Category Archives: Reading

October #52books2017

91. Geraldine McCaughrean – Where The World Ends

An absolutely stunning, absorbing and fulfilling read. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Set in the early 18th century, a small group of boys, along with a couple of adults, go off to the Warrior Stac, lying just off the island of Hirta, in order to carry out the quest of fowling – collecting birds to eat. As time passes, the boys realise they have been forgotten, and are left marooned, starting to wonder whether the world has ended without their knowing.

We see all the guises, good and bad, of mankind here, from the pious Euan to the thoughtful Calum; Kenneth, an incessant bully, is bitter until the very end; Col Cane reveals himself not to be a man of God but something else entirely, while John’s character development is fascinating (and has worrying connotations, should you be sharing this with primary aged children).

At the centre of this is Quill, a boy with his head screwed on and seemingly the only one who tries to keep the group (and their sanity) in tact. He tells stories to soothe, puts his life at risk to help, and is a confidant of others. His own spirit is kept alive by the thought of returning to Hirta to see the love his life, Murdina, who he believes is watching over him in the form of a particular sea-bird.

There is so much to admire here, so many twists and turns. There are hints of Lord of the Flies in parts, and the ending is just sublime.

Just brilliant.

92. Helena Duggan – A Place Called Perfect

A unique story of the quest for perfection. Violet and her family move to Perfect to better themselves, and for Dad to help develop the glasses that are worn by every resident. Violet, however, quickly realises the glasses are not all they are made out to be, and are just the tip of an iceberg of evil and deceit. Working with an accomplice, Boy, she works to find the root of the deception – but can she convince her own family of the truth?

 

93. Kate DiCamillo – The Tale of Despereaux

A traditional-ish tale of love, hope and determination, where the baddies are taught lessons and rewards are given to those who persevere.

94/95/96. Abi Elphinstone – The Dreamsnatcher / The Shadow Keeper / The Night Spinner

A wonderfully imaginative trilogy that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve.

Moll Pecksniff is a gypsy traveller whose future has been foretold: she is the one who has to fight against the dark magic of the Shadowmasks, six dark forces who want to take Molly, having already taken her parents. To aid her, she has the loyal Gryff (here is the first of a few Pullman nods, alongside tearing through worlds), and a fantastic cast of family members, guardians, friends and odd acquaintances picked up along the way. Friendship, loyalty and family are all really strong themes throughout the book, even when trust is seemingly misplaced.

There is magic to rival Rowling; Tolkien’s riddles are alluded to in book 2; even G.R.R. Martin appears to be an influence as there are guardians of the night. If it is fantasy your children (or you) are after, then you won’t go too far wrong with this trilogy.

97. Mitch Johnson – Kick

Set in Indonesia, this story is about a twelve year old boy called Budi. He works in a factory sewing together football boots and he dreams of one day meeting his hero, a football player for Real Madrid.

When playing football, he accidentally smashes a window belonging to the local gangster and finds himself involved in a murky underworld.

Endorsed by Amnesty International, this story shines a light on sweatshops, human rights and people-trafficking. A great read.

98. Alex Bell – The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club

A frosty tale of exploration – part-fantasy, part-fairy tale – as Stella and three comrades make their way across the Icelands. Stella, who was orphaned and taken in by the wonderful Felix, finds out about her true identity, and friendship is very much at the fore here.

There were lots of moments that reminded me of Katherine Rundell’s writing – Felix, for one, is very similar to Charles of Rooftoppers, not to mention Stella’s predicament bearing similarities to Sophie – and obviously the exploring theme has strong links.

I think I realising fantasy is not my genre, and as such I found it difficult to get excited about chapters about frosties, carnivorous cabbages or giant yetis. There are some really well-written descriptive elements here though, and the relationship between the four children grows brilliantly.

99. Neil Gaiman – Fortunately, The Milk…

Literally a story of a dad going out to get some milk and taking too long – his excuse to his children takes in aliens, time-travel, balloon flights and much more. Silliness superbly illustrated, as ever, by Chris Riddell.

100. Piers Torday – There May Be A Castle

Wow.

The story starts with a car crash on Christmas Eve; from here it splits into two: Mouse, a daydreamer, escapes the wreckage and is aided by a sheep, a sarcastic talking donkey and a cumbersome T-Rex, while back in reality, Violet (Mouse’s sister), tries to work out how to save her family from freezing to death on the snowy hills.

To be honest, the first few chapters didn’t grab me – I thought it was a little silly and a bit *too* childish. But once I understood the direction the story was going, it was enormously powerful. Mouse’s bravery and determination see him make important decisions that could change everyone’s lives forever…

A hugely emotional ending and a book I won’t forget for some time.

101. Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust

I think I enjoyed this more than His Dark Materials. It is a prequel to the trilogy that has Lyra very much in the background, kept safe by the nuns as alluded to in Northern Lights. We follow Malcolm, a genial young man who shows respect to his elders, and as such takes the advice of Lord Asriel when he visits his parents’ pub. He is warned of a forthcoming flood and takes actions accordingly – the second half of the book sees Malcolm and his accomplice Alice sailing through Oxford and beyond, being chased by those who want to get their hands on Lyra.

Not a book for children, whether or not they’ve read His Dark Materials, not least for the language. A novel that stands brilliantly on its own and introduces two brilliant new characters to Lyra’s world.

