A trio of christmas books

I have long enjoyed Carol Ann Duffy’s work, a fact which was brought home to me when I read her  poem Achillles about David Beckham.  I loved the way that she brought popular culture and laureate work together.  Something she has continued to do.  I hope that I am to receive her latest book The Bees for christmas.  I have dropped enough hints!

What I do have however, is copies of the little christmas books that she has written and I have collected over the last three years.

The first of the trio that I bought was Mrs Scrooge.  This is an uptodate version of the story with Mrs Scrooge googling information about the way that turkeys are reared for the christmas feast.  It also contains credit cards, protests and developers.

Up the echoing stairs to slippers, simple supper, candles, cocoa, cat, went Mrs Scrooge: not scared, but oddly comforted at glimpsing Scrooge’s knockered face.

The language rolls and trips off the tongue, rich with alliteration and assonance.  Christmas past, present and future arrive to show Mrs Scrooge the life she has had, has and will have with a happy ending of family near by and developers thwarted.

Posy Simmonds provides the illustrations and they mirror the warmth, detail and emotion.

Another Night Before Christmas is illustrated by Rob Ryan: he of the wonderful paper cutting.   This is the story of a little girl trying to stay awake to see if Santa is real.

The hushed street was in darkness.  Snow duveted the cars – a stray cat had embroidered each roof with its paws.

An owl on an aerial had planets for eyes.  The child at the window stared up at the sky.

I an not quite sure how you pronounce ‘duveted’ but I do love the way that christmas is described; the flirting of the tree in flickers of green and crimson, the reindeer whose breath chiffoned out into the cold and the aeroplanes that sped to the east and the west like a pulled cracker. There are again references to contemporary life with the droning motorways, people in blankets with nowhere to go, cashpoints glowing like icons of light and the satellite filming famine and greed.  The story is however timeless.

The Christmas Truce tells the story of the football match on the 25th December 1914 when war was suspended and Christmas spread.

So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist, to open itself and offer the day like a gift for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz….. with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.

The illustrations by David Roberts are so evocative showing a  devastated waste land of spiky shapes and  red cold noses and cheeks.

These books would make fantastic stocking filler.  Let’s hope there will be many more.

Happy Christmas!


My new favourite book

I don’t know what I would do with out Devon School Library Service.  I say ‘Oooh. Have you got a copy of such and such?  I’d really like to have a look at it.’  And if they haven’t got a copy they get one for me.  Which is how I came to have the wonderful little red hood by Marjolaine Leray.  (It’s not the greatest book for capital letters and punctation – so yes I have got the title right!)  From reading the inside of the front cover, this book was originally published in France under the title un petit chaperon rouge, and there were no capital letters in that title either.

The story of little red  hood is told through the dialogue between little red hood and the wolf although it has an alternative ending.  I don’t remember the wolf having stinky breath in any of the other versions of this story.  It is however true to the idea that little red hood overcomes the wolf in the end.

But what I really love about this book is the visual appeal.  The illustrations are all in red and black, as is the dialogue,  and little red hood looks like she came out of a red pencil scribble on the front cover.  There is such a simplicity here and yet the range of emotions portrayed through the tilt of the head or the drooping of the shoulders is enormous.  Some of the illustrations are contained within one page of a double page spread and others start on one page and finish on the other side of the spread all pointing or focusing in on little red hood in a threatening manner.

The illustrations have a very animatic quality and I can picture this book as a short animation.  The colour palette reminds me of Le Queue de la Souris below although where there is black in this animation, there is white in the book.

I think this book would be a wonderful way to tell other similar traditional stories.  Can you tell the story of the three little pigs just through the dialogue between the wolf and the third pig?  What colours would you use?  How could you represent the wolf and the pig?

I have of course had to buy my own version of the book.

What’s your favourite book at the moment?

Grace by Morris Gleitzman

I have long been a fan of Morris Gleitzman and his way of dealing with serious issues.  My favourites are Two Weeks with the Queen, BumFace and Once (hear the first chapter of each book by clicking on the link).

Recently one of the school library centre managers passed me a copy of Grace and asked me to read it to see if it was suitable for KS2.

graceI left the book for a long time and it made its way down to the bottom of my reading pile and it is only because I had read absolutely everything else that I started it.  So what put me off?  Well, it’s the eyes of the girl on the front.  They reminded me of the way in which evil is portrayed in films when it inhabits children and I don’t like that sort of film.  And I also didn’t like the idea of sins when a child says that they have become a sinner.  The first line of chapter 2 says it all.

At first I didn’t know I was a sinner.

