Showing posts sorted by relevance for query lisa thompson. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query lisa thompson. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Book Review: 'The Day I Was Erased' by Lisa Thompson

As a relatively new author on the children's publishing scene Lisa Thompson sure has made a splash. 2017's 'The Goldfish Boy' immediately caught the attention of readers and the follow up, 'The Light Jar', was eagerly anticipated and devoured by all who had read her debut. Exactly a year later Lisa is back with 'The Day I Was Erased'.

And first of all, it is definitely her funniest yet. The humour matches Mike Lowry's cartoonish illustrations making this a perfect pickup for children who are into the Diary Of... style books. They will certainly laugh along, but I'd like to think that they will get a little more from Thompson's writing.

Maxwell's parents are not happy - to an adult reader it's pretty obvious they're 'staying together for the kids' - and Maxwell's behaviour, particularly at school, is affected by it. For many children, this will be their reality and it is important that they see this reflected in the books they read. It's also a huge lesson in empathy for children who come from more stable homes, and who don't present challenging behaviour - here Thompson draws back the curtain and provides an insight in to the struggles of a naughty boy.

In fact, the whole book is about how one aspect of our character need not define us. Maxwell is a deeply caring, loving child - he loves the dog he rescued, he provides great comfort to his sister when she is bullied and he has befriended a forgetful old man, Reg.

The story really gets going when our main man Maxwell outdoes himself by ruining a huge school event which is being televised. With nowhere else to turn he heads to Reg's house where he wishes he'd never been born. Maxwell's wish comes true... in a way: he's still alive and so are all the people in his life, but none of them know him and their lives are very different.

This simple concept introduces children to the concept of the butterfly effect and is a perfect vehicle for exploring the positive impact that even the naughtiest of boys has had on the people in his life. Maxwell discovers that he has worth, he has value and that the people in his life really do need him - a fantastic thing for readers to realise about themselves, especially at moments when they are feeling underappreciated.

For Maxwell, this awakens in him a desire to return to his old life and to repent of his former ways (quite A Christmas Carol-esque, in that respect). But he doesn't really know how to get back. Thus, we have an adventure on our hands. Maxwell somehow convinces his sister and best friend (both of whom don't know him at all) to help him find out how to get back, which thankfully, they do. The ending is suitably bittersweet yet ever so satisfying.

Here we have another fantastic book from Lisa Thompson - probably my absolute favourite new author of the last few years. Fans of her previous work will love this and I suspect it will win over some new converts too. If you are a serious lover of children's fiction, don't hesitate to get hold of it. I already know who I'm going to lend my copy to - I think he'll get it.

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)

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Book Review: 'The Graveyard Riddle' by Lisa Thompson

Ever since reading Lisa Thompson's first book 'The Goldfish Boy' I've been a fan of her ability to draw humour, mystery and real life together into something that children absolutely can't wait to get their hands on. In fact, in our house, she is one of only a few authors who the majority of us have read: Lisa is up there with JK Rowling in terms of how many of us have read her books!

'The Graveyard Riddle' picks up where 'The Goldfish Boy' left off, this time focusing a little more on Melody Bird as the main character. Again, Lisa deftly includes details of life's difficulties as the backdrop to the story: Matthew is still going to therapy for OCD, Melody's parents are splitting up due to a secret her dad has been keeping from them and the house has to be sold, meaning that Melody has to leave her home. Jake is being bullied by their neighbour and teacher and he is struggling with his behaviour at school - elsewhere in the book quite serious mental health issues are tackled too, as well as neglect of children. 

Although this all seems quite heavy, you'll know if you've read her previous books, that the author treats each issue carefully, sensitively, and in a way that children can relate to. In fact, if children have experienced similar things I think they would be comforted by seeing themselves in a book, and children who haven't experienced these things will have the chance to develop empathy for others who have.

But 'The Graveyard Riddle' isn't at all just a vehicle to tackle the above. Over and above that it is just a cracking mystery story, and one which really gets the reader guessing and then second-guessing themselves.

Melody meets Hal hiding out in an old plague house in a part of the graveyard that she's never visited before. Hal brings Melody into his mission: to apprehend the dangerous criminal, Martin Stone, and together they solve riddles and stake out the graveyard, spying on him as he visits. However, when Melody has to let Matthew and Jake in on what's going on, doubts are raised: is Hal really who he says he is? What is he really doing in the plague house?

'The Graveyard Riddle' is a great read for children and adults alike: Lisa is skilled at writing that dual-layer narrative that Disney does so well, ensuring that there is plenty to appeal to all. In fact, one great angle to this story is the interplay between adults and children: something which isn't always present when children are the protagonists.