102. William Grill – Shackleton’s Journey

Looking forward to using this book for a geography topic. Full of beautiful illustrations and brimming with facts about Shackleton.

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September #52books2017


76. A.F. Harrold – The Song From Somewhere Else

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I think I love this man’s writing. He has such a relaxed style that sits so well with his poetic turn of phrase – there is humour, sarcasm, imagery and a depth of language that would be brilliant to explore with children in KS2.

The story starts when Francesca (Frank) accidentally befriends Nick, a boy at school who is evidently quite unpopular. She visits his house and hears unusual music, the source of which leads her, and Nick, to explore the boundaries of their newly-formed friendship and of life itself.

Shadows are more sinister than they appear, and cats wiser than one thought. Magical reading.

77. Kieran Larwood – The Gift of Darkhollow

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Podkin, Paz and Pook have survived – just – and are now holed up in Grimheart forest, avoiding the Gorm at all costs. Podkin, however, is feeling less than appreciated and goes for a wander in his new surroundings, where he stumbles upon a new Gift. This leads him to overhear a conversation about where another has been hidden, a Gift that can help them end the Gorm forever.

And so begins another epic tale of these wonderful rabbits. There are more of them, but this time, instead of running away from danger, they are choosing to walk right into it.

As with the first book, the relationships between Podkin and Paz, and Podkin and Crom, show real heart, while new characters such as Zarza and Vetch offer possible hints of what is to come in book 3.

Again, my favourite element of the book is the bard, who is on his own journey with an apprentice-to-be, Rue. He looks after Rue in a slightly curmudgeonly manner but ultimately shows the love he was once shown – a thoughtful ending wraps up his story (for now) very poignantly.

Another must-read.

78. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book

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A celebration of life and all its curiosities.

A wonderful opening – the man Jack holding a knife, trying to kill his fourth victim, a baby – is quickly followed by the baby (now named Bod) growing up and learning magic in a graveyard. He can see the dead and he can see the living. He floats between the two worlds.

Time passes and Bod wants to know what happened to his family – my favourite exchange of many a book comes when Bod learns of the man Jack and a guardian, Silas, wonders whether the outside world is safe enough for Bod:

Bod: If I go out into the world, the question isn’t, “Who will keep me safe from him?”

Silas: No?

Bod: No. It’s, “Who will keep him safe from me?”

A wonderful bit of dialogue dripping with intent.

Bod wants to live. We all should.

79. Pam Smy – Thornhill

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So dark and so hard-hitting.

Two parallel stories that collide together.

The written part of the book is in diary form, dated 1982 and detailing the difficulties of Mary Baines. She lives in the Thornhill orphanage for girls and is suffering at the hands of ‘her’.

Meanwhile, in 2017, Ella Clarke has moved into a house that looks over Thornhill. Through brilliant illustrations, we see Ella see a figure in the window and goes closer to find out more…

Not one I’d use in class as I think it’s too upsetting.

80. Francesca Sanna – The Journey

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A beautifully illustrated book that tells the story of a family’s sudden departure from their homeland to somewhere safer. The illustrations are so rich and wonderfully presented- my class spent a week exploring this book and we could have gone on for longer.

81. Mark Haddon – Boom!

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Jimbo and Charlie overhear their teachers using a secret language and decide to find out what’s going on. Despite being by a man with glowing blue eyes, they journey across the country to uncover the truth.

Fast-paced silliness that would be great for Y4+.

82. Malorie Blackman – Pig-Heart Boy

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A story about Cameron, a boy with a dodgy ticker who is offered a way out by the enigmatic Dr Bryce. He has a heart transplant using the heart of a pig, and the story is really about what happens to Cameron afterwards: how others perceive him, how he perceives himself, and what life comes to mean to him.

A strong emotional ending and lots of talking points around animal rights (and the price of life).

83. Ali Benjamin – The Thing About Jellyfish

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I found this a really engaging book to read, and one that I genuinely didn’t want to put down.

Suzy has chosen not to speak since finding out her former best friend (Franny) drowned. Instead, all her energy is focussed on finding out what actually happened – her theory is a jellyfish sting.

The story uses flashbacks to explain, firstly, how Suzy and Franny became friends, moved through school together, then gradually drifted apart, and secondly showing Suzy’s current predicament – that being her parents have taken her to therapy sessions to get to the root of her non-talking.

Suzy comes across as precocious, socially awkward and likeable – she’s not interested in the ‘girly’ things her peers are, and is rather much more taken by the life that surrounds her. She is intelligent (which comes to be a disadvantage, of sorts), referencing Kate DiCamillo, TED talks and John Cage, and of course her obsession with jellyfish reflects how differently she thinks when compared to other children of her age.

There are themes of bullying, revenge, regret and grief, but the accessible way in which it is written offers so much scope for discussion with children from Y5 and up.

84. Sonya Hartnett – The Children of the King

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A language-rich tale of WWII, though written from a different viewpoint to most books on this theme that are aimed at a similar age.

Here, we follow Cecily Lockwood, a 12 year old girl who knows her family are wealthy and is minded just so, as she, her brother, Jeremy, and mother debunk to their uncle’s mansion in the sticks in order to avoid the bombings in London. Along the way, they take in an evacuee, May, who seems entirely and amusingly nonplussed by the wealth in front of her, but shows gratitude to, and tolerance of, her new family (particularly Cecily, who comes across as fairly annoying).

