Longer Read Book of the Year…The Lost Magician by Piers Torday.

Lost

That’s the question that firmly drives Piers Torday’s brilliant ‘The Lost Magician’.

Are you a Read or an Unread?

Which side are you on? Piers pitches us into a bitter caustic war between story and fact. Whilst admittedly fueled by his love of the work of C.S.Lewis, this is undeniably its own beast, and completely stands on its own two feet.

From the moment i took the dust jacket off and saw the superb under the jacket design I knew I was in for a treat. It is a book made with love.

Lost 2

When Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door in 1945 having survived the Blitz , it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet. They discover the magical world of Folio, where an enchanted kingdom is under threat from a sinister robot army. The  stories of the Library are locked in eternal war, and the children’s only hope is to find their creator.  It is  war between harsh fact which tries to reduce everything to data and the imagination of story and creativity with the untold menace of utter ignorance awaiting its moment.

There are so many talking points and references to the now  and whilst the book is a love letter to libraries and the power of children’s literature,  ultimately it is a book about balance and compromise; of needing and benefiting from differences. For me the key truth is that stories  are not just entertainment but provide us with the universal truth of what it means to be human and that they too teach us things, help us to learn and develop and have true value and importance. Fact is world run on facts alone would be a sad place indeed.

A definite future classic IMO.

Age range  Year 5/6 pupils and up

This would make a perfect class read with so much to talk about

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Picturebook of the Year… Me and my Fear by Francesca Sanna

Fear

‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna is one of my favourite picturebooks ever, a beautifully told tale of forced migration told with heart and love.

Bookblog No4 The Journey by Francesca Sanna

With ‘Me and My Fear’ Sanna  takes us on that next step. What happens when we find a new home and place. Starting a brand-new school as a refugee, unable to speak or understand the language, a young girl relies on her devoted companion, Fear.

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Fear is not presented as something to be scared of,  more as a thing that is trying to protect us. Fear is soft and round, it is the bubble we put around ourselves to stop things hurting. The problem becomes that fear becomes our barrier to moving forward and dominates our thoughts and behaviours. Realising how we all have those fears and how we control and manage them is key. Sharing this book with children was wonderful to behold especially how they talked about how they could and would help.

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As it grows in size from a cute companion  into a fully-grown monster, children will recognize the difference between a little healthy fear and allowing fear to take control. We all have fears that a children’s picturebook so bravely addresses this makes it a treasure to behold.

The simplicity of the story makes it perfect for KS1 but it equally has a profound message for older children too.

Good teaching is the answer…Getting there is hard work.

ebp.ebmTeachers are operating in interesting times. We are increasingly becoming an evidence based profession, I am however more than ever convinced that teaching is… well more. If we ignore the evidence from our schools we miss opportunities to truly learn what works.

Comprehension is a long and wide game.

I believe in teaching and more importantly I believe in great teaching. Being a good teacher isn’t easy, It’s a complex job. W.C Fields famously said, “Never work with animals or children.” But as well as providing the greatest challenge the greatest joy we have within teaching is that we are working with young people. I’m concerned that sometimes this key relationship, this alchemy, gets lost in the rush for evidence based practice.

There is a magic apparent when you see great teaching, an indefinable something that makes your heart sing. There are so many factors that come together to make great teaching, trying to define it is always problematic. I have seen too many occasions where something that worked in one class goes on to crash and burn in another.  I think I can recognise the whiff of snake-oil  when it’s about . If there is a common factor that characterises great teaching then I believe that at its core is the trusting and honest relationship between the teacher and the children. I realise this is not a new idea and that I will not sell textbooks and training packages off the back of it but just try a bit of completely non-scientific evidence gathering. Ask ten people what the most positive memory of their education is and I would bet my elbow patches that most reply with a tale of a teacher, a person, a relationship.

