Thank you so much to Antonia and Welbeck Childrens Books for my review copies.
I was elated when I opened the package on a drizzly Friday to see a selection of Football Superstars books and a football themes cookie. I knew some children in my class, who the books would be prefect for.
I am sure we all have these readers I am thinking of: developing or even reluctant readers, predominantly boys but not always.
The Football Superstars series by Simon Mugford and Dan Green are perfect for these readers along with any football crazed children and there are plenty of those at my school.
What I love about these books is they don’t look overwhelming but pack a powerful punch. They are filled with subtle teaching opportunities. They include the back story for the footballer, how they came to be where they are today, idolised and role models for many.
These books have the perfect platform to engage, inspire and mentor many young minds. There are lots of cross curricula links to be made. Geography being one as each book entails where the players grew up, their surroundings and environment. Many of whom derived from poverty but were rich in family and support. Lending itself to teach powerful PSHE inspired lessons of love, friendship, support, humbleness and teamwork.
I can’t see these books hanging around for long on my bookshelf, I am sure they will be read, re-read and devoured by many.
A gripping, heart-wrenching, sobering read about a boy, Jamie, who is 16-years-old and has the weight of the world on his shoulders. The night it all went weird is a night that is etched in Jamies mind and heart forever. A night that changed how he viewed his hero – his dad – how he had to step up and be the man of the house, the story reader and guardian of his 6-year-old sister, Becky, the supporter and pillar of strength for him mum. After all, real men don’t cry or show their emotions.
At 16 years old, Jamie should be out enjoying life, returning home to the sanctuary that it should be, not avoiding it and turning to alcohol to deaden his senses. Jamie’s world is spiralling out of control. This is a raw story that sheds light on masculine toxicity, collateral damage of divorce and the trials and tribulations that accompany being sixteen in a world where alcohol is seen as the cure, a remedy to take the edge off, liquid pleasure, pain duller and emotion suppressor.
This evocative read is one for young adults / teens.
About the author:
I’ve been writing books for Young Adults since 2012. My books include: Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind, Geekhood: Mission Improbable and The True and Untold Story of the Outlaw Tam Barker.
Publisher: UCLan Publishing ISBN: 9781912979400 Number of pages: 322 Dimensions: 198 x 129 mm
Another triumph for L. D Lapinski in book 2 of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: Edge of the Ocean. Born out of the pandemic, what better stories to lose yourself in, in times of despair, lockdowns and the unknown.
About the story:
A portal story, that takes Flick, Jonathon and cousin Avery on an adventure to the edge of the ocean. Summoned by the Pirate Queen: Nyfe, the Strageworlds trio must step into another world through a suitcase to save pirates and mer-people from a rapidly crumbling world. Time moves quicker at The Break and Flick, who has only just gained back the trust of her parents after her last adventure in book 1, is in a race against the clock. Can she save them from their perilous fate?
Although this is a sequel, each book stands on its own as a separate adventure. Full of mystery, magic and adventure, woven together with themes of courage, strength, friendship and teamwork, The Strageworlds Travel Agency is a wonderful escape story that will transport readers into magical worlds beyond their imaginations.
The perfect class reader for Years 3-6 to cast off into magical worlds where possibilities are endless. Fans of Narnia and Piers Torday’s The Lost Magician will be enticed and enthralled in this modern-day escapism.
About the author:
L. D. Lapinski lives just outside Sherwood Forest with her family, a lot of books, a hamster named Pebbles, and a cat called Hector. L.D. first wrote a book when she was seven; it was made of lined paper and sellotape, and it was about a frog who owned an aeroplane.
A fast-paced, immersive adventure story that delves into harrowing issues that plague the world. Thunderbolt, sequel to Cloudburst, does not disappoint!
Although this is a sequel, it works seamlessly as a stand alone story and offers plentiful opportunities for rich discussions. A thought provoking story of contrasts, perfect for fans of Alex Rider and Percy Jackson.
