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!



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! 

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.

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Review | Bringing Words to Life

I came to this book hot off the heels from The Secret of Literacy; I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready for the world of robust vocabulary instruction.

Beck, McKewon and Kucan’s book explores the deficit between ‘word rich’ and ‘word poor’ students, and how best educators can go about fixing this. It definitely fulfils it’s remit. There are some shocking figures about the language deprivation of the children studied (the case studies are all American I should note – no value judgement, just interesting to compare!), and in short children who begin school with a vocabulary deficit will only see the gap between them and the ‘word rich’ widen as schooling progresses.

The book offers a structure for vocabulary introduction and teaching, and the biggest piece of learning for me was the splitting of vocabulary into three tiers. ‘Tier One’ words are the basic, high frequency words that children should know; ‘Tier Two’ the wow-words of old that are uncommon in oral language but often found in writing; and ‘Tier Three’ is the vocabulary of academic disciplines (think filibuster). I found this distinction particularly useful, and as I design my next unit of teaching I will definitely think about the ‘Tier Two’ words to focus my instruction on.

My only real problem with this book, was that it was a smidge dry. It’s style is densely academic (often sighting many studies and authors), it had lots of reproduced teacher-student conversations, and a slightly cheesy ‘your turn’ section at the end of each chapter. Its lessons are definitely worth hearing, but for a read on the train to work, this probably isn’t for you. Give it a go over the summer holidays, and don’t feel ashamed skipping the boring bits!

Order here

Review | The Secret of Literacy

Wanting to shake up my practice, I’ve been ploughing through some educational books and, broadly, they fall into three categories: policy, practice and pedagogy. It is really tricky to find a book aimed at teachers that includes elements of each, while remaining readable. The Secret of Literacy does this.

David Didau, author of the must-read blog The Learning Spy, has managed to do exactly what his tag line suggests we do for learners – make the implicit explicit. He explores the different ways we can reveal the structure of our learning to children, and his book is peppered with fantastic ideas that are practical and really work. What I like about this book, is that Didau strikes the tonal balance between offering practical ideas but supporting it with sound pedagogy. I’ve already tried ideas such as Slow Writing, which have been a great hit with my class!

This book is a must read for anyone in the Primary classroom, and it’s easy to access ideas and thinking will transform your teaching.

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