Another Year Over (A Pandemic Review)

So, we sit on the cusp of a New Year, I’d love to say its without trepidation but let’s be honest the next few months are going to be a logistical challenge for us all.

Today however is always a good day to look back. I sit here with a certain sense of pride. My school has definitely come out of the last couple of years in a stronger place than it went into it.

We entered autumn 2019 in not a great place, even though we had had a good Ofsted, morale however was at rock bottom, a significant restructure (due to financial challenges) had hit really hard.

On a personal level I was questioning my own position and whether I could do this job. We limped through the Autumn term in a post Ofsted daze, we never celebrated the success the restructure tarnished what should have been a launch point. School felt joyless and as a head I felt the most isolated I had ever felt. I questioned myself and my ability to lead. The personal impact of restructure had definitely damaged me. School had lost its mojo. I was about to jack it in.

Then March 2020 hit. Now this doesn’t sound like a great place for a school or a leader to be entering into what has proved to be the most challenging period we have all faced in our lives.

I remember sitting listening to the announcement that schools would close. I remember reading the guidance. The next day I went into school a new me. I may not have been the leader school wanted at that point, but I was the one it needed.  By Lunchtime on the Thursday, we had a plan, we were organised we were clear. Timetables, guidance, actions, communication to parents. Done. Initially our home-learning offer focused more on well-being, the extraordinary weather really helped that. People were scared but they just cracked on, clarity was everything. Food was sorted, well-being checks, home learning packs, key worker hub. Then we just got on. When the children returned in June 20 again clarity was key, clear actions and planning. I remember walking staff through the days in every detail, no question was too small. I would use the word meticulous; every detail was explored. Staff were ready. The Summer was great, numbers were initially low then as weeks passed confidence grew and more and more children returned. We had 7 of 9-year groups open by the end of the Summer and the systems were like clockwork. I must mention our Trust who have been utterly phenomenal throughout, their support has been top-notch.

Autumn 20 came, and the first half-term was brilliant then COVID hit school in full effect in the second half-term. The impact in school was very much a reflection of the virus in the community, Whitby was slammed after half-term following the influx of tourist during the October break. At one point we had 11 staff and numerous children infected (including myself). Four bubbles were closed yet this wasn’t an “outbreak”. This however did allow us to get our online learning in place.

January 21 came, and school was closed after a day. We were however ready. We had devices for families to make sure all could connect, at our expense. (not DfE ones they eventually arrived at the end of March 21). I personally worked with families to make sure they could get online, generally the kids were savvier than the parents. Our Year 6 teacher led the way with this, and the development of teaching and pedagogy was amazing. Sitting in some of the live lessons it was brilliant to see skilled professionals doing an outstanding job.

 The keyworker hub was busy, but school was on it. SEND pupils were in, the opening of a Communication and Interaction, had given not only capacity but also expertise the children needed.

March 21 came, and we just cracked on. Focus switched to catch-up and school priorities. The pandemic had created middle-leaders in school in a way that had been really difficult before it. I now had a staff that were itching to get on. Lessons learnt from online teaching became part of teaching, there was a consistency of approach. As a school we suddenly knew what we were about.

While not normal Summer 21 was a joyous time. Children on the whole had come back brilliantly, routines, systems had done us huge favours. Stamina and friendships were challenges. School had momentum. Middle leaders were making a difference. More importantly I was driving it again, I had my mojo back. We left in the summer with a buzz and that continued in Autumn 21. Clear plans and actions, everybody pushing together.

We had a slight COVID wobble around half-term otherwise school was in a great place and most certainly stronger than before. A few visitors came and could not believe the focus, the behaviour and the quality of what was going on.

Which brings us too now…

None-of us know the turns the next term will take. It is going to be a logistical challenge to keep schools open. I know from my side in our school there is a will to make that happen.

Whether we can will depend on factors outside of our control. Supply has been virtually impossible in Whitby and will continue to be so. Staff have been magnificent stepping into gaps and generally being amazing. They have not let anyone down

I have to look forward with optimism, despite the enormous challenges thrown our way we have come through stronger and more of a team than we ever were. It will be hard, there will be moments, but we’ve had it so far and we’ve got this.

A (late) very merry Christmas
And a happy new year,
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

 John Lennon 1971

The Ridiculous

Today I have 8 staff off… 8. We’re a 1 form entry school. That we’ve managed to run school so far this week and it feel relatively normal has been a minor miracle and partly due to some incredibly flexible staff and that despite all this school is in a good place.

My supply budget is shot. It wasn’t very big.

I have staff (double jabbed) who are properly poorly, (not a bad cold) can’t move, fatigued, can’t get out of bed poorly, three are already beyond the 10 days and are just too ill to work.

I have the worst school attendance I’ve had since I’ve been here (8 years) yet at 93% so far this term I know it’s better than a lot of schools.

We are so very far from normal. COVID is still around.

Yet in England the world churns on as though nothing is happening.

Ofsted are back, not as a force for good or improvement but as a dark anti-hero wielding it’s sword as Damocles. It’s been locked in a closet for two years and doesn’t seem to have any awareness of what has happened. I’ve seen heads more worried by Ofsted than they’ve ever been. At the moment so much stuff is being done in the name of “Ofsted”. Now you can be all sanctimonious and say “don’t do stuff for Ofsted” but actually there is significant self preservation both for heads and school staff by jumping through the hoops.

If you’re a small primary the workload on staff is immense. Yet from reports it seem Ofsted are jumping on every inconsistency and there is no account taken for the sterling work of the past two years.

Meanwhile other services seem to have disappeared with schools picking up the increasing slack. Mental Health, speech and language, early help, social care all running beyond capacity. Don’t start me on SEND.

Everyday is a fresh challenge. I’ll be honest I’ve become much better at compartmentalising it and not losing sight of the job. It has however never been harder.

We have MPs blaming schools and wanting to enshrine in Law that it will be much more difficult for schools to close. I don’t actually disagree that kids should be in school, but the rhethoric stings when the actual government they are part of has done practically nothing to keep schools open. Ventilation/CO2 monitors anyone? Masks in secondary anyone or anywhere in England for that matter. Any mitigations? Nope! There is no surprise that attendance is so poor, we have 40000 cases a day and have become blasé to 200 people dying.

Exams and SATs are all going ahead, yet they will be far from fair. Personally it saddens me to feel those pressures returning in KS2. I know and I’m sure many other primaries would agree that we saw a much better deal for year 6 and in many ways children much more ready for secondary by not having SATs. We didn’t have a post SATs drop off the class had a broader curriculum offer. We’re not a school that over preps or spends loads of time, we trust the work we’ve done, this year we know there will be gaps however.

So I sit here at 5 in the morning laughing at it all.

I am “The RIDICULOUS!”

Who knows ultimately what will be the toll of all this. I’m glad I’m laughing, though it does feel like that slightly manic deranged laugh. Anyway time to put the makeup on and head into work.

Fever Dreams (wide awake at 2 am)

My head is fizzing!