About the story:
Join Jack, Xander and Amelia on another adventure set in the rich, deep seas off the coast of Zanzibar. Recovering from their latest ordeal in Cloudburst and the revelation that his dad was a crook, the trio search for treasure in the hopes to support the coral reef protection programme set up by Jack’s mum, who has lost more than just her husband in the Congo.
One last dive, further off the coast than usual, leads to disaster and thrusts the trio into horrifying depths. Lured in and captured by Somali pirates, their captain thrown overboard in the middle of a storm. Determined that his mum shouldn’t pay a ransom, Jack, Amelia and Xander must keep their wits about them and work together in order to survive.
Transferred to a militia training camp for boy soldiers, weakened by a lack of nutrient-rich food and set to gruelling work in the height of the beating African sun, new friend Mo, a captured Somali boy, is their only hope of survival. Can they outwit the ruthless General Sir and his loyal troops?
A must for adventure seeker’s wishing to explore hidden depths on the African continent.
Blog tour: Wolfstongue Sam Thompson illustrated by Anna Tromop
I’m thrilled to be hosting a stop on the #Wolfstongue Blog Tour!
Sam Thompson pours heart and soul into this debut fable, inspired by his own son’s difficulty with speech, something that happens naturally for many. Thompson writes with sentiment about the strength of language and the relationships between humans and the natural world. Wolfstongue tells the story of a boy (Silas) with speech difficulties, who embarks on a soul-searching exploration into the hidden world of talking animals. Befriending a family of wolves, who have become ensnared by foxes – he must face his struggle with words to win back the wolves’ freedom.
I really enjoy reading and sharing books that delve into the struggles and difficulties that children often encounter silently, trapped in an excruciating never-ending void of angst or even embarrassment, woven seamlessly through an adventure story, written for children. They are powerful teaching opportunities, comfort and solace concealed by magic and adventure that provide an opportunity to see themselves represented in a story or develop emotional intelligence for others in a similar situation or whom they might encounter in the future. Wolfstongue removes the confinements which bind children to a life of suffering, loneliness and silence.
Wolfstongue is perfect for confident readers, aged 9+ or as an adult lead read-aloud. Strong themes of friendship, love, loss and brimming with nature. This fable is reminiscent of Fantastic Mr Fox, reinforcing the sly, crafty fox character dominating other animals to fulfil its wishes. Often Wolves are depicted as ghastly, vicious villains but in this story they are gentle, submissive and vulnerable, characteristics reflected in the protagonist: Silas.
Deep in the Forest, the foxes live in an underground city. They didn’t build it themselves: led by Reynard the fox, they enslaved wolves to do the work. By teaching language to the wolves, the clever foxes control them with the power of speech.
Now Isengrim, Hersent and their pups are the only wolves left in the Forest. They use clay with magical properties to heal their wounds, and move between the human and animal worlds using hidden passageways as they fight to survive.
One day, Isengrim gets injured. He is helped by a boy, Silas. Silas finds speaking difficult – except when in the company of the wolves.
When the foxes kidnap the wolf pups, Silas is determined to help his new friends to rescue their young. He must find his voice to undermine Reynard’s power and destroy the foxes’ city.
A lyrical fable about the power of language and the relationship between humans and the natural world.
Stunning, raw and evocative illustrations by Anna Tromop bring this story to life in an innately biological and natural way.
From the author…
Thompson said: “I started writing Wolfstongue for my son, who has speech difficulties and has always loved wolves… I hope the book takes readers on an adventure while also offering them a myth that they may find useful: a myth about how language can trap us or make us free, about the self-doubt we feel when we can’t find the words we need, and about how human stories have power to shape the natural world.”
Sam’s top 10 nature-themed books for children:
Maybe all books for children are nature-themed, if nature means the world beyond ourselves, a world that we didn’t create and can’t always understand. Here are ten of my favourite stories about what the natural world means to us:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
‘The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another’… The land of the Wild Things, where Max travels after being sent to bed without his supper, is a glimpse of nature itself: a jungle full of monsters, frightening but enticing, both inside and outside his head.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
In the archipelago of Earthsea, wizards cast their spells by naming: call anything by its true name and it is yours to command. Le Guin’s book was revelatory when I first read it at school. It’s a beautiful invented world, a thrilling adventure and a new way of understanding how language gives us power over the world.
