Odd Job Frog by Colleen and Zed Jacey

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“‘I’m bored,’ said frog. ‘Bored, bored, BORED.’

‘Well you’d better get used to it,’ his friend, Mouse, replied lazily. ‘Nothing exciting is going to happen in the middle of this field.’

‘You’re right!’ Frog jumped up. ‘But the city is full of exciting things. I’ll go there.'”

Odd Job Frog

As amphibians go, Odd Job Frog is a bit of a dynamo! When life gets a tad boring in the countryside, does he languish on his lily pad? No he does not! He hops off to London in search of excitement. Unfortunately, all the marvellous things he wants to do cost money so he has to try to get a job. But what sort of work is most suited to a go-getting frog? It’ll need to be something pretty special…

Make a Leap!

Odd Job Frog is a really entertaining and original picture book that shows we’re all wonderful in our own way. As well as being a lovely story told alongside beautifully painted illustrations, Odd Job Frog promotes creative thinking and self-confidence. Teachers in Key Stage One and those running nurture groups will find this to be a valuable addition to their resources. I love that Odd Job Frog has the potential to really get children thinking about themselves and how they too are extraordinary.

As another famous frog once said, ” Life’s like a movie, write your own ending”. We can’t promote diversity enough and when it comes as fabulously presented as this, what’s not to like!

 

Thanks to the author for sending me this lovely book.

 

 


Princess Primrose by Alex T Smith

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“‘Something must be done about Primrose,’ sighed the Queen one day. ‘She simply can’t carry on like this. She is a princess after all and she must learn to behave like one.'”

Fellow ex-Bablake alum and kids’ lit genius Alex T Smith has cheered up my day no end. The reason: a new edition of picture book Princess Primrose for 2017. Hurrah from me on behalf of all young readers everywhere!

Princess Primrose

Poor Princess Primrose finds life in the royal household rather boring. That’s no surprise: she’s always being told how a princess should behave and funnily enough its always the opposite of how she is behaving…

Being a princess means

  • No climbing trees
  • No dressing up as a monkey
  • No digging up muddy vegetables

amongst other things.

I can sense your outrage. It’s not right is it?

The adults of the royal household and young Princess Primrose reach a sort of impasse. This is a shame as I can see from their marvellous pink castle that they weren’t always strangers to fun.

There’s only one thing for it: HRH Grandmamma is called. She’s one heck of a woman, with the wisdom of her years and an understanding of the important things in life. You will love her. If you are a grandparent, I strongly suggest immediately gifting this book to the little tearaways in your life; you are well represented here.

The illustrations sing from the page and will bring a big smile to your face. On first glance, it’s the colour and the changing composition that draws the readers’ attention, but it’s the detail within that makes Princess Primrose all the more special. Each member of the cast of characters has their own perceivable personality. I particularly like the butler who has a striped tail coat and a withering look.

A fantastic book that’s full of fun, life and occasional interesting background topiary. More than brilliant.

 

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me this edition.

 

 

 

 


The Unicorns of Blossom Wood by Catherine Coe

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unicorns blossom

The Unicorns of Blossom Wood are here to add a little sparkle to children’s bookshelves this autumn. Catherine Coe has added three new titles to her Blossom Wood series, including Festival Time and Believe in Magic. These books follow the scenario of  The Owls of Blossom Wood where the children are transformed into owls, but this time we’re galloping rather than flying!

With a whole lot of imagination packed in to less than 100 pages, children will be transfixed by the adventures of cousins Cora, Isabelle and Lei. The girls are brought together for a camping holiday in England and upon exploring the area they find an entrance to a magical world where they become unicorns and many wonderful things happen.

All three girls come from different backgrounds and the author quickly establishes individual personalities for them. As they explore Blossom Wood, they find are they all different there too and have their own magical gifts. Essentially for young imagineers, both books begin based in reality and with peers. This allows plenty of scope for children to kick off their own unicorn adventures together, wherever they are.

For kids aged six years plus who enjoy playing make-believe, these books are great value for money. Each contains an illustrated story (around 80 pages) plus a range of extra activities such as quizzes, maps, games and fact files, making it a really fun and accessible choice for newer readers.

The variety of activities in the books also brings opportunities here for children to read socially. They can easily share the fun with friends or siblings. This is always a special thing, as reading is so often seen as an activity that must always be solitary and silent, which not all children are naturally comfortable with. The Unicorns of Blossom Wood give their young readers a choice of how to read and I love that.

The Unicorns of Blossom Wood are an enchanting series to inspire young readers.

 

Big thanks to Scholastic for sending me these lovely books.

 


Grandma Bendy & the Great Snake Escape by Izy Penguin

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great snake escape done

“Everyone held their breath, terrified of where the snake would land.

The snake twirled in the air and began to fall back down to the floor where… it bounced.

And bounced

and bounced

all around the room.”