Some people seem desperate to make out that teaching can just be a formula, do A then B and child will learn C. (packaged  and sold…job done) The key issue as I see it is how we measure learning if the measures are flawed then they will only point teaching in one direction. Improved results in exams will only align the direction of travel towards doing better at that thing. Time and again we see evidence of children getting better at the thing we measure. Does that genuinely mean the teaching is better or does it just mean we’ve just got better at ensuring children can do that thing.  Speak to a seventeen year old about the stuff they learnt for GCSE it is amazing how much has dispersed into the ether, never truly learnt. Cognitive science may help us to help children remember stuff but it doesn’t hold all the answers however much some would want you to believe that it does.

Hyperbole-What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

So where does this leave our evidence based profession? Talk of alchemy and magic is hardly helpful in pushing the research agenda. We need to nurture the craft, the art of teaching. I look at my early years of teaching through interlaced fingers from behind the sofa, I have to admit some of it was a bit duff. But I was given time to develop and I did I became a good teacher. I worked hard at it, I read, I tried stuff and some of it worked. I feel for NQTs who are expected to deliver from the moment they step through the door. I worry that so many leave the profession just when they are getting good. They are not given the space and support to hone their craft.

There has been a big push for our teaching to be informed by research and the scientific method and that is no bad thing. Finding the most effective ways to teach can only help us impact more effectively on the life chances for all our pupils. Teachers that are more knowledgeable about what works, more reflective on the impact of their teaching can only be a good thing. However, the key word there is knowledgeable. I do find it odd that research seems to be increasingly used to shut down debate rather than open it up. There seems to be an increasing consensus to shut down exploration into things rather than open up avenues of research.  Quality research should inform our practice but we need to be wary of assuming there is a ‘silver bullet.’

Access to research  whilst helpful is not the answer either as there is a big issue that is often ignored, many teachers are not skilled in reading research and science and are not taught how to interpret it critically, in other words how to become knowledgeable. In my time, I have had numerous shiny initiatives thrust into my classroom from SLT’s looking for ‘the answer’ like a post Easter egg dieter extolling the virtues of the latest nutribullet recipe book. But like many of the fad diets pedalled in magazines, these educational revolutions were frequently poorly researched and tenuously linked to a very weak evidence base and alas never ‘the answer’. Learning Styles anyone? In my view, too much research sold to teachers as evidence, is in scientific terms not particularly robust. There are too many variables, sample sizes are often negligible and measures applied are often not based within theoretical frameworks. Research is often funded to fit an agenda and being aware of publication bias is important but ensuring a critical reading of research is the crux of the issue. How many educators have gone back to the original research rather than had a package pushed their way being promoted as the thing that will solve their problems? How many teachers and education leaders have read the limitations of the research outlined by the researchers themselves. Scientists know that research builds an evidence base it never provides proof.  Picking out the valuable stuff is not easy. Picking it out without bias is even trickier; we are all sadly prone to confirmation bias. I see lots of practice in schools that is jumping on the latest bandwagon adopted with an uncritical eye. Knowledge rich curriculums/ knowledge organisers/ vocabulary fixes put in schools without true thought o looking for a quick fix. Yet those schools that are doing these things well have spent significant time getting it wrong, adapting the practice. Most would admit to making plenty of missteps on the way. Getting it right is hardwork.

Good Teaching…what is it in your school?

So, with regards to using research evidence in the classroom I would say I am healthily sceptical. As the good Psychology graduate I am, I read a lot, I question more. Good teachers deal in evidence based practice every day. If we encourage staff to be reflective and explore what works in their class they often find the things that make the difference. This may be enhanced by understanding the research but replacing personal insight with off the shelf packages rarely shows impact beyond the initial placebo effect.  During the last 23 years, I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time in other people’s classrooms. I say privilege because that is what is, to watch someone teach well is a wonderful thing. A great teacher makes all the difference. If you want children to make great progress then frankly there is no other solution. In our schools, the priority has to be creating the systems that allow our teachers to be great. There is no easy route to that. It is hard work, it takes time, focus and effort, there is no ‘silver bullet’. Teaching is a craft, it is something to be honed not solved.  By all means be informed by good research ( not all of it is ) but be mindful that it might not help you to teach fronted adverbials to an excitable year 5 class on a rainy November afternoon. For that, you might need to use a bit of imagination, expertise and the artistic nature of your craft.

