#52Books2017 March

A few days late, but I’ve taken time out of my assignment writing to get this month review written! I preach well-being in one of my first blog posts and so I’ve had to put it into practice! Isn’t accountability fun? Anyhow, I didn’t read as much this month due to placement and other things, but I have an INCREDIBLY strong selection of books below for your perusal!


Book 1: The Last Wild – Piers Torday (KidLit, Upper KS2)

I feel hopelessly behind the times reviewing this wonderful book…although I did review Harry Potter last month so I guess anything goes!

Kester Jaynes wakes up, as he does every day, in Spectrum Hall, a home for troubled children. Mute since tragedy struck him years before, he does his best to stay out of trouble in a dreary prison where he is served nothing but ‘formula’. But one day his world changes forever when he realises he CAN talk, just not in the way he thought…

Set in a world where wild animals no longer (officially…) exist, The Last Wild tells a story of adventure, courage and unlikely friendship as Kester must fight against the odds to save what is good in the world, all while piecing together his own family mystery. I was utterly gripped as I followed Kester’s exploration of this familiar, yet tragically different world. In him we have the unlikeliest of heroes, supported by the unlikeliest of teams. Every character is considered and well-defined, and I am unashamed to say I fell in love with the lot of them!

As much as this story is exciting, it is also funny, touching, emotional and relevant. It would lead perfectly into topics around extinction and environmental issues amongst many others. I am currently reading part two of the trilogy and it is already shaping up to be as good! Torday has amassed a legion of fans and you do not want to miss out reading this and becoming one of them!

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Review: The Matchbox Diary

“Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”

These simple words from an elderly man to his great-granddaughter at their first meeting set the scene for a remarkable story of poverty, immigration and the power of stories in whatever form they come.

Synopsis/Review:

In response to the quote at the top of this review, a Kindergarten-aged girl brings her great-grandfather an old cigar box, filled with dozens of little matchboxes. Explaining that this box constitutes his ‘diary’, since he could not always read and write, he begins to use the things he has collected in the boxes to tell his extraordinary story of how he came from famine in First World War era Italy, through poverty growing up in America during the depression years, to finally pursuing and succeeding in his passion. Each part of his journey is represented by an object, so that as the story progresses we learn more and more about his family’s experiences of being uprooted by circumstances outside of their control, travelling across the sea full of trepidation about what might be ahead, and having to adapt to a new land where they were poor and unwanted.

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#52books2017 February

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 –

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Review: Dave’s Cave

‘This Dave. This Dave’s Cave. But Dave not happy…Dave want new cave.’

Synopsis/Review:

This Dave’s Cave. Dave like cave. Cave perfect. But Dave think. What if better cave? Better rocks. Better grass. Better Wi-fi (ok, Mr B added). Dave find new caves. But none perfect. Dave sad. Will Dave find dream cave?

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Review: House held up by Trees

‘The sweet smell of the little green flowers floated around him as he worked, but he was too busy to notice…’

I’ve said previously that one thing I love about picture books is that there is such a variety. Some of the books I will recommend and review are bright, colourful, cheery stories with rhyme, rhythm and a laugh-a-minute. And others will make you think, consider and reflect on the world. This is very much the latter. Illustrated by Jon Klassen, most famous perhaps for his hilarious, subversive ‘hat’ series, ‘House Held Up by Trees’ is a haunting and almost accusatory story of misplaced priorities and man’s feeble attempts to subdue nature.

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Review: The Bear and the Piano

‘One day in a forest, a young bear cub found something he’d never seen before.’

bear-and-piano-opening

Thus begins the beautiful tale of an ordinary bear with an extraordinary talent, and a heart-wrenching decision to make.

Synopsis/Review:

Upon finding a piano in the forest, an inquisitive young bear cub is at first put off by the strange noises it makes. Persevering, he begins to discover a remarkable talent, and soon he is enthralling his friends and family in their woodland home. One day, his skills are discovered by a man and his daughter, who tell him of a great city full of people who would love to hear his playing if he would only go there with them. Will he stay with his friends and family in the forest, or will he step out of his comfort zone into a whole new world of stardom? If he leaves his home behind in pursuit of fame and fortune, will he ever be able to go back to the life he once had? And who is ‘the most important audience of all’?

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Help! I’m a PictFictAddict!

One of my PGCE tutors recently began her introduction to the world of children’s literature by spinning the saddest of yarns. She told the tale of a gift and a talent for reading, of being led at an early age away from the comfort of picture books and into a new world of…chapter books [Insert Thunderclap here]! Of growing up with pages upon pages of prose, with just a smattering of illustrative accompaniment. Of leaving behind the ‘childish’ world of picture books as she had grown out of such things.The reason I have been able to recall this story in such emotive detail is because it is also my own! I have grown up with a severe lack of nostalgia surrounding picture books due to being moved to more ‘age-appropriate’ texts from a very early age.

Now, both the tutor in question and I would be at pains to inform you that we loved the books we read growing up, but we would also point to this as the reason for our current ‘condition’. There can be no doubt about it: I am a PictFictAddict! Before I outline where I’m going to be heading with my future posts in this ‘series’, I thought I’d share just three reasons of many why, over twenty years late, I finally LOVE PicFic!

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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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