Full of heart and warmth, this middle grade mystery is an easy and compelling read, perfect for children in Key Stage 2 and certainly not at all unsuitable for Key Stage 3 children either. And if you're a parent looking for a good read aloud, or a teacher wanting to stay in touch with children's literature, then 'The Graveyard Riddle' is the perfect title for you.

The Graveyard Riddle by Lisa Thompson is available on bookshop.org and features on my Read By My UKS2 Daughter list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/read-by-my-uks2-daughter

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

22 Great Middle Grade Books From 2020 (Part 1)

I feel like this year I've read far fewer of the newly released middle grade books - I think I've read more grown-up books this year, particularly more adult non-fiction, and I've read a few older children's books too. 

However, I've read a decent number of really great books released for children in 2020 - enough to share a few in a round-up blog post. Now obviously, because I've not read all the books published in 2020, I can't call this a 'best of' list, so instead it is just a list of really great new books to add to your shelves or put under someone's Christmas tree.

In no particular order, here are the first 10:

The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery (Walker)

twitter.com/mossmontmomery

A historical, magical tale which sits so comfortably in a long tradition of children's literature and makes for an original but familiar-feeling read. Readers will feel the warm homeliness of such classics as the Narnia stories and The Wind in the Willows whilst recognising the gritty realities and family drama of war that they've read of in Goodnight Mr. Tom and Carrie's War. The Midnight Guardians brings together two worlds at war, weaving folklore, magic and oh-so accurate historical fact together into a truly engaging race-against-time tale of dark versus light.

The Midnight Guardians can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - Fantasy and Magic bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-fantasy-magic

The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q Rauf (Hachette)


After the huge success of The Boy At The Back Of The Class, and it's follow-up The Star Outside My Window, Onjali Rauf was back in 2020 with another modern tale of derring-do. Interestingly, this time it's the turn of a school bully to take the role of protagonist. As in all good children's stories, his transformation slowly takes place as he begins to understand more about the plight of homeless people: a bid to impress his mates with his unkindness leads to him both witnessing, and helping to solve, a crime. This modern mystery story is certainly a page-turner, and just like it's predecessors is a celebration of the difference children can make in the world.

The Night Bus Hero can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - Mystery & Detective Stories bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-mystery-detective-stories

Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu (Old Barn Books)

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Quite a few books have been published in recent years which portray the plight of refugees. Boy, Everywhere sits nicely between books aimed at older children, such as Boy 87 and Illegal (which have a slightly more graphic portrayal of the harsh realities involved in seeking refuge in another country) and The Boy At The Back of The Class and The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle (which don't go into as much detail but rather focus on the realities of life after making the often hazardous journey). Boy, Everywhere provides the modern parallel to books about World War 2 refugees such as The Silver Sword and Number The Stars, providing a realistic picture (which has been praised by people who have experienced similar circumstances to those portrayed in the book) without some of the more distressing, potentially age-inappropriate details that sadly are the experience of some refugees. A very compelling read.

Boy, Everywhere can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - Refugee Stories bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-refugee-stories

Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan by Sufiya Ahmed (Scholastic)

twitter.com/sufiyaahmed

Just before hearing about this book I had discovered Noor Inayat Khan during some research for a year 6 topic focusing on the role of women and children in the world wars, so when I did discover this I was very keen to read it. I was really pleased then to win a copy in a competition from charity Making Herstory. Sufiya Ahmed does a cracking job of retelling a well-researched, child-friendly version of the key events in spy Inayat Khan's life. As a woman of Indian descent and the first female radio operator sent to Nazi-occupied France by the British SOE, it is an incredibly important story to be told, one which exemplifies how people of many ethnicities played a part in World War 2. Great for children to read alone but equally suitable as a curriculum-linked read aloud.

Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - World Wars bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-historical-fiction-world-wars

The House of Clouds by Lisa Thompson (Barrington Stoke)

twitter.com/lthompsonwrites

A short story this time from Lisa Thompson for the ever-excellent Barrington Stoke (who specialise in books designed specifically for dyslexic readers). In this story of loss and hope, grief and guilt, Lisa blurs the lines between dreams and reality and ultimately leaves the reader questioning but willing to believe that there actually is just a little bit of magic present in this world. Tackling the difficult subject of losing a family member and the regret of not appreciating them enough in their lifetime, this story follows a girl's journey of discovery as she investigates the links between her grandad and a mysterious artist. A brilliant little tale for those who need a grown-up feeling book but don't always find reading the easiest thing to do.

