Picturebook Biographies… The Power of a Story.

Any body who has seen me talk about picturebooks will know that I have a particular fascination with picturebook biographies.

As people we are fundamentally drawn to story. We remember story, we embrace, story. In my opinion a great school curriculum is one that is infused by story. Curriculum should sit on a bed of stories both, fictional and true. Learning stuff and building knowledge should be a framework for hanging  our stories  on, learning stuff should be a key part in helping us understand those stories. Dates, times, events, facts, vocabulary should all be part of helping us understand story.

Story is also our route into understanding viewpoint and perspective it helps us step outside our world and into the shoes of others.

I was struck this week having read two books The first was “ The World was Ours” by Liz Kessler an powerful holocaust story about three children, the second book was “ Nicky and Vera” by Peter Sis a biographical picturebook account of how Sir Nicholas Winton saved the lives of 669 children from Prague just before the second world war. (There is a rather wonderful That’s Life video about this). There was a point where both stories intersect in Prague and the two stories together provide us with a clarity of the impact of Sir Nicholas’s actions and also the aftermath for those he could not save. The impact of the stories together was intensely powerful and what was evident was how both stories had been meticulously researched.

Most of the most amazing and inspirational stories are to be found in real life.

And there is a lot to be learnt from the achievements of people who have gone before. But how did these figures reach their goals and what prompted them to act the ways they did?

Picture book biographies peel back history and bring to life the true stories for a younger generation of readers. The best show true understanding of their muse and are often playful in form which allows to dig even deeper into their life, story and impact. They can give us perspective and viewpoint and can add a personal point to our narratives. As my good friend Paul Watson pointed out to me when he reading a draft of this, ” We all have a story and the power is ours to make it worth telling”

Here are a few my favourite picturebook biographies, I like them because they encourage, discussion and thought about the person rather than just telling the story.

The Wall by Peter Sis is a fantastic look at life growing up behind the Iron Curtain. In this autobiographical book Sis allows us to see his inspiration, his quiet rebellion and most importantly and understanding and perspective of life for him during that time.

On Wings of Words by Jennifer Berne and Becca Stadtlander explores the life of Emily Dickenson. The book is visually arresting and encouraged me to look at her poetry in a renewed light, impacting on both my understanding and appreciation for her work.

Radiant Child by Javanka Steptoe A wonderful vibrant picturebook, that explores Basquiat’s childhood but also encourages us to realise that art and creativity can be messy and doesn’t always stay within the lines.

Elvis is King by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studios is fantastic picture of the passion, determination and drive that is required to make it. The model art is a joy to behold. Stunning

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora tells the inspiring story of Mary Walker who learnt to read aged 114. What is also does is take through a century of social, political change and civil rights and explores that change and the impact it has on a Mary herself.

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say is a stunningly powerful biography of Deaf artist James Castle. It highlights the horrendousness of the school system for children with profound learning difficulties, bullied and discarded James ultimately was still able to communicate through his art. A profound story for all.

I’m the only person I know who owns two picturebooks about photographer Dorothea Lange. Dorothea’s Eyes by Bob Rosenstock and Gerard Dubois and Dorothea Lange by Carole Boston Weatherford and Sarah Green explore the life and impact of a photographer who opened America’s eyes to the poverty and neglect that existed during the great depression. The books encourage us all to be brave enough to see.

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess and Kris Di Giacomo is a tells the story of E.E.Cummings, what is brilliant about it is how it encourages children to be playful with language form and words. Definitely one of my favourites.

Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker and Dow Phumirux is a rightfully popular Picturebook, crossing boundaries and barriers to show and opening doors to possibilities.

You can find lots more on twitter under the hashtag #PicturebookBiographies

Her are a few others I love…

The Anger…

I am a shaken bottle of Coke, I am a dormant volcano bursting to furious life.

Pressure builds…

Throughout the pandemic I have gently seethed, there have been moments of “GRRRR!!!!” but after mild venting, the slow unscrewing of the lid, I have settled back to relative calm frustration.

PRessure builds…

Throughout the last 10 months we have done everything asked of us, I have never had 1 member of staff refuse to work, they’ve constantly stepped up to the job despite their understandable anxieties and worries. For my part I have done everything I can to mitigate the risk, to make school as safe as we can.

PREssure builds…

We have made unworkable guidance work, we have done everything, we have followed DfE guidance to the letter. We have trusted those in power to have the safety and interests of its workforce at heart. 

PRESsure builds…

All this has been through the spotlight of a vociferous media, which has hounded and accused throughout, through social media attacks from right-wing blow-hards and government lapdogs chanting bile from the comfort of their home office to vicious audience.

PRESSure builds…

We like most schools have been hit quite hard by the virus, nine staff infected, two still not back after more than 6 weeks. Yet on twitter there are constant wombles, telling us that we could have caught it anywhere, probably at the shops. This has a had a significant impact on school and pupils.

Let me think…a 1 hour visit to the local supermarket or 25 hours a week in a class with 30 children?

PRESSUre builds…

We’ve seen the government threaten Local Authorities schools with legal action for making decisions and trying to keep their communities safe and then it what can only be seen as spite not include those areas when new lockdown decisions were made.

PRESSURe builds…

Throughout we’ve just got on with the job. Heads down, smiles on. Our staff have been magnificent. I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received from our trust. They have been utterly superb throughout. 

PRESSURE builds…

We’ve turned round a home learning offer in less than 24 hours and now have 97% engaging with it. Sadly our Secretary of state felt the need to legally threaten schools about this and make out Ofsted were going to be the DfE’siron boot. Not sure Ofsted were happy about that. We then have had the Secretary of State declare one way is best without evidence and spark a thousand parental phonecalls.


We’ve been told ‘Schools are Safe’ by our at best inept Prime-minster, and then we’ve had them opened for a day risking huge transmission in January before they then had to close all schools. We then have massively increased numbers in primary due to guidance which has just flung the doors wide open.


We’ve had celebratory backslapping about devices for pupils, yet allocations were changed and most primary schools still have not received their allocation. If your bubble didn’t pop in the first half-term then you lucked out. Let’s be honest if the money had gone to schools directly this would have been solved by now. Coupled with vulnerable guidance about not being able to access online means pupils can come into school just adds to the ongoing pressure.


There has been derisory financial support for schools both in terms of setting up schools safely but also with staffing costs due to illness. For us our biggest challenge has been due to support staff being off, we have 10 children with significant EHCP in school, we have to cover.


We’ve seen people we care about get ill sometimes seriously ill and dealt with that while trying to do the job.


We Never Closed!


For me however it’s the figures about school infections being higher than the average both for teachers (almost double) and support staff (much higher than that) that has been straw that has finally broken the camel’s back.

I personally need to believe that the Department of Education has the well-being and safety of all including its workforce at its heart. Fact is now we know they don’t. 

They have failed to consult, they’ve led by dictat, they’ve flipped and flopped but ultimately they’ve failed to protect the people who have done everything they can to make the departments policies and guidance work.


What am I doing?…logistics

I’m sat here on a Sunday afternoon, wondering how I can fill the gaps and there are gaps, more staff isolating. Two emails, a text message and member of staff on the CEV list following the new lockdown on top of four staff already being out from closing a bubble. Our problem is due to the number of children (well above the national average) with significant special needs we have no capacity to cover, if a staff member is off, we must cover that immediately means supply. (We have no supply budget) 

If I’m honest the job feels like a long way from the job, I aspired to 6 years ago.