Behaviour 101…A behaviour master class.

This is my pitch for DfE behaviour funding.  After discussing with the issue @HeyMissSmith and @greg_ashman I have designed a fundamental behaviour program to support teachers in getting it right in their class. On looking further at the techniques I realised very quickly this was not for beginners. This approach is for master crraftsmen only…

These techniques are not for the faint-hearted or the weak-willed. They require a steely determination, an unwavering focus and the ability to go where others fear to tread. This is why I am classing this as a master’s level program. This is not for beginners, this is definitely not for the faint-hearted. This five step program if mastered will change your classroom and you.

the-stare

1 THE STARE(TM)/THE SILENCE(TM)

Imagine the scene… a child is chatting at the back of the class, or catching Pokemon on their mobile- phone, or even worse gazing out the window at the majestic herds of wildebeast as they roam across the plains. The first step is THE STARE (TM).  Focus your gaze on the individual in question, they do not even have to be looking at you. This must be accompanied by absolute THE SILENCE (TM), if you were in the middle of an explanation stop immediately. Maintain THE STARE (TM), do not take your eyes off the individual. Other eyes in the class will follow the direction of your gaze, quadrupling the power of THE STARE (TM). The increasing atmospheric pressure in the room will ultimately step into the consciousness of the individual in question. You must without fail maintain THE STARE (TM) until the individual in question becomes aware of THE STARE (TM) and makes eye-contact at that point move onto Step 2

arms crossed

2 THE ARM-FOLD(TM)

Once eye contact is made it is time for THE ARM-FOLD (TM). Without relinquishing THE STARE (TM) slowly, actually incredibly slowly (A bit like you’re in slow motion) move your arms into THE ARM-FOLD (TM) position as seen in the diagram above. You must them maintain this position for exactly 23 seconds longer than feels natural or comfortable. You are now ready for Step 3.

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3  THE CLOCK LOOK(TM)

This is a quick move and requires precise timing to get it right. You will need either a watch or a clock in the class or on your person. if it’s a clock ideally it will be out of the eye line of THE STARE (TM). briefly do THE CLOCK LOOK (TM)* directing your gaze to your watch breaking THE STARE (TM) and THE ARM-FOLD (TM). Once you’ve carried out THE CLOCK LOOK (TM) then instantly return to THE STARE (TM) whilst repeating THE ARM-FOLD (TM). An optional ‘tut’ maybe added at this point. You are now ready for Step 4

*the purpose of THE CLOCK LOOK (TM) is to imply ‘you’ve wasted my time, now I’m going to waste yours.’

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4 THE WHISPER(TM)

You are now ready for THE WHISPER (TM).  Once you are assured that you have the pupil’s attention through use of the techniques above you must then employ THE WHISPER (TM). This is an almost inaudible voice (it only works if you have successfully deployed Steps 1-3) you must then directly use THE WHISPER (TM) against the miscreant. What you whisper is key please go straight to Step 5.

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5 THE DISAPPOINTMENT(TM)

Whilst maintaining THE STARE (TM) using THE WHISPER (TM) you must then say my specially designed behaviour management sentence “I am not upset…Im just disappointed.” This is THE DISAPPOINTMENT (TM). Please do not play around with this sentence, it has been rigorously researched adapting the sentence invalidates the training warranty.

You should now be fully in control of your class…

I am available for staff training, weddings and major festivals.

 

My Top 10 Picturebooks 2018 (actually 13)

I have to say picking my 10 favourite picturebooks this year has been almost impossible, I have another fifty or so bubbling under. So i just closed my eyes and saw which ones kept coming back to me. Now thinking about how to use all these in school next year. They would all be fantastic in primary classrooms. Maybe somebody would like to help me plan what to do with them?

 

The Visitor by Antje Dam

“Elise was frightened–of spiders, people, even trees. So she never went out, night or day.
One day a strange thing flies in through the window and lands at her feet. And then there comes a knock at the door. Elise has a visitor who will change everything.
The Visitor is a story about friendship and shyness that plays out in a mini theatre, as a child unwittingly brings light and color–literally–into a lonely person’s life.”

