A is for Bee: an alphabet book in translation by Ellen Heck

I adore this book. One because it is brilliant, two because it is beautifully illustrated, and finally because of the simple yet clever concept, this will be one of the easiest reviews I’ve ever done. As they say ‘a picture can paint a thousand words’.

The idea for the book is pure genius. Select animals and just share the intriguing nouns from around the world. I think the Lion page may just be my favourite with lightbulb moments for characters from my old favourite The Jungle Book and the more recent the Lion King.

Now for the teacher bit. Until recently, I taught in a school with many EAL children. For those who don’t know, EAL means English as an Additional Language. Books like this one are so special as they are rare to find; a book that shows the world for the wonderfully diverse place it is. And by having a small example of that in your classroom would go a long way to welcoming newcomers, regardless of their origins. Inclusive classrooms matter!

A pure delight. Čistá radost. En ren fornøjelse.

The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince by Ian Eagleton & Davide Ortu

Ian Eagleton is on a roll. His debut picturebook, Nen and the Lonely Fisherman, was a delight, and his latest doesn’t disappoint. Books are meant to make you dream, make you care, make you believe…they are to be a place of excitement, of calming, of wonder; The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince does all of this.

Loneliness is a theme that appears again in Ian’s tale of a person who looks at the world from the outside, hoping for interactions with all of their soul. The way that the author shares with us the woodcutter’s potent mixture of sadness and hope means any reader, young or old, will be invested in the happiness that is explored later.

David Ortu has done a cracking job with the illustrations. The animated, almost Disney feel and use of colour throughout will draw in the casual reader and aid in whisking them away on this adventure. The sequence in which Kai the woodcutter faces peril to pursue what he considers to be right is fantastic and ideal for children’s writing.

What I like most about this story is that it is about kindred spirits. Often in life, we meet those who seem like us but a connection can fall by the wayside. Kai shows that fighting for those types of relationships is what it means to be human.

Now for the teacher bit. Normally at this point you’d have to listen to me waffle on…but instead here are some tips from some far more helpful folk than I.

Guest blog – Teaching From Text on The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince

Nicola Talbot and Davina Stapley from Teaching From Text have created today’s guest feature for The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince blog tour, talking about the work scheme they have created around Ian Eagleton’s new inclusive fairy tale.

When we first found out about ‘The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince’ back in the summer, we knew we had found the perfect book for our English Christmas scheme of work this year. The enchanting illustrations by Davide Ortu were the initial alluring magnet but then learning that this was a LGBTQ+ fairytale, we were determined to make this inclusive text as accessible as possible to Primary school teachers by producing a free English scheme of work centered around it.  

Ian Eagleton’s beautiful use of figurative language throughout the narrative sparked our imaginations and the flurry of ideas began! We adored how the Snow Prince is initially portrayed as a harsh and intimidating character to be avoided at all costs, but as the plot unfurls the reader learns why he is feeling this way and they watch his icy wrath melt into a happy warmth. 

We couldn’t resist creating two Christmas schemes of work based around this text: one for Years 3 and 4 (ages 7-9) and the other for Years 5 and 6 (ages 9-11).  After exploring how the Snow Prince is feeling, the scheme reflects the book’s harmony of wonderful artwork and inspiring figurative language through facilitating the children’s writing of free verse poetry based around The Snow Prince’s wrath and Kai’s fear. Following this, the children create their own ‘Turn Diagram’ depicting Kai’s determination to find his Snow Prince. The scheme culminates in a ‘reverse poem’ where the children write a poem which depicts a negative opinion of the Snow Prince when read from top to bottom. However, when the poem is read from the bottom to the top, a positive opinion of the Snow Prince is portrayed!  

We are thrilled that we found ‘The Woodcutter and The Snow Prince’ and have thoroughly enjoyed working with Ian Eagleton’s LGBTQ+ inclusive text.  