Fresh and Funny

Maverick Books are launching their brand new junior fiction range for kids aged 6-9 years in October and this is my second of three posts introducing the range.

Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape by Izy Penguin is fresh and funny, a proper little gem for younger readers. From the very first page I was really feeling the fun.

Children are going to love the style here: Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape is incredibly varied in content and each page is trimmed with Izy Penguin’s lovely illustrations. A great choice for any children waiting to have their eyes opened to the wonder of books. I particularly liked the fabulously illustrated introduction of characters, the double page map of the town of Pumperton (the eagle-eyed amongst you will spot on the town sign that it’s twinned with Bottumburper and Le Pongue- ooh la la!) and the selection of funny headlines from the local paper.

Snake!

It’s the first day back at school in 4B and time for show and tell. Mike Grimace* the school bully has brought in a snake which has only gone and escaped! Lucy has somehow been blamed for this and the whole town of Pumperton are going crackers with the snake fears. It’s up to Lucy, her brother Max and outstanding family elder Grandma Bendy to catch the snake and sort everything out. Children will be keen to read on and find out what happens next.

Giggling Your Socks Off

Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape is an ideal individual reader, but teachers- this is also the sort of book to read to your class, especially if you’re introducing fiction genres. Funny books are a great place to start, especially ones that can be completed quickly. There are plenty of opportunities to discuss where the snake could’ve gone, lots of funny and interesting characters, and a whole heap of silly stuff going on that will have kids giggling their socks off.

* There are a range of excellent names in Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape. Also see shopkeeper Val Crowe and family dog Spag Bol.

 

Big thanks to Maverick Books for sending me this copy!

 

 

 


Rickety Rocket by Alice Hemming

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Illustrated by Emma Randall

rickety rocket done

Maverick Books Junior Fiction Range

As part of Maverick Books’ brand new Junior Fiction range, over the summer I’ll be introducing you to three titles due for release this October. This series is aimed at 6 to 9 year olds. Primary teachers, school librarians, take note: these are ideal for newly independent readers and you’ll want to consider them as you start thinking about books for next year.

Rickety Rocket

Much as picture books are wonderful and classic titles are classics for a reason, I’m always after brand new releases to recommend for Key Stage One readers, and particularly Year Two children who need a wide range of easily digestible books that introduce the concept of genre and the opportunity to explore longer texts.

I feel really strongly about how important it is to introduce new fiction for this age group, books that fill young minds with exciting and imaginative ideas and encourage reading beyond decoding.

Rickety Rocket by Alice Hemming is just the thing; it ticks all the boxes for me as either a class or individual read. Here we have a brand new title, ideal for children of 6 years plus, whether reading alone or with others.

Rickety Rocket comprises of three short stories, all about Spacey Stacey and her pals who live on Planet Five Ways- so named as it links to five other planets we can visit. I really liked the format of three stories in one as it gives children bite sized adventures and a triple feeling of accomplishment in one book.

Jellicious

With nicely blocked text perfect for supporting rookie readers, Rickety Rocket introduces kids to lots of exciting new words that Biff, Chip et al (other reading schemes are available) won’t have covered. For me, ‘jellicious’ is now a new favourite that I have happily added to my own vocabulary!

Prepare to meet space bunnies (cheeky little blighters), deliver jelly by jet pack and race through space in a purple rocket. If I were reading this to a class, I’d be planning all sorts of activities around it: for story number three ‘Picnic Planet’ I’d so be looking forward to reading outside whilst enjoying our own class picnic. Rickety Rocket is the sort of book however where kids will be keen to suggest their own ideas as a result of reading, so it’s a good idea to leave some breathing space if you can to allow this to happen.

Rickety Rocket: fun fiction sure to help kids blast off a lifetime of reading for pleasure

 

Big thanks to Maverick Books for sending me this little beauty.

 

 

 

 


Megalopolis and the Visitor from Outer Space by Cléa Dieudonné

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mega 1

“Megalopolis is a magnificent city. People come from far and wide to see its sights. One day, there was even a visitor from another galaxy.”

Megalopolis and the Visitor from Outer Space by Cléa Dieudonné is a very special picture book telling a vertical story. Suitable for readers ages 5+

A Tall Tale

Living in a city that feels welcoming is a wonderful thing that spells the difference between location and home.

When our hero, the little green visitor from outer space, arrives in his Jetsonesque spaceship, he is warmly welcomed by everyone he meets. There are many who wish to meet him, all throughout the city! As the story unfolds (or as we unfold the story), we follow his progress down through Megalopolis for he appears on each page. He attends a spectacular firework display in a dormant volcano, plays hide and seek in the Chinese Gardens and is introduced to the animals in the zoo. There are weddings, near death experiences and many types of brightly coloured cake.

Look Again!