It’s a great example of foreshadowing as we just know that the book is going to detail how Grace becomes a sinner. Anyway, having nothing else to read and wanting to give Wendy an answer, I read it and I loved every single moment of it.

The story tells of  Grace, the only child of two parents who belong to a strict fundamentalist christian group who believe that only they will get to Heaven, and who don’t have much to do with the world outside their church.  Grace and her family are the only ones in the church that live amongst non-believers, or unsaved sinners, and are therefore considered suspect.  What really sets them apart however, is Grace’s parents raising of Grace to think independently and to value thinking for yourself.  Their favourite activity is asking questions and thinking about answers.  The story revolves around Grace’s father being excluded from the church , and all this entails,  for his thinking and questioning and how Grace asks God to help her find her father and bring him back to the family.  When you get to this part you will understand the lion on the front cover and the role it plays in the story.  During the process Grace starts to develop her own understanding of God.

The language that Gleitzman uses is biblical in a way that children will recognise it.

But it came to pass that I started doing sins.  And Lo, that’s when all our problems began……

So is this book suitable for KS2 children?  Only Year 6s I would say and not all of them.  There are some groups who would be very offended by this book and so care would be needed.  But then I thought that about Two weeks with the Queen, a book that focuses on Aids, and I have seen it in a couple of schools.

Religious fundamentalism has been a theme of my reading this week because I  work ed with a teacher on planning using  Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden as a core text.  It is a long time since I last read it and I enjoyed it so much.  The fundamentalism reminding me of Mr Evans the brother of the woman who took Carrie and Nick in when they were evacuated from London.   Carrie’s relationship with Mr Evans is slightly more complex than Nick’s as she has more sympathy for him and starts to understand why he might be like he is.  There are great contrasts between the Evan’s household and Hepzibah’s where the children find comfort and friendship, although not everything is cosy. The book has a strong thread of separation running through it which would be worth exploring with children.

Many thanks to @TinyAcorns who mentioned that the book is part of an exhibition, Once Upon a War Time:  Classic War Stories for Children, at the Imperial War Museum.

What a great reading week.  What should I read next?

Animation with children in the foundation stage

It is always the same.  Share an idea and get an even better idea back!

foggyforestI have been investigating Lotte Reiniger films recently and thinking about how they can be used in the classroom.  Whilst talking about the films to two colleagues, they both mentioned how similar they were to Nick Sharratt’s book The Foggy Foggy Forest.

The book makes an excellent link with the film through the use of silhouettes.

It would be great over the course of a few days  to show the children one or two Reiniger films such as Cinderella (do watch the animation through yourself as they draw heavily on the Grimm’s versions of the tales) and then read the book following the clues to discover who is in the picture.   You could then show children how to animate one of the characters from the book.

Enlarge one of the silhouette pictures such as the fairy bouncing on the trampoline or the witch on her broomstick..  Cut out the fairy and the trampoline and place under a camera linked to animation software.  Zu3d would be good for reception children.  Show the children how to take 12 shots to begin with and then 1 shot every time you move her.  Move her up slowly and then back down slowly, capturing the shots.  Play back what you have captured and discuss how smooth it is, whether your hands are in the shots or not.  If necessary create another bounce and watch back again.

Once you have a bounce that you like, ask the children how many bounces you would like the fairy to do and copy and paste your shots ending with 12 shots of her on the trampoline.

This would need to be modelled for the children and then they would need some support but the equipment and props can be set up in the classroom and left available for children to use.

Do you know of any other books that link well with animations?  If do do let me know about them and thanks Becca and Nicola for the idea!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is an amazing book that I was introduced to via @Joga5 a few weeks ago.hugo It is a rags to riches story of a young boy, Hugo who lives in a french train station and is building an automaton.  How he came to be living where he does, have an automaton and generally survive are all part of this story that is told through words, hand-drawn images and stills taken from old film.  This is a very clever way of weaving all three media together and makes for a real page-turner that I read in one go.

The story draws on old film and a real-life character George Melies, weaving fiction around them in a magical way.

Hugo is desperate to restore the automaton left by his father and the story rotates around his need to steal to obtain the parts necessary and the loss of the notebook that explains how the automaton was made.

What makes a rags to riches story?

  1. We meet the hero in their lowly, unhappy state surrounded by dark figures who scorn them
  2. The hero meets ordeals and overcomes them
  3. Everything goes wrong.  The hero is seperated form everything important to them and is in despair
  4. The hero emerges from the despair and discovers an independent strength.  This is put to the test.
  5. They succeed and live happily ever after.

To get an idea of the book, watch this trailer.

