Monday, 25 January 2021

Working Towards a Middle Phase in an All-Through Academy: Potential Logistical Changes for Years 7 and 8

Even though the title of this blog post is super-boring, working in an all-through academy certainly holds interesting and exciting possibilities - one of the main reasons I wanted to join the school a few years ago. 

Over the last year or so I've been able to extend my role as primary deputy and leader of UKS2 (a phase which didn't exist when I joined, with our first year 5 cohort moving up from year 4 the year I started). I've been working with Directors of Learning from the secondary phase to plan and roll out a year 7 and 8 curriculum which takes inspiration from a primary curriculum model which makes explicit links between disciplines - something I really should blog about in more detail at some point.

Now the curriculum is being rolled out, I have had the opportunity to observe it in action, and in doing so have put together further ideas for how years 7 and 8 might be developed in the future to really aid transition between KS2 and KS3. At the moment, these are all at proposal stage whilst we work on possible logistics to make them happen - not all of these ideas may come to fruition.

Many of the proposals that I have shared with the academy's senior leaders are linked to changes that were initially made because of the Covid-19 pandemic but which have gone on to have unforeseen positive consequences. Such proposals I have marked with an asterisk in the following list, although some of them were on my wishlist prior to the pandemic!

In addition to the list below, there is a huge thinkpiece to be done around primary to secondary transition, especially with the removal of SATs and children being in lockdown for the foreseeable future - yet another blog post for another time.

Proposed Developments for years 7 and 8

These proposed developments would be implemented for both year 7 and in year 8 in the 21/22 academic year.

*Children remain in a year group ‘bubble’, in a specific area of the academy, with most lessons taking place in this area of the building. This is to reduce movement around the academy, reduce opportunities to see misbehaviour of other year groups and to reduce their own misbehaviour during transition.

*Children take the majority of their lessons in one classroom (PSHCE, Geography, History, English, Maths). This is to reflect the primary experience of remaining largely in one classroom and developing a familiarity with their surroundings. This classroom will also be where they spend Period 1 (P1). Lessons requiring specialist rooms and equipment will be taken in the relevant rooms e.g. music, drama, dance, PE, DT, art, science (where necessary). This is to ensure lessons in each subject can be taught properly, but also so that children do begin to experience transitioning around the secondary part of the academy.

Classroom environments developed to reflect learning across the linked curriculum e.g. use of working walls and displays and having resources and artefacts available to inspire and support learning. This is to provide visual links and reminders of current and previous learning (for both children and teachers), to celebrate good work and to further replicate the primary experience of working in a classroom environment that is designed to support and aid learning.

Classroom storage utilised to ensure that teachers have what they need to hand without having to transport lots of materials around the academy. This is to ensure teachers have what they need to hand, and so that transitions for teachers are as easy as possible.

Develop how time is spent whilst teachers transition to classrooms e.g. Do Nows for next lesson sent to previous teacher to leave on screen for children to complete in readiness for next lesson. This is to ensure that behaviour remains good during times when teachers are not present in the classroom.

Children have an advisor who also teaches a subject in their year group. This is to develop a core team of familiar staff who are not only available during P1 but who are around the KS3 bubble areas for the majority of the day with the particular purpose of developing strong relationships between children and teachers so that teachers know the children in KS3 extremely well.

Year group teams developed, meaning that particular members of staff teach a KS3 year group for the majority of their time. This is to develop a core team of familiar staff who are around the KS3 bubble areas for the majority of the day with the particular purpose of developing strong relationships between children and teachers so that teachers know the children in KS3 extremely well.

*P1 developed as time spent with advisor with one collective meeting per week during P1. This is to develop relationships between children and a key member of staff in the KS3 teaching team in to ensure that each child has a member of staff who has a holistic understanding of them, including issues relating to their SEMH needs, home circumstances, behaviour and attitude, attendance etc.

P1 time developed to incorporate review/recall from a wider range of curriculum subjects. This is to ensure that children can remember what they have learnt across a range of subjects.

PSHCE/RE curriculum developed to make further curriculum links. This is to provide a curriculum lesson where links across the subjects can explicitly be brought together at the same time as exploring some of the associated wider issues that there is not time for in other lessons.