I’m sat here at 2 in the morning. Sleep is evading me. My head is full and I’m just fed up.

I’m fed up with the Department for Education playing the hard man. I fed up with a DfE that consistently wants to work against the profession rather than with it. I’m fed up at the lack of professional trust. Playing to their audience with a narrative of feckless lazy teachers who they need to act tough on.

I’m tired of Ofsted and their increasingly detached arrogance and lack of perspective. Their unrealistic drive for perfection, their desperation to reestablish themselves. Ofsted more than ever in my career are dictating what schools do. As Paul Watson put it, they are literally “the tail wagging the dog.” Anybody who says don’t do it for Ofsted hasn’t looked at the framework or what’s happening in schools.

I’m sick of research being used as a blunt weapon rather than a nuanced tool. With one size fits all generalities hurled across sectors without real evidence to suggest it works beyond its original domains.

I’m angry at the destructive high stakes accountability systems that do not create improvement and in some cases are truly damaging.

I’m jaded by the constant fight to get support for the children that need it. SEND is in crisis. Mental health support for young people is practically non-existent. I tear my lack of hair out at at the increasing vacuum that is early help and social care. I find ourselves stretched thinner and thinner trying to paper over the ever-widening gaps.

Yet, I’m still in love with my job, the day today in the building, working with our teachers. The commitment and the passion they have for improving what we do. Their relentless energy to get it right for the children in their care.

I still marvel at the skill and expertise of the staff in our school. Utterly brilliant. They make me proud every day.

I still get a buzz from seeing children so excited by their learning that they almost explode just trying to get it out when you sit with them

I still laugh from the joy of sitting having lunch with year 3, them telling me the worst jokes in the world most without even coming close to a punchline.

I adore the warmth and trust of the relationships in our school. They are in the most unscientific terms…magical.

I’m proud of how we’ve supported our community and equally how they support us. We are in the truest sense a community school. We are their school.

The everyday positives still outweigh the negatives. I’m lucky to have got my buzz and my drive back (it was definitely waning a couple of years ago)

I am grateful to work for a trust that is committed to us, supports us and trusts us. I know we are very lucky on that count.

Time to close my eyes, breath out, switch off. Increasingly I feel voiceless in the system. I keep my head down and crack on.

I however have to believe and I truly hope that there are better ways than this and that we can find a system that truly supports schools to be great. Rather than the deficit model we currently have.

The eternal optimist in me, that ultimately drowns out my negativity, has to believe.

Thanks, Cheers, Danke, Merci, Gracias. The power of appreciation.

It’s OK to say “Well done” and “Thankyou”

I remember sitting in a lesson observation feedback in 2009 with the head and deputy who had been in my lesson for an hour. A string of ways in which the lesson could have been improved poured forth, no conversation just targets for improving my lessons. Brow-beaten and defeated I caught the bus home, destroyed. The lesson apparently was “Outstanding” yet I had left feeling like the worst teacher on the planet.

It really is OK to say “Well done” or “Thankyou”

The nature of teaching in this country is that we never stop and smell the roses. We are constantly in a rush to improve, If you’re not improving then you’re going backwards because you can be sure everyone else is relentlessly driving on. Ever Improving, never stopping. Relentless.

“Well done” and “Thankyou”

I have seen and undoubtedly been guilty of this negative-sum game, this destructive relentless drive for improvement where staff are often the casualty. Don’t slow down…keep pushing!

“Well done”

We have a habit of not celebrating what we do. Everything is an opportunity to improve.

“Thankyou”

It can be different. saying “Well done”, enjoying the moment, focusing on the gains rather than the losses. A smile, a pat on the back, a “Thankyou.” Tiny things, but when real and meant they make the world of difference. We don’t need vainglorious acts of generosity or effusive praise, those things are almost entirely about the leader rather than the member of staff who is the focus of it. What we do need to do however is to notice and appreciate. Stop and feel the moment, rather than dive headlong forward.

It really is OK to say ” Well done” and “Thankyou”. If I’m honest I personally think it will take you further forward and faster but that’s not the point.

Addendum… I think this works just as well for children as well, not points, or stickers or dojos, just real and honest appreciation of a job well done from someone they trust and respect.

A New Years Wish List

This is the start of my eigth year as a headteacher at East Whitby.

The hopes and aspirations for this year are vital. More than any other year we have to get our plans for the upcoming year right. The seeds that are planted in September are the ones you nurture through the year. Year on year we have as a school steadily improved, not change, change, change but building on the strengths we have and most of the time pushing in the same direction. Then COVID happened. Fact is the past two years have told us we can’t control the outside, but we definitely can control the inside.

I think we all know that we can’t change the “weather.” DfE and Ofsted will do what they do but we will be ready to react accordingly to that, we’ve got sun-cream, wooly hats and umbrellas at the ready.

I do however have a few wishes for the upcoming year. Ones that we will hope to fulfil in our school.

Firstly I wish for this upcoming school year that we, as teachers, act on the principle that education is not only about the mind — but that it’s about the person. The past two years of pandemic have highlighted for me that the gaps aren’t what we do in our classrooms. I believe a school must function for the purpose of developing students as whole people, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge. School just is more.

Children more than ever need schools and they need them to be more. That is not saying that we don’t have to teach stuff because blatantly we do and obviously that is our core purpose, but there is so much more to what we do and we ignore that at our peril.

My wish for teachers is that we can truly focus back in our classrooms. That we can can strip away the nonsense and just get on with doing the best job in the world. As a head a huge part of my job is creating the conditions so that is the case. I will be that “crap” umbrella so my teachers can just get on with the job.

I also wish that we can get our children back to that spot where learning is a motivator in and of itself and that we embrace the joy that brings.

I hope that we can move to a place that engagement and excitement in our classrooms are not seen as the enemy. School should be a joy. Children should rush out to tell parents what they’ve learnt, personally I think it’s never been more important that that is the case. Smiles and happiness should be synonomous with school, so I also wish that we make time to have fun, to enjoy the time teachers spend with the children in their class. Great primary schools are fuelled by brilliant relationships.

Is it too much to ask that we find time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to draw and dance and sculpt and create. Time to rest as well as time to work.

What’s been lost in the past two years is more than education. We can recover the education we just need to ensure that we don’t do it at the expense of other things that are important in our schools.

To put it another way in the words of Kevin Bacon in Footloose…


“Ecclesiastes assures us… that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh… and a time to weep. A time to mourn… and there is a time to dance. And there was a time for this law, but not anymore. See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.”

More Picturebooks for Year 3 (list 3)

Here is my third list of picturebooks for Year 3. They have all been chosen from my favourite books of the last 2 years. They have been chosen to inspire discussion and questioning. Hope its useful.

The Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade

Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruptiona bold and lyrical picture book written by Carole Lindstrom and vibrantly illustrated by Michaela Goade.

Water is the first medicine.
It affects and connects us all . . .

When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth
And poison her people’s water, one young water protector
Takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource.