The story text is rich in detail, sweet and funny and captivating. Cléa Dieudonné changes the colour of her text with each page: a neat move that links the words simply but effectively to the pictures. Oh, and the pictures! An artwork unfolds showing the whole of Megalopolis, from the skies above to the depths below and all in between. Colour and detail are the thing here. Balanced use of the full spectrum of colours means that no aspect overshadows another. Whilst searching for our intergalactic hero, we happily take in the rest of the Megalopolis.

There are many things to spot. I loved the animals, especially the dogs- including one very fine pink poodle. As in every big city though, there is evidence of crime. Kids will love finding the cheeky burglars up to no good! No building is the same and there is movement and noise everywhere. You can even see a mermaid…

I took a few photos so you could see how that works:

Gorgeous isn’t it? And honestly, so much better than this in real life where you can really appreciate all the finer detail, the feel of the book and sound of the pages unfolding.

Unique

If you’re looking for something totally different with a wide breadth of appeal, you really need to check out Megalopolis. This is a vertical story, beautifully illustrated on fantastic quality thick, resilient paper, that folds out to three metres long. It’ll need to be tough, for this is a book that will be pulled out and enjoyed time and time again. Kids will treasure it. Megalopolis is a great leveller that will be loved by both reluctant readers and established book lovers alike, simply because it’s an entertaining and accessible read.

 A vertical story of ultimate glory with something new for you each time you read it.

Notes for Teachers

Hurrah! At last a book that we can all get excited about together! That’s right, even those kids in your class that are struggling to find the right book; that one book that will make them think a little differently, stop reading being a chore and turn it into an adventure. Bold claim, but I absolutely think this book could be just the thing to create a buzz in young readers. Why? Well, read on.

The Class of 2011 and Talk for Writing

A few years ago I taught in a school that streamed by ability for Numeracy and Literacy. In taking the ‘lower’ literacy group, it was no surprise to find even by Year Five, most of them were conditioned to be down on their own abilities and sadly aware that they were labelled as the bottom half of the year in reading and writing. A lovely group of kids with loads to offer, let down by ‘rigorous’ assessment and left to feel like square pegs.

Then one day, I went on a Pie Corbett course which showed me how to help them by working a bit differently. By using Talk for Writing, we learnt stories together and used ALOT of flip chart paper to break down those stories into simple pictures, codes and symbols. For an ex-art teacher like me, it made utter sense. The children came up with actions to go with the symbols and we acted it out and of course they loved it. Plus, for maybe the first time ever, they knew a story inside out.

They were equipped to start planning the next stage of their writing on their own. Out came the rolls of lining paper. They mapped our group work onto it, working in pairs along corridors to construct stories that were many metres long. They changed aspects, made them individual. In short, they owned it. It wasn’t unlike Megalopolis in structure, and it lit up their eyes to work this way. They loved to read it back, walking along their stories as they did so, jumping over it, kneeling next to it but most of all, treasuring it and keeping it safe from nearby careless feet!

For three weeks they worked more or less independently in the name of fiction. I can’t tell you how much they enjoyed it and when they wrote up their stories as more traditional ‘books’ with covers and a blurb at the back, their writing had improved beyond belief. Really, all this good stuff was there in them in the first place, they just needed the time to engage and to look at things in a new way to find out what they were capable of. Best use of half a term’s Literacy lessons ever. Do try it if you can.

The Power of Books

Megalopolis reminded me of that class. They would’ve absolutely loved it. We would’ve left our places, spread it out across tables through the centre of the room and read it together, walking along it, spotting things, taking notes and talking about it. I know they would have seen there were more stories to tell amongst the other characters in the book. They would have run with that, created new tales.

They would’ve said to me “Next time we do Talk for Writing, can we make a book that looks like that?” I could really get kids writing with a starting point like this, let alone reading! The reading part would be easy! Coloured fonts? Stories three metres long? Integrating art and writing? Yes please! Now that would be something worth showing off to mums and dads at parents evening. Rather more exciting than thrice collected evidence of adjectival phrases and far, far more likely to encourage reading and (dare I say) writing for pleasure.

I truly think Megalopolis could add value to learning across the primary age range. From creating happy readers in key stage one, to using it the heart of the curriculum higher up. Teachers are amazing at making links that matter and Megalopolis is full of possibilities. For example, the parallels here between the alien being welcomed into a new world and our oldest pupils thinking about new beginnings at secondary school is just one aspect. There are many more to explore. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to use a picture book to kick off your topic work in Year Six? Why not do it? It would certainly give the kids and the adults something to think about.