The Owl Service by Alan Garner
Alison, Roger and Gywn, teenagers staying in a cottage in a remote Welsh valley, are mysteriously compelled to re-enact the legend of a tragic love-triangle that took place there in ancient times. I didn’t understand this book when I read it as a child and I don’t really understand it now, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a haunting story of how human lives are shaped by patterns of landscape and deep time.
Collected Poems for Children by Ted Hughes
Hughes’s poems for children are a huge compendium of the natural world – creatures from flies to pigs, foxes to wolves, limpets to whales, seen freshly and made as strange as they really are: ‘the beasts who ignore / These ways of ours’.
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson’s poems for children seem so light and simple — he said they were only ‘rhymes’ and ‘jingles’ — but they exactly capture fragments of childhood. Above all they evoke the intense, imaginative attention you pay to the tiniest details of the natural world when you’re small: treasuring the nuts you gathered in a wood, or turning a patch of gorse into an imaginary landscape.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot
Eliot’s cats are sometimes almost human — they can be gangsters, magicians, burglars and actors — but they are always deeply feline as well. It’s obvious that the poems in Old Possum grew from long, fond, attentive observation of cats, from their habits of ‘profound meditation’ to the Jellicle cats washing behind their ears and drying between their toes for the Jellicle Ball. Fantastical as it is, this is a nature book too.
Varjak Paw by S. F. Said
Varjak Paw is another fantasy that springs from loving familiarity with the nature of cats. Varjak is a sheltered Mesopotamian Blue cat who has never left the house and garden where he lives. He begins to learn a secret feline martial art, and soon finds himself out in the city — where nature is red in tooth and claw.
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I read this school and have never got over it. The island where the schoolboys are stranded is nature-as-paradise, ‘like the Coral Island’, but the nature that emerges from within the castaways is cruelty and violence, superstition and scapegoating. Is that what ‘nature’ really means?
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The final Discworld novel was also the fifth in a sequence about a young witch called Tiffany Aching. Tiffany lives on the Discworld’s equivalent of the chalk downs of Wiltshire where Pratchett grew up, and in these final stories, written for younger readers, the great comic fantasist drew a new kind of inspiration from the natural environment he knew so well.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
The story of Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger creates a sunny myth of a certain kind of English landscape, from the banks of the Thames to the Wild Wood. As well as messing about on the river and yelling ‘poop poop’, Grahame’s animals often seem to long for a state of nature that they can’t quite grasp, even when they encounter the Great God Pan among the reeds.
Be sure to check out other stops on the tour!!
Wolfstongue Sam Thompson illustrated by Anna Tromop is published by Little Island Books.
Ahoy there, my swashbuckling matey’s! Prepare to walk the plank, solve riddles and seek treasure but not as you imagine. Step aboard The Nine Sails but hold on tight as there are many twists and turns set to throw you overboard, just as you would expect from a story built on lying, thieving pirates!
About the book:
Kintana and the Captain’s Curseis a modern pirate tale filled with natural beauty and wonder. Pirate Island, where Kintana and her retired pirate turned pet shop owner pa reside, is where The Nine Sails berths. Kintana has listened eagerly to stories of life at sea her whole life, now an opportunity to join the motley crew as a cabin boy has arisen.
Things quickly turn rotten onboard The-Nine-Sails, as someone seems intent on sabotaging the voyage. Is talk of the Captain’s Curse to blame, or are more sinister motions at play? The-Nine-Sails swiftly return to Pirate Island.
The journey has only just begun when Kintana soon realises that stories don’t compare to the adventure that is unravelling before her.
Kintana and the Captain’s Curse is perfect for Treasure Island fans: built on exotic animals, stunning coastlines and historical events, making it the perfect adventure story for 8-12year olds.