When I became a headteacher it was with an idealistic fervour that I could improve the education for children in our school, that I could support the teachers and staff to be that best they could be. This is not the job I’m now doing. Some weeks it feels that I cannot even get close to looking at how school is doing.

Every day is a logistics challenge, filling gaps and managing holes. We can talk as much as we like about catch-up however currently my first aim is to KEEP OPEN. The pressure is constant, and I have to say without the brilliant support of our Trust I think I would have folded under the pressure of it.

Don’t get me wrong school is amazing and the staff are doing an astounding job. Children are in, settled and working hard. It does however feel increasingly fragile.

Last week I taught all week in Year 5 as the teacher was isolating and we couldn’t afford more supply. This wasn’t the best plan when we were informed of a positive child in year 6 on Wednesday morning (two jobs one person is not possible).   I’ve done almost every lunchtime there is no downtime, every minute is solving the daily ongoing problems that arise.

 Then I look at my budget, which we have worked so hard to get back into credit and was running on a fine line. The costs are now starting to stack up with supply costs that we cannot afford. The government needs to look at this and support schools to stay open

Then we get the other stuff …That Ofsted are even contemplating starting regular inspections in January is frankly ludicrous. That the plan is for primary schools to get back on the SATS accountability train is just ridiculous.

Personally, I believe schools should be open, but we need less empty rhetoric from government and more support, both financially and systemically to keep our schools staffed and as safe as we can.

The Attendance Conundrum.

Who knew it would only take a Global Pandemic to get my attendance above the national average.

For the last 6 years our yearly regular battle has been to try to get attendance above 95% (actually now 96%). We have strived for the hallowed ground of the national average. However valiantly we have fought ultimately we have come up short at the final hurdle. We have tried everything…awards, class rewards, attendance improvement awards, meetings with parents, engagement of the Educational Social Worker (when there was one), fining…you name it, we’ve tried it.  

Regardless of the actions we have had roughly the same result with slight improvements (Attendance rising like a rather tired bear just coming out of hibernation from 94.2% to the glorious heights of 94.7%) 

Our pattern of attendance goes roughly like this 

Autumn 1 90-91% 

Autumn 2 93-94% 

Spring 1 97-98% 

Spring 2 95-96% 

Summer 1 95-96% 

Summer 2 92-93% 

Occasionally there is bit of variation depending on whether a bug hits and knocks the attendance but generally those have been the figures.  

So I’m sat with my attendance for the autumn term so far in the middle of a global pandemic and my figure is the best autumn attendance I’ve ever had since I’ve been at the school. 97.7% Year1-Year 6. 

So what is the difference. Well for us there is one big change. Hardly anybody this year has taken a term-time holiday. That’s it.

Let me explain my school is in Whitby a lot of our parent’s work in seasonal jobs related to tourism. The tourist season in Whitby has been ever expanding, it starts in March and continues all the way into the start of November with its Goth-fest which usually brings the Vampiric hordes flocking. Summer is busy, Easter is busy, half-terms are busy. Our parents who can’t take holidays in the holiday time grab holidays when there are lulls in the tourism (term-time), also some parents choose to go in term-time because they can’t afford to go in the seasonal peak times. To be fair this year I couldn’t flippin’ afford a small cottage in Cornwall this summer due to the ridiculous mark-ups. 

As a head I understand the impact term-time holiday can have, I also completely understand why our parents choose to take their children on holiday.  

Do I think I’ve cracked attendance? Nope. 

 Will the same problem resurface next year or whenever this situation is over?  Undoubtedly. 

For us as a school, attendance in an Ofsted will always be a battle-ground, we are forever on the back foot.  

I do think it’s time for a more-nuanced discussion about school attendance. The percentage really is only the start.

Year 1-Year 6 Picturebook lists so far… (links)


Here are a list if the picturebook lists I’ve put together, hope they’re helpful

Year 6 list 1…

Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage

Year 6 List 2…

More Picturebooks for Year 6 (list 2) …#PictureBookPage

Year 5 List 1…

Find the space to talk… 10 picturebooks for Year 5 #picturebookpage

Year 5 List 2…

10 more Picturebooks for Year 5 (List 2)…#PicturebookPage

Year 4 List 1…

Picturebooks – more than just a pretty picture? -10 picturebooks for Year 4 #picturebookpage

Year 4 List 2…

10 more Picturebooks for Year 4…#PicturebookPage

Year 3 List 1…

Picturebooks – Choosing is tricky… 10 Picturebooks for Year 3. #picturebookpage

Year 3 List 2…

10 more picturebooks for Year 3…#PicturebookPage

Year 2 List 1…

10 picturebooks for year 2 – Leaps of Imagination #picturebookpage

Year 1 List 1…

10 picture books for Year 1. Actually there’s 12 but who’s counting?

Best picturebooks 2018

My Top 10 Picturebooks 2018 (actually 13)

Best picturebooks 2019

#20BestPicturebooks2019 Numbers 20-16

#20BestPicturebooks2019 Numbers 15-11

#20BestPicturebooks Number 10-6

#20BestPicturebook2019 Numbers 5-1


10 more picturebooks for Year 3…#PicturebookPage

This list was a challenge. What I particularly like is that there are themes and threads running through the list and that I think for our pupils it challenges perspectives and narratives. Every book is worthy of your time, but together I think they work really well. This is probably my favourite list of books so far because of that.


Small in the City by Sydney Smith

It can be a little scary to be small in a big city, but this child has some good advice for a very special friend in need.

When you’re small in the city, people don’t see you, and loud sounds can scare you, and knowing what to do is sometimes hard. But this little kid knows what it’s like, and knows the neighborhood. That makes for some pretty good advice for an even smaller friend.

Like, alleys can be good shortcuts, but some are too dark.

Or, there are lots of good hiding places in the city, like under a mulberry bush or up a walnut tree.

And, if the city is too loud and scary, a small one can always just go back home, where it’s safe and quiet.

In his first author-illustrated picture book, Sydney Smith tells a contemplative, quiet story from the perspective of a child.

Definitely my favourite picturebook of last year, quite possibly my favourite picturebook ever. Small in the City is a almost a detective story that warrants rereading and and exploring. It’s a perfect text for Year 3 as it explores a child’s perspective, the story is hidden in plain sight and there will be a moment when realisation hits, at that point re-exploration is key. A book made for discussion and exploration as well as ripe for acting as a writing stimuli due to the astounding art which places us firmly in the world from the child’s viewpoint. A perfect book.

The Oldest student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora

Imagine learning to read at the age of 116! Discover the true story of Mary Walker, the nation’s oldest student who did just that, in this picture book from a Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator and a rising star author.

In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had her first child. By age 68, she had worked numerous jobs, including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and selling sandwiches to raise money for her church. At 114, she was the last remaining member of her family. And at 116, she learned to read. From Rita Lorraine Hubbard and rising star Oge Mora comes the inspirational story of Mary Walker, a woman whose long life spanned from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and who–with perseverance and dedication–proved that you’re never too old to learn.


An amazing story of an amazing life. The Oldest student spans 1848-1969 and is both a story of perserverance and the value and importance of education but it also a story of huge cultural change that still resonates now. Just placing the story in its historical context allows huge discussion. A stunning book about a stunning life.

