Friday, 28 December 2012
Saturday, 22 December 2012
Saturday, 15 December 2012
Saturday, 8 December 2012
Sunday, 2 December 2012
... one creature stirred. It was a mouse.
Saturday, 24 November 2012
Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed by Madhvi Ramani is a lovely book for 6+. Nina's parents are from India, but Nina feels wholly British. She gets a bit fed up with her dad constantly comparing her to Indian children. One day she is late for school, and discovers that all the "good" countries her class are to research for their class project are gone, and she'll have to research India.
Nina is really fed up, and goes to her eccentric aunty's house. There, she is sent to the spice shed in the back garden to get some turmeric, when she discovers that the shed is in fact a travelling shed, which whisks her off to India! Here, Nina learns about the mystic sadhus in the Himalayas, about Bollywood in Mumbai and about the tigers of West Bengal!
This is a delightful book for children developing the stamina to read chapter books. It's funny and enjoyable, and great for dispelling stereotypes about India. I can imagine that children of Indian heritage would really enjoy reading about a girl like them, but also children of other heritages would enjoy it too.
But on Bansi's first night at Granny O'Hara's house, Conn, a boy who can change into a wolf, crashes through the
Exciting and hilarious by turns, this is a brilliant book to read aloud to children 7+. I would also use it for guided reading or have it in my book corner for independent reading in school. I think it would be particularly good in a culturally diverse classroom, particularly one with children of mixed heritage. I have already recommended it to a friend whose little cousin is being excluded by friends due to her mixed heritage. A fantastic read.
Sunday, 18 November 2012
This is possibly my favourite Anthony Browne book.
Friday, 9 November 2012
The two books I'm writing about today are rightly termed "classics". Nowadays they are often considered "young adult" though of course at the time of publication this was not a term used. I know that I read them between the ages of 12 and 14, and still read them today.
Then as life is about to become even harder and she is about to go into service, her grandmother and aunt send for her to live with them. Here for the first time, Sybylla is loved and appreciated, but still she is restricted by the expectations of her gender and social class. The book ends with Sybylla being forced to choose between marriage and writing: it is clear that it will be impossible for her to do both.
Saturday, 3 November 2012
Sunday, 21 October 2012
Most of my teaching career has been spent in diverse, inner city schools; latterly in London where it is common to find that over 30 languages are spoken (although of course English is the lingua franca. There is a great incentive to learn to speak English so that you can communicate with the rest of your class!) As Britain becomes more culturally diverse outside the cities as well as inside, there is a real imperative for teachers to find books that represent the children in their classes. As I said here , it's very important for making children want to read.
Sunday, 14 October 2012
Most of my teaching career has been in culturally diverse, inner city schools. I started training as a teacher 20 years ago last month (where has the last 20 years gone?) and of course, one of the most important duties of a Primary school teacher is to ensure that the children in their care make progress with their reading. However, I found that we can make sure that children learn their letter sounds and apply that knowledge to words- this is a relatively easy job- but making children want to read is far more tricky. Over my teaching career I have become more and more convinced that young children must see themselves and their cultures presented to them in books, as well as the cultures of their peers.
So Much! by Trish Cooke was published nearly 20 years ago, in 1994. I remember picking up a copy to read to the children I was teaching as a Traveller Support/ English as an Additional Language support teacher in Beeston, Leeds. It's the story of Mum and Baby, sitting at home, when- DING DONG! the doorbell goes, and relatives arrive one by one to see the baby to show him how much they love him. They want to hug, squeeze, kiss the baby- and also eat and fight him! At the end of the book, we see that the family have gathered to celebrate the baby's Daddy's birthday.
It's told in the sing-song rhythms of Dominican English, and I absolutely love this book. I love the fact that the family is an ordinary family, gathering for a celebration the way that other families do, but the family is shown playing dominoes, dancing and singing, giving the book a distinctly Caribbean flavour. We don't see outside the house, only the front room and the baby's bedroom, but the tiled hall in front of the door in one picture (when Auntie Bibbi arrives) reminds me of the one in the terraced houses in Leeds where I lived as a student and young teacher. Trish Cooke grew up in Bradford with her Dominican parents and brothers and sisters, so Helen Oxenbury may have taken inspiration from this.
I recommend this book for children around the ages of 3-6. It's lovely!
I'm looking for picture books showing Asian children in urban settings for my students who are starting their teaching practice in London schools. Please do comment if you know of any! It's a shame that in 20 years we don't seem to be moving forward in representations of diversity in picture books.