From the author:
Hi! I’m Susan Brownrigg.
I write historical adventures for children aged 8 to 12.
My new children’s book, Kintana and the Captain’s Curse, is a treasure hunt adventure set in Madagascar during the ‘Golden Age’ of Piracy.
Reading is a multifaceted skill that develops through instruction and practice (Scarborough 2002). Children need to have a grasp of word reading: they need to have a secure understanding of the relationship between print (spelling) and the sounds they represent, the ability to manipulate these sound-spelling correspondence, segment words into individual sounds and blend them back together to read (phonological awareness and decoding skills) along with an understanding of language comprehension, involving background knowledge, vocabulary developments, language structures, verbal reasoning and literacy knowledge, to become skilled readers. A foundation of teaching, from the beginning, through a quality-first phonics programme, is, therefore, core to developing fluent readers.
Why do literacy skills matter?
A recent Sage article1 suggests that there are immeasurable benefits to learning to read. Reading is essential for: the acquisition of knowledge, cultural engagement, democracy and upward social mobility. According to the National Literacy Trust2, low literacy skills impact every aspect of a person’s life – hindering their opportunities at every stage of development: they may not be successful at school, this results in them locked out of the job market, and as a parent, unable to support their own child’s learning. According to the Shannon Trust, nearly 50% of prisoners have a literacy level at or below the requirement to procure successful employment. This perpetual cycle has dire ramifications for society as a whole. Subpar literacy levels cost taxpayers £2.5 billion every year (KPM 2009)
The National Literacy Trust states that a staggering 1 in 11 disadvantaged children in the UK claim that they don’t own a book of their own.
How can we help?
Lockdown is upon us again. Educators are doing everything they can to support pupils learning remotely. Some are facilitating live lessons others, are recording over slides but, no one in their right mind can argue that educators are not doing all they can to support their pupils. The essential task irrespective of year is to develop and support the growth of literacy skills. Two ways that we can achieve this by protecting storytime and ensuring children read – be it a book, a recipe, a newspaper article, the bus timetable or a comic.
Protecting story time
I have written a previous blog, which can be found here about the importance of storytime. Many publishers have granted permission, allowing the recording and sharing of books on private platforms for children to access. They understand the importance of children listening to an expert reader. According to Doug Lemov in his latest book: Teaching in the Online Classroom (2020) there are three main ways of reading: Teach Read Aloud, Whole-Class Shared Reading and Independent Reading. Lemov stipulates that the most effective of these in any classroom is Teacher Read Aloud. Concluding that Read Aloud has the potential to bring a book to life and compares its captivating powers to an audiobook. Reading Rockets3 state that reading aloud develops and engages children’s imaginations, expands their understanding of the world, helping them build language (exposure to the pronunciation of unknown words) and prepares them for the written word. Thoughtful selection of the books on our reading curriculum: within the child’s interest level but slightly above their independent reading level, whilst relating them to the curriculum (PSHE, science, humanities, RE and The Arts). Developing emotional intelligence is a determiner of successes in life (Morgaine Gerlach, 2016)4. Emotional intelligence is the ability to comprehend and manage our own emotions and our response to those emotions. More so prevalent now during this pandemic. Gerlach goes on to state that emotional intelligence is not acquired but learnt. I have written a blog outlining the importance of Reading Well books here.
Reading with prosody
Prosodic reading refers to the expression utilised when reading. It encapsulates intonation, rhythm and emphasis given to words and sentences when read aloud. Reading with prosody is a vital element in reading fluency. When read in a monotone way, without meaning or prosody, listeners lose context. Reading with prosody relies on an understanding of the text, use of appropriate elements (pitch, tone, volume and emphasis on particular words) in order to convey meaning rather than word reading5. It is clear to see, the importance and wider implications of protecting story time and developing readers fluency.