Teacup Rebecca Young  and Matt Ottley

A boy must leave his home and find another. He brings with him a teacup full of earth from the place where he grew up, and sets off to sea. Some days, the journey is peaceful, and the skies are cloudless and bright. Some days, storms threaten to overturn his boat. And some days, the smallest amount of hope grows into something glorious. At last, the boy finds land, but it doesn’t feel complete . . . until another traveler joins him, bearing the seed to build a new home.

Possibly the most beautiful book I own. Teacup is a gentle, thoughtful story of migration and the importance of home. It is about the importance of hope and is an important story for these times. The artwork by Matt Ottley is worth hours of explortaion and in is utterly inspiring in starting children writing and exploring language and vocabulary. A wonderful caress of a book that gets its message across with smacking you across the head with it.

The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho and Jess X Snow

A breathtaking picture book featuring a Korean girl and her haenyeo (free diving) grandmother about intergenerational bonds, finding courage in the face of fear, and connecting with our natural world.

Dayeon wants to be a haenyeo just like Grandma. The haenyeo dive off the coast of Jeju Island to pluck treasures from the sea–generations of Korean women have done so for centuries. To Dayeon, the haenyeo are as strong and graceful as mermaids. To give her strength, Dayeon eats Grandma’s abalone porridge. She practices holding her breath while they do the dishes. And when Grandma suits up for her next dive, Dayeon grabs her suit, flippers, and goggles. A scary memory of the sea keeps Dayeon clinging to the shore, but with Grandma’s guidance, Dayeon comes to appreciate the ocean’s many gifts.

Tina Cho’s The Ocean Calls, with luminous illustrations by muralist Jess X. Snow, is a classic in the making.

A truly wonderful inter-generational story about overcoming fears and and embracing the natural world. The vibrant art jumps from the page. Brilliant for exploring and understanding other cultures and traditions and comparing to our life and childhoods.  Breathtaking is definitely the word.

Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

The creator of Home turns a droll eye to the natural world, with gorgeous art and a playful invented language.

Du iz tak? What is that? As a tiny shoot unfurls, two damselflies peer at it in wonder. When the plant grows taller and sprouts leaves, some young beetles arrive to gander, and soon—with the help of a pill bug named Icky—they wrangle a ladder and build a tree fort. But this is the wild world, after all, and something horrible is waiting to swoop down—booby voobeck!—only to be carried off in turn. Su! With exquisitely detailed illustrations and tragicomic flair, Carson Ellis invites readers to imagine the dramatic possibilities to be found in even the humblest backyard. Su!

A brilliant playful book that encourages interpretation. Perfect for sequencing and story-telling. The drama’s are left up to us. Having used it with a class the wildly different interpretations f the story are testament to how good a book it is.  One tip don’t be tempted to tell the children your story as it works best when they find their own.

Birrarung Wilam by Aunty Joy Murphy, Andrew Kelly and Lisa Kennedy

Travel along Melbourne’s twisting Yarra River in a glorious celebration of Indigenous culture and Australia’s unique flora and fauna.

As ngua rises, Bunjil soars over mountain ash, flying higher and higher as the wind warms. Below, Birrarung begins its long winding path down to palem warreen.

Yarra Riverkeeper Andrew Kelly and Aboriginal Elder of the Wurundjeri people Aunty Joy Murphy join to tell the Indigenous and geographical story of Melbourne’s beautiful Yarra River — from its source to its mouth and from its prehistory to the present day. The writing dazzles with poetic descriptions of the trees, plants, and wildlife that thrive in harmony along the iconic waterway. Lush and vibrant acrylic paintings from Indigenous illustrator Lisa Kennedy make the mighty Yarra come to life — coursing under a starry sky, drawing people to its sunny shores, mirroring a searing orange sunset. Jewel-like details in the illustrations offer opportunities for discovery on every page. As gorgeous and powerful as the river itself, this stunner invites all to come to Wilam: home.

End matter includes an authors’ note and a glossary of the Woiwurrung words used in the story.

A wonderful poetic text that takes us on the journey of a river, a life giver. Gorgeous art takes us on a trip along the the Yarra river and helps us understand it’s importance in the indigenous history of the area. Full of historical, geographical and natural wonder the book is a lesson for all with so much to explore and learn on every page.

Look Up by Nathan Byron and Dapo Adeola

Meet Rocket–a plucky aspiring astronaut intent on getting her community to LOOK UP! from what they’re doing and reach for the stars in this auspicious debut picture book.

A comet will be visible tonight, and Rocket wants everyone to see it with her–even her big brother, Jamal, whose attention is usually trained on his phone or video games. Rocket’s enthusiasm brings neighbors and family together to witness a once-in-a-lifetime sighting. Perfect for fans of Ada Twist, Scientist and young science lovers excited about the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Look Up! will inspire readers of all ages to dream big as it models Rocket’s passion for science and infectious curiosity.

Author Nathan Bryon, an actor and screenwriter, and Dapo Adeola, a community-minded freelance illustrator, bring their fresh talents, passion, and enthusiasm to the picture book medium.

A fantastic book about family, following your own path and engaging with the world around you. Rocket is just the most brilliant book character and the books taps into our knowledge of younger siblings. The relationship with Jamal is perfect and and the book is just threaded with family love. Full of science tidbits too this is just a great book. I’d also recommend Clean-up as well, which we’re going to use to encourage some environmental beach clean-ups and caring for our own space.  (we are a seaside school)

Black Dog Levi Pinfold

An enormous black dog and a very tiny little girl star in this offbeat tale about confronting one’s fears.

When a huge black dog appears outside the Hope family home, each member of the household sees it and hides. Only Small, the youngest Hope, has the courage to face the black dog, who might not be as frightening as everyone else thinks.

Off-beat and slightly surreal, Black Dog is just a beautifully crafted story about how we create fears and how to deal with them. The Family are crying out for character descriptions and the arts perspective and scale is perfect for understanding the character emotion. It’s not to everyone’s taste but if you like it you love it.

How to Solve a Problem by Ashima Shiraishi and Yao Xiao

From Ashima Shiraishi, one of the world’s youngest and most skilled climbers, comes a true story of strength and perseverence–in rock-climbing and in life.

To a rock climber, a boulder is called a “problem,” and you solve it by climbing to the top. There are twists and turns, falls and scrapes, and obstacles that seem insurmountable until you learn to see the possibilities within them. And then there is the moment of triumph, when there’s nothing above you but sky and nothing below but a goal achieved.

Ashima Shiraishi draws on her experience as a world-class climber in this story that challenges readers to tackle the problems in their own lives and rise to greater heights than they would have ever thought possible.


A great biography of young rock climber Ashima Shiraishi. Brilliant for exploring challenges and how we overcome problems though planning and changing approach as well as a little courage. The art is in your face and jumps from the page. It has a vibrant graphic novel feel. Can’t wait to use this when we are back at school.

Counting on Katherine by Helen Becker and Dom Phumiruk

The story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race and was depicted in the book and film Hidden Figures.

You’ve likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home?

As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about math, about the universe.

From Katherine’s early beginnings as a gifted student to her heroic accomplishments as a prominent mathematician at NASA, this is the story of a groundbreaking American woman who not only calculated the course of moon landings but, in turn, saved lives and made enormous contributions to history.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.

They participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America’s first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.

In this illustrated picture book edition, we explore the story of four female African American mathematicians at NASA, known as “colored computers,” and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career.