You can see the activities in action by following the links on this page. Both schemes can be downloaded for free from www.teachingfromtext.com  

Like a modern-day Disney classic, one to share with kindness and joy.

The Whale Watchers by Dougie Poynter & Amberin Huq

After his Plastic Sucks! book, Dougie Poynter takes the theme of helping the planet into the world of fiction now, and I have no doubt that it will prove to be as equally as popular with readers.

Finn is a typical grumpy teenager who isn’t looking forward to being dragged all the way to Scotland. The journey is made even worse due to his whale-fanatic, talk-to-anyone younger brother, Jesse. But with mum’s job saving the planet and looking after marine life, it is hard for Finn to make too big a deal of it.

An encounter with a quite annoying mystery girl further irritates Finn, and to add to his misery, he seems to find himself in the most boring place in the world. However, a stranded whale soon makes Finn’s life vastly more exciting.

Now for the teacher bit. With themes around conversation, it is easy to imagine this book inspiring children to view the world in a much more eco-friendly manner. To my surprise when reading, I found detailed ‘The science behind the story’ section worthy of being a non-fiction book on its own merits. Information about potential careers, the impact of plastic pollution and how whales are a force for good in their eco-system are just some of the points explained. In addition to this, it has a fabulous glossary at the back so the level of vocabulary being addressed is impressive.

Inspire the next generation!

Alcatoe and the Turnip Child by Isaac Lenkiewicz

Anyone who has read my reviews before knows I’m a huge graphic novel fan. It is fair to say that without comics, I’d not be the reader I am today so when I come across great reads for the classroom, I have to share them.

Alcatoe and the Turnip Child is the wacky brainchild of Isaac Leniewicz, a creator from the UK, and is as bonkers as it sounds. Alcatoe is a bitter, mean-spirited witch who took up casting spells at the grand age of 54. Her feud with another witch leads her to help a group of children get revenge on Mr Pokeweed by embarrassing him in a vegetable growing competition. As the title suggests, nothing goes to plan!

I love how the style is a mix of picture book and comic book as the panels are less rigid with whole and double page spreads used to good effect. Add to this the cartoony illustrations and you are onto a winner – I have a soft spot for Stovetop, the little kettle that is alive.

Now for the teacher bit. Graphic novels are perfect for teaching that tricky bit of English – speech marks. Any teacher worth their salt has had a bash at getting the old ’66 & 99′ nailed, yet often the children just don’t manage to write speech with flair and accuracy. The speech bubbles within a graphic novel along with the panel to place it into context can be a great tool for addressing this.

Freaky and fun, witty and wild – a great graphic novel for younger readers.

Spellstoppers by Cat Gray

As a reading teacher, it is always fabulous to find a new author. With this being Cat Gray’s debut, then it is fair to say she has got a fan already who is keen to read more from her.

Spellstoppers starts with a view of the life of an outsider – Max literally can’t go near anything electrical and in today’s modern life of hustle and bustle life on the grid pretty much constantly, it certainly is a curse. At her wits end, Max’s mother sends him to spend time with his Grandfather, Bram. Oh, and Bram is a spellstopper!

What is a spellstopper? Well, it does what it says on the tin – stops spells. This might not be that useful in your city, town or village, but in Yowling there is plenty of need for it. Bram is like a handyman, but only fixes magical items that have gone awry. Will Bram help Max control his abilities, or will the deadly guardian of Castle Yowling who is hell bent on forcing Bram to aid her throw a spanner in the works? Hhhmmm, no prizes for guessing which…

Cat Gray builds a quirky world with cool features like psychic ice-cream that becomes the perfect flavour and a range of magical creatures that bring mystery and danger. She also ramps up the obstacles that Max and his partner in crime, Kit, encounter in such a way that you believe they are destined to fail…and maybe they do to some degree.