The House of Clouds can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - Short Reads bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-short-reads

The Invasion of Crooked Oak by Dan Smith (Barrington Stoke)

twitter.com/DanSmithAuthor

Chris King's cover illustration says it all, really. Bikes, supersoakers and an undead army is exactly what you get in Dan Smith's excellent short reader for Barrington Stoke. Opening up a market for books inspired by 80s movies that the kids of today probably haven't even seen but would love if they watched them, The Invasion of Crooked Oak will certainly appeal to adults of a certain age as well as children who just want an awesome, spooky, mystery adventure (and this is what plenty of children want). If you haven't got this for your class bookshelf, then do, and prepare for the next installment coming next year.

The Invasion of Crooked Oak can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - Supernatural & Spooky Tales bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-supernatural-spooky-tales

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Padraig Kenny (Pan Macmillan)

twitter.com/padraig_kenny

More spookiness now in this Adamms Family-esque thriller. A strange assortment of otherworldly beings are confined to the grounds and house of Rookhaven, supplied and kept secret by the local villagers. Two siblings, a brother and sister, stumble through a tear in the magic veil and find themselves involved in a cruel plot to rid the world of the kinds of people who call Rookhaven their home. With amazing black and white illustrations from Edward Bettison, this book feels like very few others I've read - darkness permeates the book, yet the more the reader becomes familiar with the family, the more they realise there is real light in them. A subtle call to respect and love those perceived as outsiders, this beautifully-written story should be widely read and loved. Read my review for more: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/08/book-review-monsters-of-rookhaven-by.html

The Monsters of Rookhaven can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - Supernatural & Spooky Tales bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-supernatural-spooky-tales

Eating Chips With Monkey by Mark Lowery (Piccadilly Press)


This was one of those books that you pick up in an idle moment, begin to read and then get totally hooked by. I loved the combination of serious subject matter and absolute hilarity - Mark Lowery takes sensitive content and treats it respectfully whilst allowing the reader to see the funny side of the events. After a traumatic accident, Daniel, an autistic 10-year-old, retreats into himself, only relating to his toy monkey and seemingly deaf to his family's attempts to help him. The narration alternates between Daniel (and the monkey) and his sister Megan as the family set off on a road trip to find the best fish and chip shops in the country in an attempt to help Daniel to recover. An uproarious read, one which one of my daughters has read cover-to-cover several times, which I would recommend to absolutely everyone!

Eating Chips With Monkey can be found on my Read By My LKS2 Daughter bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/read-by-my-lks2-daughter

After The War by Tom Palmer (Barrington Stoke)


Winning plaudits left, right and centre, Tom Palmer did it again this year with his portrayal of how children liberated from Nazi concentration camps learn to live again in the reviving surrounds of the Lake District. Based on careful research and focusing in on three friends Tom writes with such care and verve, bringing true events to life for a new, young audience. Back in March, just before we went into lockdown I reviewed the book and had this to say in summary: 'A tale of hope, friendship and altruism that is all too relevant in the current times we are living through.' Little did I know how those current times would turn out!

After the War can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - World Wars bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-historical-fiction-world-wars

Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick (Firefly Press)


Another spooky mystery story - it's been a good year for them! This one reads like a comedy horror movie aimed at children, taking the year 6 school residential as its inspiration. It's probably a good thing that residentials were cancelled this year as any 11-year-old who'd read this would probably have a few nightmares about going away for a couple of nights. It's enough to put off any teacher planning a residential too, especially since the book basically features a virus - albeit an alien-induced one - that rips through the participants and staff with great efficiency. Anyway, I raved about it in other ways in my review, so have a read of that if you need further convincing: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/03/book-review-crater-lake-by-jennifer.html

Crater Lake can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction - Supernatural & Spooky Tales bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-supernatural-spooky-tales

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Empathy Day Reading For Empathy Guide 2019

This year's Empathy Day falls on June 11th. Today EmpathyLab has revealed the titles in its Read For Empathy Guide. The day focuses on using books – and talking about them – as a tool to help people understand each other better. As regular readers of my blog will know this is something close to my heart.

Something I was particularly interested to find out about was the selection process for the books included in the guide. Below are the empathy angles used in the judging process. A book that can support Reading for Empathy...:
  • Has powerful characters you care about, whose emotions you feel and which challenge and expand the reader’s own emotional understanding
  • Builds perspective taking – e.g. through different characters’ points of view
  • Gives the reader real insight into other people’s lives and experiences
  • Builds empathy for people in challenging circumstances (e.g. disability, migration, bereavement)
  • Deepens understanding of human experience at other times in history
  • Can help expand young people’s emotional vocabulary/recognition of emotions
  • Motivates the reader to put empathy into action


Having a look down the list of books there are several I have read but plenty more for me to get hold of during the coming months. Here are a few I've read and would like to recommend from the list:

Sweep by Louise Greig, illustrated Júlia Sardà (Egmont Books) - this one I included on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES. It's a great extended but simple metaphor for dealing with anger and other negative emotions - one that children can really connect with. This book, which parents or teachers can share with individuals and groups alike, is certainly worthy of recognition and use at home and in the classroom.

