How well are YOU being?

I recently had the frankly terrifying honour of addressing two groups of prospective teacher trainees to give a student’s perspective on the decision they were deliberating upon – is teacher training for me? I only had about two minutes to speak (I took seven both times…no-one should be surprised!), and so I thought I’d share my advice, as I’ve taken to doing since I turned the grand old age of…twenty-seven, to them here! Instead of sharing information about the course, which others did more than adequately, I chose rather to address them, both as professionals and as people. My advice was lifted from the final three points of my personal mission statement, written as I reflected on Stephen Covey’s excellent and life-changing book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. From this point on I will write as if to those of you who are considering starting a training course, and I’d love to see advice at the bottom or on twitter if more seasoned professionals think I’ve missed anything essential!I will work with integrity and strive for excellence

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Why so serie-ous?

Having written one blog and one review, I’ve decided today to mix the two! Ladies and Gentlemen, please do peruse my first ever bleview!


A nameless Year 6 child (well I assume he has a name, we just don’t know it…), inspired Victor Watson to write a book on series fiction with words to this effect: ‘starting a new novel is like going into a room full of strangers, but starting a book in a familiar series is like going into a room full of friends’. Quite! There are few things worse than sticking with a book for dozens of pages, hoping that the characters/settings will grow on you, then realising too near to the end that they really aren’t going to!

But I think there is more to our nation’s love of series than simple familiarity. In every branch of literature, an author’s ability to create a deep and believable world can be the difference between a monumental success and a depressing failure. Where series fiction has an advantage is the ability to build this world not over the space of a few pages, which can feel rushed and contrived, but over a considerable length of time, weaving together many threads to produce a glorious tapestry of character, geography and history.

Whilst it takes considerable skill for an author to introduce, explore and resolve a story in a single volume, it is as impressive to hold a reader’s attention, concentration and care over a series of stories. For the sake of this ‘bleview’, I am excluding the ubiquitous trilogy – I may explore these separately. I am including in my definition any sequence of books which feature the same characters or tell one story over several volumes. E.g. I would include both Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter. My list my rules!

So, from 6th – 1st here are my favourite series!

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#52Books2017 January

Firstly, I have been blown away by some of the comments I received on my first blog post, ‘To see with other eyes’, so thank you if you have responded! Please do continue to check it out and share with anyone you think may connect with it! I only hope I haven’t peaked too soon… Anyway, on with the blog!


This will be the first of my (hopefully) monthly book review posts as part of the #52books2017 challenge! If this one isn’t great…I have 11 months to practise!

Book 1: Darkmouth – Shane Hegarty (KidLit, Upper KS2)

The first in a series, this is a book I’ve had my eye on for a while. It tells the story of Finn, the next in a long family line of ‘Legend Hunters’ (under no circumstances are you to call them ‘monsters’, they are ‘Legends’). As we learn more about Finn, and about the Legends who come through portals into the human world, we discover that the truth behind this ‘good vs evil’ struggle is more complex, and more terrifying than we first imagined! All-in-all, a good, solid introduction to a very promising fantasy/adventure series! In terms of classroom use I could easily imagine linking the text to Greek mythology with some of the ‘Legends’ being quite familiar…

 

Book 2: Awful Auntie – David Walliams (KidLit, Upper KS2)

The heir apparent to…what’s his name? You know the one who wrote Matilda and what-not? It’ll come to me… Anyway, Walliams continues to emulate the master in his portrayal of brave, resourceful children battling against grotesquely caricatured, nasty adults (the cheek of him!!) with this story of a vindictive, greedy aunt trying to deny Lady Stella Saxby her inheritance. With the help of an extremely unlikely ally, Lady Stella must outwit not only an evil aunt, but also her prized owl Wagner, all while piecing together her hidden, tragic family past. Hard-hitting in parts, this is another exciting and touching story by Walliams. Despite the lack of everyone’s favourite character, a hilarious afterword raises the rating! For me, it doesn’t reach the heights of his wonderful ‘Mr Stink’, but I enjoyed the read and could see the book supporting various history topics due to its historical setting.

 

– STAR READ – Book 3: Cogheart – Peter Bunzl (KidLit Upper KS2) – STAR READ –

This gripping adventure through an alternate Victorian Britain whose skies are populated by airships and whose land is filled with ‘mechanicals’ deserves the abundant plaudits it has received. When Lily’s father goes missing, she must dash through the country to uncover the truth with only a mechanical fox and a clockmaker’s son for help. Pursued at every stage by enemies seeking a treasure she does not know the value of, and never quite knowing whom she can trust, Lily must keep her wits about her and her friends close. You will be swept away by both the adventure and the beautiful world which Bunzl has imagined. I already know of several Year 6 classes being inspired by this story – there will be many more to come as the series progresses!

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To see with other eyes…

I have ummed and arrred for many-a day. Yes, about the correct phonetic spelling of ‘ummed and arrred’, but more importantly about the content of this post. It is customary, I am led to believe, to provide some of the reasons behind entering the blogging fray, to give the reader some idea of where the content will go and whether it is worth their time to tag along for the ride. I certainly hope that at least someone more than myself and my lovely fiancée (thanks, dear) will.

There are many aspects of my character which could offend, and it is only fair I share those openly. I am a Christian. I lean a fair way left in my political sensibilities. I am from Essex. I play ukulele. I am an Arsenal fan. Anybody yet to feel like maybe this isn’t for them? But there is one aspect of my character which, I feel, will strike a chord (there’s the uke again…) with any reader of this blog. I am a reader.

Whatever your faith or view of the world, it is clear that there are some things which are uniquely human, and one of these is the ability to lose oneself in a story. Newspaper and government reports alike, not to mention innumerable articles, books and teachers’ anecdotes, bemoan the decline of reading among people of all ages, especially children. I may well post about it myself! But one thing is certain: our voracious appetite for stories continues unabated. For many this may play out as an obsession with social media, a penchant for daytime TV, an encyclopaedic knowledge of sports or celeb gossip. Whatever makes you happy.

I feel strongly that reading is both an essential skill and an unquenchable joy. A book can transport you around the world, introduce you to wonderful characters and completely alter your views on the world. It can challenge your perceptions, toy with your emotions and leave you dazzled and amazed. As a trainee teacher, I also feel strongly that children must be exposed to this experience and that we are in a position to ensure that happens.

Teresa Cremin et al., in their reading for pleasure research beginning some ten years ago, raised awareness that teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature is not sufficient to provide the experience that children deserve. I was, and am, convicted of this myself. As a result of this, and a commitment that if I’m going to enter the teaching profession I’m going to do it whole-heartedly, @MrBReading was born (nothing to do with baking…). I have joined the mighty teachers partaking of the Goodreads #52books2017 challenge (see tab above) where I will focus largely on children’s literature (isn’t KidLit much more fun to say??), and am enjoying pestering experienced teachers on twitter chats where I try to persuade people that I am not out of my depth. You know the duck analogy? Calm on top, kicking furiously below? That.

This blog will be an extension of those two ventures. First, to promote a love of reading and share thoughts and experiences of books, especially children’s, largely through chronicling my #52books2017 experience and my picture book reviews (with teaching ideas). Second, to share my opinions on teaching and education, some of which I will find myself with company in holding. I may drift into other parts of my life as mentioned above, who knows? And the title of this post? I’ll let my hero, C. S. Lewis, explain why he valued reading, and why we should too:


‘We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own’