We are water Protectors is a fantastic book about community and action. Stunning fluid art is coupled with powerful themes of responsibility for our environment and our communities and about standing up and taking action. Indigenous authors Lindstrom and Goade invite us to stand up and be counted. A great book for inspiring our young people to care for what is important.. Geography/PSCHE links

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew

A modern adaptation of a classic ‘little mermaid’ tale, Nen and the Lonely Fisherman tells the story of a merman’s search for true love, sending a song of hope across the sea while a lonely, caring young fisherman named Ernest hopes to find warmth in his heart. As the two meet, they feel a special connection, much to the dismay of Nen’s father Pelagios who creates a wild sea storm to protect his son and the ocean. Can Nen save Ernest?

This wonderful paperback book showcases a story of love in adversity, which serves as reminder to us all to care for people and planet.

Nen is a brave and courageous retelling of the Little Mermaid story. From the moment I read it I could feel the creators passion for the story ring through. It is a story of friendship, loneliness and lovewhich is poetically told and dramatically illustrated. It is ultimately a beautiful and heartwarming tale of acceptance. PSCHE/Traditional tales links

When Emily was Small by Lauren Soloy

A joyful frolic through the garden helps a little girl feel powerful in this beautiful picture book that celebrates nature, inspired by the writings of revered artist Emily Carr.

Emily feels small. Small when her mother tells her not to get her dress dirty, small when she’s told to sit up straight, small when she has to sit still in school.

But when she’s in the garden, she becomes Small: a wild, fearless, curious and passionate soul, communing with nature and feeling one with herself. She knows there are secrets to be unlocked in nature, and she yearns to discover the mysteries before she has to go back to being small . . . for now.

When Emily Was Small is at once a celebration of freedom, a playful romp through the garden and a contemplation of the mysteries of nature.

Quirky and more than a little odd, When Emily was Small is a book about art and our connection to nature. It is also about determination and fierce stubbornness that drives us to achieve. Whilst it explores a few of things which drove Emily Carr it is also an allegory for hope and perseverance. Science/Art/PSCHE links

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.
This is a story that will lift your spirits and expand your imagination, by the award-winning creators of Drawn Together.

Minh Le and Dan Santat are like a picturebook dream team. Dan’s visual provide perfect accompaniement to Minh’s tales of family and fantasy. The Graphic novel format perfectly suits the telling of this brilliant family tale. The use of the lift provides class teachers with an amazing step off point into writing.It is a perfect portal story. Writing links

Lights on Cotton Rock by David Litchfield

Heather wants more than anything to go to outer space, where the stars sparkle with magic and wonder. When a UFO lands behind her house and she meets a friendly alien, it seems that all of her dreams have come true. But soon her new friend has to return home. Will the spaceship ever come back for her? And if it does, is Heather ready to leave everything on Earth behind?

How does he do that light thing ? David Litchfield’s art is almost luminous. Cotton Rock is possibly his best book so far. Its a brilliant story of recognising what we have and that sometimes all that we need is already there if we just take the time to notice it. A magical UFO tale about time and family.

Rain before Rainbows by Smriti Prasdam Halls and David Litchfield

In this heartfelt story about courage, change, and moving on, a girl and her companion fox travel together away from a sorrowful past, through challenging and stormy times, toward color and light and life. Along the way they find friends to guide and support them, and when the new day dawns, it is full of promise. With gorgeous, richly realized illustrations and immense hope at its heart, Rain Before Rainbows holds out a ray of sunshine for anyone looking for light.

A truly timely and uplifting picturebook. Originally published online during the lockdown. It is a story of hope and patience. It’s about the hard times and the good times and that together we will get through whatever the journey throws at us. Litchfield’s art is truly gorgeous and it is a perfect book for the ongoing now.

The Great Whipplethorp Bug Collection by Ben Brashares and Elizabeth Bergeland

Little, Brown has bought The Great Whipplethorp Bug Collection, written by Ben Brashares and illustrated by Elizabeth Bergeland. The picture book examines perceptions of masculinity as a boy tries to live up to the legacy of his ancestors and ultimately learns that “greatness” has many meanings. Publication is planned for spring 2021.

The Great Whipplethorp Bug collection is a fantastic story about family and the challenges of living up to the past. It is about being brave enough to be you and make your own choices. Its wonderfully told, full of energy, verve and humour and the protagonist shows more than a little ingenuity ans he steps out to forge his own path.

Felix after the Rain by Dunga Jogan and Olivia Helliwell

Felix’s grandma used to tell him that after the rain, comes the sunshine.

Felix is tired of carrying around his heavy, black suitcase filled with all his worries and woes, but he can’t seem to let go of it. Until one day a young boy opens up the suitcase and lets all the feelings escape! Felix learns that his grandma was right: sad feelings can’t last forever. Felix After the Rain is an uplifting story about a boy who learns to overcome his sadness by letting out his emotions.

A book about dealing with our problems and sharing them. Felix After the Rain is a clever way to discuss feelings. Visually eye-catching, it’s clever use of colour and light and dark is perfect for helping children understand the emotion in the text. It will show them that it is good to talk about any sad feelings, worry or anger they have. Powerful stuff about dealing with problems and the burdens we sometimes carry.

The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

In the tradition of Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House comes a heartfelt story about a father and son learning to accept the new while honoring and celebrating the old.

For as long as he can remember, Leo has lived in the blue house with his dad, but lately the neighborhood is changing. People are leaving, houses are being knocked down and shiny new buildings are going up in their place. When Leo and his dad are forced to leave, they aren’t happy about it. They howl and rage and dance out their feelings. When the time comes, they leave the blue house behind–there was never any choice, not really–but little by little, they find a way to keep its memory alive in their new home
.

This books is a delight. It deals brilliantly with idea of moving house and the impact that can have. It also cleverly looks at redevelopment and change. The single parent family relationship in the book is honest and true and depicts a family’s resillience amidst change.

Leo and the Gorgons Curse by Joe Todd-Stanton

Buried amongst the treasures in Professor Brownstone’s vaults, lie a humble collection of books. Filled with legendary stories from his ancestors, they tell of fearless fighters and unlikely heroes.

The 4th entry in the Brownstone’s Mythical Collection series follows Leo Brownstone, who’s been tasked with hunting a terrifying gorgon. But is the gorgon the menace everyone thinks it is?

I love Joe Todd Stanton’s Brownstone’s Mythical collection book and Leo is possibly the best yet. Visually stunning, vibrantly told. They are fantastic underdog stories where smarts and heart are worth more than muscles. the history details are sublimely used. Just fantastic stuff.

Driftwood Days by William Minniver and Charles Vess

Under autumn leaves, a boy watches a beaver build a dam. One of the branches slips away, carried downstream by the river. Through the changing seasons, the branch makes a long, epic journey to the sea, before finally getting tossed back onto shore. Changed by the elements, the branch—now driftwood—lies patiently on the beach, until the boy discovers it once again.