The two get along and discover the ruins of Snow Castle, which leads on to Uncle Peregrine’s dramatic storytelling sessions that provide a large backbone of the story. Without wanting to give too much away, his story mirrors May’s journey somewhat, and also supports Jeremy’s exploits towards the end of the book.

The language here is just fantastic – I haven’t read any of Sonya Hartnett’s books before and am glad that I have now. She writes poetically, and the only author I can think of that she reminds of is Frances Hardinge.

85/86/87. Philip Pullman – Northern Lights / The Subtle Knife / The Amber Spyglass

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In the interests of honesty I should admit that The Amber Spyglass was finished on October 2nd…but it’s easier to review as a trilogy.

I don’t mind admitting that I struggled with this a little. Perhaps it was the vastness of the worlds that Pullman has created, or my sometime aversion to the fantasy genre, but whatever it was, it slowed me down.

It would be much easier to read a thorough review from someone who understands everything that happened, and what it all means, which would be here.

My personal likes from book one were Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear who grows to love Lyra, likewise Lee Scoresby. In Northern Lights, Lyra appears strong and determined and self-assured; I felt this diminished when she meets Will in The Subtle Knife. It is clear she admires him but the strength of her own fire is dimmed a little. However, they make a great team, ducking and diving between worlds as they do.

The Amber Spyglass is my favourite of the three – there are lots of emotional decisions made here. A world – or multiple worlds – of magic, of armoured bears and witches, of knives and dragonfly spies, of possibility, finishes with the most human of endings as various characters are forced to make impossible choices. Relationships end and relationships begin – this is life.

88. Amy Wilson – A Girl Called Owl

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Owl is a girl who has never known her father, but this is all about to change once she finds an unusual power within herself.

Full of magic, myth and midwinter scenery, this book has a unique atmosphere and sparkles with description all the way through. Owl does her best to find her father – in fact, trying too hard at points, putting friendships in danger – and starts to harness what she has.

For me, there’s not a true ending, no definite full stop, but that’s no bad thing. Lots of focus on fantasy and friendship which will entertain Y5+.

89. Sonya Hartnett – The Silver Donkey

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A fairly straightforward war narrative, whereby Coco and Therese find a soldier camped in a nearby forest. He has deserted his post and what he has witnessed has turned him temporarily blind. The girls resolve to help him, and in return, the soldier shares a series of stories, each of which revolves around a donkey. Through his stories, the children learn what it means to show compassion, love and loyalty, which in turn they show to their fallen soldier.

The soldier’s stories are the highlight of this for me – the nativity is told beautifully, while the others I’m unfamiliar with or indeed whether they are Hartnett’s own words. Either way, they offer morals and discussion points (they are short too – perfect for an assembly).

90. Morris Gleitzman – Two Weeks With the Queen

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If ever there were an example of why a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, then this is it.

I was expecting a light-hearted, high jinks tale of a boy’s journey to the UK, and there are elements of that, but ultimately the issues here are deep.

Colin lives in Australia and learns that his brother has become ill; Colin, with loveable childish naivety, thinks the Queen of England can help. On this journey he meets Ted, a man whose partner is seriously ill, and Colin realises he importance of family and friendship.

Issues raised are terminal illness, same sex relationships, victimisation and family. Even the family Colin stays with in the UK (auntie and uncle) raise issues by virtue of the way they treat their son, Alastair.

Definitely one to use in class but should be thought about carefully before doing so.

August #52books2017

A lovely summer holiday spent reading as much as I could, fitting 17 books in to August. Some crackers too.

59. Katherine Rundell – The Explorer

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Four children – Fred, Con, Lila and Max – find themselves stranded in the depths of the Amazon after their plane crashes.

The first half of the book is all about the dynamic of the group – the leaders, the helpful, the painful, the stubborn – and each character is vividly written. Fred is a doer, a boy who wears his cricket jumper with pride and thinks about what his father what say and do; Con is a complicated girl with multiple layers to her personality. She can appear stubborn, angry and cynical, often all within one sentence, but shows her childish love for life at other points. Lila is the mother figure of the group, not least because she looks after her younger, slightly annoying brother, Max.

They survive through a mixture of luck and opportunism – then they stumble across the explorer. What a wonderful character this man is. I picture him acted by Charles Dance, all stiff upper lip and correctness, a sharp tongue allied to a sharper temper, not to mention a wonderful way with words (‘I’ll cut off your ears and give them to the vulture to wear as a hat’ is one of my favourite throwaway lines). He teaches the children more than they ever thought as their adventure unfolds.

Simply put, a wonderful story. It’s not too much to say you can feel yourself in the jungle with the gang, and the explorer character is just fantastic. Katherine Rundell is such a fine writer that it brings both admiration and envy.

Have I mentioned the explorer is brilliant?

60. Piers Torday – The Last Wild

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Set in a dystopian future, where humans and animals alike have succumbed to ‘red-eye’, we meet Kester, a mute boy who has been living in quarantine, alone, for six years. He soon realises he can talk to animals, and it falls to him to lead the creatures – the last wild – to safety, away from hungry humans, callous cullers and mad scientists. On his journey, he begins to learn more about himself – why he was in quarantine, and what happened to his father – all the while becoming more at one with his new-found animal friends.