Have you used this book at all in literacy?  If so leave a comment about how it went.

Resource Round Up – January

I thought that about twice a month I would offer a round-up of resources that I have come across via twitter or blogs as I usually end up with too many to blog about individually.

piedpiperMy favourite resource so far is this wonderful blog post of  50 digital fairy tale images.  They are fantastic and I will be using them in all sorts of ways in my work. Thanks to @englishteach8 for the retweet via @LatestWeb about them.

I came across Perform a Poem on twowhizzy’s delicious bookmarks.  What a wonderful idea and resource for poetry teaching.  As we are taking part in a poetry and animation project we will definitely be uploading some or our work to this site.

I heard about The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures from @Joga5 on his blog Ponderings and Musings.  This rags to riches story is told through text, hand drawn images and photos from film and is very clever.  I have ordered my own copy and hope to introduce it to some teachers fairly soon.  You would need a visualiser to share this text with children.

I also came across this drama website from @Joga5.  it is a wonderful place to get ideas for drama plus drama activities that you can use every day.

10 things I really liked in 2009

happynewyearI have now been blogging for 13 months – I forgot the blog birthday.  Strange how online life mirrors real life ; ) I thought for the end of 2009 I would pick out 10 things that I discovered and that have become a part of me, some of which I have blogged about and some not.  When I say I discovered it is of course thanks to all the people in my PLN that discovered them for me!

1. Talk for writing and here – this is a strange one but it is a way of teaching writing that helps children to embed language patterns and use them in their own writing.  I have worked with a lot of teachers and quite a few children in my eight years of being a literacy consultant and this is the one idea that has had the most impact on children and their writing. The other reason that I like it so much is that it is based on skills and processes that writers use and is not a mechanistic attempt to simplify writing for teachers or children.   I am looking forward to seeing how it develops amongst our team and with teachers and children in 2010.

2. There will be several books in this list but one of my favourites that has had a lot of use towards the end of the year and will do so next year is Think of an Eel .  This is a non-fiction text told through two voices; one which I would call a literary non-fiction voice and one which is a more formal report voice. Word order and choice is poetic, sentence construction is varied and paced to fit the life cycle of an eel and the illustrations are watery and also reflect the sentences and life cycle.  This is definitely a text that teaches.

3. 2009 introduced me to etherpad which then disappeared.  It enabled groups of people to write together synchronously or asynchronously and was so usable in the classroom.  It has been  reborn in several  forms of which I use two, Netherpad (which wouldn’t open when I wrote this post so I hope it hasn’t disappeared as well) and PiratePad.

4. Comic creators – the boys writing project that we have run this year has meant that I have had to move into areas of reading and writing where I am not very experienced.  Comics.   The best software to create comics is Comic Life because you can use your own images.  However, if you can’t afford to buy software (and this doesn’t cost much) then the following are great; Super Action Comic Hero , Dr Who Comic Maker , Read Write Think comic creator and Captain Underpants .  Plenty to choose from.

5. One book which has influenced my thinking about how we teach the reading and writing of fiction is The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. I am fascinated by the underlying patterns of story and now when I read can’t help but try and decide which of his seven plots are used.  They help children to see the generic patterns behind story whether in print or as images and can be used in their own writing.  I am not the only one interested in this.

6. I have found diigo to be an invaluable way of reading and commenting on texts online, particularly when doing this as part of a group study.  I have to say that it went beyond my expectations.

7. Storybook creators – I love these sites that allow children to create their own books.  They range from those that allow a lot of choices to those that don’t but all offer something to young writers.  Some of my favourites are; Picture Book Maker, Spot the Dog and Storybird (this is my all time favourite but is blocked by our filters even on my computer – lucky you if you can get it).

8. My Flip Video Camcorder .  More and more schools are getting these as easy to use video cameras to have available in the classroom.  They should be there for children to use a a tool to record learning just as pens and pencils are.  I bought one because I found some of the other cameras in classrooms limiting.  I use it all the time.  It comes with editing software but I prefer to download the film and use MovieMaker to edit.  Very easy to use.

9. The power of animation to allow children to show their understanding of texts.  This is partly due to the project, Persistence of Vision, that we are involved in.  We are particularly focused on the links between animation and poetry. Our outcomes are to try and record what we think progression in animation looks like in primary schools and to develop a professional development package that can be used byanyone interested in taking animation further.  We are working with Oscar Stringer and using I Can Animate software and the powerful yet affordable Hue webcams as our equipment.  I have to own up to having a bright pink Hue webcam.