Leadership and staffing structure of KS3 adapted to include a phase leader and necessary middle leaders to support the day-to-day running of the phase. The leadership structure will take in some aspects of the leadership of UKS2 as well, creating a middle phase. This is again to provide a dedicated team who know the children in KS3 very well in order to safeguard them in all ways as they move from KS2 to KS3.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be... A Delivery Guy

I've contemplated writing this blog post multiple times over the last 9 months. The benefit of putting it off until now is that I can pretty much say I've been Delivery Guy in all 4 seasons, such has been the length of this horrible pandemic.

Today I was delivering laptops, but it hasn't always been devices for children who are struggling to access the online portion of our remote learning offer. I've lost count of the number of free school meals I've delivered, whether that was en masse during lockdown (pre-vouchers), or on a more individualised level for those self-isolating throughout the last term. Before that it was printed packs of learning resources when we realised that many of our families weren't able to access our online offer.

But it is never just the delivery. It's the logistics behind it too. 

Way back at the beginning of the year I sent out an online survey to parents asking them about their access to online devices (and also about their need for key worker provision in case of another lockdown). Of course, the online survey didn't fare too well for those who struggle with getting connected so there were plenty of paper copies flying around my kitchen table this week too. 

Once I'd imported (exported?) the Microsoft Forms data into an Excel document and filtered various ways to find out which families needed laptops, and once I'd added in the requests from other families, I had to check that against our list of Pupil Premium children. As I expected, the lists didn't match up - from my survey I could say that many of our PP children already had sufficient access to device, but that other children, for various reasons, did need laptops.

After some ranting and raving about the red tape involved in the government-provided laptops only being available to PP children, my principal helpfully pointed me towards our E-Learning Systems and Media Specialist who this time was doling out our class sets of Chromebooks to aid with remote learning. I sent him my numbers over and by lunchtime I had a stack of laptops checked and ready to go.

Maybe this is my perfectionism kicking in (or lack of smartphone) but I had to create myself some sort of delivery route to make the best use of my time - one Google Maps session later, I had put the local knowledge that I didn't have a year ago to work and had a great journey plan ready. That done I was ready to head off to school to pick up the laptops.

Once there, with requests for laptops continuing to come in left, right and centre, I filled in the serial numbers of the machines on all the necessary paperwork, wrote down usernames and passwords, and Post-It noted each laptop to ensure that I was giving the right one to the right family. With all that done I was ready to leave.

Suffice it to say, there were some very pleased and thankful parents and children this afternoon. The cold weather was infinitely better to work in than the sweltering temperatures of the summer (my normal work wear was not conducive to getting in and out of a car hoying around bags of bread and fruit and the like). After the disappointment of not being able to give government-provided laptops to the children who really needed them, it felt good to be making a step towards getting more children educated during this latest lockdown. Even de-tangling the snaking mass of chargers in the footwell at each stop couldn't break my good mood.

And tomorrow morning I'll go back out to spread more joy, like some kind of out-of-season Santa Claus.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Book Review: 'The Perfect Parent Project' by Stewart Foster

I keep wondering whether I should stop reviewing children's books at all - it is time-consuming and sometimes the desire to wax lyrical about something that has been lovingly crafted by a real writer just doesn't present itself. However, since my blog gets a respectable number of hits, and people do read my reviews,  I suppose I feel duty-bound to continue writing them. The urge to actually read the books in the first place rarely deserts me, and hardly do I ever choose to read one which disappoints. In fact, most of the time the books I read really are worth talking about. 

So here I am, ready to enter into another year of reviewing children's books, and kicking things off with the latest book from, I will admit, a favourite children's author of mine: Stewart Foster with his 'The Perfect Parent Project'.

'The Perfect Parent Project' is in the vein of Stewart's previous books in that it centres on a character who represents a potentially marginalised group of children. Sam is a foster kid, and although he loves his support worker, Rock Star Steve, he dreads the day when he'll bring the news that he is moving on from his current foster carers. Avid readers of Foster will have come to expect an absolute spot-on rendition of the child's voice, and this one is no exception: the reader is put well and truly in the shoes of Sam as he searches beyond his current foster family for his perfect parents.