There are some great characters here, not least the regal and righteous stag, the slightly mad white pigeon and the batty field mouse, all of whom help Kester to reach his potential as ‘the wildness’. The message of the importance of the animal kingdom rings loud and clear, and is perfectly paced for a class read. I’m looking forward to reading the sequels.

61. Lorena Alvarez – Nightlights

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This was a very affecting book, both beautiful and uncomfortable at the same time. The artwork is stunning, presented as a mini graphic novel, and the attention to detail is mind-boggling.

Sandy is a dreamer, a girl who’d sooner be drawing and doodling than listening in class. She creates creatures and worlds from her dreams, but begins to question herself when she meets the new girl at school – Morfie. Is Morfie real, or is she another – a more powerful – figment of Sandy’s imagination?

A dark, disturbing picture book, and one that would be interesting to read with older children.

62. Maz Evans – Simply the Quest

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The much-anticipated follow-up to Who Let the Gods Out? continues at a blistering pace from the get-go. Elliott is still being chased by the daemon Thanatos, who wants to get his hands on the Chaos Stones. He makes Elliott an offer he finds difficult to refuse, and much of the story is about Elliot dealing with his own personal demons as well as those trying to hunt him down, the most prominent of which are his mother’s ill health and a revelation about his father.

Elsewhere, Virgo is desperately trying to regain her immortality, the gods are stuck in Elliott’s house and Patricia Porshley-Plum is out for revenge.

I enjoyed this book much more than the first – the pace is excellent, the humour is non-stop and the story is based more on Elliott’s life than the intentions of the huge cast of gods.

63. Kieran Larwood – The Legend of Podkin One-Ear

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Kieran Larwood has written a classic in under 300 pages: a sprawling, magical fantasy world of rabbits is under attack – chieftains are being killed and warrens ransacked as the Gorm seek to take over all the land. Podkin, along with his sister Paz and little brother Pook, make good their escape, carrying with them Starclaw, one of the Twelve Gifts – which the Gorm are intent on finding. They have to think on their feet, always being wary of where the Gorm might be lurking, as they make their way through this impressively constructed rabbity realm.

My favourite thing about this story is the way it is told – we begin with a wise old bard sitting with a group of younger rabbits in the middle of winter, readying them for a story. Their enthusiasm is boundless, but the bard holds them all in the palm of his hand (or paw). He goes on to tell Podkin’s tale; the book is interrupted with interludes as the bard questions his audience about things like the morality of gambling, or the importance of storytelling. And this book is a perfect example of the art – wonderfully written.

64. Elizabeth Laird – Welcome to Nowhere

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A gritty tale of escape as Omar and his family make their way out of Syria, which has just descended into civil war.

I really wish I’d read this book with my class. They were genuinely interested in the wider world but often said they were unsure how people became refugees. This book maps it out clearly – much like an illness, displacement can happen to anybody. It is indiscriminate – the trouble Omar and his family go through show this perfectly.

A thoughtful story that would be perfect for any learning around the current refugee crisis.

65. Polly Ho-Yen – Fly Me Home

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I love Polly’s writing style. She builds this magical realism into her stories which I love in other authors too (Almond and Murakami, for example).

In this story, Leelu is afraid – she is new to the country, new to her school, and as such struggles to find her voice. Through the help of her friend Betsy, her growing relationship with her brother Tiber, and the ‘wonders’ that are left by Bo, she grows.

Bo is an interesting character. He’s an oddball with a big heart, and teaches Leelu how to become more. He reminded me a little bit of Skellig – not in his mannerisms, but more because of the impact he has.

Another lovely read from an author who thinks a little differently.

66. Gary Paulsen – Hatchet

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Brian Robeson finds himself stranded, alone and unprepared, when his plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness. He uses his ingenuity, his patience and ultimately his instinct for survival in order to make the best of his situation.

A great short story that marries well with Katherine Rundell’s ‘The Explorer’, and, as promised by those who recommended it, there are some brilliant extracts that would be useful for teaching how to write with suspense.

67. Robert Swindells – Room 13

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Fliss is off to Whitby for a class residential, only before she goes she experiences a nightmare that slowly begins to become true.

At midnight, mysterious things start to happen at room number 13, including sleep-walking, illness and mirages, but will anybody believe Fliss – and will she be able to do anything about it?

68. Piers Torday – The Dark Wild

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The second in the trilogy, and just as brilliant as the first. This time the focus is a little more on Polly and her secrets (or at least, the secret her family have been holding on to). Kester realises he is not quite the ‘wildness’ he thought – not all of the animals follow his command, leading to the discovery of the dark wild, a collection of animals who are looking to exterminate human life once and for all.

As with The Last Wild, Torday raises some important points about animals, how they’re treated and whether we, as humans, could do more to look after our world.

69. Graeme Macrae Burnett – His Bloody Project

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The darkest book I’ve read for quite some time, and certainly the only book that has given me sleepless nights (I woke to think that Roddy was at the end of my bed).

The book is a collection of accounts of three brutal murders that took place in the Scottish Highlands. Roddy has been accused of the murders, and has accepted responsibility, but each account offers a slightly different perspective.

Stark yet enthralling.

70. Jill Paton Walsh – Fireweed

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A story that feels like smoke and dirt.