10.  and finally to all the people that I am connected to through twitter, blogging, LinkedIn,Facebook and online learning a big thank you for all your ideas and resources that you have shared.  It is because of you that I can write a post like this.

Happy New Year.


Kidderlit is a wonderful idea.  A website that sends you the first line of a children’s book every day.  What a collection!  You can choose how you are sent the line: twitter, Google Reader, widget on your igoogle page or just visiting the site.

What are your favourite opening lines? You could generate a class list to display in the library.  If you use Edmodo in your classroom this would be a fantastic way to share them.  It may even introduce children to new books to read.  As Kidderlit is an affiliate of Amazon, there is a link to click to see what the book is.

This collection allows for some great work in literacy.  Which is your favourite line and why?  Which one makes you want to find out what the book is and read it? They could be sorted into groups, e.g. those that are about settings, character’s behaviour  etc.  They provide a wonderful resource for considering sentence structure as there is such a variety here.

Many thanks to Susan Stephenson at The Book Chook for having a widget for Kidderlit on her blog.  I enjoyed it so much I got one of my own!

Nearly 100 books for guided reading – NC levels 3 to 5

People often ask us for recommendations for books to use for guided reading so here is my top 100 list. This is a personal list and may well not contain your favourites.  Please add yours by leaving a comment.  The levels come from my experience of using the books with children and talking to teachers – you may feel differently about them.  Please let us know.

Level 3

  1. Meerkat Mail by Emily Gravett
  2. The Jolly Postman by the Ahlbergs
  3. I am the Mummy Heb-Nefert by Christina Bunting
  4. I is for India by Prodeepta Das (non-fiction)
  5. P is for Pakistan by Shazia Razzak and Prodeepta Das (non-fiction)
  6. Traction Man is Here by Mini Grey
  7. The Big Red Trouble by Carmen Harris
  8. Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
  9. Little Wolf’s Postbag by Ian Whybrow
  10. Mind Your Own Business by Michael Rosen (poetry)
  11. Amazon Diary: The Jungle Adventures of Alex Winters
  12. Shortcut by David Macaulay
  13. The Tunnel by Anthony Browne
  14. Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
  15. Fair’s Fair by Leon Garfield
  16. Diary of a Killer Cat by Anne Fine
  17. Thomas and the Tinners by Jill Paton Walsh
  18. Who’s Been Sleeping in my Porridge by Colin McNaughton

Level 4

  1. Seasons Songs by Ted Hughes (poetry)
  2. Beowulf by Kevin Crossley-Holland
  3. Beauty and the Beast by Geraldine McCaughrean
  4. Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocento
  5. Way Home by Libby Hathorne and Gregory rogers
  6. Black and White by David Macaulay
  7. The Paradise Garden by Colin Thompson
  8. Anno’s Aesop by Mitsuma Anno
  9. Until I met Dudley: How everyday things really work by Roger McGough and Chris Riddell
  10. Outsiders by Kevin Crossley-Holland
  11. Watertower by Gary Crew
  12. Prowlpuss by Gina Wilson
  13. The Highway Man by Alfred Noyes and Charles Keeping
  14. Crack Another Yolk by John Foster (poetry)
  15. Great Estimations by Bruce Goldstein (non-fiction)
  16. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
  17. the Owl Tree by Jenny Nimmo
  18. The Fib and Other Stories by George Layton
  19. Secret Freinds by Elizabeth Laird
  20. Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
  21. George – Don’t Do That by Joyce Grenfell
  22. Varjak Paw by SF Said
  23. Heard it in the Playground by Allan Ahlberg (poetry)
  24. Wicked World by Benjamin Zephiniah (poetry)
  25. Blue John by Berlie Doherty
  26. The 18th Emergency by Betsy Byars
  27. Blabbermouth by Morris Gleitzman
  28. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Selina Hastings
  29. The Knight and the Loathly Lady by Selina Hastings
  30. Iron Man by Ted Hughes
  31. Eye of the Wolf by Baniel Pennac
  32. Mufarao’s Beautiful Daughters by Johhn Steptoe

Level 5

  1. Clockwork by Philip Pullman
  2. Zinder Zunder by Philip Ridley
  3. Safe From Harm by Rollo Armstrong
  4. Beware Beware by Susan Hill
  5. The Daydreamer by Ian McEwan
  6. Classic Poetry: An Illustrated Collection selected by Michael Rosen
  7. What is the Truth? by Ted Hughes
  8. The Cantebury Tales retold by Geraldine McCaughrean
  9. Holes by Louis Sacher
  10. Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman
  11. Skellig by David Almond
  12. The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (I’ve put it here for children to really understand this book)