Seeing as how I spent the majority of last month rocking backwards and forwards wondering how on earth I was going to finish my PGCE, I’m not going to do a monthly review for June. If I did, it would simply be a solitary book review… I’m definitely going to get a review of it in, but I think I’ll just tag it onto the beginning of July’s review instead if that suits my esteemed readership!
So, I’ve just told you that I’m not writing a review post, and yet you are reading my words on the screen before you… What is the meaning of this? Ladies and Gentle-readers, welcome to my Mr B Reads Mid-Year Review!!!
Books read: 32
Picture books (read and reviewed HERE): 5
KidLit novels: 21
Other non-fiction: 2
Pick of the bunch: Who Let the Gods Out? (KidLit, UKS2)
My star read for March, I simply cannot recommend ‘Who Let the Gods Out?’ enough! I won’t rehash my review, but please do check it out! It was my utter joy to buy this book, along with Jennifer Bell’s ‘The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence’, a close second for this award, for my Year 5/6 placement class when I left them this week. Before my heartfelt and emotional speech was even halfway finished, the first reading request was shouted out by an over-excited boy in front. Whilst I do not condone such disruptive behaviour…I understand his sentiments entirely! Whether you are studying Ancient Greeks, or simply looking for a modern, humorous story to read, check out WLTGO!
Most emotional: And the Rest is History, Chronicles of St Mary’s #8 (Fiction…don’t even know how I’d ‘genre’ it!)
I use the word ‘emotional’ here to mean: making one feel, as the youngsters may have said a couple of years ago, ALL the feels! Jodi Taylor’s wonderful, wacky, wild series of novels is, as any regular reader of mine will know, one of my all-time favourite series. This latest instalment had me utterly gripped, as per usual, with tears of joy and not-joy almost intermingling at points! I am almost certain that ’27-year-old man’ is not the prime target audience for the series, but the combo of thrills, spills and history’s ills is just perfection. READ THIS SERIES!
Most surprising: The Secret of Nightingale Wood (KidLit, UKS2)
This was a tough category! In the end I’ve gone for Lucy Strange’s touching tale of family, loss, mental illness and a young girl’s determination, with the support of the books she loves, to shine a light on hopelessness. I could easily have gone for Lisa Thompson’s ‘The Goldfish Boy’, or Lara Williamson’s ‘The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair’ for this category, as all three stories are way outside my usual reading comfort zone, yet brilliant. Quite simply, I like fiction which lets me escape from real life into fantastical and magical lands. These three books, however, all take place in real settings, with realistic people who are struggling with realistic problems. And I loved them! ‘Nightingale Wood’ takes it as I was genuinely surprised at how quickly and thoroughly I was sucked into the storyline of a book which is not only an unfamiliar genre, but unfamiliar tone as well. A beautiful, haunting novel!
Most challenging: Out of the Silent Planet
If you have read even a single blog post of mine, you will know that I am a little bit smitten with the words and works of C. S. Lewis. Simply put, I love him. #AuthorCrush. However, true love does not gloss over difficult times, and I did find sections of the first of his renowned ‘Space Trilogy’ a struggle. Lewis was a professor of literature at first Oxford, then Cambridge, University, and at times he really wrote like it! I am glad I read it and am definitely going to read on as the story did intrigue me as he started to weave it all together, but if you’ve never read Lewis before then PLEASE start with Narnia or one of his popular Christian works!
Most likely to LOL: Dave’s Cave
The simplest things in life are often the best. Frann Preston-Gannon’s quirky little book was one of my first picture book reviews, and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read it to my Year 2 placement class earlier this year. There was honestly not a closed mouth in sight as every child and adult in the room was gripped with laughter at this poor Neanderthal’s struggle to find the perfect cave to call home. It is that rare example of a story that can be enjoyed as much by the adult as the children, if not more, and I would certainly recommend you travelling back in time to enjoy Dave’s Cave!
Best world: The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence
Ooh this was tough! Some of you will be screaming at me to remember such excellent settings as Peter Bunzl’s ‘Cogheart’s’ steampunk-inspired Victorian landscape. Others will be imploring me to consider the wooded landscape inhabited by the traveller-folk of Abi Elphinstone’s ‘Dreamsnatcher’ trilogy. But the Mid-Year trophy must, for me, go to the hidden, underground magical marketplace that is Lundinor, the stunning backdrop of April’s ‘Star Read’. I recently read Harry Potter for the first time (*hides behind a wall until people stop throwing things*), and when I read about the land of Lundinor in ‘The Uncommoners’, it was like Diagon Alley times…a large number. So pack your bags, explore the magical world of Lundinor and be sure to pick up the excellent sequel ‘The Smoking Hourglass’.
General thoughts: I need some variety!
I have to say, #52books2017 and the whole ‘Mr B Reads thing have been immensely helpful for me this year. As I’ve journeyed through a PGCE year which included two house moves in the space of six months, I have found comfort in connecting with wonderful teachers, talented authors and, most importantly of all, a multitude of beautiful books! I have found myself taking fresh enjoyment from reading, be that on the page or on the kindle, and exploring Cremin et al’s assertion that ‘even when reading alone, the act of reading remains profoundly social’ (Building Communities of Engaged Readers, p.5) (I am absoutely done with referencing things perfectly!!!). I have been privileged to engage with many ‘book talks’, primarily through Twitter, and have been quite overwhelmed at the positive response I’ve had to simply sharing my opinion about books! It has instilled in me a desire to truly become a ‘Reading Teacher’. However…
I said in my very first blog post, ‘To see with other eyes’, that a key function of this blog and of @MrBReading was to explore the world of children’s literature, an area I know is a weakness for many teachers and was certainly a huge weakness for me! That will not change. There is so much good quality KidLit being produced now, I am certain I won’t run out of material! In other words, please keep reading my reviews!!! Ahem… But I am also aware that I have not been investing as much in other areas which stimulate me intellectually and spiritually, so do look out for a bit more of that too! I firmly believe that we have gifts, talents and interests allotted to us, but that we share the responsibility of seeing them grow and develop. To that end I hope to use my reading not only to continue developing as a KidLit fan and half-decent, hopefully improving blogger and reviewer, but also intentionally to grow as a teacher, a(n) historian and a Christian – in short, as the individual that I am!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the first half of my #52books2017 and the first six months of my blog/review/tweacher journey! A huge thank you to those of you who have read this blog so far, let alone those heroes who have been so encouraging as to say lovely things and share the posts! As I start my NQT year officially on Friday(!!!!!!!) I look forward to continuing this adventure wherever it may lead, as part of an online ‘community of engaged readers’!