Wolves by Emily Gravett

E Wovles 2

Firstly, I have to say I can’t believe this book is 10!  More due to the fact, as mentioned in previous reviews, that Emily Gravett was an author adored by my daughter when she was much younger.

The book is pure genius! Emily Gravett using her awesome imagination to create a hybrid book with the text mostly factual information and a narrative through the illustrations.   Even the little aspects like the library card or the doormat covered with post, prove to be delightful.  The narrative is simple, like most good stories, with a rabbit engrossed in his library book while being stalked by a wolf.  I can whole-heartedly recommend this book as it great.

Now for the teacher bit.  Well as a information text it is a solid base for writing non-chronological reports and for this purpose I have used it across age ranges, either as main content or a starting point for additional research.  As well as this the ‘narrative’ could be retold with the stalking of the rabbit or the letter replying to the library regarding the over-due loan.  I used it once with Year 2 children to develop their understanding of ordering dates by using the library date stamps from the front of the book.

E Wovles

Simply fabulous! Please read and share it to keep this marvelous book in reprints.  I’ll leave you with this fantastic link about how Emily created this little wonder.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

dark

Lemony Snicket takes his dark style into the format of picture books with aplomb.  A simple story of a boy who is simply afraid of the dark and how he has to face that fear.  A story that every child and adult can relate to, builds the tension based on the ordinary – a set of drawers or a flight of stairs.

As mentioned in another review, I love Jon Klassen’s artwork and with this being a picture book his talents take centre stage and are a sheer joy.  The harsh lines of the stairs and the floorboards along with the use of negative space to frame images is superb.

Now for the teacher bit.  This fantastic clip shows what can be done with a well illustrated picture book: reading aloud, developing reading to build tension and ICT opportunities through animation.  It also a great story for discussing fears and ways to face them.  Due to this it would make an ideal story to share in a circle-time or in a PHSCE lesson.

A short review I know, but when the book is a simple story told so well that all I can say is seek it out and share this great book.

Welcome to your Awesome Robot

Robot1

Very few books combine different genres as well as Welcome to your Awesome Robot – part graphic novel/part instructions.  As a fan of comics, Schwarz has created something that is fun to read and even better to try.  It came into my school in a selection of books and I knew straight away it was exactly what I’d like to read so I took it home and shared it with my daughter.  Her first words ‘We have to make one’ shows how effective the text is…and that is what we did.

Awesome-Robot-21-540x707

We have all been there on Christmas day with young children and watched them open all their presents, only for them to find joy in the boxes.  This is basically the book in a nutshell – take a box and have a fantastic time making a robot.  The use of technical language e.g. BASE UNIT (box) is fun to explore and develops imagination.

Now for the teacher bit.  This is basically a DT unit in a book which could be relabeled as Welcome to your Awesome DT Unit.  I built the unit around exploring real life robots, designing the robots, exploring 3D nets for the base unit (cardboard box) and finally working in teams to make robots that were presented with oral explanations to decide on the best one.  Writing opportunities include instructions based on the robots produced and explanation texts on how it works.  Throughout the book is handy photocopier easy labels and dials that make the robots look fabulous.  All in all, it is a teacher must to buy and keep in the cupboard primed and ready.

A great book that is just fun! Share it with your class or loved ones and watch their faces filled with pride.

 

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

61-b29HpeNL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_

Place three feral children into a stately home and watch the chaos.  A basic view of this book which is far, far more than simple.  The setting allows a vast contrast to the children with stiff upper lips challenged by the odd behaviour of the wild children.  Penelope is our way into this strange situation and as the governess (teacher) to these curious creatures, we get to enjoy the wild ride as she tries to teach, care and control the Incorrigible Children.  Maryrose Wood wraps all of this in a mystery. Who are the children?  Where do they come from?  Why has the Lord taken them into his home?  This keeps the reader wanting to turn each page.

I love the contrast between the characters Lady Constance, who is indifferent to the remarkable children, and Penelope who cares deeply for them.  Both of a similar age, yet leading very different lives as master and servant.

Now for the illustrations – of late Jon Klassen has proved himself to be a fabulous artist for the darker side of children literacy.  His harsh lines and muted colours add to mystery of the origins of the children.

Now for the teacher bit.  As a teacher I find it tricky sometimes to find engaging texts with a historical angle.  I feel that this story could have been translated to modern times, so means that the historical aspect isn’t a gimmick.  The author uses direct explanation to the reader for tricky words and phrases it uses.  In this way it reminds me of the work of Lemony Snicket.  This makes it a language rich text that also provides insights into life in the past.

It is no wonder that this book has spawned a series of stories as it is well worth exploring the world more.

Nimona – Graphic Novel

Nim 3

Well what a ride that was.  As a comic geek I love graphic novels and this one was a sheer surprise.  I knew nothing about Noelle Stevenson before reading Nimona but I will be digging deeper to find more from her after reading this.  The brilliantly named Lord Ballister Blackheart is not your normal villain, although disgraced and rejected by the Institution of Law Enforcement he plays by his own moral code.  That is until Nimona enters his life and chaos ensures.

Skewering the sidekick role, this feisty female makes their partnership both manic and gentle at different times.  The author takes the time to develop the relationship of both so you care when the twists arrive.  Alongside this Noelle Stevenson explores the backstories of the main characters – Just who is Nimona?  Why is she so special?  Why on earth does she want to be a sidekick to a villain? What is Blackheart’s relationship with Goldenlion; the hero of the kingdom?  Filled with adventure, humour, mystery and fantastic artwork, I liken it in style to the popular cartoon Adventure Time in terms of style and pacing.