The visitor is a wonderfully simple picturebook focussing on the joy children bring into our lives. (this is a bit of a theme of my choices this year, it maybe because some seem to be intent on painting children as being naughty all the time) The use of colour brings a joy to the tale. It has been a book I ‘ve found myself returning too often and everytime I’ve left with a huge smile and a cosy warm glow. A magical book with a big heart.

 

The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold

‘When a great dam was built by the Kielder Water in Northumberland, the valley below slowly filled with water. But just before this, when the villagers had been moved out, two musicians went back to the abandoned valley. They tore down the boards over the houses, stepped inside and started to play – for this would be the last time that music would be heard in this place. In this astonishing picture book that combines themes of loss, hope and music David Almond pays homage to all musicians, showing the ancient and unstoppable power of creativity’

Whilst Almonds narrative drives the story it is Pinfold’s extraordinary illustration which take this book to another place. Sweeping majestic landscapes full of music and soul allow the reader to get carried away to another place. Together they have created a little piece of magic.

 

Cicada by Shaun Tan

‘Cicada work in tall building.
Data entry clerk. Seventeen year.
No sick day. No mistake.
Tok Tok Tok!

Cicada works in an office, dutifully working day after day for unappreciative bosses and being bullied by his co-workers. But one day, something truly extraordinary happens . . .

A story for anyone who has ever felt unappreciated, overlooked or overworked but dreams of magic, from Australia’s most acclaimed picture book creator. This is Shaun Tan’s first author-illustrator book in five years, and his most important and moving fable since The Arrival.’

This is not a book for small children the depressing picture of day-to-day work life drudgery, the bullying (potentially racist), the grey monochrome palette. This is not an easy book, it is however a book that has left me thinking more than any other this year. Tan combines his evocative artwork with a poignant but clever little tale that may well make the reader look a little differently at the humble cicada. The tale does have a decidedly wonderful twist…seventeen years indeed.

 

 

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

‘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. Caldecott Honor artist and five-time Pura Belpré winner Yuyi Morales’s gorgeous new picture book Dreamers is about making a home in a new place. Yuyi and her son Kelly’s passage was not easy, and Yuyi spoke no English whatsoever at the time. But together, they found an unexpected, unbelievable place: the public library. There, book by book, they untangled the language of this strange new land, and learned to make their home within it.

Dreamers is a celebration of what migrantes bring with them when they leave their homes. It’s a story about family. And it’s a story to remind us that we are all dreamers, bringing our own gifts wherever we roam. Beautiful and powerful at any time but given particular urgency as the status of our own Dreamers becomes uncertain, this is a story that is both topical and timeless.’

Stunning, warm-hearted, strong and beautiful. This book is the antidote to the current political discourse on immigration. It is both true and honest and should be in every  school in my opinion. A brave wide-eyed dream of a book full of hope and love. Just what the doctor ordered.

 

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith

Deep in the woods
is a house
just a house
that once was
but now isn’t
a home.

Two children come across an abandoned house deep in the woods and imagine who could have lived there. A House That Once Was is a beautifully illustrated exploration of time, imagination and the nature of home that is sure to provoke discussion. Lane’s artwork is a riot of colour and rich texture that perfectly matches the poetic text written by the New York Times-bestselling author, Julie Fogliano. This evocative, rhyming story is perfect for reading out loud.’

We all know this house, we’ve all walked past this house and wondered, wondered about the stories and memories that it holds. The book find wonder in decay and the passing of time, it creates quiet poetic atmosphere all of its own. This is a book about home and what the word home really means. Smith’s artwork gives us joys to find every time we explore the book. Just a sublime moment of quiet.

 

Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat

‘When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens-with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.