Narrated by ‘Bill’ – we never find out his real name – we learn of life in London during the Blitz. Bill should be in the Welsh countryside, evacuated as other children were, but makes his way back to London where he meets Julie, another child who has avoided the authorities.

Together, they just about survive, earning money through Bill’s opportunism and finding shelter whenever possible. The final two chapters are particularly heart-wrenching.

This is perfect for use with a WWII topic, touching upon evacuation, shelters, vividly described scenes of bombing (both during raids and the aftermath), as well as lots of other smaller pieces of information of which I was ignorant.

71. Ross Welford – Time Travelling With a Hamster

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This story begins with Al’s birthday, upon which he receives a letter from his dad – though his dad is dead. The letter urges Al to go back in time, using his dad’s time travel invention, in order to make small but important changes that means he wouldn’t die young.

Off Al goes, in a Back To The Future-fuelled mission to change things, but not too much, and meet people, but not affect them. There is humour, emotion and a considerable amount of darkness – death, miscarriages, swearing, hints about virginity all feature, all of which would put me off reading it with my class. An odd one in many ways, as so many books seem to be about dealing with grief, whereas this one goes against that, and actively tries to reverse what has happened. One of a kind!

72. Shaun Tan – Tales From Outer Suburbia

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I spotted this for £1.50 in a charity shop window and thought there must have been some sort of mistake – always a treat when that happens.

Packed with short stories of the mundanity of suburban life, albeit with magical twists, such as the day a water buffalo was found on the street, or when the town painted a load of rockets. Unusual and entertaining, and enhanced with Tan’s unique illustrations.

73. Zana Fraillon – The Ones That Disappeared

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A story about enslaved children, this is hard-hitting with a pinch of magical other-worldliness. Having escaped the clutches of their ‘owner’, Orlando, Isa and Esra make their way through drains and tunnels, trying to find their friend, Miran. Along the way they meet Skeet, a character who is the best of humanity personified – he’s enthusiastic, lovably naive, honest and open, and the three of them learn to work together.

In the midst of all this is the Riverman, a Skellig type character that Skeet, Isa and Esra build together out of mud, sticks and clay. When he comes to life, the children are unsure whether to follow him or run further from their old lives.

In a similar way to The Bone Sparrow, Zana Fraillon writes about a modern day crisis, albeit one that is less talked about than displacement. It links to the refugee crisis, something that Fraillon’s excellent author notes make clear.

Another strong read, thought-provoking and difficult at once. Would be great for KS3+.

74. Haruki Murakami – Men Without Women

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Seven short stories centred around Men Without Women, exploring loss, desire, love, jazz, cats, heartbreak and loneliness. There’s a distinct sadness about this book.

75. Alex Wheatle – Straight Outta Crongton

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A page-turner in the truest sense. This is the third in the Crongton series and is by far my favourite.

It centres around Mo, a 15-year-old girl from the estate whose life begins to unravel from the word go. Lloyd, her mum’s boyfriend, physically attacks Mo over a fiver so Elaine, Mo’s erstwhile and loyal friend, advises her to go the police.

Lloyd is central to the plot as Mo gets a boyfriend who stands up to him on Mo’s behalf, and her friend Naomi gets involved with local gang members. Everything moves at a breakneck speed until the most bittersweet of endings. Not suitable for KS2 but a moving, absorbing tale of life on the Crongton estate.

July #52books2017

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Managed to complete the 52 book challenge this month, so have extended it to see whether I can reach 100.

48/49. Timothee de Fombelle – Vango / Vango: A Prince Without a Kingdom

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Huge thanks to Jack Phillips for relentlessly enthusing about this – really glad he did as it is an astonishing book.

Book 1: Everyone’s looking for Vango, and Vango is trying to find himself.

This book has an enormous scale to it. Set in the early 20th century, the main protagonist, Vango, is on the run after a murder is pinned on him, but he’s not sure who wants him dead – or why.

The story chops and changes in time, going back to Vango’s early life before returning to the present, and takes in the viewpoints of a huge revolving cast of characters. This is probably my favourite part of the book – there is such a range and depth to these characters, each with their own story to tell and they all have a real purpose, interweaving with one another seamlessly. To name but a few, there is Ethel, a woman who lives with her brother in Inverness and has an unexplained obsession with Vango; Colonel Eckener, a high-ranking military official who leads the voyages of the Graf Zeppelin, a vehicle Vango becomes familiar with; Auguste Boulard, the much-beleaguered police officer who’s tasked with finding Vango; Mademoiselle, the woman who has raised Vango and knows more about his past than she lets on…the list continues. The Cat, Viktor, Pino Troissi – all brilliantly written and all important.

As well as moving back and forth through time and changing character viewpoints, the story moves swiftly from Paris to Italy, London to Inverness, with even mentions of Rio. The story has such scope and is wonderfully translated by Sarah Ardizzone.

Recommended. I’ll be reading it again.

Book 2: I enjoyed the second book a little less but it retains the same scale, just with a little less pace. The story focuses more on Viktor and his many guises, as well as exploring how Ethel’s relationship with Vango started and continued. The ending is a little emotional, and worth investing two books worth of time in for!

50. Melissa Savage – Bigfoot, Tobin & Me

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A heart-warmer. Set in the mid-70s, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, Lemonade is in mourning after her mother dies, and so moves to Willow Creek to live with her grandfather.