And the heartache feels real. Sam plots with his friend Leah to find his perfect parents, not realising how well things are going with Reilly and his mum and dad. After spying his perfect parents and contriving to get to know them, Sam finds himself spinning a web of lies that eventually ensnare him. Unable to keep up the pretense Sam jeopardises all his closest relationships in his bid to make new ones. Readers, adults and children alike, will recognise that Sam's happiness really lies closer to home than he thinks; the downward spiral Sam creates for himself is sure to generate a sadness in readers of all ages.

Yet, this isn't purely a sad book. Again, Foster's writing is full of humour - a perfect antidote to the emotion of the main storyline. Sam remains upbeat for the majority of the story and his optimism carries the reader onward: although I knew what ending I wanted, I genuinely wasn't sure if I was going to get it. Given that this is a story that contains no real dramatic set-piece moments, it is full of drama, and as a result is extremely compelling - the desire for Sam to stop digging himself into deeper holes hooks the reader in.

As well as being an enjoyable story, this is one of those books that should get children thinking. Orphaned children are a staple of stories for children - many Disney movies, for example, rely on children having no parents so that they can get up to all sorts of mischief. But here we have a much more realistic interpretation of what it is like not to know one's birth parents, and to be seeking a loving home. Here we have a window into a world that, for many children, will be one that they have no experience of. And perhaps, for some children, this will be the opportunity to see something of themselves represented in story form. Either way, it feels right to have this experience acknowledged rather than fantastically exploited.

 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's UK (January 21, 2021)

'The Perfect Parent Project' is available on my Children's Fiction 2021 book list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-2021

Monday, 28 December 2020

My Corona: A Christmas with Covid

As the 18th of December drew closer, the fear inside me grew: what if we had to send a bubble, or more than one, home in those last few days of the school term? What if holidays were going to be ruined by isolation for scores of children and staff?

There was a selfish fear too, of course: what if I come into contact with someone who tests positive and have to isolate? Or what if one of my own children gets sent home from their school?

My fears were, inevitably, pretty quickly realised: my middle daughter came home on the penultimate Friday, destined to self-isolate until Friday 18th. But that didn’t touch Christmas, but it meant a huge burden on my wife, working at home fulfilling Christmas baking orders. I hurried back from school every day in order to try to provide some relief. Every day, that is, until Thursday.

Because, of course, it was the unthinkable that actually happened.

Rewind to Wednesday night:

Wednesday night was a tough one: I had an inexplicable pain across my lower back – I couldn’t get comfortable in bed and, along with the accompanying nausea, it kept me awake most of the night.

I ‘woke up’ the next day feeling slightly unwell, in my own words. Thursday was to be the last day in school, and not thinking that back ache and tiredness should stop me from enjoying the last day of school, off I went.

Thankfully, I spent the day ensuring, as usual, that I was social distancing, was in well-ventilated places, keeping my hands washed regularly and so on. The day was a great way to end what had been a fantastic term – yes, a challenging one, but a challenge I had relished. I was glad to leave by the end though, as, due to a lack of sleep, or so I thought, I was flagging somewhat.

At home I caught up a little with the DfE’s newly-revealed plans to ask secondary schools to test pupils as of January. I fired off a quick commiseration email to our principal (I work in an all-through academy) and thought I’d forget about it. With one more work-from-home morning left to go, I retired to bed that night, although not before a heated discussion with my wife regarding whether or not I should get a Covid test: when my symptoms are definitely those of Covid, was my stance; tomorrow, regardless, was hers – so that we knew for certain whether or not our Christmas plans would be affected.

But my subconscious brain clung on to the evening’s thoughts, weaponising them and torturing me all night. I dreamt of having to set up a testing centre at school – one of those looped dreams consisting of bright colours (the testing booths were decorated with red and white Christmas string), repeated phrases and nothing at all very tangible other than the feeling of dread. I woke at 4:10 am and headed downstairs to book myself a Covid test, the fever being such that the virus was becoming a more certain possibility.

***

Just before lunchtime on Sunday the test result came back. I’d all but convinced myself it would be negative, mainly on account of an easing temperature and the presence of phlegm: it was a chest infection, it must be.

Dear Aidan Severs

Your coronavirus test result is positive. It means you had the virus when the test was done.