Saturday, 6 October 2012
Writing a novel for children or young people based in popular culture is a fraught matter. Just look how quickly we've moved technologically in the past few years, and how that has influenced the way that popular culture is consumed and valued. Oddly, reading novels from the 60s and 70s can seem less odd than reading those from the 80s and 90s, with references to cassettes and videos.
I have written about Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes and The Growing Summer, but I think that Apple Bough (also known as Travelling Shoes- You've Got Mail has a lot to answer for!) is well worth revisiting. Three of the four Forum children are talented: Ethel as a dancer, Wolfgang as an actor and pop composer, but Sebastian is a very gifted violinist, and the family are touring the world with him. Myra, the oldest Forum child, is not talented, but is a loving sister and an ally of Miss Popple, the governess hired to teach them, since Sebastian's music career means that he can't go to school. When Ettie and Wolf decide that the time has come for them to assert themselves and pursue their own talents, it is Myra who finds a way for them to stay in London instead of travelling with Sebastian and their parents, who are totally oblivious that the children have tired of touring. Myra's love of their old house, Apple Bough, is eventually the inspiration for the family to find a permanent home.
Noel Streatfeild was an actress before she became a novelist, and I think that she portrays the realities of a career in performance for children very well: the hard work and dedication, but also the boredom, waiting around and sacrifices needed. The reader is often told that Sebastian is not considered a child by the other musicians he works with while playing, but outside music he is, if anything, quite young for his age.
Streatfeild fans will be glad to know that Madame Fidolia, the head teacher of the stage school attended by Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil, appears in this novel.
Sadly both books are out of print, but are readily available from online stores. Chartbreak is most suited to children 11+, and Apple Bough for 8+.
The title of this post comes from Sly and the Family Stone's Dance to the Music, a song which perfectly expresses the joy of listening to music!
Monday, 1 October 2012
I'm a big fan on Sally Gardner, author of I, Coriander and many other fantastic picture books and novels for children. Her books are inventive and often use fairy tale with powerful effect.
Operation Bunny starts with the discovery of a baby in a hatbox at Stansted Airport in Essex, just outside London. The little girl is named Emily Vole and is adopted by the narcissistic Daisy Dashwood and her husband Ronald. Emily is treated more like a doll than a child until Daisy has triplets of her own, at which point 5 year old Emily is moved from her opulent pink bedroom to sleep on the ironing board in the laundry room and forced to become a servant, looking after the house and babies.
Emily's life would be very miserable if she wasn't befriended by Miss String, the next door neighbour much despised by the Dashwoods, and her giant talking cat. Before long Emily discovers that she has inherited a magical shop and must defeat a fairy-hating witch whose magic lamp turns humans into pink bunnies, with the help from the cat, a fairy policeman and a grumpy detective called Buster.
In the press release from Orion, this enchanting book is compared to Roald Dahl. I'd say that apart from the Dashwoods, who are similar to the Wormwoods in Matilda, it reminds me more of Eva Ibbotson's books for younger readers. I loved it, and can't wait for the next one! It would be devoured by 7+ as an independent read, and 6+ as a bed time story.
My one quibble is that I felt the authorial disapproval of the Dashwoods very strongly (although Daisy does get to redeem herself) and it makes me a little uncomfortable in the way that Dahl's disapproval of "common" parents does. However, the Cinderella aspects of the story clearly need a weak father and unkind mother, and the pantomime tone makes it funny.
I am very grateful to the publishers for sending me this lovely book, but the review is my honest opinion.
Saturday, 29 September 2012
Sunday, 23 September 2012
Monday, 10 September 2012
"If the thing is worth the fight, fight for it... There are ways- ways round, and ways through, and ways over"Drem does indeed learn to throw a spear, to ride and to fight, and he joins the boys' house. However, his path to manhood and his warrior scarlet is not straight forward or easy, and he does indeed both fight for it and find ways round, through and over.
I am a huge Rosemary Sutcliff fan. Her books lyrically and vividly evoke history, and I would certainly credit them with my love of visiting historical sites. Her research was impeccable, as The Independent noted in her obituary in 1992. She contracted a form of rheumatoid arthritis as a child and used a wheelchair for much of her adult life. She wrote sensitively about disability in several of her novels, both from the point of view of her characters and partly about the often cruel behaviour towards disability in the societies she wrote about.