Featuring breathtaking artwork by Charles Vess, Driftwood Days offers readers a beautiful, multilayered story about nature, science, childhood, and change.

A visually stunning story of a stick, that takes us on a cyclical journey encompassing the transformation into driftwood. The text is poetic and sneaks its knowledge onto the reader whilst never pulling away from a gently satisfying tale. Grand stuff

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.

Cooper’s River is a wonderful meander down the Hudson River from the viewpoint of a young explorer on a canoe. Full of fact and detail and the book is a perfect accompaniment for studying rivers and change. Just about perfect.

Chapter Two is Missing by Josh Lieb and Kevin Cornell

Chapter Two is Missing is a hilarious picture book mystery starring a hopelessly lost narrator, an unqualified detective, and a very sneaky janitor, who are all surprised to discover that second chapter of the very book of which they are a part is–gasp–missing!

Do not be alarmed, but the second chapter of this book appears to be missing! It was here a minute ago, but now it seems to have simply walked off. Not only that, but some of the punctuation has gone topsy-turvy, a bunch of letter Ms are hiding in Chapter 5, and Chapter 45 appears to be from another book entirely! The narrator is going to need some assistance getting things in order, especially with the unhelpful detective who keeps butting in and that shifty janitor lurking about. Luckily he has you–the reader–to help! From Emmy winning comedy writer and producer Josh Lieb, Chapter Two is Missing is a hilarious whodunit, an irreverent look at storytelling, and perfect for fans of Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) and The Book With No Pictures

Anarchic and irreverent, Chapter Two is Missing is just brilliant entertaining fun. Sometimes that is all you need. By the way it really is missing. Brilliant to read and share with a class if you can stop them laughing enough to actually listen

Hope The list is useful.

More Picturebooks for Year 4 (list 3)

Here is list three for Year 4. I have tried to look at diversity and variety of theme. Hope its useful.

  1. Faraway Things by Dave Eggers and Kelly Murphy

From a bestselling author comes an evocative, classic-feeling adventure tale about a boy and his sword, and how giving away something precious leads to an even more important discovery.Lucian’s father called them faraway things, those mysterious objects orphaned upon the windswept shore, their stories long lost in the shroud of ocean fog. Lucian’s discovery on the beach this particular day, though, is no ordinary faraway thing. It’s a cutlass: strong, shiny, and powerful. As its history comes to light, Lucian faces a choice: cling to the sword he loves or accept a gift that shines farther, wider, and deeper than he could have ever dreamed.

Stunningly illustrated with evocative art by Kelly Murphy and written by award-winning and bestselling writer Dave Eggers, here is a profound and resonant tale about the reward of letting go.

Faraway Things is a book about choices. It’s dreamy and thoughtful. The sweeping art gives the book a widescreen feel and allows lots of discussion.It’s a gentle and joyous story about thinking about others rather than ourselves. As a school by the sea I can imagine us hunting for the storm left treasure. Delightful.

2. Moose of Ewenki by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane and Jui Er. Translated by Heken 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.

I love this beautiful and warm depiction of a traditional tale. The artwork is detailed and vibrant, full of energy and humour. For certain it is a book best read aloud, as it has the feel of a story told orally through generations over firelight. Its a great story about man’s relationship with nature and our part in the greater whole. Great for opening discussions on the nature of wild.

3. Everybody Counts by Kristen Roskifte

This fun book teaches you to count from 0 to 7.5 billion, but also to do so much more. Follow the characters’ stories through the book and see how their lives collide with those of others. There are a lot of secrets to be discovered for the sharp-eyed! You’ll see that everyone is different, everyone has their own life, and that—most importantly—everybody counts. At the end, a spotting section allows you to go back and have even more fun. This critically acclaimed book has been shortlisted for the prestigious Brage Prize in Norway, its country of origin.

This is a book that demands exploration, multiple narratives play out across the pages and the following and sequencing of those is fascinating. The scale and size of the numbers is brilliant to help children understand the the real scale of numbers. It’s full of whimsy and is more than a little quirky. It’s also full of subtle clues and questions. Perfect for a group explore.

4. Outside In by Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby

Outside is waiting, the most patient playmate of all. The most generous friend. The most miraculous inventor. Our connection with nature is not so easily obscured by lives spent indoors.

Outside In stunning and timely picture book. It is about our connection with nature. It is about that lure that nature has for us. Given the past 18 months it is is even more important that we help children make that connection with the outside. A real book for now and the future. With sparse, poetic language and beautiful illustrations this book reminds us of our connections with nature and how even inside our homes the outside world will find us. Whether its sunlight and moonlight streaming through our windows, birds heard singing in the trees or tapping on our roofs, insects we encounter that are seeking shelter, or the food and water we eat and drink, our lives are part of something greater. This is the perfect read for any child (or adult) who is feeling like a shut-in.

5. One Little Bag 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.

One Little Bag is a stunning wordless picturebook that starts becomes something very different to how it starts. It is a wonderful story of family and relationships of aging and time. Picture books don’t get any better than this. Perfect for discussions, the stunning detailed illustration make it perfect for using with groups for exploring narrative structures.

6. Freedom We Sing by Amrya 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 to ponder singer/songwriter Amyra León’s poem about what it means to be free. It’s the perfect book for parents who want a way to gently start the conversation with their kids about finding hope in these very tense times we are living in.

Gorgeous, timely, but so accessible.

With simple words and phrases in rhyme, FREEDOM WE SING is about what freedom means. To breathe is freedom and everyone wants to breathe in freedom. There are people from all over the world fighting for the chance to breathe free. Perfect for PSCHE discussion, the vibrant art sings and the words hum. A powerful beautiful book.

7. 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.

Birrarung Wilam is a takes us on a glorious journey along the Yarra river. It is an immersive poetic masterpiece that totally transports you. Full of detail and facts the journey meanders gently and beautifully. Its a stunning achievement.

8. Phoenix of Persia by Sally Pomme Clayton and Amen Hassanzadeh Sharif

In a bustling marketplace in Iran, a traditional storyteller regales her audience with the tale of Prince Zal and the Simorgh. High up on the Mountain of Gems lives the Simorgh, a wise phoenix whose flapping wings disperse the seeds of life across the world. When King Sam commands that his long-awaited newborn son Zal be abandoned because of his white hair, the Simorgh adopts the baby and raises him alongside her own chicks. She teaches him everything she knows. But when the king comes to regret his actions, Prince Zal will learn that the most important lesson of all is forgiveness.

The artwork in this picture book is gorgeous, and the accompanying music that can be accessed through a QR code is exquisite as well. . This is a moving story of betrayal, forgiveness, and loyalty beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated, it a fantastic different take on traditional tales.

9. Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns by Duncan Tonatiuh

Award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh brings an ancient Mesoamerican creation myth to life
 
Long ago, the gods of Mesoamerica set out to create humans. They tried many times during each sun, or age. When all their attempts failed and the gods grew tired, only one did not give up: Quetzalcóatl—the Feathered Serpent. To continue, he first had to retrieve the sacred bones of creation guarded by Mictlantecuhtli, lord of the underworld. Gathering his staff, shield, cloak, and shell ornament for good luck, Feathered Serpent embarked on the dangerous quest to create humankind.
 