Peace and Me by Ali Winter, illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi (Lantana Publishing) - this is another one I included on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES. It is good to see a non-fiction title on the list - many children prefer reading books such as this. This one focuses on several notable Nobel Peace Prize winners, giving a potted history of who they were and why they won the prize, all accompanied by beautiful illustrations.

The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books) - whilst one of my favourite #ReadForEmpathy books is Stewart Foster's 'All The Things That Could Go Wrong', 'The Bubble Boy' is another great choice. In it the reader really gets to walk in the shoes of a child confined to a hospital bed - I can't think of many other books that offer this experience to young readers.

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf, illustrated by Pippa Curnick (Orion Children’s Books) - I read this one after I had submitted my list of the best books of 2018 but if I'd read it before I would definitely have included it. Empathy is exemplified by the main character as they embark on an ambitious (if not a little crazy) adventure to try to find the family of a refugee who has started at their school.

The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson (Scholastic) - when this was published in January last year I reviewed it here on my blog: "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."  I also included it on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES saying that it "blurs the boundaries between reality, imagination and the supernatural."

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson (Floris Books) - yet another book I included on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES and in my piece for TES on books that take children out of their comfort zone and one which is very possibly my favourite book of 2018. In the review I wrote of it here on my blog I wrote: "'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."



Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (Penguin) - this classic is one I included in my TES piece 13 books to take pupils out of their comfort zone: "Blackman flips the script on race wars, provoking thought with this painful account of how systemic discrimination ruins lives". I read it for the first time whilst on holiday this summer - I found it so distressing that I had to have a break from it to read something else. I am still steeling myself to read the follow-up books.

Running on Empty by S. E. Durrant (Nosy Crow) - EmpathyLab have included this on their secondary list, but I think it is fine for older primary children too: I included it on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES. AJ, the book's protagonist, navigates life's already difficult roads with the added pressure of worrying about his parents who both have learning difficulties; again, this is not a perspective I've come across before in a children's book.

Boy 87 by Ele Fountain (Pushkin Children’s) - this one features on the secondary list as it is a pretty harrowing telling of a young boy's escape from an African totalitarian regime. With the recent so-called migrant crisis hitting the news this is possibly one of the most important books on the list - if only our right-wing politicians would give it a read.

Follow EmpathyLab on Twitter: @EmpathyLabUK and search the hashtag #ReadforEmpathy for more. Visit their website at www.empathylab.uk.

Friday, 29 December 2017

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
In 2016 I accepted my first reading challenge (from @saysmiss), set myself the target of reading 50 books and proceeded to beat that target. In 2017 I decided to try for 52 - 1 a week - and set about encouraging others to do the same. So far I've read 63, with a couple of others on the go that might get finished before the year ends.

A great motivation for me has been to have a better knowledge of children's literature, as well as to be genuine in my enthusiasm for reading when teaching it to children (read more in my blog post 'Being a Reading Teacher'). However, what began in 2016 in 2017 has become an indispensable habit. Reading to my target in 2017 has been a product not of hard work but of a matter of course. I am a reader.

Having said this, my original motivation still shines through in my reading list this year - I largely read children's books. I see this as a duty but I also love them intensely.

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
I'm often asked for book recommendations and I happily oblige but when it comes down to making top ten lists I'm hopeless! But look at the average of ratings I've given - 4.2. Read almost anything from this list because I've more than likely enjoyed it.

In 2018 I won't be setting a challenge - after two years of challenging myself I have created a reader in myself and no longer need a challenge to continue my habit. This might mean I read fewer books, longer books, more varied books - who knows? I may just read a similar selection of books and that's OK too. But if you are looking to train yourself to become a reader, setting yourself a challenge is a good way of doing this - some on Twitter are doing #52Books2018 and on Goodreads you can set any number of books as you want.