Now for the teacher bit. Recommending books is a skill that teachers need to develop. Once a child starts to show an interest in an author or genre, then, like a stealthy panther, teachers must pounce and be on point with the books they nudge children towards. Harry Potter is almost a genre on its own and so many children want to read it due to the parent pressure (yes, the children in our class have parents who read it as children themselves). For this reason alone, being able to point them in the direction of a great, magic-themed story like Spellstoppers is enough for a teacher pat-on-the-back.

A one to watch – the next magic based series to capture the imaginations of kids everywhere?

Alte Zachen/Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor & Benjamin Phillips

It is often said that books can be windows or mirrors, a means to see ourselves or have the opportunity to view the lives of others. Alte Zachen/Old Things is a fantastic example of this depending on who you are. For me, it was a window into an experience and a faith.

Bubbe Rosa is like many women in my family – fierce and more than happy to speak her mind. Benji, like many good grandchildren, has to aid her in keeping her well worn routine intact. So his Friday is spent trawling around Brooklyn and Manhattan with his Bubbe while she seeks out the ingredients for the Friday Night dinner.

Flashbacks of life in Germany come flooding back as Bubbe goes about her day with purpose. She left her homeland for one reason alone – she is Jewish and at that time Germany was a deeply unpleasant place to be for her and her loved ones.

This is a story of change. The dramatic type that comes through conflict that is sudden and awful. And the other dramatic type that creeps along day by day while the years roll by and then suddenly you look around and the world has changed on you without you even noticing. Both cause fear and unease, both are very different indeed and so well presented in the story.

The creators share the Jewish culture in range of ways, with Yiddish spoken and traditional aspects of life explained while not distracting from the story’s flow. The contrast of black, white and grey images for the present and the colourful past make for an interesting choice and reminds me very much of Harry Miller’s Run. Along with some extraordinary pages that show the history that drives the story – a sea of Jewish concentration tattoos, photos of the countries they lived in before settling in Brooklyn and arrival in New York alongside many others hoping to start of a new life – shows this to be the art of story telling.

Now for the teacher bit. Books like Alte Zachen are excellent at threading history and lived experiences together for children to understand. In Primary, we often learn about WWII from a wholly UK viewpoint and with little regard to what came after. Much like The House by the Lake, it extends beyond the conflict and shows that life does indeed go on and experiences are to be held as just as important.

A window into a life less explored is a window worth looking through.

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett & Matthew Myers

When books push the boundaries of their limits, you have to sit back and just applaud. Battle Bunny is a schizophrenic book of fabulous proportions, and although Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett and Matthew Myers all do great work, it is Alex who deserves ALL the praise.

This is one of those rare occasions when the story takes second place to a bold and entertaining idea. Alex receives the gift of the perfectly lovely Birthday Bunny and proceeds to scribble throughout to create a completely different story – Battle Bunny. Be it boredom, ungratefulness, or genius, Alex creates a bonkers, aggressive tale of a violent bunny and his war on the other woodland creatures.

The defacing of the original book starts off small and descends into chaos. The type of chaos that children adore.

I’ve always been a fan of traditional looking picture books and what Matthew Myers does so well is create a book I could fully imagine finding on the shelf of a charity shop, often overlooked by most as it was published in the 1960s. You could say it was almost wholesome.

Now for the teacher bit. It is the perfect tool to teach the trickiest of writing objectives – editing. Children tend to try their best and then we, as the teachers, ask them to edit their own work. What Battle Bunny does is provide a brilliant tool to teach this elusive skill. The fact that there is a PDF of the ‘non-edited’ book, Birthday Bunny, adds to why this is a must for children to explore. They can be exposed to Battle Bunny and Birthday Bunny and then create their own version with whatever twist they wish.

Clever, witty and inventive – what children’s books should aim to be.

Kodi by Jared Cullum

Stories that touch us most are those of friendship, and overcoming adversity. Think Toy Story and you will know what I mean, and it is safe to say that Kodi tugs on the heartstrings just as hard as the tales of Woody, Buzz and the gang.

