Topics | Myths and Legends

I think Myths and Legends provide some of the best writing stimuli out there. They are always slightly crazy and unbelievable, but time and time again they book children in and encourage some of the best writing. Here are four of my favourite books for teaching Myths and Legends:

The Orchard Book of Roman Myths, Geraldine McCaughrean

I first came to this book while searching for books to match with my Romans topic, and I have been enamoured with it ever since. Less well known than Greek Myths (and mostly cribbed from them!!), this book introduces children to the strange world of Roman Myths. It has beautiful illustrations and fantastic language models. My favourite has to be the myth of Erisychthon who was cursed to eat himself to death after chopping down some of Ceres’ sacred trees. Gruesome, yes, but utterly engrossing – or should I say engorging! I think it is out of print now, but I hunted mine down by using Click and Collect. Try here?

Beowulf, Michael Morpugo

Simply, this is a fantastic retelling of a classic story. Broken up into three stories, this is definitely one easy to segment and dip in and out of for different writing topics. Morpugo has obviously adapted and incorporated some of the Old English / Norse textual features (such as kennings and epithets) which I really enjoy, and provide a good jumping off point for teaching. I’m also currently really enjoying his retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as well! Order here.

The Great Snake, Sean Taylor

I LOVE THIS BOOK! I discovered this when it was left in my classroom cupboard as part of the Amazon topic, and I have absolutely loved reading it and teaching each. Every year, children rave about this book and its incredible stories. My two favourites are The Great Snake and The Curupira – trust me when I say the stories sound mad but they are incredible. Just find it and treasure it forever! Unfortunately, it seems out of print – I hunted mine down from the US so it wasn’t too expensive. Try here or here!

Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki, Kevin Crossely-Holland

This book is so beautifully illustrated that it is worth having just for that! It has the most incredible and artistic illustrations to accompany the different tales from Norse mythology. What I really like about this book, however, is that it uses the first few pages to introduce the nature of myths and the key players. I think that it makes it really clear and accessible for children, and is definitely engaging. Would work really well with Arthur and the Golden Rope to create links and further flesh out the mythos. Enjoy!

These are all fantastic books for writing units, and also just read alouds for children in KS1 and KS2. Let me know if you’d be interested in more detail about how I plan writing around a text!

 

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Author Focus | Jacqueline Wilson

I think Jacqueline Wilson has to be one of my favourite children’s authors, and that’s why I’ve chosen her for my first Author Focus. I want to look at different authors and illustrators, and round up my top picks from their canon. Jacqueline Wilson has the perfect style for KS2 and KS3 readers as she moves through the trials and tribulations of childhood, and early adolescence. She is able to provide windows into different types of families and experiences, while creating likeable characters that you root for. Here is where I would start with Jacqueline Wilson:

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The Cat Mummy is a perfect starter for younger readers as it is easy to read and its themes aren’t too heavy. Verity hides the death of her beloved cat Mabel using some of the Egyptian techniques she has learnt in school. Perfect for introducing the idea of death or thinking about pets, and very easy to empathise with the protagonist.

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The Lottie Project is again another story without heavy themes that introduces readers to the time flip narrative structure. It looks at the lives of Charlie and Lottie, and helps Charlie think about her problems as she studies the Victorians. Another easy read, and would be a great independent read when studying the Victorians!

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Lola Rose is the first of the heavier books on this list, and I would say is much more appropriate for Upper KS2 and above. It looks at the tale of Jayni as she escapes from her bad-tempered father with her mother and brother. The theme of domestic violence means it wouldn’t be appropriate for younger readers. Harrowing and gripping in equal parts though.

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The Illustrated Mum contains one of the most heartbreaking scenes in fiction and one that has stayed with me since my first reading. It looks at the lives of Dolphin and Star, and their unconventionally tattooed mother Marigold. Amazon describes it as a ‘heartbreaking tale about family, mental health and strong sisterly love’ and I think that sums it up in a nutshell. My favourite of all Wilson’s books, this will stick with you forever.

I could really keep going forever with the suggestions, some others I love include: Vicky Angel, Bad Girls, Double Act, Midnight… I think Jacqueline Wilson is the perfect for your reluctant girl readers in Year 5 and 6 who tend to like gritty stories about girls like them. The Girls In Love series is fantastic for young teens, and addresses some key issues about self-esteem and boys! Let me know what authors you’d like to see next in this series.

Review | Reading Reconsidered

Reading Reconsidered bills itself as ‘a practical guide to rigorous literacy instruction’ and it definitely does what it says on the tin. Obviously geared more towards Secondary practitioners – or Middle School and above if you’re in the States – this book provides a detailed look at the struggles that developing readers face as they move towards reading for meaning and analysis. That said, looking through a Primary lens and thinking about curriculum design this book is extremely useful.

The biggest question that this book provokes in my mind was: what do we think about when we choose texts for children? Are we just picking texts that we like? What was on the shelf and easy to grab? It really makes you think critically about the texts that we put before our young readers, and how to provide them with a rich curriculum that prepares them for life.

Doug Lemov’s main thrust is that there are five plagues of the developing reader:

  • Archaic Language
  • Non-linear time sequences
  • Misleading / narratively complex
  • Figurative / symbolic texts
  • Resistant texts

His blog (here) explains each of these in better detail, and they are really useful when thinking about text choice. It is so easy as a teacher to fall into the trap of picking what you liked or enjoyed as a child (Roald Dahl I’m looking at you here), and we leave children with real gaps in their learning. The book provides you with instruction for how to create a canon of texts that support children with their journey towards literary analysis. I found this amazing document created by Mr A, C and D which gives you further ideas for texts to combat these plagues – it is really useful as a jumping off point!

