The Commitments…Well-being isn’t an add-on



East Whitby staff 2019

Well-being isn’t a bolt-on, it’s not enforced yoga -classes or trips to the spa however nice they may be.  Staff well-being is a commitment by a school to support its staff in being the best they can be. There are lots of things that should be implicit in that commitment.

1) The commitment to reducing workload so that the work people do is purely focussed on impacting on the children’s learning.

Having just had conversations around teachers handing in weekly planning my first question was WHY? For me weekly planning is for the individual. Personally I would know where I aimed to get to in the next week, but planning day-by day for a whole week was nonsense. By Wednesday the lesson was almost always not the lesson on the planning document…for years however I had religiously filled in the pro-forma with my three levels of differentiation and my VAK boxes. Why because that was what the head wanted. The plans would be dropped on her desk on a Friday, but hardly ever taught from. Pointless work to tick a box rather than something which genuinely helps move children forward. As a head I’ve not looked at staff’s weekly planning ever, I’ve equally never walked into an unplanned lesson. If I want to know what’s happening in the class I’ll go along and talk to the teachers, I go to their planning meetings, staff often come to talk to me about how to teach something (I would say that they often have the answers they just need to talk it through and bounce it around a bit, I am no expert I would say that since becoming a head that I’m definitely not the best teacher in my school, I’m probably not even in the top 10…there are only 11 teachers in our school). For this I was told I was “professionally discourteous” and that I was letting the children down as my monitoring systems were lacking in rigour. Whatever I say my teachers just get on with getting it right and not worrying about stupid forms.


Headteachers if you’re not being this you’re not doing your job

For me this is a question of trust. I trust my staff to be professional and do the job; they invariably live up to that.

2) The commitment to having effective behaviour systems that support staff

Behaviour is a hot topic at the moment. Fact is if behaviour isn’t right in schools you may as well throw the well-being handbook in the bin. If behaviour isn’t right in a school I’d guarantee that there will be a number of staff off with stress in that school. It’s a Catch 22 situation…poor behaviour…leads to staff illness…leads to less experienced teaching…leads to poor behaviour.

I’m not going to get into an argument about behaviour here. I’m just going to say that getting behaviour right is a priority if you don’t then all the other work is a waste of time. Anybody who’s visited our school knows it’s a calm, focused, studious place with children really who really want to learn. (Five years ago that wasn’t the case) The transformation was about clear systems followed consistently and rigorously supported by the SLT. (Before you ask…no we haven’t permanently excluded anybody, but if the situation had arisen we would have. It is and should always be the last resort if nothing else works)

3) A commitment to creating a culture that is about staff development and growth.

I have regularly talked about the need to help teachers to be great. Creating a reflective, supportive culture which challenges our teachers to try to be excellent every day. It is more than that however. We need to clearly understand their aims and what they really want. It’s really important that the growth is bespoke to the individual. In schools there is often a treadmill towards leadership, the fact is that it’s not the right path everyone. I am the teacher and they are my class. I need to know them and support them to be the teacher they want to be. If schools want to get better they must look to make the individual parts better

  • Get to know your staff – (aspirations, ambitions, strengths, challenges and be the person who allows them to be great.)
  • Look for common links between personal aspiration and school goals. How can enhancing one benefit the other? (Improving you improves us)
  • All of the learning must be embedded in a trusting environment, in which relationships form a safety net of support and challenge. Make the growth authentic. (Let them have a real impact)
  • Be aware that in the beginning, however, people are taking risks, and no matter how valuable things may be, in practice barriers may go up when new things are suggested. (be the net under the tight-rope walker)

4) A commitment to listening and trusting

In 2007 I took a sideways move from a school where I was trusted and given the space to impact on the work of the school, a school where I was listened to and my voice was important to a school where none of those things were true. I had a shocking couple of years. I was according to my wife unbearable to live with. The head teacher of this new school, had no trust in anybody and micro-managed everything. This for me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Without a voice or any autonomy I found the I could no longer do the job. When you’re sat in the middle of something that is ripping you apart in the most destructive way, when you can’t see the wood for the trees, when you lie awake at night because the of it, it can be really hard to see the positives. This school was all that for me. I struggled daily to even go into the place. It was unrelenting. It made me need to get out of schools for a while.


Looking back however I learnt so much about leadership there. Mainly that I don’t ever want to be that kind of leader. I was micro-managed to the n-th degree. And there was no trust. Think being a head is in a bit of revenge on this person who had no faith in me. For people to grow and develop you have to let them lead, whether that is in their own classroom or more widely across the school. Equally you have to let them make mistakes.  Staff needs a voice. If you don’t listen then you’ll have people going through the motions but not committing to the work.