I went downstairs to break the news. By now, of course, the rules for Christmas had changed, all our plans involved people now marooned in tier 4, so my corona was not going to be the cause of spoiled Christmas plans. However, there were plenty of other consequences.

I have to admit I cried. Many times. Everything set me off. The thought of potentially ruining so many other Christmases. The fact my wife had to cancel and refund all her Christmas orders. Knowing my mother-in-law, who is in our bubble, would not be able to spend Christmas with us meaning that she may face it alone. The knowledge that my children, who have soldiered on through the country’s toughest restrictions, living as we do in Bradford, and not even an area of Bradford that got out of local lockdown for a while, would have to endure more time indoors with only each other as company. Heightened emotions may be a symptom – then again, its legitimate for it to be that upsetting without that as an excuse.

I completed my Test and Trace information, and the academy’s counterpart. Thankfully it was deemed unnecessary to ask anyone else to isolate, due to the mitigations in place and my keeping to them. That was a weight off my mind, although I spent each day of the holiday waiting to hear that someone else from work had come down with it because of me. At the time of writing, I have heard only of one very tentative transmission, and am hoping that when I speak to my colleagues again in the new year, all will report a healthy Christmas holiday.

And the thing just left me weak, wheezy and a waste of space. Unable to go out, incapable of doing anything of any value. I par-watched a film, and an episode of a series. Reading, writing, music had very little draw – besides the initial headache that came with my Covid prohibited these activities. I slept on and off. I mostly just felt guilty – I know it wasn’t my fault - and sad that my wife was having to take on everything. My muscles ached, my skin felt like it was on fire, my head felt like it was sunburnt.

At some point, it robbed me of my sense of smell, leaving me with only a partial sense of taste. All that Christmas food! Would I be able to taste it? That was if I even had the appetite for it – usually ravenous the whole time, I certainly experienced some fluctuation in my desire to eat.

It felt unfair. We’d stuck to all the rules. I’d survived the term, always being there at work, covering when others thought they might have had it, or indeed, when others did have it, plugging away finding never-ending solutions to all the latest Covid problems. We’d ridden wave after wave of the UK’s harshest restrictions, very rarely losing hope.

Even after a week, I was still dog tired. I woke up on the 23rd feeling a bit brighter, a little more energised, but as the day wore on, that wore off. If there’s one thing this virus does well, it’s robbing its host of their vitality. Perhaps the exhaustion was due to my body fighting of the illness effectively enough for me to remain at home, instead of being hospitalised? I suppose if that was the case, then I am thankful for the tiredness.

Of course, friends and family rallied round. Many a kind message was received, people picked stuff up for us, dropped it off. Entertainment for me and the children was sent. My wife did a cracking job of keeping the morale high despite everything.

Christmas Eve was merry – I was feeling a lot better and managed to join in with all the day’s activities – still inside the house, isolating of course. Just before we headed out for a drive around to look at the Christmas lights loads of my family members came to the street and sang to us – a lovely, heart-warming moment, and a chance to sample some of my dad’s Covid Carols live! But we weren’t only going to see the Christmas lights, we also made a second trip to the test centre: my wife had begun with a cough -  a cough which by now was plaguing me to the point of perceived pain in my lungs.

And on Christmas morning, whilst preparing the meal, her text came through: positive.

And the so the saga continues. Thankfully by Sunday 27th (my official release date) I was feeling normal enough again to do a decent job of having a good time with the children, feeding the family and keeping the house in some sort of semblance of order. I took the kids out for a brief walk in the woods and it did us good. At the time of posting, my wife is still ill in bed, experiencing her version of all the symptoms I had.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

From @HWRK_Magazine: Staring At Snowflakes (Real Behaviour Management)

 

Having a bit of a laugh with students can actually be a great behaviour management technique in and of itself. 

If we’re honest, many behaviour management strategies kind of squeeze the enjoyment out of being in a room with 30 or so children. It’s easy for a teacher to assume that when children express their personalities and visibly enjoy each other’s company, that they aren’t in fact learning. 

But there’s quite a simple thing you can do to begin to work out whether or not learning is going on, regardless of how much enjoyment they might be having: you ask yourself the question ‘Are they learning?’.