I have a feeling that in the coming years we’ll really be debating how and why we choose texts in our classrooms, and I think this book will be a really useful one to have in your book corner. Order here! 

Topics | Best books for World War II

As a child, I was completely fascinated by the Second World War and read anything I could get my hands on to do with the subject! These are some of my favourites – it was so hard to narrow done my choices, so let me know if you want a part two!

Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian

This is a classic and probably the first one that everyone will think of, but I had to mention it. The story of the evacuee William and his blossoming relationship with his host Tom is beautiful and poignant. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more than reading the chapter when William returns home, before being rescued by Tom! Order here. 

Back Home, Michelle Magorian

A lesser-known work of Magorian’s that looks at the flip-side of evacuation: what happens when you return home? We see the return of Rusty to a post-war home, which feels oppressive and rigid when compared with her life a an evacuee. It is a fantastic imaging of life after the war, but is pretty meaty. Confident readers will flourish here! Order here. 

The Machine Gunners, Robert Westall

Westall, like Magorian, is a pro at children’s historical fiction, and this book is fantastic for reluctant readers (particularly boys)! A group of boys find a crashed bomber-plane in their hometown, and steal the fully-working  machine gun for their fort. When they find and capture the German pilot, moral quandaries and discussions abound. Most suitable for top juniors because of sensitive topics. Order here.

Blitzcat, Robert Westall

This is such a fun and clever book! We see the highs and lows of life on the Home Front through the eyes of a cat in this novel. As the cat journeys through England, looking for her master we see the many different facets of the war from a widow to an army sergeant. Has a wide appeal; there are some details (the war widow has an affair!) that make it suitable for top juniors. Order here.

The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier

Inspired by true events, but not based on a singular story, this novel looks three children’s journey from Nazi-occupied Poland to safer shores. It takes a good look at the hardships faced by children on the Eastern Front, and has a fantastic afterword about the experiences of real children. It is easily enjoyed as an adventure tale by children who are studying WW2 or not. Order here.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne

Utterly heartbreaking. Boyne’s novel shows the burgeoning friendship between the son on a Nazi Commandant and a Jewish boy in a concentration camp. Atrocities through the eyes of children really help your children to access the emotional poignancy of what happened. The ending is awful as our protagonist goes under the fence to play with his friend in ‘pyjamas’, but does bring the message home to children. Obviously only suitable for older children with sensitive handling of the Holocaust. Order here.

Rose Blanche, Roberto Innocenti and Ian McEwan

The only picture-book on this list, Rose Blanche is a poignant tale that provides a fantastic base for writing. Rose lives in a German town, and one day the Nazis show up the town begins to change. She sees the children who are hungry and ushered out by soldiers, and the reality of life in Nazi Germany is peppered through the illustrations. The ending is ambiguous and all the more heartbreaking for it. Order here. 

Review | Arthur and the Golden Rope

I did something terrible with this book: I judged it by its cover. The paperback just recently being released, Arthur and the Golden rope has been all over bookshops in recent months, and I couldn’t resist its appealing and enticing cover. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed by its contents.

Purporting to be the first ‘Brownstone Family Mystery’, Joe Todd Stanton’s book is centred around the adventure of Arthur as he takes on a mythical beast! The tale borrows heavily from Nordic mythology, and this adds an exciting drama to the text. The illustrations throughout are beautiful, and add a graphic-novel vibe to the text as they are used to great affect!

I have simply left this out for my Year 5s to read, and they have loved it! The story is fun and sweet, and the language (while well written) is easily accessible to a range of readers. The children have definitely been enticed by the idea of more tales from the vault, and actually, so have I!

Order here, if you’d like it.

Review | Cleverlands

As a teacher, you often hear talk about the world’s best education systems – starting school later, more respect of the profession, mastery – but it can be hard to turn this policy into something workable. Lucy Crehan’s Cleveland manages to shed some light on this.

Cretan travels the world visiting the top performing PISA countries, and takes a good look at their education systems. Through her visits to Finland, Singapore, Japan, Shanghai and Canada, we see why these countries are so successful and the possible foibles of their education systems.

Rather than an enforced theory or set of ideas (at least until the final chapter), Crehan enables us to have an insight into the lives of students and teachers across the globe. The book allows for ideas about streaming (when, if at all?), motivation, professionalism, accountability and curriculum design to bubble in your mind as you read, so you are able to come to your own conclusion as she does.

This is a really good read if you are interested in education policy or over-arching ideas about education systems! Order here

Review | Boy in the Tower

At first, this novel seems like a strange entity: a sci-fi about killer plants and a boy stuck in a tower block. Yet, as you delve deeper into it, you realise that it is so much more. Our narrator and protagonist is ten year-old Ade who lives with and cares for his housebound mother; when the mysterious ‘bluchers’ arrive everyone else splits, and Ade is left to fend for himself.

This book is initially slow to start as it builds tension and peppers the text with clues about the incoming crisis, but the longer you stick with it the more you are invested in Ade’s story of survival. This was my story-time read aloud last term, and Year 5 loved it. They were quick to empathise with Ade, and we had thoughtful debates around the text’s key themes.

This would definitely work well as a read aloud in Years 4-6, and fluent readers would definitely enjoy getting stuck in. It is a good introduction to dystopian or science fiction, and would really fit with a topic on plants or growing.

Order Here