Nim 2

Now for the teacher bit.  No doubt if you have ever used comics as a way of teaching then turning the speech bubbles into punctuated speech is something you have already explored.  As you can see above, Nimona has quirky humour that is ideal for developing this.  It also has a high level of language for primary school children, mostly due to exposition from the newsreader.  Words such as spacious, cooperating, peculiar, epidemic, infected are all there to expand your child’s vocabulary.

Nim 1

A great read that makes you want to read the next adventure.

 

Tidy by Emily Gravett

Tidy

Now to start this review I have a confession to make, I love Emily Gravett’s work.  It was love at first read (Wolves – review to follow) and although this unrequited love remains, unknown to EG of course), it was only right that I share this with others.  She was the first author my daughter became obsessed with and we enjoyed many of her books.

On Earthday 2017 I happened to be in a local bookstore and saw Tidy.  It’s cover, with the cut out section to frame the main character, was eye-catching enough and to my delight I saw the author.  Without looking at the blurb or flicking the pages it was bought.  Once home and read I could reflect on this great story.

Pete is a badger who likes to be neat.  His mission is simple enough: clean the forest.  Like many a picture book, the tale is simple but the execution of it is not.  Pete reacts to his environment with the best intentions and does what he does best, however the outcome is not one he likes.  The layers of what changes happen and why as well as the resulting impact on the home of all the forest animals is profound.  A great read with an important message.

Now for the teacher bit.  Rhyming prose is fantastic for developing language skills so as a text to share with EYFS children it is ideal.  The use of the changing of the seasons moves the story on but provides a great link to science for KS1.  In the wider sense it could be shared with all primary age children due to the message it presents about how we treat our environment and how we can be a positive change in the world.

Well done Emily, still fabulous in my eyes.

Boy 23

BOY23

YA stories are tricky.  Too far with the adult themes and you alienate those young avid readers, although not mature enough and it isn’t going to work either.  Jim Carrington walks the type rope very well.

Boy 23 is set in a realistic world which is in ruins and exploring it for the first time is Boy 23, our guide without knowledge through this world.  This lack of knowledge is due to his recent release from a sterile environment; a single room in which the only interaction with him was with the Voice.  It starts with a blind journey into the wilds of a desolate land while Boy 23 is ‘abandoned’ to fend for himself.  From there he encounters hostile locals, an oppressive orphanage and is subject to a man-hunt.  Oh and so not spoil it, he secret is revealed and it’s not one that I guessed.

12a-certiicate

As mentioned earlier, YA stories straddle audiences and if to be shared in schools teachers need to be aware of the ‘pitfalls’ or parent complaints.   Rape is mentioned though not described in detail and there is violence that is needed to drive the story on, however these aspects are handled well by the author.

Now the teacher stuff.  I love that the author develops his own language for BOY 23 which shows that he has been isolated.  It is great for showing children how reading around an unknown word can aid understanding of the word through clues within the sentence.  It reminds me of A Clockwork Orange due to this aspect.  MFL (German) plays a huge part in the story, a canny trick that kept non-German readers in the dark as much as Boy 23, so in a secondary school they can use these snippets to translate.

A brisk, enjoyable story with themes to engage discussion and excite that will appeal to boys and girls (again another strong female character, it seems a theme in my reading choices) alike.

Howl’s Moving Castle

yxA66iT.gif

The beauty of books is simple.  Unlike many other forms of media, they don’t really age.  Not the good ones, not the ones with real characters that are engulfed with wit, danger and humour.  So this is a dive back onto the shelf for a read from a while back.

Diana Wynne Jones has produced many books with this one being turned into a smash Japanese animated film.  That is one of the reasons why it is a great book to share in schools.

Sophie Hatter is our hero.  A poor cursed girl whose down trodden life takes a turn for the worse when she meets the Wizard Howl.  And my what a great character Howl is.  A show-off with many flaws, Howl is a selfish gent who despite his magical abilities is always out thought.  Again, a great female lead in Sophie which isn’t always the case in children’s literature.

Now for the teacher bit.  With the moving castle a hulking monument, this is a great text to use for a setting description.  Explanation texts to discuss the imaginative mode of transport (seven-league boots) has went down well with previous classes.

Kids love wizards, just remember that Potter isn’t the only show in town.

51nYEs9CtnL

StitchHead

Stich head

Not all these books were encountered in the same way.  Some were private reads (often on my jollies when teaching was a soft term memory), some were shared with my daughter, and some, like StitchHead, were shared in the most hostile arenas….that’s right, in front of a class!

Well, let me be clear I don’t recommend books I don’t like and this was a cracker.  Indeed, it was a Christmas gift from Santa to my daughter once I had shared the tale with my Year 3 class.  Guy Bass riffs of the Frankenstein themes so it appeals to children.  Although not as dark as the cover may appear, it is a fantastic yarn about a creature who is discarded by his creator and seems a lost soul simply existing.  Loneliness and lack of purpose makes StitchHead a target for the leader of a travelling freakshow and this is were the excitement happens.  Add to this wonderful creatures that fill the gothic Castle Grotteskew, it is a great book to share with kids.

Now to the teacher bit.  For those who want a book to stretch vocabulary please note the following – protruding, appreciative, gathered, remarkable (all page 105) – are just some of the words dropped into the narrative while still engaging the reader.  Want to teach alliteration, well the villain of the piece is the fantastically named Fulbert Freakfinder.  Even the role of Arabella, the strong female who helps StitchHead, is ideal for examples of how girls can be portrayed in books.  Finally a mention for Pete Williamson, the illustrator, as his work on this inspired my class to turn the text into a comic-strip.  Both Bass and Williamson have combined to create a great start to a series of books.

To confirm what a good book it is I will leave you with this.  A child, now in Year 4, was reading it the other day.  I asked why he had picked it as we shared it last year.  His response was simple, ‘But it’s so good Sir, I decided to read it again’.  Well played chaps.