She meets Tobin, a boy who is obsessed with finding Bigfoot but struggles to make friends with others. Lemonade helps him to deal with his problems, and the two find more than they were bargaining for…

Some of Savage’s language and repetition reminded me a little of Kate DiCamillo, and she creates a lovely story of friendship. On a personal level, it reminded me of simpler times, when my friends and I would go off exploring in the fields nearby.

51. Frank Cottrell-Boyce – Cosmic

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Liam Digby is an unusual 12 year old – his height and his beard give him the look of a much older man. He passes as the father of his friend, Florida, and this sows the seed of adventure in his young old head.

The book is written from the point of view of Liam already being in space. We find out he is up there with four other children – the first 2/3 of the story are japes, scrapes and silliness that lead to Liam’s venture into space.

The final 1/3 ties everything together beautifully – it is expertly crafted and is an ode to fathers and to fatherhood. Before this I was enjoying the book without loving it; the ending is perfect.

52. Gill Lewis – A Story Like the Wind

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This short, beautifully illustrated book is set on a boat, in which a group of refugees are at sea – and scared. None of them have very much, if anything at all; Rami has a violin that he uses to tell a story, offering hope and a thin veil of security to those around him.

Warmly written and one that leaves a lasting impression.

53. Peter Bunzl – Moonlocket

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The trials and tribulations of Lily and Robert continue with abandon, as the two encounter a new villain, Jack Door (named after Door from Neil Gaiman’s Neverland), an escapologist who is searching for the precious Moonlocket. Unbeknown to him, Robert and his family history hold the key to what Jack is looking for.

The follow up to Cogheart throws much more of a spotlight on Robert and how he is coping following the death of his father. Lily takes more of a back seat, as do the cast of mechanicals, as we follow their adventure to London, where Professor Hartman has been unwittingly assisting Jack…

54. Jess Butterworth – Running on the Roof of the World

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One I’d been wanting to read for a while, and it didn’t disappoint.

Following a protest in their village, Tash and Sam escape Tibet and make their way across the Himalayas to India, where they think their parents are being held. They have to dodge soldiers, decide on who is trustworthy and who is not, and, simply, survive. The relationship they develop with their yaks is particularly poignant, and a serious message about refugees and political/social unrest is dealt with in a tone that would be perfect for year 5/6 children.

55. Stewart Foster – All the Things That Could Go Wrong

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I really loved this book. Chapters are written from the alternate points of view of Dan and Alex. Dan is essentially full of anger, led astray all too easily by the vindictive Sophie, and his struggles are slowly revealed as the story progresses.

Alex, meanwhile, suffers with OCD, and is an easy target for the likes of Sophie. Dan digs away at him too, giving him the nickname ‘Shark Face’, but the two come together in unlikely circumstances.

The two characters are portrayed brilliantly – simultaneously different, but essentially struggling in the same way. Both are alone, worried and torn, and neither know how to deal with it.

Goldfish Boy + Wonder = All the Things That Could Go Wrong.

56. Malorie Blackman – Cloud Busting

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Picked this up for 50p in the local charity shop. In my ignorance I hadn’t quite realised what it was – for those who don’t know, it is a short story written in poetic verse. The poems revolve around Davey, a boy who is bullied at school. There’s not much more to say without giving it away, but each poem is written in a slightly different style, revealing a little bit more about how Davey is treated. A thoughtful, thought-provoking book that I hope to use with my class next year.

57. M.G. Leonard – Beetle Queen

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We started this in class but never got round to finishing it, so I was more than happy to spend an afternoon devouring it.

The gang – Darkus, Virgina and Bertolt – are hot on the heels of Lucretia as she prepares for a film award show in the US. They know she is up to something – but what is it? And can they stop her in time?

Another fast-paced tale, one that crescendos in the final few chapters with a stunning climax. As promised, the final part of the trilogy has been announced, so the loose ends here will be nicely tied up.

58. Siobhan Dowd – The London Eye Mystery

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A true mystery story in which Ted, the narrator, is the boy who tries to solve it. When his cousin Saleem goes missing after taking a ride on the London Eye, Ted begins to develop a multitude of theories as to what happened. As he explains, his brain ‘works on a different operating system’, which means he sees and thinks about things in a different way.

I loved the way most chapters started with Ted’s fixation on the weather, and his relationship with his sister Kat is a perfect microcosm of brotherly-sisterly love (or otherwise).

A well-told story, particularly interesting in how it portrays Ted, a boy with Asperger’s.

100 books with QR codes

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Most people will be aware of Ashley Booth (@MrBoothY6) and his work around reading – if not, be sure to give him a follow as he shares so much.

He created lists of 100 books for each year group/phase which are freely available from his blog.

I have adapted this slightly to add in a QR code – a quick scan will take the reader to (usually) the opening extract of the book in question, allowing children to try before they read. We don’t have every book available at school so this would be a quick way for children (and adults!) to see whether they would want to read on.

Disclaimer: my 100 list for Y5/6 is not the exactly same as Ashley’s for various reasons, but by and large it’s the same. Hopefully all QR codes work – the extracts are taken from the soon-to-be defunct lovereading4kids site.

Get them as a pdf/publisher file here.

 

June #52books2017

Managed to squeeze 12 books in this month – a mixed bag but enjoyable nonetheless.