Award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh brings to life the story of Feathered Serpent, one of the most important deities in ancient Mesoamerica. With his instantly recognizable, acclaimed art style and grand storytelling, Tonatiuh recounts a thrilling creation tale of epic proportions.

This is a stunning retelling of a Mesoamerican creation myth, chock full of determination, daring, helpers, and cunning. The journey undertaken by the Feathered Serpent, bent on a last attempt to create People after several earlier attempts have resulted in fish, birds, and animals, is mysterious and thrilling. The Tonatiuh’s illustrations nod to the source material imagery and the whole is a wonderful introduction to both the content and style of this mythology. A great book for introducing children to wider cultures and stories.

10. Boy and the Gorilla by Jackie Azua Kramer and Cindy Derby

This profoundly moving tale about a grieving boy and an imaginary gorilla makes real the power of talking about loss.

On the day of his mother’s funeral, a young boy conjures the very visitor he needs to see: a gorilla. Wise and gentle, the gorilla stays on to answer the heart-heavy questions the boy hesitates to ask his father: Where did his mother go? Will she come back home? Will we all die? Yet with the gorilla’s friendship, the boy slowly begins to discover moments of comfort in tending flowers, playing catch, and climbing trees. Most of all, the gorilla knows that it helps to simply talk about the loss—especially with those who share your grief and who may feel alone, too. Author Jackie Azúa Kramer’s quietly thoughtful text and illustrator Cindy Derby’s beautiful impressionistic artwork depict how this tender relationship leads the boy to open up to his father and find a path forward. Told entirely in dialogue, this direct and deeply affecting picture book will inspire conversations about grief, empathy, and healing beyond the final hope-filled scene. “Luminous.” Kirkus Starred Review.

A beautifully emotional book. This is the touching story of a young boy grieving the loss of his mother. With an imaginary gorilla by his side the boy asks all the questions he has been keeping inside. The gorilla thoughtfully provides some answers and helps him connect with his father. The topic of death is a hard story to tell but this book delicately provides an opening for children and parents to talk about something so painful. Brilliant for PSCHE and smaller group conversations.

Hope the list is useful.

More Picturebooks for Year 5

Here is my third list of picturebooks for Year 5. The lists have all been carefully curated. Hope it’s useful.

I Talk Like A River by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith

What if words got stuck in the back of your mouth whenever you tried to speak? What if they never came out the way you wanted them to? Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to get the words flowing.

I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.

And I can’t say them all . . .

When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he’d like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father’s ability to reconnect a child with the world around him.

Sydney Smith has to be one of my favourite illustrators so every book by him is a must buy. However the pairing with Poet Jordan Scott for his auto-biographical account of dealing with a stutter takes Smith’s work to a new level. This book has a beauty and honesty that truly strikes a chord. It is an amazing book for starting discussions with pupils about dealing with problems and the challenges they face. Stunning art and powerful words combine to create a true book of truth (PSCHE links)

Bartali’s Bicycle by Megan Hoyt and Iacopo Bruno

Author Megan Hoyt and illustrator Iacopo Bruno bring to light the inspiring, true story of Gino Bartali, a beloved Italian cyclist and secret champion in the fight for Jewish lives during World War II.

Gino Bartali pedaled across Italy for years, winning one cycling race after another, including the 1938 Tour de France. Gino became an international sports hero! But the next year, World War II began, and it changed everything. Soldiers marched into Italy. Tanks rolled down the cobbled streets of Florence. And powerful leaders declared that Jewish people should be arrested.

To the entire world, Gino Bartali was merely a champion cyclist. But Gino’s greatest achievement was something he never told a soul—that he secretly worked with the Italian resistance to save hundreds of Jewish men, women, and children, and others, from certain death, using the one thing no authority would question: his bicycle.

This compelling nonfiction picture book for elementary-age readers offers a unique perspective on World War II history. It’s a strong choice for units on the war and for biographies of lesser-known heroes in history and in sports.

This absolutely riveting story is a must-read for a Year 5 classroom. I didn’t know Gino Bartali’s story, and his acts of courage and resistance should be celebrated. “This is not right. I must do something to help” is a powerful though and one which all children should understand. This story may just inspire them to take the next steps in standing up to injustice in their own communities and knowing that individual actions can make a real difference. A cracking story and a brilliant message. (History WW2 links)

Alien Nation by Sandro Bassi

A wordless wonder of a picture book, reminiscent of David Wiesner and Chris Van Allsburg. An unforgettable subway ride in an alien world filled with truths of our own.

Alien Nation is a stunning wordless picturebook. It asks us lots of questions about how phone lead us to disconnecting with our world. It’s perfect for discussion and exploration but also for inspiring writing, every page is utterly stunning. (PSCHE, Writing links)

Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem by Lauren Soloy

Etty Darwin and her famous father go for a walk to ponder life, science . . . and fairies! Inspired by the real-life daughter of Charles Darwin.

Etty loves make-believe.
Her dad loves science.
Etty believes in fairies.
Her dad would need to see some proof that they exist.
But they both love nature, conversation and each other.

A gorgeous rumination on belief and imagination featuring Henrietta (Etty) Darwin and her famous father, Charles. Etty went on to become a valued and keen editor of Charles’s work and a thoughtful and intellectual being in her own right. This imagined conversation between Etty and Charles as they stroll around Charles’s real-life thinking track explores their close relationship and shows that even science is nothing without an open mind and imagination.

A great book for creating discussion, it could be used with younger children though we found it worked really well with year 5 to discuss the nature of evidence in science (All teachers should read it). It is a book about imagination and science and that one does not exist without the other (Science links)

Worlds Poorest President Speaks Out by Yoshima Kasuba and Gaku Nakafawa

“A poor person is not someone who has little, but one who needs infinitely more, and more, and more.” Thus spoke Jose Mujica, then the President of Uruguay, before the United Nations in 2012. Paraphrasing the wisdom of the great thinker Seneca, he asked the world to question the dogma of consumption that has driven us into environmental and economic crisis. Often referred to as the worlds “poorest” president, in part because of his practice of donating 90% of his $12,000 monthly salary to charity, Jose Mujica lived his words and proved that one need not have money to be rich. In The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out, Jose Mujica’s famous speech comes to life as he asks us to remember our neighbors, our children, and the Earth.