With spare, direct text by Minh Lê and luminous illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat, this stirring picturebook about reaching across barriers will be cherished for years to come’

With very few words, this children’s book shows us the power of unspoken language. . The years faded between the grandfather and his grandson as they sketched and united on paper. What starts with dread slowly becomes joys as the generation gap is crossed and Grandfather and grandson cross both the age barrier and the language barrier to celebrate being with each other. (2nd book about really how brilliant and life-affirming children can be)

 

 

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and Julia Sarda

‘How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream, and a dreamer. Mary is one such dreamer, a little girl who learns to read by tracing the letters on the tombstone of her famous feminist mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and whose only escape from her strict father and overbearing stepmother is through the stories she reads and imagines. Unhappy at home, she seeks independence, and at the age of sixteen runs away with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, another dreamer. Two years later, they travel to Switzerland where they meet a famous poet, Lord Byron. On a stormy summer evening, with five young people gathered around a fire, Byron suggests a contest to see who can create the best ghost story. Mary has a waking dream about a monster come to life. A year and a half later, Mary Shelley’s terrifying tale, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus, is published — a novel that goes on to become the most enduring monster story ever and one of the most popular legends of all time.

A riveting and atmospheric picture book about the young woman who wrote one of the greatest horror novels ever written and one of the first works of science fiction, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is an exploration of the process of artistic inspiration that will galvanize readers and writers of all ages.’

The book handles Mary Shelley’s difficult life perfectly. Julia Sarda’s illustrations are absolutely perfect for the story, the atmospheric art with its muted colours and foreboding skies captures the mood perfectly. A great picturebook biography.

 

The Last Wolf by Mini Grey

‘Once upon a time, Little Red set off into the woods to catch a wolf . . .

But the woods aren’t all they seem – and are there even any wolves left? Mini Grey re-imagines the classic Little Red Riding Hood fable in an entirely new way. Can Little Red help her new friends in need and recover the wild days of the past?

This is a powerful, moving and funny picture book which will have children and adults revisiting its exquisite pages time and time again, and discussing the important message it holds.’

A modern parable about caring for our green spaces and making sure that we don’t lose them. This twist on Little Red Riding Hood which has a lot to say about the loss of all things wild. Great for starting a discussion about the wild and about how we can ensure its there for future generations. That its done with huge warmth and humour in testament to Mini Grey’s wonderful writing. Fantastic book.

 

Florette by Anna Walker

‘When Mae’s family moves to a new home, she wishes she could bring her garden with her. She’ll miss the apple trees, the daffodils, and chasing butterflies in the wavy grass. But there’s no room for a garden in the city. Or is there? Mae’s story, gorgeously illustrated in watercolor, is a celebration of friendship, resilience in the face of change, and the magic of the natural world.’

A beautiful, gentle story about how with a a bit of persistence we can create the world we want to live. Mae is a delightful character and the illustration bring the wonder of nature to life. Florette is an absolute delight.

Bonus book…Similar theme and equally as good…

 

Secret Sky Garden by Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers

 

When I Was A Child by Andy Stanton and David Litchfield

There is magic in everything.
The world is a spinning star,
No matter how old you are.

A joyous celebration of childhood and how children can bring joy and life to our world. (told you there was a theme). Playful words and sublime illustration make a memorable picturebook. Went down a storm in assembly too.

 

Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

‘A beautiful wordless epic from the Caldecott Honor-winning creator of Journey, Quest and Return.

This year’s summer holiday will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a 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 since his bestselling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the 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’

An epic in every sense of the word. A very personal story of loss becomes a journey through time and history. A magnificent achievement. This is your history curriculum right here.

 

Bonus Book…Late entry… The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

‘A breathtakingly beautiful and luminescent book about loss and grief, love and hope, and the healing power of friendship and nature, from New York Times–bestselling picture book creator Brian Lies.

Readers of Cynthia Rylant’s classic Dog Heaven, the Fan Brothers’ The Night Gardener, and anyone experiencing loss will be swept up by this poignant story.

Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their award-winning garden, which grows big and beautiful. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickles and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos.

But beauty grows in the darkest of places, and when a twisting vine turns into an immense pumpkin, Evan is drawn out of his misery and back to the county fair, where friendships—old and new—await.’

Not many books make me cry, this one had me weeping buckets. This explores the emotions we feel when we lose something we love and it does it in a brave honest way. A beautiful book.

*Text in italics is taken from book descriptions in Goodreads