Ultimately if you’re doing these things then you’re creating a culture where staff are valued and trusted.

Surely that is what we all really want.




10 Amazing books for Year 4…Picked because they’re great

My book-list for year is full of brilliant read-aloud books so here are my top tips for doing just that.

Top 7 tips for reading aloud…

  1. Pick books you like…it shows. Trudging through a book that you really don’t like will only transmit to your class that you don’t really like it. You are the teacher the choice is yours. I get that world cups of books can be motivating I would just say make sure you’re happy with the books you’re offering as a choice. (This can be a challenge if you are handed a core reading list)
  2. Pick books that challenge. (push the envelope and take children out of their comfort zone.)
  3. Have copies of the book and other books by the author available. It’s amazing how many children will be inspired to read the book because you have.
  4. Knowing the book well helps you read it well. Knowing the story, the characters the key moments allows to share the story more effectively. Knowing the book allows you to become the controller of the story and how it plays out. It also helps you know where the sticking points might be.  I get that sometimes it’s fun to discover the joys of a book with the class, it is however not always the best way to get the best out of the time or the book.
  5. Make it important. Don’t put it as a throw-away end of the day that then disappears as you have to finish your work. Give it a time and stick to it. Make it an ingrained habit.
  6. It is a performance, reading aloud is a thing that we need to practice. It takes time to get good at it.  Start with some great short stories or some brilliant poetry build your repertoire and confidence. (Paul Jennings was always my go to. I’m still a dab  hand at Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake)
  7.  Go under the ‘spell.’ Allow your book to flow and get lost in it together.
  8. Sometimes break the rules and allow it to go over, or grab a moment.

Kate 1

1) TheMiraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

A timeless tale by the incomparable Kate DiCamillo, complete with stunning full-color plates by Bagram Ibatoulline, honors the enduring power of love.

“Someone will come for you, but first you must open your heart. . . .”

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely.

And then, one day, he was lost.

Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the top of a garbage heap to the fireside of a hoboes’ camp, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. And along the way, we are shown a true miracle — that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again

Wonderful and witty with an amazing cast of characters. I thought it would be impossible to make me love Edward Tulane, the pampered porcelain rabbit, but as Edward begins to understand love then we begin to love Edward. Warning the book will make you angry and probably it will make you cry. ( A sign of great writing if ever there were one.) Kate DiCamillo is possibly one of the best writers writing at the moment, those that know her books eagerly anticipate the next. With that in mind here are some others that would work brilliantly in year 4.

With that in mind here are some other Kate DiCamillo books that would work brilliantly in year 4.

2) The Legend of Podkin One-Ear by K.M.Larwood illustrated by David Wyatt

A thick white blanket covers the wide slopes of the band of hills some call the Razorback Downs…

Podkin One-Ear is a legend: a fearsome warrior rabbit whose reputation for cunning and triumph in battle has travelled the ages. But how did he become such a mighty fighter? The answer may surprise you… When a travelling bard arrives at Thornwood Warren on Midwinter night, he is warmly welcomed. In return for food and lodging, he settles down to tell of how Podkin One-Ear – and soon the rabbits are enthralled to hear the story of how one lost little rabbit overcame the cruellest enemy imaginable, and became the greatest warrior their land has ever know.

From the moment I started reading this I was in transported, so much so it was finished in one sitting; exciting, frightening, magical and intriguing. The world of the five realms is brilliantly realised  full of lore and rules that are dripped slowly into the story without overwhelming. It’s a great fantasy story and a wonderful way to introduce children to the genre. The use of a narrator’s (who knows way too much detail)  voice makes  it the perfect read aloud, with wonderful cliffhanger moments to leave the children on the edge of their seat.

It does however have its dark moments and I would recommend caution around some of your more sensitive children.


3) Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel written by English mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells of a girl named Alice falling through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. Its narrative course and structure, characters and imagery have been enormously influential in both popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre

The book is rightfully a classic, whilst at points plot wise it doesn’t always hang together, the episodic nature of the story, it’s delight in the absurd and the playfulness of the language make it a wonderful book to use with year 4. Full of nonsense and logic in equal measure it is a treasure that warrants repeated revisits. It is brilliant and joyful and you really can’t ask much more from children’s literature.


I’d also recommend Return to Wonderland has some fantastic backstories for characters from the book written by a plethora of wonderful current authors such a Piers Torday and Patrice Lawrence.