Kodi is the standard tale – girl has no friends, girl encounters massive bear, girl befriends bear, girl moves away, bear becomes huge TV star in the hope of finding his lost friend. You know how this turns out!

Seriously, what an amazing graphic novel Jared Cullum has produced. The watercolours are sublime and each character is perfectly formed; from the motorcycling Grandma to Landlord who isn’t as mean as he seems. However, Katya steals this show! Insecure about her sticky-out ears and not quite understanding how awesome she is, Katya is a brilliant hero to carry the tale.

Now for the teacher bit. As a tool for writing, there are some fantastic wordless sequences throughout and as Jared Callum has a great ability to tell a story within those panels, it would provide the base for some amazing narrative pieces. Add to that the wholesome messages throughout, and it is fair to say Kodi is a Primary School winner.

A thing of sheer beauty – graphic novels are art too!

Birdsong by Katya Balen & Richard Johnson

Some books are enjoyed, some are learned from, and the best find a little crack in your mind and live there longer than you think. Birdsong is such a book. Days after reading it, I kept coming back to the themes and prose. Katya Balen is a master craftsperson when it comes to scribing stories.

Annie has songs in her heart that shine out for all to hear, until one day…the day she found herself in a tangled mess of metal and broken glass. The day her hand was hurt and her dream of playing her flute died. Anger is all that fills her heart now, an anger that seems to have no end.

Katya Balen tells the story of how a life turned upside down can sour, how hope can be lost and internal walls built within ourselves. The manner in which she does this is outstanding, with not a single word wasted. And as we meet Noah alongside Annie, learning about his caring nature and how he protects the blackbirds near where they live, we get to marvel at the writing that shows Annie making her way towards the light, towards happier times. A sheer masterclass.

Another joy is the illustrations and I’d like to see more from Richard Johnson as his subtle style flows nicely alongside Katya Balen’s words.

Now for the teacher bit. In the race to teach aspects of SPAG in Primary schools, we can forget to teach the craft of writing. For me, this isn’t a checklist of sentence types or punctuation, but an ability to make a text flow in a way that the reader is fully engaged. With concise writing like in Birdsong, in which a rare word is wasted, it is important to highlight how an author draws you in and paints the picture. If I was going to point out one tool that Katya Balen uses to great effect, it is her use of the repeated phrase or structure.

Cars hooting.

Children screaming.

Tyres turning.

Drills whirring.

Brakes squealing.

Above is an example of what I mean. Such a powerful manner in which to describe the accident that has caused Annie such pain. Share this, highlight it and aid children to become true authors.

Simply a wonderful story – please read it.

No Such Thing by Ella Bailey

I’m a huge fan of spooky picture books and a massive FlyingEye fan, so when I got my hands on No Such Thing it was clear that I could not miss out on this trick and was in for a right treat…

It is October and Ella finds herself a frustrated little girl. Everything in her home keeps being moved about and it seems everyone is in on the act – the dog, her cat, her brother. No way could it be ghosts as there is No Such Thing.

The illustrations are the star of the show as Ella Bailey is a fabulous artist. Her style is great with each scene perfectly dovetailing with the next. For some reason I picture the Moomins at times, possibly because of the pale faces and interactions between Ella and anyone close enough to cop the blame. As a reader, I loved searching each page to spot the ghost lurking about and causing mayhem.

Now for the teacher bit. Promoting reading is a must for schools, so I’m going to take the opportunity to explain about ‘bedtime story’ events. This is when the school invite pupils and carers back into school to listen to stories. There are a host of ways to make each one feel different – coming back in pyjamas and having hot chocolate or a teddy bears’ picnic are some of the examples I’ve seen done well in the past. Another way is to have a spooky-story-fest at Halloween for the children to enjoy great books, from Funnybones for younger children to The Watchtower for the oldest. This is how I would use No Such Thing as it is a perfect story to share with a group of children to inspire them to just enjoy a cracking picturebook.

A bad book from Flying Eye? No Such Thing.