I regret that I have not tracked the excellent picturebooks that I've read this year - this was because I felt that they shouldn't count towards my 52 (a downside of doing such a challenge). However, there are some reviews of picturebooks here in my book reviews thread: https://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Book%20review

Now for the books I've read, loosely categorised. I have provided links to ones I've reviewed:

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
Young Adult

Island – David Almond
The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness
Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1) – Philip Pullman
More Than This – Patrick Ness

Middle Grade

Cogheart (The Cogheart Adventures, #1) – Peter Bunzl
Holes (Holes, #1) – Louis Sachar
Kensuke's Kingdom – Michael Morpurgo
The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Eragon (Inheritance, #1) – Christopher Paolini
Mold and the Poison Plot – Lorraine Gregory
The Wonderling – Mira Bartok
The Light Jar – Lisa Thompson
Sky Song – Abi Elphinstone
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Stormwalker – Mike Revell
Skeleton Tree – Kim Ventrella
The End of the Sky (A Slice of the Moon #2) – Sandi Toksvig
The Kites Are Flying! - Michael Morpurgo
The Island at the End of Everything – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
All The Things That Could Go Wrong – Stewart Foster
Moonlocket (The Cogheart Adventures, #2) – Peter Bunzl
Time Travelling with a Hamster – Ross Welford
The Last Wild – Piers Torday
The Bubble Boy – Stewart Foster
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel – Firoozeh Dumas
Hitler's Canary – Sandi Toksvig
Who Let the Gods Out? (Who Let the Gods Out?, #1) – Maz Evans
The Night Spinner (Dreamsnatcher #3) – Abi Elphinstone
The Shadow Keeper (The Dreamsnatcher, #2) – Abi Elphinstone
Watership Down – Richard Adams
The Goldfish Boy – Lisa Thompson

Younger Children’s

Coming to England: An Autobiography - Floella Benjamin
Dragons at Crumbling Castle – Terry Pratchett
The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy
The Great Cat Conspiracy – Katie Davies
The Children of Noisy Village – Astrid Lindgren
The Reluctant Dragon – Kenneth Grahame
The No. 1 Car Spotter and the Car Thieves (No.1 Car Spotter, #3) - Atinuke
The Firework-Maker's Daughter – Philip Pullman

Education

What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?: Bridging The Gap Between Research And Practice – Carl Hendrick & Robin Macpherson
100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom (100 Ideas for Teachers) – Tammie Prince
Making Every Primary Lesson Count: Six Principles to Support Great Teaching and Learning – Jo Payne & Mel Scott
Hopeful Schools – Mary Myatt

Non-Fiction

Land Rover: The Story of the Car that Conquered the World – Ben Fogle
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking – Susan Cain
The Empathy Instinct: How to Create a More Civil Society – Peter Bazalgette
True Friendship – Vaughan Roberts
The Joy of Service – Julian Hardyman
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
The Big Ego Trip – Glynn Harrison
Soldier Spy: The True Story of an Mi5 Office Risking His Life to Save Yours – Tom Marcus

Adult Fiction

Utopia – Thomas More
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
Chocky – John Wyndham
Who Was Betty? – Laura Jukes
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Transreality – Chris Lackey
The Handmaid's Tale – Margaret Atwood
Towards the End of the Morning – Michael Frayn
The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Rivers of London (Peter Grant, #1) – Ben Aaronovitch
The Colour Of Magic (Discworld, #1) – Terry Pratchett

So with no challenge and a huge 'to read' pile (I received quite a few books at Christmas) I look forward to next year - what will I read? What will you read?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Book Review: 'The Goldfish Boy' by Lisa Thompson

Lisa Thompson cleverly intertwines a truly intriguing mystery story with an entertaining study of how people respond differently to loss. Whilst older primary-aged children will be gripped by the plot, they'll also be receiving a masterclass in empathy.

As with any good crime novel there are a plethora of characters, each very different, and each with their own emotional issues. There's Matthew, the main protagonist, with OCD; Jake the bully with chronic exzema and allergies; and Melody who seems to be obsessed by graveyards and death. The story takes place almost exclusively in one street during one summer so as well as the aforementioned children, there are a whole host of adult characters too, again, all very different. Someone is responsible for the disappearance of a toddler - but who? As Matthew investigates, hampered by his worsening OCD, the reader discovers more about each of the street's residents.

This would be a 5 star addition to any classroom - the work that could be done on inference and empathy through this book could be invaluable to how a child views the different people they meet in life. The concept that everyone has potentially hidden reasons for how they behave is an important one for children to grasp - it's the basis for being non-judgmental and kind to others. By studying the varying characters as more information is revealed, children will begin to infer the reasons as to why the characters behave as they do. In doing this, important lessons could be learned about how to treat others who might appear to be different.

The fact that carrying out such studies would further involve the children in the plot is testament to the author's skill; the more the reader engages in the emotional side of the book, the more they will enter into detective mode as they attempt to solve this exciting whodunit.

