marinka, both around the world and through her life, is to understand her every thought and feeling, such is the quality of Anderson’s compelling writing. The book will provoke thought and conversation about life and death, regardless of your beliefs on the matter – in the classroom, or at home, it will provide a good starting point for exploring and understanding traditions and beliefs from around the world.

‘The House With Chicken Legs’ is a beautifully human book that has the potential to draw young readers into the world of literature where real life themes are explored in great detail. Readers who are, like Nina, growing up and beginning to better understand the increasingly adult world around them, will love this coming-of-age story and will no doubt benefit from the lack of clichéd modernity that clogs up other books of the genre. Highly recommended.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Book Review: 'Max and the Millions' By Ross Montgomery

As with all good children’s books these days, this isn’t just a straight yarn. ‘Max and the Millions’ by Ross Montgomery begins by introducing one of the unlikely heroes of the story - a school caretaker with more than just a knack for building intricate models of anything and everything. Next we meet Mr Pitt the typically unlikeable headmaster. And then we encounter the story’s other (full-size) hero: Max, who is hiding in a cupboard. 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.

Although this is a story about how a warring society of magically created microscopic people are rescued by a seemingly improbable pair of pre-teen boys and a hoard of pony-obsessed 5 year old girls on a sugar-bender, it is also a story about friendship, fitting in, integrity and small things mattering. Whilst Lower Key Stage 2 children will enjoy the miniature adventures of King Luke and his trusty flea as he fights the Bin King and the Red Queen, they will also 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.

The story’s absolute highlight comes when (slight spoiler alert) the tiny Luke becomes king of the united people of The Floor (the minute kingdom the small people inhabit). The power goes to his head and, despite his friend Ivy’s warnings, he forgets the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you with disastrous consequences. Even if no other part of the book is used as a talking point between adults and children, this part should be; it opens up a safe space in which to discuss politics and has parallels to current situations that are playing out on the world stage. The headmaster’s despotic antics throughout the book also provide opportunities to discuss similar issues.

This well-written book is a great choice for parents and teachers of children who have expressed interest in world affairs but who might be too young to fully understand the complexities and unpleasant details of the situations. It’s also recommended for fans of stories such as Terry Pratchett’s The Carpet People stories – those young but capable readers who are quite at home in stories with impossibly fantastical settings.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Book Review: 'The Light Jar' by Lisa Thompson

The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson That Boy Can Teach Review
Very early on you know something is not right - the nighttime escape with hastily packed bags, the feverish glances in the rear view mirror; Nate's mum's paranoia seeps through the pages. And as soon as you hear of Nate's dad leaving and mum's new man Gary you marvel at Lisa Thompson's bravery: tackling a subject like domestic abuse in a story aimed at 9 to 12 year olds? But she does it so beautifully. And it is important that she does - books should tell all stories.

Once again displaying her knack for weaving intriguing mystery into a story about terrible real life events - one that still has many blindingly bright and brilliant moments - Lisa Thompson leaves the reader in a quandary: they want to know more, but they're scared of what they might discover. Where has mum gone? Why did they leave home in the dead of night and turn up to this decrepit cottage? Why does Kitty avoid her own home? These questions and more make 'The Light Jar' a one-sitting type of book - the urge to read on and on is overpowering.

Brimming with clever imagery and metaphors 'The Light Jar' will get minds young and old alike thinking about the significance of Nate's favourite book, of the chicken and the light jar and the magic fortune telling ball toy. Readers will experience the satisfaction of solving the mystery of Nate's new friend Kitty's treasure and will be left wondering just how real Sam and his friends are. This finely-crafted multi-dimensional story will introduce children to the necessity (and joy) of flicking back through previously-read pages to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

'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.

Serious, uplifting, mysterious: a combination I've not found served up quite like this before. 'The Light Jar' is a special book and is certainly a must read for 2018. I can confidently say that not much will top it this year.

'The Light Jar' was published in paperback on 4th January 2018 by Scholastic (9781407171289 £6.99)

Sunday, 31 December 2017

On The @TES Blog: Six Books That Chart My Reading Evolution

On The @TES Blog: Six Books That Chart My Reading Evolution
Another personal blog post about reading (sorry). This one was hugely enjoyable to write due to the fact that books are not just bound and covered collections of paper with words printed on them - they are intertwined with life's real events and characters. I could not have picked six books without thinking particularly of my dad and my wife as well as times and places in my life.

I hope you enjoy reading about the six books that chart my evolution as a reader; I'd love to hear about the books that you'd consider to be elementary in your growth as a lover of books.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/six-books-chart-my-teacher-a-reader-evolution