Friday, 4 December 2020

22 Great Middle Grade Books From 2020 (Part 2)

Turns out that before lockdown (v1), and during much of it, I was pretty disciplined in my reading and reviewing of books. Many of the titles on this list were given a full review and so, I will quote myself a fair bit in this second part of my 22 Great Middle Grade Books From 2020 list. 

If you missed part one, then you may want to give that a read too: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/12/20-great-middle-grade-books-from-2020.html

Here goes with the second part of my list:
 
Talking To The Moon by S.E. Durrant (Nosy Crow)


I love S.E. Durrant's books - I am a massive fan of Little Bits of Sky so I jumped at the chance to read and review her latest: 'A mystery novel for children who don't like mystery novels. Usually, children's books which centre around some sort of mystery to be solved are full of high adventure and often verge on being scary - not for everyone. But 'Talking To The Moon' is different: it takes a family drama, one which many children will relate to and adds a dash of the unknown, enough to keep any reader pondering throughout the book.' (Read the rest of the review here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/03/book-review-talking-to-moon-by-se.html)

Talking To The Moon can be found on my Children's Fiction - Reading For Empathy bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-reading-for-empathy

DustRoad by Tom Huddleston (Nosy Crow)


DustRoad is one of those books that you don't really ever forget - it's cinematic scenes are etched into my memory as if I had been there as the events unfolded. I wrote similar things at the time of reading it: 'This book is so cinematic I ate popcorn as I read it, I kid you not. Every page sees the reader's retinas seared with images so lucid, if not a little hazy from desert dust, that it is impossible not to feel like you are living the action. And in 'DustRoad', action there is a-plenty.' (Click here for the full review: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/04/book-review-dustroad-by-tom-huddleston.html). And if you haven't read it's predecessor, then you'd better get hold of a copy of FloodWorld too.

FloodWorld and DustRoad can be found on my Children's Fiction - Dystopia & Sci-Fi bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-dystopia-sci-fi

Viper's Daughter by Michelle Paver (Zephyr)


I'd never read any of Michelle Paver's Wolf Brother books before but when this one dropped through my letter box I was more than willing to give them ago. I was immediately drawn into a prehistoric world where magic might just be real, and long-since extinct creatures certainly are. With an exploration of the arctic circle and tribalism, the story had a wonderful conclusion, which I just can't spoil for you but the awe and wonder check box was well and truly ticked. I've yet to return to the earlier books in the series, but I certainly intend to. Here's my full review of the Viper's Daughter: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/04/book-review-vipers-daughter-by-michelle.html

Viper's Daughter can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-historical-fiction

Wink by Rob Harrell (Hot Key Books)


From my full review of Wink: 

'Wink' by Rob Harrell tells the story of a pre-teen boy who is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, one which has attacked the gland that produces tears. It is a book that made me both laugh and cry in equal measure and it deserves a huge audience. Imagine if you will, a less saccharine version of RJ Palacio's hit MG novel 'Wonder' - that's what this is. It's all very real and very raw which is not surprising since it is semi-autobiographical in a sense: the author was inspired to write the book after suffering the exact same cancer as the book describes, albeit when he was 37 and not 11. Here's the link to read the rest: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/04/book-review-wink-by-rob-harrell.html

Wink can be found on my Humorous Children's Fiction bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/humorous-children-s-fiction

Do You Know Me? by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott (Scholastic)


Can You See Me? was a massive hit in our house so we were all excited when the follow-up Do You Know Me? was published. It continues the story of autistic Tilly, and given that it is co-written by Libby Scott, a young autistic girl, it gave me a huge insight into what home and school life can be like for autistic children. As a father of a girl on the waiting list for an assessment I actually found both books to be quite difficult to read as so many of Tilly's characteristics are reflected in one of my daughters. However, the fact that much of the story felt close to home meant that I found the book immensely enlightening, both as a parent and a teacher.