These final two books I would use together. These  coupled with other books in the list challenge perspective and open up dialogue. The story of Katheribne Johnson itself is inspirational but I love how both books tackle it from differing perspectives that is why I would use them together as part of a space science topic. (I’d slip Look up in there as well)


Year 3 List 1

10 Picturebooks for Year 3…list 1

Picturebook Lists Year 1 -Year6

Booklists (picturebooks)

Year 4 list 2

10 more Picturebooks for Year 4…#PicturebookPage

Year 5 list 2

10 more Picturebooks for Year 5 (List 2)…#PicturebookPage

Year 6 list 2

More Picturebooks for Year 6 (list 2) …#PictureBookPage


Oh what a lovely year…


So, three weeks into the summer break and I’m sat here finally getting my head around this academic year.

It was for a year of that began with high hopes and ambition, pieces were in place, we’d had an Ofsted in the June and that gave us a launchpad to take off again. We were going into the year with a consistent team but some challenges due to a significant restructure that meant capacity wise we were at bare bones. This was my sixth year at the school, due to when I’d started (Easter 2014) the Year 6 were the class had been in Reception, and the first class I’d seen through the whole school. For all the challenges the previous year there was some optimism.

We set about the task with some gusto, there were hiccoughs and missteps but generally we were moving onwards. If I’m honest I was struggling a little bit, the restructure had been difficult, I felt I’d let staff down, budget issues still hung like a cloud. I was genuinely questioning the impact I was having and my role which was being pulled more and more from teaching and learning (the joyous bit). It was however rolling.


Then the world changed…

The New Normal…

I remember driving home after the announcement that schools would close on Wednesday the 18th of March, feeling more than a little numb. We all knew that would be the announcement, pupil numbers had been falling and some schools locally had already had to shut down various year groups. I genuinely didn’t know If I could do this. The task required me to be a different leader, my school, staff and community needed me to be a different leader.  Let me clarify there are some things I’m good at, the challenges of the pandemic needed me to focus on some of the bits I’d neglected and hid in the drawer.

The Emptiness

Oddly on the Thursday I woke up a new me. School needed a calm, focussed clarity, and that’s exactly what it got. By the end of that Thursday there was a clear plan, parents were communicated with, including keyworkers, we had a home learning plan, vulnerable learners were assigned, systems were in place, staff rotas were sorted. I remember worrying about the keyworker list, but we were clear with parents and the parents were brilliant, those that needed it used it, but no-one abused it. Safety was at the forefront of every decision. Staff could see that and that helped with the fear some staff felt and helped them be more confident.


The Never-ending…

We settled into the patterns of home-learning and running a keyworker hub. It just seemed to go on and on and on.

We worked closely with the foodbank and delivered food, we made sure no-one went hungry when the fiasco of the school meal vouchers happened

Easter came and went, we never closed, we then took keyworker children in from another school. Home learning was challenging, but staff really stepped up, they rang parents, the engaged with pupils, they provide constant feedback, they also became rocks for many parents. I couldn’t be prouder of our staff and the job they did in supporting the families in our school.

We began to plan re-opening. At this point I just want to say thank the lord my SENCo used to do secondary timetabling she was an utter godsend. Trust support throughout was excellent, clear but also challenging on the right issues.  I’d also like to shout out to Simon Kidwell who was a voice of utter sense. It just seemed to go on and on and.

Then Boris announced we’d be reopening after weeks of drips in the press and a campaign of vitriol led by certain areas of the media. I don’t think I’m the only one who was surprised by the demands in the guidance. That dropped that Monday night. (All the guidance seemed to appear on a night or even in the early hours of the morning, it was always a joy to see the pearls of wisdom sent our way overnight from the DfE). We had a plan by the Wednesday.

Re-opening bought two challenges

Firstly, the logistics of managing it, four year groups, groups no bigger than 15. Staffing and rooms for most was the real issue. Systems, timetables… lunch. Running home-learning for year groups not returning when staff had to be drafted from other year groups.

Secondly and most importantly was how to build confidence in what we were being asked to do. Staff rightly were worried, parents even more so. Again, calm clear communication was needed. Clarity of thought and action, but also a need to listen to concerns. I walked through the plan with each year group, we snag tested our days. We planned days and timings in meticulous detail, again safety of all was at the forefront of the process. Then we waited. School stayed open; we were open during half-term 9In fact we had children from three schools in our keyworker hub over half-term. Staff really needed to be heard at the end of the day they were on the shop-floor.



Then we began to reopen… the first week was a trickle, other parents waited to see the feedback, then there were more and more. Children were amazing and genuinely just wanted to get on, parents had prepared them for return brilliantly (I think we still need to be wary; some children will need support when they return.)  School began to feel like school again. After a couple of weeks, we added Year 5 and ended the year with five year groups back full-time with 85% of the children in those year groups in school. Parental feedback was great, children were working and happy. We even were able to give our Year 6 a send-off.

For me it’s been a year I’d rather not repeat, though if we are honest, we are only part way through this. It has however overall been positive, as a leader I’ve learnt huge lessons about me, and what I’m capable of. I don’t think I let anyone down which I think is as much as we can ask of anyone.


So now September… We have a plan…

10 more Picturebooks for Year 4…#PicturebookPage

So here is my second list for Year 4

The aim as always is as follows…

Picture book are often dismissed as being for younger children. They’re not! They are written off as easy. They’re not! There are some stunning picture books out there. Many offer us more than first appears. Many require us to bring in our own cultural understanding to truly make meaning of them.  People who dismiss them more often than not haven’t put the time in to understand and explore them.

So the aim of this post is to show  why I think picture books are blummin’ ace. The chosen books for Year 4 do all these things and more. Don’t miss a trick.

  1. They elicit emotion. (often in my case tears)
  2. They confuse and challenge
  3. They broach difficult issues in wonderful ways
  4. They open doors to other cultures.
  5. They provide leaps of imagination
  6. They are wild and playful
  7. They are quiet and thoughtful
  8. They require the reader to fill in the gaps


The Green Ship by Quentin Blake

Two children find the Green Ship when they climb over the wall into what is more like a forest than a garden. The ship has bushes for bows and stern and its funnels are trees; a small garden shed on an ancient stump is the wheel house and in command of the ship is the owner of the garden, old Mrs Tredegar. Throughout the summer she and the Bosun and the two children sail the Seven Seas visiting exotic faraway places and having wonderful adventures.

This book opens us up to so many areas.  Aging, curiosity, strangers,  friendship, imagination, creativity, supporting others, changes over time. Most importantly its a book that captures the true essence of childhood. It’s an absolute classic and is perfect for Year 4 to dig deeply into. Now get outside.

A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin

“Laura Carlin’s A World of Your Own is a great starting point for a creative project. How do you relate to the place you live in, to your room, flat or house, your street, village or town? Can you draw it? Or, like this artist, create elements of it by using boxes, or pegs, pebbles, or even a hair comb. Now, can you invent the home, place or city you would like to live in? I am inspired by the resourcefulness of the artist, finding everyday objects and reimagining them as creatures, buildings and people. She is using items we often discard, repurposing them to make a precious ‘world of her own’. This is something anyone can do, there are no special art materials, it doesn’t have to cost anything, and there is no right or wrong way of doing it.”―Lauren Child, BookTrust

A book of pure creativity. Laura lets us inhabit her imagination and in doing so allows to find our own.  Creative, funny and challenging the book allows us too take children an a wild imaginative adventure, turning the mundane into the amazing. Can we really ask anything more from a book?

