This month has been more of a struggle – finding the time to read has been the main issue but I have also persevered with a couple of books that I maybe should have put down. Rights of the reader and all that…
Nevertheless, here are the 10 from November. The Gritterman was the pick of the bunch, but I really enjoyed Barnaby Brocket too.
103. Chris Callaghan – The Great Chocoplot
A silly and entertaining story of an evil villain – Garibaldi Chocolati – who wants to make money off the back of the impending chocolate apocalypse, but Jelly and her Gran smell something is awry and do their best to foil his plans. There is humour for children and adults alike, and this would be a great class read for a Y3 class – or any class, in fact: its universal appeal (or horror) of a chocolate apocalypse isn’t a world away from Dahl and Walliams.
104. Kate Wakeling – Moon Juice
A fine collection of poems written in a variety of styles. There’s speed, space, tongue-twisters, teasers, emotion and commotion – and that’s just the start. The CLPE have a bank of resources including Kate’s performances for many of the poems, which is worth looking at to bring the poems to life even more.
105. Sarah Driver – Sea
Mouse is destined to become the captain of The Huntress…or at least, she is until Stag comes along. He overthrows Mouse’s Grandma – the current captain – and banishes her brother to an unknown land. Can Mouse still fulfil her destiny?
Another Pullman-inspired text, what with the moonsprite/daemon similarities, as well as Sarah Driver’s characters using ‘ent’ in lots of their dialogue. There is lots of magic and beast-chatter and the like, but perhaps more confirmation for me that fantasy just isn’t really my bag.
106. John Boyne – The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket
A really enjoyable read that would encourage children to think about their place in the world.
Barnaby Brocket has, to his parents’ chagrin, always been different – he defies the laws of gravity and his parents, who revel in normality and live their lives in a permanent shade of beige, find this quite at odds with their sensibilities. So, they let him float away.
Barnaby floats from one part of the world to another, meeting a wonderful cast of characters who show that being different is ok – sexuality, career choice and physical appearance are all discussed at length but in a way that would be entirely appropriate for children to engage with.
A lovely book that has a warm heart (and for me, the right ending).
107. David Almond – The Fire Eaters
Bobby, the main character, falls in love with Ailsa, a girl his age who refuses to go to school; he appears to be in love with Joseph, an older boy from his neighbourhood; he supports newcomer Daniel in outing a teacher as a bully; he has several dealings with McNulty, a fire-eating former soldier who appears to be suffering with PTSD; and he has to deal with the sudden and mysterious illness plaguing his father. This is all set against a backdrop of the early 60s – the Cold War has brought about the possibility of another World War, and everyone is contemplating their mortality.
There’s a lot to take in in a short space of time. I found it hard to really connect with any of the characters (other than Daniel and his parents, who seem to be wonderfully non-conformist), but as I enjoy David Almond’s writing I flew through nonetheless.
One for the Almond purists, perhaps.
108. Orlando Weeks – The Gritterman
A tale narrated by the gritterman, an elderly gent who works as an ice cream man in the summer before battling the ice in the winter.
His story is of his last night gritting the roads – it is one of commitment, perseverance and honesty, but lots of clues throughout his tale indicate a sense of loneliness and emptiness. A heartfelt and poignant ending adds to this.
109. Sharon Cohen – Starman and Me
A fast-paced sci-fi adventure that could be 2017’s answer to Stig of the Dump.
Kofi hears unusual sounds and starts receiving bizarre, unexplained messages on his computer – this is Rorty, a human-ish species who is being hunted for his intelligence. Together, the two of them help one another to understand what it is to care for somebody.
Themes of friendship and universal respect make this a really enjoyable read – I know lots of children in my class would love it.
110. Joanna Cannon – The Trouble With Goats and Sheep
A beautifully written novel set in the summer of 1976 that explores the nature of the outsider, how we all have our own crosses to bear, and the public face we all paint on to hide things. There are tender moments from Grace and Tilly, awkwardness when more ‘outsiders’ threaten to bring change to this inward-looking community, and sadness as various characters have their inner demons slowly revealed.
111. Timothee de Fombelle – Toby Alone
Toby is just 1 and 1/2 millimetres tall – the world in which he lives is simply a tree, brought to life in intricate detail by de Fombelle – every detail of the Tree has a part to play as Toby journeys through, trying to find himself while escaping the clutches of Joe Mitch. Mitch, for me, is a Donald Trump kind of character, obsessed as he is with power and also turning a blind eye to to the ecological impact of his actions.
I have to admit I’ve struggled through this a bit. Toby’s journey is an epic one, falling into trap after trap yet always escaping unscathed.
I picked it up after reading the incredible Vango, but, for whatever reason, this book just didn’t grab me.
112. Gary Crew – The Blue Feather
There have long been rumours of a giant carnivorous bird living somewhere off the mainland but nobody has any evidence other than anecdotal. Muir, an ornithology enthusiast, and Mala, a wildlife photographer, set off to find it. They take with them Simon, a boy who is lost in so many ways, completely unimpressed and disengaged with life.
Their journey sees them develop in different ways, learning the value of life and the value of relationships.
My only minor gripe would be the odd moments of seemingly unnecessary swearing which means I can’t share it with my class – a shame, but I’ve enjoyed reading it nonetheless.