36. G.R. Gemin – Cowgirl

This is Gemin’s first book, and, if you liked Sweet Pizza, you’ll probably like this too. There are similar themes: a community crumbling around its inhabitants (in this case the Mawr Estate); a determined central character (Kate – the ‘Cowgirl’); and a surprising agent for change in Gran. A fairly straightforward, well-meaning story that would be a good read for Y4.

37. Katherine Rundell – Rooftoppers

A wonderful story of hope. Sophie was left in the care of Charles after the ship she was on sank, and, as the only female survivor, realises her mother must have died. Charles – a brilliant, eccentric character full to the brim of the finest moral code – has his paternal methods questioned by the authorities, which leads the two to abscond to France, where Sophie has a hunch that her mother may be living.

Here, Sophie meets Matteo, a boy who lives on the roofs of Paris, and the two, aided by other roof-dwelling children, race against time to search for Sophie’s mum.

Sophie is a fabulous character, showing determination, self-belief and confidence in proving herself to  be the equal to, and better of, those she meets on her journey.

38. Ross Welford – What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible

Ethel, a 13 year old girl from Whitley Bay, finds herself turning invisible after a chance encounter with a sunbed and some unusual acne medicine. Her new-found abilities are kept secret by Boydy, a boy at school who is something of an outcast, and together they embark on adventure after adventure, getting themselves into more bother each time. Ethel finds out a few things about herself along the way which change her life forever.

An entertaining read, informally written and one to share with a Y5/6 class.

39. Emma Carroll – Letters From the Lighthouse

WWII. 1941. London. A bombing of the city persuades the mother of Olive and Cliff to evacuate her children to the coast, where it is safe, especially after their older sister Sukie goes missing.

Olive and Cliff are eventually housed in the lighthouse with Ephraim, a peculiar character who has a secret – and Olive is determined to find out what it is.

A wonderful piece of historical fiction and one that some of my children have enjoyed reading already. There are lots of twists and turns as Olive tries to solve the many mysteries that keep her puzzled, and the overall messages of tolerance, compassion and solidarity are as good a lesson for today’s children as they were for Olive and her companions.

40. Christopher Edge – The Jamie Drake Equation

Jamie Drake’s dad is an astronaut, circling the Earth aboard the ISS. After using a local observatory, unusual messages start appearing on Jamie’s mobile phone – could he really be talking to aliens?

The ending of this book is dramatic and heartfelt, a plea to show love to those we know, and to those we don’t.

41. Stewart Foster – The Bubble Boy

One of my children lent me this book as they said I’d enjoy it. They know me well.

Joe suffers from a debilitating condition which means he cannot come into contact with the outside world for fear of infection. He is visited frequently by his sister, Beth, his nurse, Greg, and a fellow sufferer – Henry. Joe and Henry keep in touch via Skype, allowing Joe to keep in touch with real life while the world continues outside.

Enter Amir, a new nurse with an eye for the unusual. He appears to be obsessed with aliens and installs Sky for Joe (somehow without being detected), all because he has a plan.

Joe is instantly likeable, remaining positive for those around him despite his difficulties. All in all, an emotional read.

42. Peter Bunzl – Cogheart

We started this as a class but the children voted to stop as they just weren’t following it. They had a lack of understanding of the Victorian era, weren’t sure about the difference between mechanisms and robots, and had no idea what an airship was. If anything, it highlighted lots of misconceptions. So we left it, and I picked it up again recently.

Lily is the daughter of a renowned inventor who goes missing when his airship crashes; the family’s loyal ‘mech’, Malkin the fox, embarks on a mission to warn Lily of the imminent danger she is in. Lily, meanwhile, is unaware, until the appearance of the mirror-eyed villains who follow her and her new acquaintance Robert, a clock-maker’s son.

There’s lots to admire – rich language, well-developed characters and a shedload of action. Once I got past the halfway point, the pace really picks up. I’m glad I returned to the book and have its follow-up Moonlocket on my to-read list.

43. Fleur Hitchcock – Murder in Midwinter

Maya was innocently snapping pictures with her phone when she sees something she wishes she never had. She is moved away from London to the Welsh countryside for her own safety, but danger seems to creep ever closer.

This story was fairly straightforward and didn’t really do it for me – Maya and her cousin Ollie don’t get on in the first instance but it seems obvious they’d grow closer, while the ending seemed to go on and on.

There are some great moments of tension, but just not a story for me. Would be a good Y4/5 read.

44. Eloise Williams – Gaslight

An Oliver Twist kind of tale, as Nansi finds herself orphaned and thieving for the evil Sid, an unforgiving character whose selfishness knows no bounds. Events transpire to help Nansi realise her mum might still be around, somewhere…but can she escape Sid’s evil clutches?

There is some wonderful language in here that I know some of my class would wallow in. A brilliant read.

45. Kate DiCamillo – Because of Winn-Dixie

This book is often held up as being one that every teacher should read, so I did. It was fine – a simple story, perhaps, or maybe I’m missing the point. It’s possibly because most of the books I’m reading are with my Y6 class in mind, and this is far too young.

46. Justin Fisher – Ned’s Circus of Marvels

A fantasy epic. Ned’s birthday quickly spirals out of control as it falls to him to save the world, using powers he previously was unaware of. I genuinely found this difficult to follow as there were so many characters, from George the giant gorilla to Mystero, the shapeshifter. There were goblins, demons, witches, immortal beings, and many more beyond.