One Little Bag : An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

A wordless book that starts from a tall tree growing in the forest –
to the checkout counter at the grocery store –
one brown bag finds its way into the hands of a young boy on the eve of his first day of school.

And so begins the journey of one brown bag that is used
and re-used
and re-used again.

In a three-generation family, the bag is transporter of objects and keeper of memories. And when Grandfather comes to the end of his life, the family finds a meaningful new way for the battered, but much-loved brown bag to continue its journey in the circle of life.

A wordless picturebook that is about conservation and caring for the world, but its set in a generational family story. Profound, beautiful and emotional. The use of colour links us through the story. It is as it says the story of one bag, but it is so much more. Just brilliant.

Lights on Cotton Rock by David Litchfield

An out-of-this-world picture book from David Litchfield, the best-selling author of The Bear and the Piano and Grandad’s Secret Giant.

***** Stunning images with a powerful message
***** Magical, heartwarming and imaginative!
***** Another amazing story by David Litchfield

Heather is a little girl who wants to go to Outer Space, where the stars sparkle with magic and wonder. When a spaceship lands at Cotton Rock, it seems that all of her dreams have come true. But soon the alien has to leave. Will the spaceship ever come back? And if it does, is Heather ready to leave everything on Earth behind? This beautiful story for all ages about family and dreams travels through space and time to show us that what we are looking for might be closer than we think.

David is the king of light. He is also a damn fine picturebook writer. Light’s on Cotton Rock is possibly his finest yet. A wonderful out of this world story about valuing what you have. The details and references are fantastic, but the visual storytelling is the thing that really leaps out, part picturebook, part graphic novel. It’s amazing. Karl Duke and I spent a day planning a picturebook session using this, we chose it because it is so brilliant. Sadly it didn’t happen due to Covid… We need to make it so.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Yuyi Morales tells her own immigration story in this picture-book tribute to the transformative power of hope . . . and reading.

In 1994, Yuyi Morales left her home in Xalapa, Mexico and came to the US with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn’t come empty-handed.

She brought her strength, her work, her passion, her hopes and dreams…and her stories.

A much underrated book about immigration, it is also about the power of books and libraries. What makes it standout is that this is Yuyi’s story. A true immigrant story and therefore much needed. Powerful hopeful storytelling and stunning art.A story that should be shared in every classroom.

The Moose of Ewenki by by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane, Jiu Er (Translated by Helen Mixter)

From one of China’s bestselling children’s authors comes this story of friendship and empathy, which celebrates the traditional way of life for the Indigenous Ewenki peoples of Mongolia.

When a Mongolian elder named Gree Shrek hunts a female moose by mistake, her young calf is left behind. Saddened by her loss, Gree Shrek names the calf Xiao Han (“Little Moose”) and the moose and man form an authentic attachment. Xiao Han accompanies Gree Shrek as the hunter-gatherer herds reindeer, sets up camp, forages for food in the forest, and visits his peoples’ village, where many fun adventures happen. But as the little moose grows bigger, Gree Shrek knows he must return his companion to the forest.

A fantastic book that helps us understand the traditional way of life of the Ewenki people of Mongolia. Fantastic characterful illustrations bring the story to life with empathy and humour. A book that is perfect for helping to explore and understand differences.


Lift by Minh Le and Dan Santat

When Iris’s elevator button-pushing is disrupted by a new member of the family, she’s pretty put out.
That is, until the sudden appearance of a mysterious new button opens up entire realms of possibility, places where she can escape and explore on her own. But when it becomes a question between going it alone or letting someone else tag along, Iris finds that sharing a disc

A fantastic wild creative story. I mean who hasn’t wanted a button that can literally take you anywhere. This is a perfect inspiration for writing, the art and visual storytelling is top-notch and the characters emotions and motivations are utterly believable. A totally magical. top-drawer book. Le and Santat make quite a team (if you haven’t seen the cross generational, language barrier breaking story ‘Drawn Together’ then hunt it out )


A Stone sat Still by Brenden Wenzel

The follow-up to They All Saw a Cat

A Stone Sat Still tells the story of a seemingly ordinary rock—but to the animals that use it, it is a resting place, a kitchen, a safe haven…even an entire world.

A book about perspectives.   This is a great book to share ideas about perspective and how it changes  and seeing the possibilities in things. This is a book to help children understand viewpoint and why people can see things differently. A great PSHE book to spark a discussion. Philosophical, calm and thoughtful.  (also get They all Saw a Cat)

Elvis is King by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studios

Elvis Presley–the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, still beloved by millions of Americans–comes to vibrant, gyrating life in this extraordinary picture-book biography from an award-winning author and the winner of a New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award.

Here’s the perfect book for anyone who wants to introduce rock ‘n’ roll and its king to the child in their lives. In single- page “chapters” with titles like “The First Cheeseburger Ever Eaten by Elvis” and “Shazam! A Blond Boy Turns into a Black-Haired Teenager,” readers can follow key moments in Presley’s life, from his birth on the wrong side of the railroad tracks in the Deep South, to playing his first guitar in grade school, to being so nervous during a performance as a teenager that he starts shaking . . . and changes the world!

Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studio have created a tour-de-force that captures a boy’s loneliness and longing, along with the energy and excitement, passion, and raw talent that was Elvis Presley.

This book captures Elvis. Elvis was a bit before my time so I didn’t really get the fuss, but this completely nails, the energy, buzz and excitement. It made me realise how a skinny blonde kid changed the world. It’s about the power of music and rebellion. It is equally a might fine picturebook biography.  Tying into history, music and perseverance this book ticks a lot of boxes.

Finding Narnia by Caroline McAlister and Jessica Lanan

Finding Narnia is Caroline McAlister and Jessica Lanan’s captivating picture book biography of two brothers, Jack and Warnie Lewis, whose rich imaginations led to the creation of the magical world of Narnia.

Before C.S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, he was a young boy named Jack who spent his days dreaming up stories of other worlds filled with knights, castles, and talking animals. His brother, Warnie, spent his days imagining worlds filled with trains, boats, and technology. One rainy day, they found a wardrobe in a little room next to the attic, and they wondered, What if the wardrobe had no end?

Years later, Jack began to think about what could be beyond that wardrobe, and about a girl named Lucy and her siblings. This picture book biography introduces the beloved creator of The Chronicles of Narnia to a new generation of children who see hidden magic in the world around them.

I still think The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a book all children should have read to them. I also happen to think Year 4 is the perfect age for that book to be read. With that in mind, this picturebook biography would make a stunning accompaniment to the sharing of that book. It is a fascinating story of how the two brothers branched in different directions but how their childhood was instrumental in creating the beloved land of Narnia.

Hope they’re helpful.

Other Lists

2nd year 6 list..