One Day In Wonderlandby Kathleen Krull and Julia Sarda is a rather beautiful picture-book biography celebrating Lewis Carroll


4) The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

When Big Ben sounds the stroke of midnight, Emily’s parents vanish.

As an adventurous eleven year old, Emily packs her sandwiches and her hedgehog, Hoggin, and heads into the Midnight Hour. A Victorian London frozen in time, the Midnight Hour is a magical place of sanctuary and of peril dreamt up by children – and inhabited by monsters of legend, creatures of the imagination, and a Postal Service determined to save the day (and night!). To save her mum and dad, Emily must be brave enough to embrace her own inner magic …

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere meets The Phantom Tollbooth in this classic-feeling adventure, full of astonishing world-building.

This is just a perfect year 4 book: wonderful characters, beautiful settings, magic.

The Midnight Hour is children’s fantasy fiction at its best with a fiesty heroine in Emily and a brilliant supporting cast .  The city of the Night Folk is vividly described creating a truly believable world with some of our most famous landmarks taking a central role in the story. Wittily told and cleverly delivered, with just the right amount of scare. The Midnight Hour is top-notch.


5) Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White pictures by Garth Williams

This beloved book by E. B. White, author of Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan, is a classic of children’s literature that is “just about perfect.” This high-quality paperback features vibrant illustrations colorized by Rosemary Wells!

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.

E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come. This edition contains newly color illustrations by Garth Williams, the acclaimed illustrator of E. B. White’s Stuart Little and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, among many other books.

I firmly believe that no child should leave primary school having not  read or had  Charlotte’s Web read to them.

It is rightfully one of the all-time great classics of children’s literature, this gentle story with its kindly wisdom about friendship and love has survived and prospered and still has relevant messages for our children now.   It will inspire readers to think about how we should make and keep friends, and how we should treat each other what more can you ask from a book. (Warning…it may make you cry)


6) Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake–and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure.

Brian had been distraught over his parents’ impending divorce and the secret he carries about his mother, but now he is truly desolate and alone. Exhausted, terrified, and hungry, Brian struggles to find food and make a shelter for himself. He has no special knowledge of the woods, and he must find a new kind of awareness and patience as he meets each day’s challenges. Is the water safe to drink? Are the berries he finds poisonous?

Slowly, Brian learns to turn adversity to his advantage–an invading porcupine unexpectedly shows him how to make fire, a devastating tornado shows him how to retrieve supplies from the submerged airplane. Most of all, Brian leaves behind the self-pity he has felt about his predicament as he summons the courage to stay alive.

A story of survival and of transformation, this riveting book has sparked many a reader’s interest in venturing into the wild.

A book about survival against the odds. You can’t help but root for Brian as he faces numerous challenges. Short, pacy and full of peril. It is abook about change and transformation. It is also a book about hope and about not ignoring the world around you. Why would you not use the book to instigate getting outside, getting hands-on and doing some ‘Forest schooling.’


7) Max and the Millions by Ross Montgomery

Max is used to spending time alone – it’s difficult to make friends in a big, chaotic school when you’re deaf. He prefers to give his attention to the little things in life… like making awesome, detailed replica models.

Then Mr Darrow, the school caretaker and fellow modeller, goes missing. Max must follow his parting instruction: ‘Go to my room. You’ll know what to do.’

There on the floor he finds a pile of sand … and in the sand is Mr Darrow’s latest creation… a tiny boy, no bigger than a raisin, Luke, Prince of the Blues. And behind the tiny boy… millions of others – a thriving, bustling, sprawling civilization

This is a marvellously funny and original novel. The book carries a keen satirical edge and uses its wonderful premise to ask some wide-ranging questions about politics and society. Max is a well-dveloped lead character and his feelings of social isolation due to his deafness are honest, and his growing friendship with Sasha is both real and heartwarming. The book asks big questions and requires us to think about the actions we take. Not bad for a kid’s book.

This sentence sums it up perfectly ‘The world is filled with miracles which no one sees, ‘ and as the author himself says‘Take care of the small things – they make up,the entire universe.’


8) Firework Makers Daughter by Philip Pullman

Lila dreams to become a firework-maker, just like her father. In order to become a true firework-maker, she sets off alone on a perilous journey to reach the terrifying Fire-Fiend. She travels through jungles alive with crocodiles, snakes, monkeys and pirates, and climbs up the scolding volcano. On finding the Fire-Fiend, she realises more is at stake than she ever imagined. Will Lila survive? Lila’s is the kind of magical adventure that all children dream of and the gripping story of the fleet-footed heroine will livelong in the memory of anyone who enters her world.