The actual plotline is fairly easy to follow, but the story takes a long time to get going, wandering down endless dead ends and blind alleys before the action really starts.

47. David Almond – Kit’s Wilderness

Almond’s second book, following a similar theme of darkness and death as his debut Skellig.

Groups of children visit the local abandoned mine to play games of death – the ringleader, John Askew, chants over the ‘victim’, who then leaves them in the mine for as long as it takes for them to come to. All a game, thinks Christopher ‘Kit’ Watson and his good friend Allie…until Kit is chosen and it changes him forever.

This story has close links to Clay and Skellig in that Almond effortlessly blends fantasy and reality, all the while maintaining a message that most of us would be able to easily relate to. Another splendid read.

May #52books2017

27. Maz Evans – Who Let the Gods Out?

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Elliot is suffering – he has problems at school, his mum’s health is a worry, and between them they are struggling to make ends meet. Added to this is the sudden appearance of Virgo, an immortal. She takes Elliot on a whirlwind adventure to save them both – it is full of jokes, smart historical references and an all-action endeavour which races by. The humour is aimed at the book’s audience but there are lots of nods and winks to adults as well, while the caricature Greek gods add lots of hilarity to the tale.

28. Kiran Millwood Hargrave – The Island at the End of Everything

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This should easily a contender for book of the year – it is simply magical. Set on Culion Island in the Phillipines, we are introduced to Ami. Her mother is afflicted with leprosy and, led by the fantastically venomous Mr Zamora, will soon be separated from Ami as Culion is turned into a colony for those who are ‘Touched’.

The story follows Ami’s separation, her struggles in her new home and her plans to return to Culion. You may need to sit down with a box of tissues when you read the ending.

This is a book of hope, of love and of relationships, reminding us that there is good in people. The language used is full of poetic lilt and imagery, and would be a brilliant class read.

29. Christopher Edge – The Many Worlds of Albie Bright

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Albie’s mum passed away recently, so now it is just him and his Dad, a famous scientist. Intrigued by the idea of parallel universes, Albie sets up his own experiment which takes him to lands of alternate existences, a glimpse into what could have been. Another story with a choker of an ending, but a really quick pace and good humour too.

30. M.G. Leonard – Beetle Boy

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I read this with my class and they have absolutely loved it. They were fascinated by the beetles – we kept putting images of different types on our board – but the story itself had them well hooked from the word go. They laughed at Humphrey and Pickering, did that awkward laugh/glance at their friends when Novak met Darkus, and drew great big gasps of breath at Lucretia Cutter’s evil ways.

They have voted to read the sequel – I am pleased about this!

31. Zana Fraillon – The Bone Sparrow

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This was tough, but brilliant and engaging. Subhi lives in a detention camp – I was imagining something like the Calais jungle – where he dreams of the outside, of a better life. This is tantalisingly close when he meets Jimmie, a girl from outside who has found her way in, and befriends Subhi when she learns he can read. The story tells us how Subhi survives, mainly thanks to his sister Queeny and his friend Eli, but he holds on to the hope that his father will come and find him and his family soon.

The ending was really hard to read and process, and the afterword brings it all home that this situation is based on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of Burma, and that people of all backgrounds and ages are treated like this in 2017.

32. Katherine Rundell – The Wolf Wilder

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Marina and Feo, mother and daughter, look after wolves. They teach them how to be wild again, having been the toy-pets of the wealthy. General Rakov doesn’t trust these so-called witches, and hunts them down, taking Marina away and leaving Feo to escape, promising vengeance.

Feo is a wonderful character, full of bravery and determination and self-doubt, and is supported ably by Ilya, a boy soldier who quickly falls in love with Feo’s wolves. The two of them grow as a partnership, learning to trust each other and eventually, to trust others, as they embark on a journey for what is right.

33. Lara Williamson – Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy

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Adam Butters is an adopted boy who yearns to find out why his birth mother gave him up. The story centres on his difficult journey to do just this, but is written with lots of light-hearted moments.

Lara Williamson writes from a child’s point of view brilliantly – the misplaced confidence, the friendships, the secret plans – and has a wonderful way of drawing everything together at the end. The final few chapters, particularly Adam’s conversation with his adoptive mum, are really well-thought out and touching.

34. Jo Cotterill – A Library of Lemons

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The first book for a long time that I managed to read in a day, simply because it’s that good.

Calypso lives with her dad. Since her mum’s death, she has preferred her own company, taking to reading books rather than making friends. Her father is doing the same, immersing himself in his own work rather than his daughter.

This begins to unravel when Mae starts at Calypso’s school and the two bond over stories. They form a strong friendship, one which opens Calypso’s eyes to what she has been missing in her own home.

A book about friendship, grief and inner strength, and an uplifting read.

35. Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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Another magical, mystical tour through the mind of Neil Gaiman. Here the narrator reflects on events that happened to him when he was seven, involving the Hempstock family, who seem to have lived forever; Ursula Monkton, a tormenting, ever-present other-wordly figure who appears as a nanny, a worm and a piece of fabric; and the miner, whose suicide precipitates a chain of events so bizarre, so mesmerising and so unreal-ly real that it will stay with me for a long time.