More Picturebooks for Year 6 (list 2) …#PictureBookPage

2nd year 5 list…

10 more Picturebooks for Year 5 (List 2)…#PicturebookPage

1st year 4 list

Picturebooks – more than just a pretty picture? -10 picturebooks for Year 4 #picturebookpage

Collated list of links for Picturebooks so far (Y1-Y6)

Booklists (picturebooks)



10 more Picturebooks for Year 5 (List 2)…#PicturebookPage

So here are 10 more books that would work brilliantly in year 5. Hope it’s helpful…

Manhattan: Mapping the story of an island by Jennifer Thermes

“An innovative look back through time, Manhattan Maps follows the history of Manhattan Island from its natural formation to the bustling city today. It explores the ways in which nature and people are connected, tracking the people who lived on Manhattan from the Lenape Indians to Dutch settlers hunting for beaver pelts to early Americans and beyond, and how they’ve (literally) shaped the island (and vice versa). Jen Thermes highlights watershed moments where nature demanded action of New Yorkers–the Great Fire of 1835, the Great Blizzard of 1888, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In special sidebars, she closely traces specific threads of history and their lasting impact today–New York as a hub for immigration and the slave trade, for example. An epic volume that chronicles the rise of Manhattan through the lenses of geography, city planning, sociology, historiography, and more, Manhattan Maps is a groundbreaking format that will fascinate curious readers of all ages”

Do I need to say more than what is said above. It is a completely brilliant, gorgeous to look at and full of amazing information that sparks, discussion. As it says it’s totally epic, and is perfect for any discussion of place and habitation, just perfect for helping children understand how places change and what causes that change. I’d pair it with River by Elisha Cooper which is a more personal exploration of change. Both are amazing

Bonus book

River by Elisha Cooper

Caldecott Honor winner Elisha Cooper invites readers to grab their oars and board a canoe down a river exploration filled with adventure and beauty.

In Cooper’s flowing prose and stunning watercolor scenes, readers can follow a traveler’s trek down the Hudson River as she and her canoe explore the wildlife, flora and fauna, and urban landscape at the river’s edge. Through perilous weather and river rushes, the canoe and her captain survive and maneuver their way down the river back home.

River is an outstanding introduction to seeing the world through the eyes of a young explorer and a great picture book for the STEAM curriculum.

Maps and information about the Hudson River and famous landmarks are included in the back of the book.


2. Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog including Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth

Since 2031, Aviary Wonders Inc. has offered bird lovers a unique opportunity: Assemble your own bird from stunningly beautiful and carefully hand-crafted parts. The birds can even be taught to fly and to sing! This slyly satirical crafter’s delight is offered as the perfect antidote to extinction of birds in the wild.

Brilliantly illustrated with oil paintings and filled with laugh-aloud asides as well as sobering facts about extinct species, this mock catalog is a clever send-up of contemporary sales spin and a thought-provoking look into an all-too-possible future.

Utterly bonkers but a totally brilliant satirical take on the extinction of different species. This book is a brilliant way to get children thinking and questioning our actions and the impact we have on our planet. Possibly a bit out-there for some but if you like it you love it.


3. Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett and Matt Myers

Encourage creativity with this wildly entertaining picture book mash-up from the minds of Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett.

Alex has been given a saccharine, sappy, silly-sweet picture book about Birthday Bunny that his grandma found at a garage sale. Alex isn’t interested – until he decides to make the book something he’d actually like to read. So he takes out his pencil, sharpens his creativity, and totally transforms the story!

Birthday Bunny becomes Battle Bunny, and the rabbit’s innocent journey through the forest morphs into a supersecret mission to unleash an evil plan – a plan that only Alex can stop.

Featuring layered, original artwork that emphasizes Alex’s additions, this dynamic exploration of creative storytelling is sure to engage and inspire

Utter creative genius. Great messages about creativity and telling the stories you want to read. More than anything we found it unleashed creative monsters in our children that had previously lain dormant, their wildest ideas were set free when we used this book, they also learnt how hard it is to rein those ideas in and keep it coherent and tell the story. It helps children see that stories are alive and sometimes we need to control them as well. A brilliant book, and an utterly fantastic writing lesson for the children.

Here is link to ‘Birthday Bunny’ so your children can make their own Battle Bunny or whatever stories.

Link to Birthday Bunny PDF for children to create their own books.

4. The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery by Peter Sis

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born in France in 1900, when airplanes were just being invented. Antoine dreamed of flying and grew up to be a pilot—and that was when his adventures began. He found a job delivering mail by plane, which had never been done before. He and his fellow pilots traveled to faraway places and discovered new ways of getting from one place to the next. Antoine flew over mountains and deserts. He battled winds and storms. He tried to break aviation records, and sometimes he even crashed. From his plane, Antoine looked down on the earth and was inspired to write about his life and his pilot-hero friends in memoirs and in fiction. Peter Sís’s remarkable biography celebrates the author of The Little Prince, one of the most beloved books in the world.

A fantastic picturebook biography, rich in art and detail, it can be a little tricky to navigate but I feel that is part of the point.. Wonderfully detailed spread require exploration and that is why it is a year 5 text, it’s a book that inspires discussion and exploration and equally shows us an extraordinary life to boot.

I’d read it alongside the wonderful  “The Little Prince”

5. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman hears these words from God one summer night and decides to leave her husband and family behind and escape. Taking with her only her faith, she must creep through the woods with hounds at her feet, sleep for days in a potato hole, and trust people who could have easily turned her in.

But she was never alone.

In lyrical text, Carole Boston Weatherford describes Tubman’s spiritual journey as she hears the voice of God guiding her north to freedom on that very first trip to escape the brutal practice of forced servitude. Tubman would make nineteen subsequent trips back south, never being caught, but none as profound as this first one. Courageous, compassionate, and deeply religious, Harriet Tubman, with her bravery and relentless pursuit of freedom, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

This is a unique and moving portrait of one of the most inspiring figures of the Underground Railroad. Kadir Nelson’s emotionally charged paintings embody strength, healing, and hope.

This picture book is a beautiful account of Harriet Tubman’s escape of slavery. Carole Boston Weatherford’s fictionalized story includes many historical facts.  Whilst the talking to god may put some people off the book, for me it enhanced my understanding of Harriet Tubman.

The author does an amazing job of spotlighting the feelings and struggles Harriet Tubman had along the journey. Kadie Nelson’s art zings and every image could be used to start a conversation about the challenges that she had to overcome. Powerful, challenging and a great story.

6. You are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim

You Are Stardust begins by introducing the idea that every tiny atom in our bodies came from a star that exploded long before we were born. From its opening pages, the book suggests that we are intimately connected to the natural world; it compares the way we learn to speak to the way baby birds learn to sing, and the growth of human bodies to the growth of forests. Award-winning author Elin Kelsey — along with a number of concerned parents and educators around the world — believes children are losing touch with nature. This innovative picture book aims to reintroduce children to their innate relationship with the world around them by sharing many of the surprising ways that we are all connected to the natural world.

Grounded in current science, this extraordinary picture book provides opportunities for children to use their imaginations and wonder about some big ideas. Soyeon Kim’s incredible diorama art enhances the poetic text, and her creative process is explored in full on the reverse side of the book’s jacket, which features comments from the artist. Young readers will want to pore over each page of this book, exploring the detailed artwork and pondering the message of the text, excited to find out just how connected to the Earth they really are.

A stunning picture book that explains how we are part of a natural world. Great science and stunning art make it an absolute treat. The Diorama art is a great thing to replicate as well. Eloquent and profound. A top drawer picturebook that sparks loads of question.

Similar in theme and stunning art is this below… This is more poetic…

Bonus Book


Child of the universe by Ray Jayawardhana and Raul Colon

Just like the sun gives shine to the moon,
you light up the world beyond this room . . .
You are grand and marvelous, strong and mysterious.
The history of the world is in your fingertips.

