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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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 | 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

Topics | Best books for the Tudors

Having taught the Tudors as a cross-curricular topic for the past few years now, these are three of the best books that I’ve found for writing, class novels and independent reading. Enjoy!

 

The Devil and His Boy, Anthony Horowitz

A captivating novel which charts the adventures of Tom as he is caught up in a whirlwind adventure which takes from a pub in Framlingham to the Shakespearean stage! The writing is evocative, dramatic and is a fantastic starting point for writing. Works well as a read aloud or shared text! Order here.

King of Shadows, Susan Cooper

This time-slip novel sees Nathan Field, a young American actor, travel to England to perform on the newly-built Globe stage. Once there, he falls sick with a mysterious illness and wakes up in Shakespearean England. He then assumes the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, working with William Shakespeare himself. This text is a great independent read, and has many great links to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It would work well alongside the study of the play, and children love spotting the links! Order here.

Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the Royal House of Tudor,  Kathryn Lasky

I was first introduced to this series through my own childhood reading of the Marie Antoinette Royal Diary and the rediscovery of the series as a teacher. All the novels in the series are accessible diaries for young readers based on Royal figures. It really captured the imaginations of my weaker girl readers who feel like they could get close to the Virgin Queen.Order here.

What other texts do you think work well with a Tudor topic?