A fantastic book based on Jose Mujica’s Speech to the United Nations. Thought-provoking and challenging the book helps pupils explore their values and what they believe is important. The text is a direct translation of his speech and as such is not dumbed down for children and is all the better for that. Great themes that will lead to fantastic discussions and possibly even action. (PSCHE, Environmental links)

Wishes by Muon Thi Van and Victo Ngai

An arresting, poetic journey and a moving reflection on immigration, family, and home, from an acclaimed creative team.
Wishes tells the powerful, honest story about one Vietnamese family’s search for a new home on the other side of the world, and the long-lasting and powerful impact that makes on the littlest member of the family. Inspired by actual events in the author’s life, this is a narrative that is both timely and timeless. Told through the eyes of a young girl, the story chronicles a family’s difficult and powerful journey to pack up what they can carry and to leave their world behind, traveling to a new and unknown place in a crowded boat. With sparse, poetic, and lyrical text from acclaimed author Muon Thi Van, thoughtful back matter about the author’s connection to the story, and luminous, stunning illustrations from Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree Victo Ngai, Wishes tells a powerful and timely story in a gentle and approachable way for young children and their families.
With themes of kindness, bravery, hope, and love running throughout, Wishes is a must-have book for every child’s bookshelf

“The clock wished it was slower.
The path wished it was shorter.
The boat wished it was bigger.”

Inspired by the author’s own family, this story serves as such an important window into the heartbreak, hope, sacrifice, and courage that are part of becoming a refugee. It is a stunningly illustrated story with simple words that truly capture the heartbreak and truth of the refugee experience. It is a fantastic book for exploring the emotions and feelings but also for generating understanding and empathy.

On Wings of Words by Jennifer Berne and Becca Stadtlander

An inspiring and kid-accessible biography of one of the world’s most famous poets.

Emily Dickinson, who famously wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” is brought to life in this moving story. In a small New England town lives Emily Dickinson, a girl in love with small things—a flower petal, a bird, a ray of light, a word. In those small things, her brilliant imagination can see the wide world—and in her words, she takes wing. From celebrated children’s author Jennifer Berne comes a lyrical and lovely account of the life of Emily Dickinson: her courage, her faith, and her gift to the world. With Dickinson’s own inimitable poetry woven throughout, this lyrical biography is not just a tale of prodigious talent, but also of the power we have to transform ourselves and to reach one another when we speak from the soul.

On Wings of Words is a fabulous introduction to the Emily Dickenson and her poetry. It is a brilliant launchpad for exploring her work and gives us a brilliant insight into her and how that inspired her poetry (poetry links)

I’d pair it with this which is a great collection of her poems for primary children

The Giant and the Sea by Trent Jamieson and Rovina Cai

A giant stands on the shore, watching the sea. She never moves, never speaks, until the day she turns to a little girl and says, ‘The sea is rising.’

The brave girl takes the message to the town. But when the people refuse to listen, the giant must find another way to save them.

Perfect for the children of the Climate Strike, this is a lyrical and deeply moving story about climate change, standing up for what you believe in, and the power of hope

A stunningly illustrated environmental fable about bravery and standing up for your beliefs. Just a fantastic story for now. This story is about climate change and environmental activism but it is told through the lens of the courage and determination of a young girl who listens to the world around her and has the bravery to stand up to those adults ostensibly more powerful than herself. It is a beautiful, powerful and moving story (Geography/Literacy links)

Your Place In The Universe by Jason Chin

Your Place in the Universe introduces readers to the mind-boggling scale of the known Universe.

Most eight-year-olds are about five times as tall as this book… but only half as tall as an ostrich, which is half as tall as a giraffe… twenty times smaller than a California Redwood! How do they compare to the tallest buildings? To Mt. Everest? To stars, galaxy clusters, and . . . the universe?

Jason Chin has an astounding knack of combining complex knowledge and making it utterly accessible to children. “Your place in the Universe” is probably his finest example of doing this. It takes us on a mind-blowing journey across the universe whilst simultaneously helping us understand the the scale. Extraordinary work (Science links)

The Barnabus Project by Eric Fan, Terry Fan and Devin Fan

In a world built for Perfect Pets, Barnabus is a Failed Project, half mouse, half elephant, kept out of sight until his dreams of freedom lead him and his misfit friends on a perilous adventure. A stunning picture book from international bestsellers The Fan Brothers, joined by their brother Devin Fan.

Deep underground beneath Perfect Pets, where children can buy genetically engineered “perfect” creatures, there is a secret lab. Barnabus and his friends live in this lab, but none of them is perfect. They are all Failed Projects. Barnabus has never been outside his tiny bell jar, yet he dreams of one day seeing the world above ground that his pal Pip the cockroach has told him about: a world with green hills and trees, and buildings that reach all the way to the sky, lit with their own stars. But Barnabus may have to reach the outside world sooner than he thought, because the Green Rubber Suits are about to recycle all Failed Projects . . . and Barnabus doesn’t want to be made into a fluffier pet with bigger eyes. He just wants to be himself. So he decides it’s time for he and the others to escape. With his little trunk and a lot of cooperation and courage, Barnabus sets out to find freedom — and a place where he and his friends can finally be accepted for who they are.

This suspenseful, poignant and magical story about following your dreams and finding where you truly belong will draw readers into a surreal, lushly detailed world in which perfection really means being true to yourself and your friends.

What initially looks quite a cute book is actually full of challenging themes around our need for perfection and the manipulation of things create that perfection. It’s wonderfully imaginative and is just wonderful for inspiring writing and setting the imagination free.

Were I Not A Girl by Lisa Robinson and Lauren Simkin Berke

This unique picture book biography tells the story of Dr. James Barry, born female, who lived as a man from age 18 to his death.

Like other girls of her time, Margaret Bulkley didn’t go to school. She wouldn’t grow up to own property, be a soldier, a doctor, or hold any job other than perhaps maid or governor–such was a girl’s lot in 19th century England. And was she comfortable born in a girl’s body? We will never know. What we do know is that at the age of 18, she tugged off her stockings and dress, cut her red-gold curls, and vanished. In her place appeared a young man. Margaret became James Barry. James would attend medical school, become a doctor and a soldier, travel the world. He would fall in love, deliver babies, and fight in a duel. And he would live a rich full life.

Here is a picure book that is both a fascinating and sensitively drawn portrait of someone who would not be undervalued, and an important introduction to the concept of gender identity.

An amazing life story brilliantly told without hyperbole. The book just made me want to find out more. Great for inspiring discussion about societal roles and expectations and an interesting lens on now. (PHSCE links)

New Girl by Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher

A child starts a new school in a strange new town. The children in her class are hostile towards her and unhappy about the stranger in their midst, refusing to include her. The girl’s response is to create something beautiful that transforms their attitude towards her and their vision of themselves and their own lives in this inspiring story.
Written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Cathy Fisher.

Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher are a picturebook dream team. New Girl is a fantastic story of a “new girl” coming to a school. It’s massively powerful and completely heart-wrenching but ultimately redemptive. A great book to help children explore the impact of their action and very pertinent in the current climate (PSCHE links)

William Still and his Freedom Stories by Don Tate

The little-known story of William Still, known as the Father of the Underground Railroad.

William Still’s parents escaped slavery but had to leave two of their children behind, a tragedy that haunted the family. As a young man, William went to work for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, where he raised money, planned rescues, and helped freedom seekers who had traveled north. And then one day, a strangely familiar man came into William’s office, searching for information about his long-lost family. Could it be?