There are many services on offer for children to practice their reading: many libraries are offering click and collect services or ebook loans, Oak National Academy has started offering a free book to read online each week, Renaissance provides a service through MyON, which is connected to Accelerated Reader, offering an incredible platform to support children in their reading – I have written about my experience of using MyON here, You can request a recording of my recent discussion with Margaret Allen, curriculum and education specialist, here.
During remote learning, children should:
listen to an adult reading aloud from a high-quality book (within their interest level but slightly above their reading ability)
practice reading with prosody (record themselves reading at least one paragraph
reflect on where they feel they need to improve for next time and complete a quiz to check their understanding of what they have read
What is standing in the way?
Unfortunately, many children do not have access to books. Inspired by a tweet Mr G posted about the wider community donating books to deliver to pupils in his school, I created a wish list to donate a book to Courthouse Junior School. We have been overwhelmed by the donations in response to the wish list, which includes early reader, football, reading well and fast-paced adventure books by various authors. We have started delivering these books to our most disadvantaged pupils. I would love for EVERY child at Courthouse Junior School to be a recipient. Books open up the world, what better way to escape when we can’t leave our homes than through the pages of a book. There are so many immersive reads that throw the reader into the eye of the storm, solving mysteries on trains or support someone through a difficult time when they can’t feel they can reach out.
If you would like to donate a book, please click on this link, it would be appreciated by many.
Utterly brilliant, funny and immersive to say the least! I absolutely loved reading Another Twist in the Tale.
Catherine Bruton writes with a flair that immerses you in the heart of the story and what an adventure I feel I have been on. Another Twist in the Tale follows Twill, a baby thrown out on the rubbish heap, in the midst of winter, in archaic London, during the times of workhouses reminiscent of Dicken’s Oliver Twist, which is exactly the point of this story.
Twill is rescued and raised in a gambling den, indebted to the owner, only to find herself homeless once more to avoid a life of debauchery. Twill keeps her wits about her as she navigates the streets of London, avoiding child snatchers and takes to the life that preceded Oliver Twist before he became heir to a fortune, in order to make a life for herself, rescue friends and uncover the truth about her past.
Parallel stories align and weave together brilliantly to tell the tale of the lost twin sister of Oliver Twist, separated at birth.
Re-discover old favourites: the Artful Dogger, Fagin and Oliver Twist himself. You will not want to put this book down!
Brimming with fantastic vocabulary, this story is perfect for upper KS2 – I would use Another Twist in the Tale to discuss classic novels.
With the Govt u-turning left, right and centre, educators have to be adaptable. This is where I was not concerned: educators are extremely adaptable. I would say it is one of the key aspect / requirements to being a teacher.
Lockdown, remote learning – these are not new concepts to educators, we have learnt A LOT from the first lockdown in March, there is more guidance on the most effective means of delivery and the key concept is content. Good content, not LIVE lessons or animated slides. You can read more on the guidance here.
Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered
EEF Remote Learning, Rapid Evidence Assessment
We have all been in those dreaded Zoom / Teams meetings where you are talking and have forgotten to unmute yourself. That is still me, I am still that person after partaking in so many of them! Then internet connections….children drawing on the screen, typing constantly in the chat function. How much of those lessons are they engaging in? How much information have they taken away? Can you check EVERYONE is engaged and on task? I fear not. Yes, I am sure these settings can be disabled and it might work seamlessly for some but the bottom line as always is, it is not necessarily the car but the driver that gets you to your destination.
My team, in Y6, as a result of Ashley Booth advocating it, signed up to Seesaw’s free version just before the first lockdown in March. Our Y6’s adapted marvelously to it and it was a great platform to assign activities for them to complete and see what they were up to. It offered us a relatively simple way of engaging with our classes. Teachers can set work, activities in Seesaw terminology, children can then add a response (photo of work completed on paper, typed note, video, voice note or drawing). Teachers can then, if they choose to, comment on the work – this offers a short feedback loop. Children feel their work and time is valued. There is also a simple like and approve button to show you have seen it, rather than commenting on every piece as this can set you up to fail in class sizes exceeding 30.
