My height in books: a reading challenge for 2018

My challenge for the year ahead is to read my height in books.  Easy, some might say.  No-one has ever accused me of being tall so there’s no excuses, particularly as the pile of books – currently reaching just above my ankle – is deposited right outside my office at school, ready to invite a comment from the too-cool-for-school characters in Year 6.  ‘Is that all you’ve read?’ said one (‘More than you,’ I replied, with a smile. The smile was returned – seed planted and challenge accepted, I think).

Like all New Year resolutions the easy bit is starting with a bang; the hard bit is to avoid finishing with a whimper before the shortest month arrives.  So far, so good.  Here’s what I’ve read so far:

victoryVictory by Susan Cooper

A new discovery for me, Cooper’s books will be popping up more than once in the year ahead.  The beauty in this one is in the telling of the story – characters that absorb and feel alive and become part of life.  It brings together a girl in the present, recently moved to America against her will, and a boy, press-ganged in to service for Admiral Nelson.  The time shifts are handled skillfully and the depictions of Nelson and the naval battles are vivid and powerful.  A lovely read.

survivorSurvivors by David Long and Kerry Hyndman  

Another theme for this year will be to widen my reading beyond my ‘go-to’, which tends to be top-notch middle-grade fiction.  Survivors fits the bill perfectly.  Superbly illustrated, each chapter tells the story of someone who has survived in the most extraordinary situations – a girl falling from a plane two-miles high, a runner lost in the desert, a doctor forced to operate on himself.  Stunning, awe-inspiring stuff.  I’ve used some of the stories in assemblies, followed by non-stop requests to borrow the book.  Highly recommended.

overheardOverheard in a Tower Block for Joseph Coelho 

As well as non-fiction, I’m going to add more poetry into the mix (or the pile).  This is a great place to start and is particularly enjoyable as I know the places Coelho writes about – he was born a couple of miles down the road, close to my school (@heathmereschool).  Gritty, real-life narratives of fractured families, tower blocks and bullies, are lightened with stories of ponds and runs in the park, ending with a tear-inducing poem for a daughter – Coelho’s journey from childhood to fatherhood is complete.  One for top end primary to unpick with their teacher, or older children to read and to read out loud.

explorerThe Explorer by Katharine Rundell, illustrated by Hannah Horn 

A prize-winner, and rightly so, Rundell’s star continues to shine bright; she is fast becoming the best children’s writer of her generation.  The Explorer is about survival and friendship, with a subtle message about preservation of jungle habitats.  A group of children, lost in the Amazon, find their way to a mysterious hidden city, inhabited by an even more mysterious explorer, intent on sheltering his secret world from destruction by prying outsiders.  Will they survive? Beautifully written and illustrated – there is a flow to Rundell’s writing which edges it towards perfection.  I do have a major grumble with the ending but it didn’t overshadow my enjoyment of the books (and I couldn’t possibly say what it is, without revealing too much of the plot).

sticthheadStitch Head by Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson 

Stitch Head, oh Stitch Head, where have you been all my life?  The first and forgotten creation of a crazy scientist, Stitch Head, our lovable anti-hero living an almost life, ventures forth alongside a troop of other weird and wonderful creations in this delight of a book.  It’s funny and heart-warming – it’s hard, if not impossible, to resist Stitch-Head’s charms, even more so with Pete Williamson’s wonderfully imagined drawings which capture our Stitch’s vulnerabilities to a tee..  This one is going straight into my school library – and straight out again, ready to be devoured by anyone who likes a chuckle, enjoys a bit of slapstick gore and has space in their heart for a little Stitch.



Review: A Great Big Cuddle

agreatbigcuddleMy children love a good story. They’ve been raised on books, from before they were even born. I remember reading out loud while number one child – that’s birth order, not personal preference – was driving Mum crazy, entering the last month or so of pregnancy. We read all the time now; they are immersed in words and stories.

What’s really interesting though, as they begin to express more interest and enthusiasm for one particular book over another, is their response to poetry.  They love it; they are captivated by poems in a way that is different to the prose they read or hear.

There’s a playfulness to the language of poetry that seems to more readily connect and align with their understanding of language. From time to time, my youngest still gets words wrong and we laugh together and make up new sillier words, giggling just because of the sound they make. We speak in our own tongue, unique to us, made up of crazy sounds and intonations – we babble away together while they are in the bath. It’s poetry, of sorts.

Don’t get me wrong, we all love a straight-down-the-line story, paragraphs, chapters and all – but there is a freedom and a lack of constraint to poetry that young children seem to instinctively ‘get’.  It’s the same with older children. I’ve taught for enough years to know that there’s a point in the academic year when writing can become a slog, a treadmill of planning and paragraphs and punctuation.  In this critical state, the only thing that revives the stricken patient is a dose of poetry.  It brings life and joy back to the page. Go on, it says – break the rules, have a play. Continue reading