Using 'The Goldfish Boy' as a class novel would also provide perfect opportunities for children to discuss and explore their own emotions and feelings - the book providing a safe and neutral foundation for children to consider their own response to the information and events in the story.

Now excuse me whilst I go and beg budget holders for a class set of these... I'll ask the English leader AND our PSHCE coordinator as this book falls solidly into both of their remits.

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."

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Writing Characters In Key Stage 2

My new year 5 team and I sat down to plan together for the first time last week. Our class novel is Cosmic by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and the teachers decided they were going to focus on character both in reading and writing lessons. With a view to having children write their own piece of narrative involving a character of their own invention we set about planning how we would teach them to introduce their character to the reader.

I have lost count of the number of times I've taught children to write character descriptions but I know that every time I've done it there has been a niggle. A paragraph describing what a character looks like and what they like is not something we come across that often in the books we read. I have seen numerous requests from teachers for passages from books which contain good character descriptions and whilst there are some out there, I haven't noticed it to be that common, especially not for a main character,.

So, my team and I discussed how we might teach children to write about their characters in the way a real author might. Looking at Cosmic we found that information about Liam's character was scattered throughout the first few chapters. To begin with, the information about his character is explicit, then the information becomes more implicit, then, crucially, no new information about his character is given - all his actions, thoughts and feelings for the rest of the book are congruous with the character that has been introduced in the first few chapters, apart from instances of the events of the story changing an aspect of his character. I don't know if that's how Frank Cottrell-Boyce planned it to be, but that's certainly how it seems to have panned out.

I suppose what we were looking at teaching was characterisation - how a writer portrays their character. In Cosmic we found examples of both direct and indirect characterisation but what we didn't find was a big chunk of direct characterisation, which is what children are often taught to do (which is probably fine at an earlier age).

Our first port of call was to read the book in order to be inspired both by the character and by the organisation of the text. Reading lessons focused first on retrieving information about the characters (as well focusing on the all-important vocabulary that is foundational to understanding how characters are being described). They then moved on to being focused on inferring information about the character based on their actions. Examples of these comprehension questions can be downloaded from my TES resources page. These, and the accompanying book talk (discussion), gave the children the chance to see how authors pepper the text with carefully-placed pieces of information about their character.

Next came the task of developing characters for their own stories. This was done in the usual way - nothing too innovative or fancy here - if it ain't broke, why fix it? Children drew their characters and annotated them with phrases that they wanted to use to describe them.

It was the next part that was going to be difficult. How were we going to get children to use the information about their characters in a piece of narrative without writing up as one paragraph of character description? We decided to focus on one thing at a time: the inclusion of descriptive phrases and not the creativity that would have had to go into writing a piece of narrative. To achieve this, one of the teachers wrote a short piece of narrative devoid of any description, direct or indirect, of the characters mentioned. She double-spaced it and provided a copy for each child. The children then edited the piece to include, in relevant and suitable places, phrases of description of their character.

An example of the provided narrative and the edits made in an attempt to add character description.
At the point of writing this children have had a first attempt at completing this activity. After reviewing a few books it would seem that the children need to revisit their original characters, develop some more details and then ensure that when they edit the narrative that they have included the information that conveys to the reader what their character is like. For example, one child's character is a snail, but nowhere has he mentioned its shell, its tentacles (yes, apparently that's what they actually are) or its single, slimy foot. All children have also missed the opportunity to add a direct piece of description after the character catches sight of their reflection in the control panel - this will be a simple, whole-class starting point to modelling how they might further include character description in the narrative.

What Do Authors Say About This?

But what do I know? I've only read a load of books. So I asked a few people who've actually written books how they go about describing their characters. Their replies provided food for thought for further lessons (bring on PPA!).

Writing Dialogue To Convey Character

Lisa Thompson, author of The Goldfish Boy and The Light Jar, says that she has 'never written a character description', which is pretty much why I've written this blog post - published authors don't really seem to do it.

She advocates conveying the character's personality through the things they say - how they 'speak, their mannerisms and gestures'. This is definitely a good starting point for an interesting sequence of key stage 2 writing teaching.

Lisa also talks about how she just writes and the character appears - I'm not sure this would happen naturally with less experienced young writers.

Writing a Letter From The Character To Discover Characteristics

Author of both Bubble Boy and All The Things That Could Go Wrong, Stewart Foster, found, when writing his second book, that he got to know one of his main characters when he wrote (in first person) a letter (click here to see the letter in a Twitter thread from Stewart) from the boy to his brother. This would be an excellent exercise for children to undertake in order to help them think like the character would think. As in ATTTCGW this letter could be included as part of the narrative, making for a more varied and interesting text. Cosmic begins with Liam speaking (from space) a monologue to his parents - this is very similar in style to the letter.