A meditation on the preciousness of one child and the vastness of the universe, this picture book shares the measure of a parent’s love along with the message that we are all connected to the broader cosmos.

7. Freedom we Sing by Amyra Leon and Molly Mendoza

I wonder, then, what freedom is. Is it a place? Is it a thought? Can it be stolen? Can it be bought?

As powerful as it is beautiful, Freedom, We Sing is a lyrical picture book designed to inspire and give hope to readers around the world. Molly Mendoza’s immersive, lush illustrations invite kids into the text, to ask themselves what it means to be free, while lyrical and emotive text is provided by musician Amyra León.

Powerful, beautiful and emotive. This is a book for all our classrooms, and should be used to spark the important conversations we need to have. Stunning poetic language and emotive vibrant art combine to create a powerhouse of a book. This is a book for now and the future.

8. Because by Mo Willems and Amber Ren

Mo Willems, a number one New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, composes a powerful symphony of chance, discovery, persistence, and magic in this moving tale of a young girl’s journey to center stage. Illustrator Amber Ren brings Willems’ music to life, conducting a stunning picture-book debut.

You may be detecting a theme. This is a book about artistic expression and how through education we open doorways to what is possible. This time this one is about music and how experiences can be formative and set things in motion that can’t be stopped. Part of our role as schools is to open doorways to our young people. Education should never act as a barrier. This is a perfect year 5 book (or probably Year 4 or Year 3 or actually across the whole school). I would tie it tightly to the music curriculum and see where it can take you.

9. Stone for Sacha by Aaron Becker

A girl grieves the loss of her dog in an achingly beautiful wordless epic from the Caldecott Honor–winning creator of Journey.

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. In his first picture book following the conclusion of his best-selling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again.

Becker is a master of the wordless art. His journey trilogy are just amazing and are very popular. This for me however is his master-piece. This is essentially the history of the world in a wordless picturebook. It is a stunning achievement but possibly the story telling is too dense and complex. It requires a fair bit of knowledge to get the best out of it.

We used it alongside selected bits of this…



10. A Song for Will and the lost Gardeners of Heligan by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey

When World War 1 is declared on 4th August 1914, errand boy, Alfie, is disappointed that he is too young to sign up. But his frustration turns to despair as he begins to realise the brutal consequences of battle. During the four year conflict, Alfie’s exchange of letters with Heligan stone mason, Fred Paynter, and the visits home of gardener, William Guy, paint a poignant picture of life at the front. Reading them in a peaceful corner of England, the sanctuary of Heligan, Alfie realises just how different his life could have been. Can Fred and Will survive the horrors of the Somme in 1916? And what worrying news might Alfie receive about other battles? Published in partnership with the Lost Gardens of Heligan and drawing on facts from their archives ‘A Song For Will’ is a beautiful story of longing and loss, of discovery and hope.

A fantastic World War 1 story told in heartfelt emotional letters back home, based on a true story. The letters are complimented by Impey’s art that still manages to convey the horrors of war even though this is aimed at children. This is my favourite Robinson/Impey WW1 book and that is saying something because they are all fantastic.

I’d also like to shout about Martin Impey’s version of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Decorum Est which is just astounding. We used little bits of but it would be perfect in KS3 in bringing the words of the poem  and the horrors of war to stark, vivid life.

Links to other picturebook lists…

More Picturebooks for Year 6 (list 2) …#PictureBookPage

Booklists (picturebooks)

Find the space to talk… 10 picturebooks for Year 5 #picturebookpage

More Picturebooks for Year 6 (list 2) …#PictureBookPage

ifK8K4PL.jpg large

I’ve already said how important I think picturebooks are throughout out primary school (see the blog below) so i’m not going to be a stuck record. Instead I’m just going to share some more books that work phenomenally well in year 6. They are mature, thoughtful , complex and challenging as all the best books are. Hope the list is useful

I’ve included a link to my previous Year 6 list, many of these would work well alongside others in that list.


The Phonebooth in Mr Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith and Rachel Wada

When the tsunami destroyed Makio’s village, Makio lost his father . . . and his voice. The entire village is silenced by grief, and the young child’s anger at the ocean grows. Then one day his neighbor, Mr. Hirota, begins a mysterious project–building a phone booth in his garden. At first Makio is puzzled; the phone isn’t connected to anything. It just sits there, unable to ring. But as more and more villagers are drawn to the phone booth, its purpose becomes clear to Makio: the disconnected phone is connecting people to their lost loved ones. Makio calls to the sea to return what it has taken from him and ultimately finds his voice and solace in a phone that carries words on the wind.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden is inspired by the true story of the wind phone in Otsuchi, Japan, which was created by artist Itaru Sasaki. He built the phone booth so he could speak to his cousin who had passed, saying, “My thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line, I wanted them to be carried on the wind.” The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the town of Otsuchi, claiming 10 percent of the population. Residents of Otsuchi and pilgrims from other affected communities have been traveling to the wind phone since the tsunami.

A beautiful tale of love, loss and grief. The book is both emotional and hopeful and made me think of all those thing I would loved to have say to someone I lost. A powerful book about family and moments that would work perfectly in a Year 6 class to help them think about the important moments and the things they value. It is both artistically magical and wonderfully poetic and thought-provoking.


The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby

A picture book biography of Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, and other children’s classics.

What is important about Margaret Wise Brown?

In 42 inspiring pages, this biography by award-winning writer Mac Barnett vividly depicts one of the greatest children’s book creators who ever lived: Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and The Little Fur Family. Illustrated with sumptuous art by rising star Sarah Jacoby, this is essential reading for children’s book lovers of every age

“No good book is loved by everyone, and any good book is bound to bother somebody.”

It is a beautiful picturebook biography about a children’s author who has been a little lost. This book however is so much more than that. It is wise, philosophical and just plain wonderful. It is also about challenging orthodoxy, resilience. It’s about passion and beliefs, it ultimately a testament to a great children’s author. It’s marvellous

It’s just one of those books.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui

As a young boy, Bao Phi awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.

A gentle yet powerful read that is about family, coming of age and about the lived experience of immigrants. It is beautifully illustrated book that gently handles the topic of struggling immigrant families. While fishing, a Vietnamese father connects the experience to his childhood. His young son recognizes that as an immigrant family there are challenges- his parents work at multiple jobs and their fishing trips are for food, not sport. I liked the feeling of a close family working together to make their way in another country. As the tale is semi-autobiographical this brings a welcome angle on  immigration.

The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold

A haunting, stunningly illustrated story of loss, hope, and the power of music from multi-award winners David Almond and Levi Pinfold.

Kielder Water is a wild and beautiful place, rich in folk music and legend. Years ago, before a great dam was built to fill the valley with water, there were farms and homesteads in that valley and musicians who livened their rooms with song. After the village was abandoned and before the waters rushed in, a father and daughter returned there. The girl began to play her fiddle, bringing her tune to one empty house after another — for this was the last time that music would be heard in that place. With exquisite artwork by Levi Pinfold, David Almond’s lyrical narrative — inspired by a true tale — pays homage to his friends Mike and Kathryn Tickell and all the musicians of Northumberland, to show that music is ancient and unstoppable, and that dams and lakes cannot overwhelm it.