Whilst reminiscent of traditional folk-tales, Pullman ‘s Lila is a truly modern heroine. It is one of those stories that lives in the memories. It’s one of those books that children want to read for themselves after a teacher has read it to them. It is a story that sizzles and pops with excitement, humour, mystery, and suspense. The courage and friendship of Lila, Chula, and Hamlet are both enjoyable and uplifting, and the solution to Lila’s quest may provoke some serious thought and discussion. What more can you ask from a childrens book?


9) Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

“I guess it does
look like a poem
when you see it
typed up
like that.”

Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments — and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say.

A book about writing, stereotypes, poetry and about finding your voice.

In and of itself, Love That Dog works to take away the barriers poetry has as a subject and, through Jack’s journey, shows off why the poetry is still important. Beyond that, in asking what makes a poem, why poetry needs to be explored, and without handholding readers through the answers — Love That Dog makes a case for the importance of poetry to turn emotions into pieces of art that anyone can make and anyone can understand. The book delivers an affectionate and powerful demonstration of why poetry matters.

It also works very well as a book to read aloud. (warning.. I cried with this one as well)


I would also thoroughly recommend Hate that Cat (Thanks Charlotte Hacking for my copy of this.)


10) The Imaginary by A.F.Harold illustrated by Emily Gravett

Rudger is Amanda’s best friend. He doesn’t exist, but nobody’s perfect.

Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend – until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda’s door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he’s sniffed out Rudger. Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. But can a boy who isn’t there survive without a friend to dream him up?

A brilliantly funny, scary and moving read from the unique imagination of A.F. Harrold, this beautiful book is astoundingly illustrated with integrated art and colour spreads by the award-winning Emily Gravett.

A.F.Harold is well on his way to becoming one of my favourite authors. In the Imaginary he creates richly visualised story which explores imaginary friends and the very special role they play in children’s lives.  Emily Gravett’s perfect illustrations capture the hazy world of the imaginaries brilliantly. The book is in turns, profound, scary, and wonderfully funny. A perfect read aloud but with potential to be so much more.  Just fantastic.

Here is my list of 10 picturebooks for Year 4

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

Year 5 10 books

10 Stunning books for Year 5…Picked because they’re great

Year 6 10 books

10 brilliant books for Year 6…picked because they’re great!

Year 3 coming soon…

10 Stunning books for Year 5…Picked because they’re great

So here is my second list of 10 books, chosen because I think they’re great and that they would be brilliant to use in Year 5. If I was Year 5 this September I’d be looking to use some of these.

I believe we should Read to children everyday. (Its great, you don’t really have to plan it, pick something that challenges)

All these books would also give you great opportunities to…

  • Talk with children about books. (we need to be careful that we don’t see reading as comprehension tests… its way more than that)
  • Use a variety of strategies to explore texts including drama. (Make room to dig in and explore a book)
  • Explicitly teach vocabulary in the context of great books (If we want children to understand words then the context is king)

Hope the list is useful.



ross 2

1) Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie

When the mysterious Nowhere Emporium arrives in Glasgow, orphan Daniel Holmes stumbles upon it quite by accident. Before long, the ‘shop from nowhere’ — and its owner, Mr Silver — draw Daniel into a breathtaking world of magic and enchantment. Recruited as Mr Silver’s apprentice, Daniel learns the secrets of the Emporium’s vast labyrinth of passageways and rooms — rooms that contain wonders beyond anything Daniel has ever imagined. But when Mr Silver disappears, and a shadow from the past threatens everything, the Emporium and all its wonders begin to crumble. Can Daniel save his home, and his new friends, before the Nowhere Emporium is destroyed forever?

Ross Mackenzie creates a wild fantasy world that can only be contained by the limits of your imagination. Wonderful rich language rolls itself around a rip-roaring adventure story that celebrates the power of the written word. A perfect read aloud for year 5.

Ross 3

BONUS… Equally I would share Shadowsmith with year 5 it is both deliciously scary with possibly my favourite book character ever in the wonderful Amelia Pigeon




2) Pax by Sara PennyPacker illustrated by Jon Klassen

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.

Pax is an emotional, heartbreakiing tale that doesn’t shy awaay from the horrors of war, but does it with a pure emotional heart. The language is rich  and complex but the key to the story is the range of relationships. A beautifully told tale that is ultimately about  hope and love.