Motivated by his own family’s experience, William began collecting the stories of thousands of other freedom seekers. As a result, he was able to reunite other families and build a remarkable source of information, including encounters with Harriet Tubman, Henry “Box” Brown, and William and Ellen Craft.

This is a fantastic and largely untold story. The inspiring story of William Still, an abolitionist, businessman, and author, who had been eulogized as “The Father of the Underground Railroad,” yet few know his name. Still collected information about the men and women escaping slavery through the Underground Railroad. Among these were the extraordinary stories of Henry “Box” Brown, who spent 28 hours in a wooden crate to freedom, and William and Ellen Craft, the latter fair enough to pose as a male slave owner with his slave. William Still’s own family story was just as remarkable, reunited with his brother, Peter, who had been left behind when their parents escaped slavery. The illustrations are vibrant and the text easy to read. A great introduction to a lesser known champion of the abolitionist movement. (Black History Links)

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood and Sally Wern

From award-winning author Susan Hood and illustrator Sally Wern Comport comes the extraordinary true tale of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, an orchestra made up of children playing instruments built from recycled trash.

Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.

An inspiring story showcasing that music does change lives! This book can lead to some awesome conversations about poverty, using resources, recycling, and more. (Geography/Environment links)

Hope this list is helpful

Year 4 coming soon.

More Picturebooks for Year 6. (List 3)

This is my third list of picturebooks for Year 6.

I still believe it is a massively untapped resource for inspiring children especially as they get older. They inspire discussion, question, thought and inference. They are key tools in inspiring writing and helping children understand narrative structures. They are complex and creative yet all children can enter.

This selection of books have all been released in the last two years and appeared on my Favourite book lists.

I’ve broken the books down into the year groups I feel they would work best in. (lists for other year groups will drip out over the summer). They are however usable in other year groups.

  1. What is a River? By Monika Viacenaviciene

“Rivers have many powers: they carry sediments and sentiments, revive lands and minds, connect places and times. They are sources of life and of conflict; paths of stories travelling the Earth. Their flow continually reminds us – we all live downstream, or upstream, from someone, we are all neighbours.

“What Is a River?” is a picture book is about rivers and the plentiful connections they have with us, humans. It follows a child and her grandma as they look for answers to a question – what is a river? In their imaginary expedition, they discover rivers flowing in the sky and living organisms; meet pilgrims and conquistadores, magical shape-shifting river dolphins and older-than-dinosaurs species of sturgeons; fish and bathe; and explore many other things.

Drawing on geographical, historical, mythological references, and personal observations, the book brings together both factually accurate and poetic storytelling to create a story of interconnectedness and wonder.”

Monika Viacenaviciene website

“What is a River?” is a beautiful, complex and poetic non-fiction book. Full of detail but equally profound and thoughtful, it is completely a book to get lost in. Wonderful for inspiring conversation and discussion about the importance of Rivers in our lives. It’s a wonderful book for Year 6. Full of prompts for questions and discussion. Fact-packed but philosophical. It will inspire writing, poetry and art as well as making children think differently about the world around them. (Geography/Science/PSCHE links)

2. Starcrossed by Julia Denos

She was made of blood and bones, and he was made of space and stars.
Back in a time when there were still students of the stars, there were two friends, Acamar and Eridani.
Eridani was a star pupil studying the night skies, and Acamar . . . well, he was made of the stuff she studied.
In a star-crossed twist of fate, these long-distance friends find they’ve wished themselves into unexpected new worlds.”

from Goodreads

“Starcrossed” is an utterly astounding story of intergalactic friendship and love. The utterly sublime illustrations (They almost sparkle) take us on a journey across the stars. It’s a complex and fascinating story about appreciating the things we have, understanding others and dreaming big. It’s full of science and art. A book that will take you to different places and open your eyes to the stars. (Science/PSCHE links)

3. House by the lake by Thomas Hardy and Britta Teckantrup

“History comes home in a deeply moving, exquisitely illustrated tale of a small house, taken by the Nazis, that harbors a succession of families–and becomes a quiet witness to a tumultuous century.

The days went around like a wheel.
The sun rose, warming the walls of the house.

On the outskirts of Berlin, Germany, a wooden cottage stands on the shore of a lake. Over the course of a hundred years, this little house played host to a kind Jewish doctor and his family, a successful Nazi composer, wartime refugees, and a secret-police informant. During that time, as a world war came and went and the Berlin Wall arose just a stone’s throw from the back door, the house filled up with myriad everyday moments. And when that time was over, and the dwelling was empty and derelict, the great-grandson of the man who built the house felt compelled to bring it back to life and listen to the story it had to tell. Illuminated by Britta Teckentrup’s magnificent illustrations, Thomas Harding’s narration reads like a haunting fairy tale–a lyrical picture-book rendering of the story he first shared in an acclaimed personal history for adult readers.”

Goodreads blurb

A clever journey through a period of time. This historical picture book offers a glimpse of different times in history, but all at the same location: at a little, wooden house by the side of a lake. History happens around the house, and the house plays a vital role in many peoples lives. The book encourages questions and follow-up. It doesn’t give all the answers and is all the better for that. What it does however is allow us to see the passage of time in what was a tumultuous period of history. (History links 1920-now)

I’d also recommend exploring “The House” by J P Lewis and Roberto Innocenti and The Apartment by Alexandra Litvina and Anna Desnitskaya which do similar looks at history.

4. Story of Bodri by Hedi Fried and Stina Wirsen

“Hédi spends her days playing with her dog Bodri in the park, but her quiet world starts to crumble the day she hears Adolf Hitler on the radio. Germany’s leader hates her and her family, just because they are Jewish. And Hitler doesn’t even know them—it doesn’t make any sense. Soon Nazi Germany invades Hédi’s country, and her life changes forever.

Inspired by the author’s experiences.”

Goodreads blurb

“The Story of Bodri” is a true and powerful story, simply told. The illustrations perfectly give it feel of a timeless story and evoke a bygone era. The story is ultimately hopeful, but reminds us that this is a story not to be repeated. Never Again. (History/Holocaust links)

5. Nicky and Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sis

In 1938, twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Winton saved the lives of almost 700 children trapped in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia—a story he never told and that remained unknown until an unforgettable TV appearance in the 1980s reunited him with some of the children he saved.

Czech-American artist, MacArthur Fellow, and Andersen Award winner Peter Sís dramatizes Winton’s story in this distinctive and deeply personal picture book. He intertwines Nicky’s efforts with the story of one of the children he saved—a young girl named Vera, whose family enlisted Nicky’s aid when the Germans occupied their country. As the war passes and Vera grows up, she must find balance in her dual identities—one her birthright, the other her choice.

Nicky Vera is a masterful tribute to a humble man’s courageous efforts to protect Europe’s most vulnerable, and a timely portrayal of the hopes and fears of those forced to leave their homes and create new lives.