(Megalopolis and the Visitor from Outer Space was kindly sent to me by Thames and Hudson)

 

 

 

 

 

 


Reading for Pleasure: A Primary School Guide

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On Reading for Pleasure in Schools

Reading fiction is an emotional business. You don’t need to have wept your way through many Morpurgo endings to know that. With emotional response key to encouraging the reading of fiction books for pleasure, how can we get children to relate in a positive way? According to government reports, reading for pleasure increases when children have access to books, if they’re rewarded for (bribed into) reading, or see people around them doing it. True enough, but fairly general and more than a little obvious. It’s up to the schools to understand what’s going wrong- because something is going wrong and we clearly aren’t making enough of the kids in our schools want to independently read fiction. So how can we begin to change that?

What’s Up With Reading for Pleasure?

Silent reading straight after lunch is really popular in primary schools and I think one of the reasons we fail to promote a love of reading to so many of our pupils. We take children at the time of day they most want to talk to us and to each other and instead we make them sit in silence. This is tantamount to using reading as a punishment and needs to stop. Kids have so much going on at lunchtime: they might have had a really good experience that they want to talk about, or maybe they’ve had a fall out and feel awful. They come in exhilarated, emotionally engaged and ready to communicate. We see it every day and yet we suppress it. Why? Honestly, it’s usually used as an exercise to ‘calm the kids down’ before the afternoon’s lessons.

“Oh, I just love reading. It’s so calming.”

Said no-one ever.

It’s a really unnatural change of state and helps nobody except maybe teachers trying to organise afternoon resources or sort out playground issues that should have already been dealt with. Essentially, it’s a holding task. I’ve seldom seen individual reading for pleasure work in primary school and I will continue not to whilst we treat it this way. It feels like the last vestiges of the Victorian Education System hanging on for dear life and has no place in schools, especially not straight after lunch, and we should scrap it. There, I’ve said it.

A Way Out

Instead, spend more time with a class reader. Complete at least three a year and if your knowledge begins and ends with Roald Dahl,  well hey, that’s a good start and beyond that you can ask for a recommendation- I’ve got a few suggestions at the bottom of the page. Many schools like their teachers to choose class readers that fit their particular area of the creative curriculum. That’s a nice idea but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes you just need to read a book because it’s a great book, not because you’re studying the Victorians and it name checks Dr Barnardo.

Another solution is to prepare well thought out guided reading groups. These can be brilliant and much more pertinent and inspiring than silent reading time. Provide the children with books that are exciting, suitable, well-researched and of course pre-read by teachers. Let them take them home if they ask. Make the time after lunch a social time, a circle time, a time for talk! Include in it the opportunity for your class to talk about what they’re reading and what they think of it. With reading, we need to create a buzz, not a zzz.

Some schools will be reticent to kick out silent reading altogether, so I would encourage them instead to look at different approaches. Empowering pupils with the decision of when to read worked well for me last year. I gave my Year Fives the option of taking fifteen minutes out each afternoon to read their books. They could go to the book corner, or somewhere away from the group, and just read. Or not. It was up to them. Many chose to do this regularly, especially if they were reading something they really enjoyed. Some didn’t. There was no pressure because through my class readers and guided reading groups I made sure everyone engaged with fiction every day. It worked perfectly, no-one took advantage of it or used it as a way to avoid lessons. Kids never do when given the opportunity to own their learning do they? It was the how I managed to get individual, independent reading for pleasure to work.

My Recommended Reading for Pleasure Class Readers for Key Stage Two

I strongly advocate at least one reader a year is bought as a whole class set . This way everyone gets to experience the wonder of reading together as a group.

Year Three

The key time for engaging children in fiction. I’d suggest plenty of humour, imagination, linked activities and seizing the opportunity to introduce longer stories.

 

stick man big bum

The Stick Man With a Big Bum. Very funny story of Eric Trum and Johnny Staples. Includes lots of fun activities for children to try out in school and at home.

 

The adventures of Billy Slipper and his delightfully rude cat. A good route into longer stories.

Jumblecat by Archie Kimpton. The adventures of Billy Slipper and his delightfully rude cat. A good route into longer stories.

Year Four

The perfect time for introducing thought-provoking fiction and using reading time to travel beyond the bounds of normality.

An original and mystical tale which will enchant children.

Varjak Paw by SF Said. An original and mystical tale to enchant the whole class.

Touching, thought provoking and hilarious, plus comes to life when read out loud.

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams. Thought-provoking and hilarious, plus comes to life when read out loud.

Year Five

Showing the power of fiction through different genres, these two books will get everyone engaged and talking.

Possibly the kindest children's book ever.

Wonder by RJ Palacio. Possibly the kindest children’s book ever.

Top hole murder mystery to enjoy puzzling out with your class!

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens. Top hole murder mystery to enjoy solving with your class!

Year Six

Bigger books with big themes, two gems that both deal with identity and diversity, plus the stories are second to none!

Morpurgo at his most brilliant and perfect for Year Six.

Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo. Morpurgo at his most brilliant and perfect for Year Six.

Compulsive reading looking at life from a different point of view.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. Compulsive reading, looking at life from a different point of view.