Assigning activities in Seesaw is relatively straightforward, you can choose from a vast array of pre-made activities or create your own. You can upload and voice record over pdf documents (you can save PPT slides as PDF), you get 5 minutes for each slides or you can upload a video / image or link to another site. You can create and schedule activities to be released to pupils at a certain time on a certain day, this avoids them being overwhelmed with lots of activities at once – nobody likes a full inbox glaring at them accusingly. In Y6, we created and pinned a timetable to their journals to maintain structure and routine for them and so they know what lessons are being assigned at what time. This timetable echoes their class one.
You can also add more pages to a post, enabling pupils to access vital information in one place rather than scrolling through their journal feed (newer posts push older posts further down the feed).
Each pupil has a private journal (only they, their teacher and their parents can view this) and access to the class journal (all pupils and their teachers can see this), this is a feed of their work submitted and approved from activities along with any work upload by themselves or their teacher. The class journal feed is a space for whole-class information, such as the timetable (which can be pinned to the top for reference). Families can access their child’s journal with a code issued by the teacher. This is a great way of bridging the home-school experience, teachers can upload work done in classes that they want to share with parents and it is a great way for parents to see what pupils are working on throughout the day, opening up discussions at home.
Whole-class Feedback on Seesaw
As mentioned, pupils, teachers and parents can leave a comment on individual pieces of work submitted and uploaded. Akin to marking every book in every lesson, this can be cumbersome, ineffective and time consuming. You can end up in a never ending loop of replies, whereby everyone gets frustrated and despairs. A better way that we have found this works for us is to offer a simple like and approve for each piece of work submitted. Then, similar to an in school environment, we take a note of common errors or misconceptions. We then write a message to all parents and children or just to pupils explaining what worked well and what we need them to do to correct it / resolve it. This as we know is far more effective than the alternative. On a piece of work, there is also an option to leave a voice note explaining what you need the pupil to correct / resolve.
Don’t get me wrong, it takes A LOT of hard work and training to get children, teachers and parents fluent in using Seesaw appropriately and effectively. There is a teething process but once you overcome this and they are comfortable working their way around the platform, it is a great way to keep in contact with your class, offering great feedback solutions and bringing classes to life in their homes. It is a great tool to bridge home and school, opening up discussions and holding pupils accountable. One of the main concerns that came from parents during the first (March) lockdown in year groups not accessing Seesaw, was the lack of contact between pupils and teachers – this was echoes from the teachers also, utilising Seesaw along with daily class meetings is a simple solution to this.
As always these are my thoughts and experiences and by no means THE only way.
If you would like to know more about how we use Seesaw, please feel free to get in touch.
This was an emotionally cleansing and grounding story to read after a long term as a teacher in these current challenging times. Providing perspective where needed. Another fantastic addition to our ReadingWell book selection and quite possibly, this year’s summer class reader for Y6.
Libby is a 12-year-old girl, who was born, with Turner Syndrome, this means she isn’t great at playing the piano, struggles to find the right thing to say, can’t have children and takes shots each day to help her grow. Libby is smart, courageous and has a heart overflowing with love for her family.
Her sister, Nonny, and her husband are in the middle of a financial black hole and with the news of a baby on the way, Libby calls upon the universe to ensure her niece will have the best start to life.
Publisher : Puffin (2 April 2020)
Language: : English
Print length : 282 pages
Page numbers source ISBN : 0374313199
Growing up, finding yourself, self-acceptance and acceptance of others, resilience, courage, PSHE links and links to science: space and stars.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Sarah is the author of WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF and BREATHING UNDERWATER (coming spring 2021!) Like Libby in STARS, she was born with Turner syndrome. She is represented by the amazing Rena Rossner at the Deborah Harris Agency. She received an MFA in fiction from Brigham Young University and will soon start an MFA in poetry at the University of South Florida, Tampa.
A pithy story akin to Wonder by R J Palacio, illuminating the brilliance of resilience and unconditional love in a world where differences, whilst setting us apart, are not always understood or embraced.