Can You See Me? and Do You Know Me? can be found on my Children's Fiction - Reading For Empathy bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-reading-for-empathy

Mohinder's War by Bali Rai (Bloomsbury)


'Mohinder's War follows the story of Joelle, a French/British girl living in France during the Nazi occupation. She, her family and their friends are a part of the resistance and when a downed RAF pilot needs hiding, he is taken into the home of the Bretons and concealed in their cellar. The pilot is Mohinder Singh, a character based on a real life RAF pilot who flew in the Second World War. He and Joelle strike up a friendship - Joelle keeping him company and sharing her local knowledge, and Mohinder teaching her about his homeland and Sikh faith and opening her eyes to philosophies regarding life.' Read my full review before choosing to give it a child as there are some warnings: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/05/book-review-mohinders-war-by-bali-rai.html

Mohinder's 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

The Infinite by Patience Agbabi (Canongate)


The Infinite is an intriguing sci-fi adventure centering on time travel. Once you've got your head around the concepts that the book is based on, you are taken on a completely unique adventure, the likes of which I've never encountered before neither in film or in children's literature. Here's my full review of the book: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/08/book-review-infinite-by-patience-agbabi.html

The Infinite can be found on my Children's Fiction - Dystopia & Sci-Fi bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-dystopia-sci-fi

The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman (Pan Macmillan)


The first of two books in 2020 from the duo's Adventures on Trains, The Highland Falcon Thief had that Agatha Christie vibe that was oh-so-missing from the MG market. To be honest, they had me at 'Adventures on Trains' and I wasn't disappointed. There a plenty of train-y facts and details and the constraints that are placed on the narrative by the fact that the action has to take place (largely) on a train make for a really cleverly-written story. In fact, a story that I enjoyed so much that I was more than ready for the follow-up...

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

Kidnap on the California Comet by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman (Pan Macmillan)


Everyone knows that American railways are very different from British ones, so a hop across the Atlantic made immediately for an almost entirely different story, except for there are still trains and there is still a crime to solve. Tension is ramped up (sorry, I know that has been one of the absolute worse phrases of 2020) by the fact that this time a child's life is in peril. As with the first book, the reader is kept guessing (even adult ones) in true crime mystery style. An absolute romp of a book with a brilliant cast of potential criminals to suspect of dastardly deeds.

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

Empire's End - A Roman Story by Leila Rasheed (Scholastic)


I read the whole Voices series in 2020 and have nothing but high praise for them. This one is set in one of my favourite historical periods, and in one of my favourite places: Roman Britain. It's rooted in true history and in this respect is very eye-opening: 'The gripping and fast-paced story is all carefully interwoven with historical fact: a Roman emperor from Libya did live and die in York, archaeological research has shown that those with black African heritage did live in Britain during the Roman period and that people from all over the Roman provinces ended up marrying each other and having children. In 'Empire's End' Rasheed imagines how one such character may have ended up in Britain, despite having been born in North Africa.'

Empire's End can be found on my Children's Historical Fiction bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-historical-fiction

Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold (Stripes)

This is one of those books that you finish and immediately decide there needs to be a sequel. By the end of the story the reader is fully satisfied by the outcome but so invested in the characters and the world that they have no choice but to be left wanting more. Close to the bone for 2020, this story features a virus which has been deliberately released by environmentalists, a blight which wipes out half of the world's population in a bid to re-wild a concrete planet (this was certainly one of the conspiracy theories circulating back at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak). Nicola Penfold does a great job of navigating the ethics in this dystopian novel, celebrating both human life and the preservation of environment. I think this was one of my absolute favourites of the year.

Where The World Turns Wild can be found on my Children's Fiction - Dystopia & Sci-Fi bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-dystopia-sci-fi

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton


I'm casting my mind back on this one as I read it at the back end of last year, however, it is still crystal clear in my mind. Set in Venice and featuring a gondola-load of menace and peril, this story as an absolute magical belter. Check out my review of the book (here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/01/mask-of-aribella-anna-hoghton.html) and Anna's guest post about masks (here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2020/01/world-of-masks-anna-hoghton-aribella.html). Here's a reminder of one my most pretentious attempts at metaphor in a book review ever: 'The story skims along at a cracking pace, yet, just as with the wooden piles on which Venice is built, there are foundations that run deep - the power of friendship and family, trust and responsibility provide a solid base for this dark tale of good versus evil.'

The Mask of Aribella can be found on my Simon Smith's Favourite Longer Reads For Children 2020 bookshop.org list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/simon-smith-s-favourite-longer-reads-for-children-2020

Finally, if you've got this far, I'd love to hear your recommendations as to which other 2020 MG books are worth a read. Drop me a comment on the blog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thatboycanteach

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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