The Dam is stunning.  This is a last farewell to a drowning village but also a story of hope, renewal and rebirth as the lake becomes a place for families to visit and spend time together. Pinfold’s art is as vital to the story as Almond’s words and the create a magical ethereal book that. It’s perfect for Key Stage 2 and explores, progress, time, change and sustainability. Couple it with some traditional folk music and you have a thing of power, beauty, tradition and joy. Below is a link to the Radio 4 program.


BOX. Henry Brown Mails Himself To Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Michelle Wood

In a moving, lyrical tale about the cost and fragility of freedom, a New York Times best-selling author and an acclaimed artist follow the life of a man who courageously shipped himself out of slavery.

What have I to fear?
My master broke every promise to me.
I lost my beloved wife and our dear children.
All, sold South. Neither my time nor my body is mine.
The breath of life is all I have to lose.
And bondage is suffocating me.

Henry Brown wrote that long before he came to be known as Box, he “entered the world a slave.” He was put to work as a child and passed down from one generation to the next — as property. When he was an adult, his wife and children were sold away from him out of spite. Henry Brown watched as his family left bound in chains, headed to the deeper South. What more could be taken from him? But then hope — and help — came in the form of the Underground Railroad. Escape!

In stanzas of six lines each, each line representing one side of a box, celebrated poet Carole Boston Weatherford powerfully narrates Henry Brown’s story of how he came to send himself in a box from slavery to freedom. Strikingly illustrated in rich hues and patterns by artist Michele Wood, Box is augmented with historical records and an introductory excerpt from Henry’s own writing as well as a time line, notes from the author and illustrator, and a bibliography.

I love Henry’s Freedom Box, its a powerful story well told for children. This takes that story and adds details. It’s both historically richer and in detail. That the story is told in six line poems to represent the sides of the box is both clever and powerful. Rich in language and art.  This is perfect for Year 6 and a perfect book for now.

Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derek Hughes and Nathan Christopher

“Wickedly, subversively brilliant.” – Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“This book cracked me up and left a smile on my face (spoiler alert)” – Adam Rubin, #1 New York Times best-selling author of Dragons Love Tacos

Looks like the wall has finally met its match. This classic tale gets a modern twist with a Humpty Dumpty for a new generation.

“Humpty Dumpty lived near a wall…” begins this well-known fable. But this time Humpty is ready for battle, with a secret mission and a touch of mischief. Can all the King’s horses and all the King’s men help put Humpty together again? Or maybe the mission, no matter how small, is simply to question the point of a wall.

Subversive, playful, completely not really for kids, artistically stunning. This is a book about rebellion, and hope. This is a Humpty Dumpty for now and does that wonderful thing of reflecting on the now. Perfect for inspiring twisted tales but even better for helping children see that there are other ways and that you can and should question.

The Wind In The Wall by Sally Gardner and Rovina Cai

‘I have no idea how long I have been incarcerated in these ancient walls . . . Let me explain how I find myself in this predicament . . .’Set in the hot houses of a stately home in eighteenth century England, a gardener falls from grace when the Duke sets him the impossible task of growing prize pineapples fit to show off in high society.The gardener’s star falls further when he is replaced by Mr Amicus, a pineapple ‘specialist’, whom he believes to be a charlatan and a trickster – but nevertheless miraculously produces fruit to delight the Duke. Determined to uncover Mr Amicus’s tricks, the gardener sneaks into the pineapple house to uncover the mysterious shrouded birdcage Mr Amicus carries with him. And what he finds changes his life for ever . . .A cautionary tale with echoes of myth and fairy tale, this bewitching fable will make you careful what you wish for.

Not so much a picturebook , more of a fantastically illustrated fable. (think the Highwayman). It brings all the ingredients together with lyrical, dense language, a compelling dark narrative and is topped off by Cai’s powerful sweeping art. It’s a beauty.


Silent Days, Silent Dreams By Allen Say

James Castle was born two months premature on September 25, 1899, on a farm in Garden Valley, Idaho. He was deaf, mute, autistic, and probably dyslexic. He didn’t walk until he was four; he would never learn to speak, write, read, or use sign language.

Yet, today Castle’s artwork hangs in major museums throughout the world.  The Philadelphia Museum of Art opened “James Castle: A Retrospective” in 2008. The 2013 Venice Biennale included eleven works by Castle in the feature exhibition “The Encyclopedic Palace.”  And his reputation continues to grow.

Caldecott Medal winner Allen Say, author of the acclaimed memoir Drawing from Memory, takes readers through an imagined look at Castle’s childhood, allows them to experience his emergence as an artist despite the overwhelming difficulties he faced, and ultimately reveals the triumphs that he would go on to achieve.

Strikingly illustrated this is a book about acceptance, prejudice, perseverance and ultimately recognition. This is a harrowing, heart-breaking true story that raises huge questions about how we value difference. It is also about the importance of art and the value it brings to our lives. Not bad for kids book.


Flight for Freedom By Kristen Fulton and Torben Kuhlmann

An Inspiring True Story about One Family’s Escape from Behind the Berlin Wall!

Peter was born on the east side of Germany, the side that wasn’t free. He watches news programs rather than cartoons, and wears scratchy uniforms instead of blue jeans. His family endures long lines and early curfews. But Peter knows it won’t always be this way. Peter and his family have a secret. Late at night in their attic, they are piecing together a hot air balloon—and a plan. Can Peter and his family fly their way to freedom? This is the true story of one child, Peter Wetzel, and his family, as they risk their lives for the hope of freedom in a daring escape from East Germany via a handmade hot air balloon in 1979.

• A perfect picture book for educators teaching about the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, and East Germany
Flight for Freedom is a showcase for lessons of bravery, heroism, family, and perseverance, as well as stunning history.
• Includes detailed maps of the Wetzel family’s escape route and diagrams of their hot air balloon

Thanks to Paul Watson for the heads up on this. It’s a great story of hope and determination.  I’d couple this with “The Wall” by Peter Sis ( I recommended it in my other Year 6 list) and you get a real feel for life on the otherside of the Wall. A great historical story, well told.

The Bird within Me by Sara Lundberg

What do you do when it feels impossible to live the life that is expected of you? What do you do when you long for something that you can hardly name?

Berta is a twelve-year-old girl growing up on a farm in a small village in northern Sweden in the early twentieth century. She loves drawing and painting more than anything else, and secretly dreams of being an artist. But her mother is sick and Berta is needed on the farm. She knows that she needs art, that she has to express herself. But how can she make her dreams a reality?

Based on the paintings, letters and diaries of the Swedish artist Berta Hansson (1910–1994), ‘The Bird Within Me’ is an exquisitely told story of family and obligation and following your dreams, which will appeal to all ages.

Another book about Hope, dreams and perserverance. This wonderful true story book is about longing and imagination. It’s also about dreams and being a rebel. It’s about saying that you define your futures. That a good message for year 6. Below is a link to Mr Galway’s  (@GalwayMr) teacher notes. They are rather ace as is he.

Mr Galway’s Teacher Notes (Book Island Website)

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson

This poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present.

An important book. Regardless of the make-up of the community in your school this book will start important conversations and add perspective and help develop understanding. It is in turns honest, heartbreaking, and hopeful, this unforgettable book will open up a ‘world of possible’ in your classroom.

Hope the list is useful… (New Year 5 list soon)

Below is the first list.

Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage

Booklists (picturebooks)  (Y1-Y6 links)