We’ve reached the end of month 2 of the #52books2017 challenge! Although my return to uni and placement really showed this month as I read fewer books than I would have liked, the picture book element has developed a little so I’m on track all-in-all. As last month, here are the books I’ve read, with my star book of the month!

Book 1: The Dreamsnatcher – Abi Elphinstone (KidLit, Upper KS2)

The first book of a fabulous trilogy, The Dreamsnatcher begins the exciting tale of Moll, a gypsy girl living in a small forest community. Although she loves her camp dearly, she is gripped by the feeling that she does not quite fit in, and decides to investigate the recurring nightmares that she feels may hold the key. She soon realises that the forces she finds herself up against are more terrifying and more powerful than she ever imagined. With her wildcat friend Gryff, she must decide who is friend or foe and save the world as she knows it! Full of thrills, excitement and more than a little magic, this well-researched, pacey debut has deservedly earned Abi Elphinstone many fans child and adult alike!

– STAR READ – Book 2: The Shadow Keeper – Abi Elphinstone (KidLit,Upper KS2) – STAR READ –

…And one of those adult fans is me! Whilst I cannot say a great deal without giving away plot points, I can say that the world Abi (I’m gonna assume first-name terms is ok…) began to create and weave together in the first instalment springs into to life in The Shadow Keeper. We learned a great deal about the chief protagonist Moll in book one, and the character-building does not stop with her! As we journey through new lands (beautifully illustrated in map form by Thomas Flintham), we learn more about the book’s world and the people who inhabit it. But reader beware: not all of these inhabitants are particularly pleasant! I enjoyed The Dreamsnatcher, but I ADORED The Shadow Keeper!

Book 3: The Bear and the Piano – David Litchfield (PicFic, KS1+)

I won’t go into too much detail about the narrative in this post, as I have reviewed the book HERE, and offered some very simple suggestions as to which themes and activities it lends itself to in the classroom. I will say that I simply loved this picture book! A bear with an unusual talent finds himself thrust into an a difficult decision about whether to stick with what he knows or risk going out into the big, wide world. The illustrations are among my favourites ever, and I’ve read a LOT of PicFic! Most anthropomorphic (that’s my big word of the day) creatures in books tend to become unintentionally comical or caricatured, yet Litchfield’s illustrations really connect the audience, young and old, with the character of the bear in the story. Just beautiful, with plenty of teaching and learning points (for pupils and for adults!).

Book 4: The Real Band of BrothersFirst-hand accounts from the last survivors of the Spanish Civil War – Max Arthur (History)

Before I go on, I must inform you that I always have been, and always will be, fascinated by the world of passion, politics and polarisation that was Europe in the 1930s. If that isn’t nerdy enough, I have a particular interest in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. I will not bore you with the details here but do chat to me if you share this fairly niche interest! This book is essentially the stories of several surviving members of the International Brigades who travelled to Spain to fight against the rise of an oppressive, authoritarian, right-wing ideology. Whilst most Western Governments washed their hands of the conflict, these men and women could not do the same in good conscience, and their stories told some 80 years on retain that sense of justice and passion. This is a lightweight book with regards academic and historical depth, but it was a very humbling read which made me question whether I too could have the same bravery to risk my own life for the sake of others. I am 27 now, older than all of those interviewed at the time they left Britain to fight and die for what they believed in. A fantastic book for those with some knowledge of the period.

Book 5: The Matchbox Diary – Paul Fleischman & Bagram Ibatoulline (Ill.) (PicFic, KS2)

There is a review and classroom use post coming, so watch this space! This is a rare and wonderful piece of work; it is both a beautiful story and a beautiful book. Fleischman will be a familiar name to some for his book ‘Weslandia’ (also on the list to review…at some point!), and his standing will only be increased by this moving story of an Italian migrant boy and his attempts to make a life for himself in early 20th Century America. Told to his great grand-daughter many years later through a series of seemingly inane objects, it is a testament not only to the migrant spirit, but also an encouragement to see beauty in simplicity. The illustrations are amongst the most moving and touching I have seen in a picture book and I cannot wait to (finally) publish my review of the book soon! Touching, moving, unforgettable.

Book 6: House Held up by Trees – Ted Kooser and Jon Klassen (Ill.) (PicFic, Upper KS2)

Another one of my Picture Book Reviews, you can find a more detailed synopsis HERE. In a word: haunting. This is a book which seems to suck the air out of a room as you find yourself questioning not only the book, but also yourself in light of the book. It is a seemingly simple story of a man who wants to take care of his yard by keeping weeds out. However, there is such a thing as taking a good desire too far, and this book expertly unpacks the lie that focusing on the material will bring lasting happiness, and that man can control and hold back nature. Those of you familiar with the ‘hat’ series by Jon Klassen will know the skill he possesses in using illustrations to tell a story, but where in that series it prompts laughter, here it demands introspection. This is a picture book that packs a punch!

Book 7: Dave’s Cave – Frann Preston-Gannon (KS1)

Dave caveman. Dave like caveman life. Dave like caveman cave. But there problem. Dave eyes wander to other caves. Dave face eternal issue: stick or twist? Text simple but funny. Children listen and laugh. Pictures perfect. Children look and laugh. Teaching Assistant hear story read. She laugh too. Teacher read. Laugh more. Teacher review HERE. Read review? Maybe like. Maybe laugh. Maybe buy book. Would recommend? Definitely!

Book 8: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling (KidLit, Upper KS2)

“What do you mean you’ve never read Harry Potter?!?!?!”

Well at least it’s now very much out there. I had not, until about a week ago, read Harry Potter. It wasn’t that I was against the idea of it per se, I just kind of missed the boat and subsequently lost the boarding pass. But I’ve read it now, and I have to say…I enjoyed it! It is undoubtedly one of the most influential series of modern, perhaps all, time, and despite knowing the entire plot (and indeed most of the rest of the books as spoilers are EVERYWHERE), I still felt the excitement that I always get from books which build a world well. If you have somehow been living under the same rock I have for the past 20 years, Harry Potter is an orphaned boy, treated awfully by his aunt and uncle, who discovers he is actually of pretty decent wizarding pedigree. He discovers a whole wizarding world and embarks upon a host of wizarding wonders. There’s a lot of magic. I know I don’t sound especially sincere, but it feels strange giving a synopsis, however brief, of the biggest fiction series in decades! If you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend giving it a go. At least you’ll understand the memes!

So there we go, another month, another review. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my reading! Do let me know if you’ve read these books too, there’s no community quite like the reading community! And do check out my ever-growing Picture Book Review page for some reviews (obviously) and ideas on how to get some of the pictures books above, and others, into the primary classroom!


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