Compare And Contrast Instead Of Direct Description

Victoria Williamson, the author of The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle, mentions the idea of sprinkling bits of description 'through the first few paragraphs or pages... so it's not just an info dump. She also mentions avoiding the use of any direct description, instead she chooses to point out similarities and differences between two characters in order to bring them to life. Perhaps a technique to try out with greater depth writers in upper key stage 2.

As well as this Victoria suggests that writers can describe a character through another character's eyes, which works especially well when writing in first person. As she wrote in her guest post on my blog though, this can lead to a skewed perspective on 'reality' because characters see things only from their point of view.

Describe Interactions With Other Characters

As we explored in our reading sessions on Cosmic we can often infer lots about character by the way they act and behave, particularly, as Tom Palmer (whose book Armistice Runner is published today) points out, the way they interact with other characters. This might include their gestures and stances as well as the things they say and do.

I think that to help children to do this in their writing it might be useful to go back to a text and analyse how authors have done this themselves. Children could make a list of what a character does and make inferences about what this tells us about their character. Again, another skill perhaps for the children who write fluently already.

In addition to this, more confident writers might want to use character description to signify something important in the story - a turning point in the plot, or to show how a main event has affected and changed a character. I can imagine teaching this to a small group and modelling how this might be done.

Click here to read about how Tania Unsworth, author of The Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was A Mermaid, writes her characters. Tania Unsworth mentions many of the techniques already covered - her answer to my question would be a great one to study with the children.

Hopefully our attempt to do something a little different, and the hugely helpful insights from the professionals might inspire one or two of you to try some new things out when you next teach characterisation. I'd love to hear from you if you've tried something like this before - please leave a comment here or on Twitter!

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Book Review: 'The Star Outside My Window' by Onjali Q. Rauf

As an adult reader, I found this book a difficult one to read - difficult but compelling, yet strangely heartwarming. However, what is apparent to grown ups will certainly be less so for younger readers - the age range the book is really intended for.

The difficult thing about it is that the clues are all there as to what Aniyah and Noah have been through prior to the events in the story. I remember saying when Lisa Thompson's 'The Light Jar' was published that I hadn't encountered themes of domestic violence in a children's book before - in The Star Outside My Window it is a much more central theme.

In its plot, there are definite reminders of Onjali's previous book 'The Boy At The Back Of The Class' - a group of optmistic children hatch a hare-brained, heart-filled scheme to ensure that justice is done. Aniyah, Noah and their new foster brothers Ben and Travis, run away on Halloween and head to London to gate-crash the naming ceremony of a brand new star which is travelling closer to earth than any other star has before.

With the scientific element of the story being quite fantastical, and the terrible realities of domestic violence being ever present, a balance is created. Aniyah's love of astronomy brings another dimension too - there are plenty of great factoids scattered throughout the story. But it is the narrator's voice which really sets this story firmly in place as appropriate for the intended age group despite its upsetting premise. The child's point of view which Rauf adopts, and carries off so well (as she also did in her first book), makes for a gentle and palatable yet serious treatment of the subject matter.

Books which tackle ideas about what happens after death are usually problematic: more often than not, they push one particular, definite idea or another - beliefs which definitely wouldn't align with everyone's way of thinking, therefore alienating potential readers. In 'The Star Outside My Window' a new precendent is set: all it portrays is one child's own rationalisation of what they think has happened to their mum - an idea forged in the furnaces of grief and the only thing that makes sense to them at the time. The author pushes no religious or secular beliefs, she just tells the story of one little girl, struggling to come to terms with what has happened.

And whilst the bulk of this review has focused on the deep and meaningfuls of this book, it really must be said that it is a rip-roaring, heart-in-mouth adventure too - will they really make it all the way to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich from Waverley Village in Oxfordshire in time without being caught? The odds are stacked against them but you'll cheer repeatedly as they thwart well-meaning citizens who only want to keep them safe, and you'll laugh as squirrels - yes, squirrels! - pretty much save the day in the nick of time.

This certainly is one of 2019's must-read books, but perhaps one that parents and teachers might want to exercise caution with. To help with potential upset, and to promote growth of empathy, the book actually contains a few helpful sections pre- and postscript about the nature of the story and domestic abuse, as well as information for how to get help if aspects of the story ring true for its readers - a thoughtful and essential addition to this brave new book.

Orion Children's Books - 3rd October 2019 - Price: £6.99 - ISBN-13: 9781510105140

Monday, 23 September 2019

Book review: 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind' by Victoria Williamson

Family politics are never easy. Especially not when you're a kid with ADHD.