Goodreads blurb

A brilliant true story of how small acts of defiance can make a real difference. Peter Sis has long been one of my favourite picturebook creators and this is possibly his finest yet. It is a quiet story of rebellion and bravery and about doing the right thing. Sis’s illustrations are wonderful and he just inspires exploration into the detail. Inspiring stuff. It also has one of the greatest television clips ever see below. (History/Holocaust links)

6. Bowl full of Peace by Caren Stelson and Sachiko Yasui

Caren Stelson brings Sachiko Yasui’s story of surviving the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and her message of peace to a young audience.

Sachiko’s family home was about half a mile from where the atomic bomb fell on August 9, 1945. Her family experienced devastating loss. When they returned to the rubble where their home once stood, her father miraculously found their serving bowl fully intact. This delicate, green, leaf-shaped bowl–which once held their daily meals–now holds memories of the past and serves as a vessel of hope, peace, and new traditions for Sachiko and the surviving members of her family.

Goodreads blurb

I cannot recommend this true story of the bombing of Nagasaki and its impact on one small girl and her family enough. The story doesn’t shy away from the impact of war on the people involved. It provides a very different perspective on the end of the second World War and highlights the human impact of the actions taken. The story is a beautifully told true story and completely need wider sharing (History links)

7. Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Michele 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,

Goodreads blurb

This is a powerful retelling of the story of Henry Brown, who traveled to freedom inside a box. .
This nonfiction picture book tells the story in short, effective six-line poems. The book also covers significant parts of his life before and afterwards. It provides a stark window into the context and institution of slavery, rather than just focusing on his escape, and also covers some of his abolitionist activities afterwards. An important story well told. Carole Boston Weatherford is an important writer and the stories she tell need wider sharing (History/ Black History/ Civil rights links)

I’d also recommend Unspeakable:The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by the late Floyd Cooper

8. Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin

Gathering watercress by the side of the road brings a girl closer to her family’s Chinese Heritage.

Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Grabbing an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail covered watercress as they can.

At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family get food from the grocery store? But when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress.

Andrea Wang tells a moving autobiographical story of a child of immigrants discovering and connecting with her heritage, illustrated by award winning author and artist Jason Chin, working in an entirely new style, inspired by Chinese painting techniques. An author’s note in the back shares Andrea’s childhood experience with her parents.

Goodreads blurb

This book is absolutely stunning. Wang’s poetic narrative and Chin’s watercolor paintings provide an emotional punch. The book at first is a family story and and end up being a Hi-story. It’s quiet and contemplative. The switch from colour to sepia is truly powerful.
This book looks at pain and poverty. But, it also centers how we, humans, and particularly this Chinese American family move through trauma by creating new memories of joy, family, and food. It explores the lived experiences of first generation Chinese American children, Chinese immigration, Chinese history, memory, food, family. It is a truly stunning picturebook. (family/History/PSCHE)

9. Fox by Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egneus

“In the frost-covered forest of early spring, fox is on a mission to find food for her three cubs. As they grow, she teaches them how to survive in the wild. Until one day, fox dies. Her body goes back to earth and grass and air, nourishing the world around her and bringing the forest to life. Death is not just an end, it’s also a beginning.

Fox: A Circle of Life Story answers the big scientific question: What happens when we die?

Bringing together an evocative non-fiction narrative with breath-taking illustrations, this book will help parents and children to talk about life and death. It introduces the scientific concept that death leads to new life, and that this way of understanding the world is no less beautiful and awe-inspiring than traditional stories.

Fox: A Circle of Life Story unites story and science to explain this big concept to children who have lost a pet or a loved one, or who simply are curious about death and what happens after we die.”

goodreads blurb

“Fox” is an utterly brilliant science picturebook. It explains the circle of life without compromising on its message. It doesn’t shy away from the facts and Egneus’s art creates an uncompromising narrative with moments of high tension. It is wonderful for exploring concepts of life and death, but does it in almost matter of fact way, which leads to great conversations with children. Fantastic stuff. (Science/PSCHE links)

I’d also use “A last Goodbye” by Erin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim. A Fantastic, poetic and Science packed look at death in the animal world

10. The Wanderer by Peter Van Den Ende

“Without a word, van den Ende presents one little paper boat’s journey across the ocean, past reefs and between icebergs, through schools of fish, swaying water plants, and terrifying sea monsters. The little boat is all alone, and while its aloneness gives it the chance to wonder at the fairy-tale world above and below the waves uninterrupted, that also means it must save itself when it storms. And so it does.”

A complete wordless powerhouse. Complex and beautiful, full of layers of inter-connected story. Utterly astounding and completely dazzling, this is a stunning journey of a book.

For me “The Wanderer” is a natural successor to the Journey. Its a wild, creative, abstract tour de force. It’s illustrations are extraordinary and just inspire language and discussion. Its a book to inspire children to tell stories, every picture is an adventure. Totally stunning.

Bonus books Humpty Dumpty lived near a wall by Derek Hughes and Nathan Christopher

“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.

I want to include it as its a fantastic story about rebellion and challenging the status quo. Is there a more valuable lesson we can teach our children.

Hope the list is useful.

Year 5 list 3 coming soon

You can’t handle the truth!

We have a new ever present danger.

Research into education is a good thing, the best research provides with ways forward to improve our work, it equally provides more questions than answers, it asks us to explore, to question, to think and reflect on the teaching in our schools. Good things that we should all aspire to but… 

And it’s a big BUT… 

We must be careful not to make assumptions, we must remain open to things working and not working, we must THINK!  

In reality we must step back and question, what evidence?, where is it from?, does it apply?, Is it relevant?, and most importantly how is it being used? 

There are too many cases of research being shoe-horned to fit an ideological argument. Research is currently brandished by some as a flaming sword of justice to smite unbelievers and castigate the unclean.

Research is cherry-picked, bent and twisted to support an argument and back an approach, selling an ideology is seemingly more important than whether it actually may or may not work. 

The worst thing we can do is blindly accept approaches because the author claims its “evidence informed” 

Personally I think “evidence informed” is the most dangerous phrase in education at the moment. It’s dangerous because it has become short-hand for do it this way. It’s a phrase that is constantly being used. It’s used to stop discussion, it’s used to prevent critique.

I am amazed at how many proponents of research in education try to shut down challenge and ignore alternative research. I am horrified that “evidence informed” has become synonymous shorthand for the “one true educational way” being sold to us from an increasing number of “edu-pushers” selling the next silver-bullet fix. The phrase is dropped to close–down argument, to “shhh!” challenging voices. Opposition is belittled and sneered at.  

Conversely some people are happy to run on anecdotes if it suits their cause. Evidence apparently only counts if it suits them, other evidence is cast aside. The quest for truth is less important than the quest for control.  

We are at a pivotal moment. We need some truth and honesty. Increasingly education is feeling done to rather than done with. All is done under the banner of research-informed and woe betide those who stand in front of this belligerent steamroller on it reckless journey. 

Research has now been weaponised. The question is Do we want research to control us or to set us free?