Warrior Scarlet is perhaps my favourite of her novels. I love that Drem's character is influenced by his disability, but it is not informed by it. In many children's books, a period of disability is a test that characters must go through in order to become better people (such as Katy in What Katy Did or Deenie in Deenie) or disabled characters have special powers (Percy Jackson in Rick Riordan's novels who has dyslexia and ADHD but is the son of a God), but for Drem, his disability is something that he must learn to manage in order to become a functioning part of his society. The adjustments that he makes and ultimately the concessions that his tribe makes allows him to do this, and after all, isn't that what the able-bodied world should be doing with people with disabilities? Shouldn't that be our Paralympic legacy?
Monday, 20 August 2012
I have realised that I am two reviews behind in the illustrated year challenge, so I am combining two books with a linked theme.
13 year old Conor has been having nightmares about a monster. One night he wakes up at 12:07 and hears a voice calling him from the garden. He looks out of the window and sees a monster; a huge creature of human shape, but made of branches, twigs and leaves, like the yew tree in the nearby churchyard. The creature insists that he has been summoned, and that he will tell Conor a story, in return for which Conor will tell him about his nightmare.
Conor's mother, we learn, has terminal cancer, but he cannot accept this. His parents are no longer together; his dad is living in the US with his new wife and baby. His grandmother is a busy professional woman, and is also processing her own grief at the imminent loss of her daughter. Conor also has problems at school. The monster's intervention (always at 12:07) in these problems initially seem to make things worse, but ultimately Conor comes to realise that he must accept the inevitable and say goodbye to his mother.
Again, Ness demonstrates that grief and hurt do not make us nicer people, as Victorian storybooks would have readers believe. Conor's fear and despair at losing his mother makes him behave quite cruelly to his friend, to being destructive to both objects and to people. Ultimately, the monster's stories, elliptical and baffling as they seem, make greater sense to him than teachers' well meaning platitudes.
Jim Kay's black and white illustrations are incredibly atmostpheric. He describes here sitting in the back of the car driving through the countryside as night fell, and the way that familiar objects can seem sinister as they lose definition. The monster, in particular, is perfectly realised; anyone who has hurried down a dark lane between streetlights or by torchlight in the winter will recognise jumping at what seems to be monsters out of the corner of one's eye; on closer inspection they are bushes, or dustbins.
This wonderful book is highly recommended for confident readers of 9+. It is written in straight forward, clear prose, but is no less profound for that.
Sunday, 12 August 2012
Sunday, 29 July 2012
As a child, I loved Willard Price's Adventure books about Hal and Roger Hunt, who travelled the world collecting animals for their father's zoo while escaping from danger in exotic locations, so I was delighted to hear that the estate of Willard Price has commissioned Anthony McGowan to write four new books in the series.
12 year old Amazon Hunt is the daughter of Roger Hunt. At the beginning of Leopard Adventure, she is spending her summer holiday at her boarding school as her parents are on a conservation trip. Returning late to school after watching badgers in a wood, she is saved from a fall when climbing into her dormitory by her 13 year old cousin, Frazer, who informs her that she is to go with him and Dr Drexler from her uncle Hal's conservation organisation TRACKS in Long Island and to meet her parents there.
At the TRACKS headquarters, Amazon learns that she and Frazer are to form part of the conservation team to rescue a rare Amur leopard and her cubs from a threatening forest fire in Russia. Amazon and Frazer are thrilled to travel there, but Amazon hears some alarming news- her parents haven't arrived in Long Island.
In Russia, Amazon, Frazer and the rest of the TRACKS team head into the forest with their tribal guide and his grandson, but Frazer causes an accident leading them to lose their satellite phones. So, isolated from the adults, the children must survive encounters with wildlife, hostile terrains and, ultimately, the most dangerous foe- humans with their own agenda- to rescue the leopards and return home.
I really enjoyed this book. I loved learning about the leopard and the Russian forests, and the pace of the plot meant that the exposition was nicely balanced with action. The story has a satisfying conclusion, but there are enough cliff hangers to make the reader long for the next book in the series, Shark Adventure (due January 2013) to find out more about TRACKS, the falling out between Hal and Roger and what has happened to Amazon's parents. Highly recommended for readers 9+, though confident readers of 8+ would enjoy it, or enjoy having it read to them.
Monday, 23 July 2012
I'm delighted to have a guest post from Tom Palmer, author of great thrillers for older readers and adventures for younger, based around football and rugby. Tom has fantastic resources on his website for teachers, parents and children, and wrote a great free story based on Euro 2012 football championship. He is passionate about getting children and families excited about reading. Do check out the Free Reads section of his website! Thank you, Tom!