Family politics are never easy. Especially not when you're a kid who is trying everything, including being absolutely perfect, to make things how they used to be.

When Jamie and Elin's parents get together, and Jamie has to move in with Elin, things do not look good. With step-siblings, American boyfriends, new schools, changes in medication and school bullies to contend with, things get (realistically) messy. In 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind' Victoria Williamson turns her forensic but empathetic lens on life for children when their parents split up. Those who haven't experienced it will get a glimpse into the lives of those who have, and those readers whose parents have split will be quietly glad to see themselves represented in the pages of a book.

Williamson manages to convey the agony of having to live with all the complications of medical conditions and broken families with enough sensitive humour to keep the reader wondering how things will all resolve. Will Jamie and Elin ever learn to get along? Will therapy and medicine help the children through their confusion and anger? How does friendship figure in such a tense family situation? Through a sequence of immersive set pieces the story romps along, not always joyfully, but always full of heart, driven by the well-painted characters and the believable plot lines.

Joining Lisa Thompson's 'The Day I Was Erased' and Stewart Foster's 'Check Mates' and 'All The Things That Could Go Wrong', this book serves as an insight for children and adult readers alike into the potential reasons behind the actions of children who at school get labelled as 'the naughty kid'. It's not often that other children are given reason to empathise with these children making this an important read for youngsters. Although fiction, this story serves as a powerful illustration of how acceptance and understanding can help others to manage the impact of their experiences and medical conditions.

Employing a dual narrative technique, with each chapter alternating between Jamie and Elin's point of view, 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind', is a moving and compelling read. Capable of triggering an emotional response, Victoria Williamson's latest book is a brilliant follow-up to her debut novel 'Fox Girl And The White Gazelle', giving her fans something else equally as brilliant to get their teeth, and hearts, into.

https://discoverkelpies.co.uk/books/uncategorized/boy-with-the-butterfly-mind-2/

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Revealed: Read For Empathy Guide from EmpathyLab

Those of you who've been reading my blog and interacting with me on Twitter will know my passion for the transformative power of books. One particularly powerful aspect of books is there ability to develop empathy in the reader.

The new Read For Empathy Guide from EmpathyLab is introduced with these brilliant paragraphs:

"Empathy is a human super-power which helps us all understand each other better. It is also an essential social and emotional skill, crucial if children are to thrive.

"We’re not born with a fixed quantity of empathy – it’s a skill we can learn. Excitingly, new research shows that books are a powerful tool to develop it, because in identifying with book characters, children learn to see things from other points of view. So when you read with children you can build their empathy skills at the same time."

At this year's Reading Rocks conference I ran a workshop entitled 'The More-Ness Of Reading' (click the link for a blog version of it) in which the attendees and I explored how books can help us to become more empathetic. I've also written several blog posts on the matter:

Changing Hearts, Minds, Lives and the Future: Reading With Children for Empathy
The Best RE Lesson I Ever Taught (Spoiler: It Was A Reading Lesson)

Many of my book reviews focus in on ways that children's books might be used in the classroom to encourage children to develop empathy:

'The Goldfish Boy' by Lisa Thompson
'All The Things That Could Go Wrong' by Stewart Foster

I'm something of a fan of reading for empathy. So I was excited to find that EmpathyLab have published in their guide a list of 30 books to build children’s empathy and all in good time for Empathy Day on 12th June - we teachers and parents can get reading the selection of books now in time for then.


So far, of this list, I've only read 'Grandad’s Island' by Benji Davies, 'My Name is Not Refugee' by Kate Milner, 'Can I Join your Club?' by John Kelly and illustrated by Steph Laberis and 'The Island at the End of Everything' by Kiran Millwood Hargrave although there are a few there I've had my eye on for a while. With having read only 4 out of the 30 so far I've got a lot to be getting on with. I think I will make it my aim to read all the picture books first - hopefully my excellent local library will have them in.

The guide itself contains mini reviews of each of the books, all of which give an idea of how the book might support the development of empathy. The books which have been chosen explore themes of displacement and migration, experiencing and managing emotions and facing challenging circumstances, such as deafness, autism or bereavement.

EmpathyLab Founder Miranda McKearney OBE says: "It’s time to make far more systematic use of books’ power to tackle society’s empathy deficit. This 2018 Read for Empathy Guide is part of an empathy movement to help us understand each other better. We’re seriously delighted to be working with authors, publishers and Peters to launch it in the run up to Empathy Day on 12 June."

Have you read any of the selected books? How would you use them with children to develop empathy?
Which of the selected books are you particularly looking forward to?
I look forward to hearing from you!