Book blog No2 Pax by Sarah Pennypacker




3) Running on Empty by SE Durrant

AJ’s grandfather has always been the one to keep his unusual family together, so when he dies things start to unravel at the edges.

AJ is worried about his parents but they don’t really seem to notice. In order to deal with his grief and to keep his anxiety at bay, AJ does what he and his grandfather did best: running. Round and round the Olympic Park, aiming for the nationals, running to escape, AJ only seems to be heading ever closer to disaster. Running On Empty is a beautiful book about false starts and emotional journeys, with hope as the ultimate finishing line.

A bit of a missed book I think. It’s gentle narrrative is not heartstopping but it is very real. S E Durrant writes convincingly and movingly about ordinary young people in extraordinary situations. It’s abook about love,  loss and coping with the challenges lifes throws us. Without a trace of sentimentality, the book ends on a note of hope and happiness that is both believable and uplifting. A wonderful emotional read.



4) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster illustration by Jules Fieffer

Hailed as “a classic. . . . humorous, full of warmth and real invention” (The New Yorker), this beloved story -first published more than fifty years ago- introduces readers to Milo and his adventures in the Lands Beyond.

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . . .

The Phantom Tollbooth is a great book that I could happily read all over again! It starts with a boy called Milo that is bored stiff about everything in life, but one day an exciting package arrives at his door step containing a life-sized toy car and an also life-sized tollbooth. Milo, having nothing better to do gets in the toy car and drives up to the empty tollbooth. After that moment disaster strikes as he travels into a mysterious world.

The thing that the book left me with is that the best adventures happen when we least expect them to.


5) The Longest Night of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge

“If you go into the woods, Old Crony will get you.”

Secrets, spies or maybe even a monster… What lies in the heart of the wood? Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny are determined to discover the truth, but when night falls without warning they find themselves trapped in a nightmare. Lost in the woods, strange dangers and impossible puzzles lurk in the shadows. As time plays tricks, can Charlie solve this mystery and find a way out of the woods? But what if this night never ends…?

A timeless novel for anyone who’s ever felt lost. From the award-winning author of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.

I could have picked any of these four Christopher Edge books.  They are all fantastic…smart narratives, fantastic twists, sciency stuff and at the core great characters.  Edge truly is a writer of extraordinary inventiveness (a rare quality)

Charlie Noon does that rare thing, it takes you on a cracking adventure with surprising twists and turns but it also leaves you pondering and thinking. Now that is good writing



6) Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner

If Mrs Tischbein had known the amazing adventures her son Emil would have in Berlin, she’d never have let him go.

Unfortunately, when his seven pounds goes missing on the train, Emil is determined to get it back – and when he teams up with the detectives he meets in Berlin, it’s just the start of a marvellous money-retrieving adventure . . .

A classic and influential story

Just a classic, a detective story told at a cracking pace, this features one of the first fictional child detectives. . Emil is charming and clever, the ideal hero of this terrific adventure. It plays to every child fantasy of being the hero and is just as delightful now as when it was first written.


7) Malamander by Thomas Taylor

Malamander is told from the perspective of Herbert Lemon, the Lost-and-Founder of the Grand Nautilus Hotel, who tries to unite objects that have been left at the hotel with their owners. Other characters in the story include Violet Palma, who is lost and needs to be found, and the eponymous Malamander, who controls people’s dreams.

Just a perfect children’s book, quirky, funny, and scary in equal measure. It’s an utterly breathless adventure, with moments of high peril and a dash of derrin-do. the          book is populated by amazing characters including it’s brilliant setting ‘Eerie-by-the-Sea’ (If you live in a seaside town, they completely are all those things).

This book is just unadulterated fun and all the better for it. A Joy!


7) The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall

With Nazi planes raining bombs on England night after night, every boy in Garmouth has a collection of shrapnel and other war souvenirs. But nothing comes close to the working machine gun Chas McGill pulls out of a downed bomber. While the police search frantically for the missing gun, Chas and his friends build a secret fortress to fight the Germans themselves

I think being in the North-East may have something to do with this choice. Westall’s writing is superb throughout. It is my absolute favourite book set in World war 2. It captures the fear, single-mindedness and hope that only children have. The children are brilliantly funny and real. Westall masterfully ratchets up the tension in this tale of children that just want to make the world around them OK. What a book!


Bonus… Blitzcat by Robert Westall


8) Beetle Boy by MG Leonard

The glorious start to a middle-grade trilogy about a brilliant boy, his loyal friends, and some amazingly intelligent beetles that brings together adventure, humor, and real science!

Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously goes missing from his job as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum. Vanished without a trace! From a locked room! So Darkus moves in with his eccentric Uncle Max and next door to Humphrey and Pickering, two lunatic cousins with an enormous beetle infestation. Darkus soon discovers that the beetles are anything but ordinary. They’re an amazing, intelligent super species and they’re in danger of being exterminated. It’s up to Darkus and his friends to save the beetles. But they’re up against an even more terrifying villain–the mad scientist of fashion, haute couture villainess Lucretia Cutter. Lucretia has an alarming interest in insects and dastardly plans for the bugs. She won’t let anyone or anything stop her, including Darkus’s dad, who she has locked up in her dungeons! The beetles and kids join forces to rescue Mr. Cuttle and thwart Lucretia.

Does all those things that great children’s books,  without ever playing to lowest common denominators or patronising. A cracking central core of characters, a truly villianous villian and the an ability to make beetles completely lovable make this a top drawer read aloud.


9) Clockwork by Philip Pullman

Fritz, the writer, spins a spine-tingling tale to cheer up Karl, the apprentice clockmaker. But rather than helping matters, the story begins to come true….

The stories of Karl, the apprentice; Dr. Kalmenius, his nefarious “savior”; Gretl, the brave daughter of the town innkeeper; and a young prince whose clockwork heart is in danger of winding down come together in surprising and magical ways in a story that has the relentless urgency of a ticking clock.

Not a wasted word. Just about perfect in my opinion. I have never known a book hold a group of of children in its thrall like Clockwork. This book is magical and slightly shocking. Like a good old-fashioned fairy tale it doesn’t pull its punches. Characters who act selfishly or who are lazy are punished. Lessons come across on the merits of having a kind heart and being hard-working.


10) The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

Part picture-book/graphic novel, part mystery, part love story to early cinema. Hugo is cinematic in it’s scale and story telling. Beautifully concieved its an absolute treasure of a book.


Bonus…Roller Girl

A heartwarming graphic novel about friendship and surviving junior high through the power of roller derby.

Twelve-year-old Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, she assumes Nicole will too. But Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friend instead, and so begins the toughest summer of Astrid’s life. There are bumps and bruises as Astrid learns who she is without Nicole…and what it takes to be a strong, tough roller girl.

Just wanted to add this because it’s great.

Here is my list of 10 picturebooks for Year 5

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

Here is my Year 6 booklist

10 brilliant books for Year 6…picked because they’re great!

Year 4 coming soon.

10 brilliant books for Year 6…picked because they’re great!

This post is essentially just a list of books I would use in Year 6 if I were teaching in that year group. It is completely about personal choice, these are books I love (I think teacher passion for a book makes a difference). They do not follow the whims of the new and the current (though there are some newish books in the list). They are not chosen to fit a topic or part of the curriculum. I’ve picked them because I think they are brilliant books that are perfect for year 6.

1) The Graveyard book by Neil Gaiman (Brilliantly illustrated by Chris Riddell and Dave McKean)

“After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…”

In my opinion this is Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece. After a breathless start with possibly the best opening line of any book, the book becomes a tale of growing up and understanding what it means to be human. (It’s deeply inspired by the Jungle book and that sings through) Wonderful characters, rich language, moments of true beauty and real fear coupled with a rich vein of compassion and love. It would be the first book on my pile if I were teaching in year 6.

2) The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (Illutration by Gelrev Ongbico)

Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves. (Goodreads description)

An astounding book. Wonderful langauge, brilliant characters and a tale that weaves a fine line between fairy-tale and the hardships of pre-revolution Russia.  I blogged about it here.

Book blog No1 The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell Book bonus


Having just read Katherine’s brilliant new  1920’s New York prohibition heist novel I’d definitely be considering reading it to my Year 6’s. Tense atmospheric and just wonderful.

3) Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”

The great traction city London has been skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster, hungrier cities loose in the Great Hunting Ground. But now, the sinister plans of Lord Mayor Mangus Crome can finally unfold.

Thaddeus Valentine, London’s Head Historian and adored famous archaeologist, and his lovely daughter, Katherine, are down in The Gut when the young assassin with the black scarf strikes toward his heart, saved by the quick intervention of Tom, a lowly third-class apprentice. Racing after the fleeing girl, Tom suddenly glimpses her hideous face: scarred from forehead to jaw, nose a smashed stump, a single eye glaring back at him. “Look at what your Valentine did to me!” she screams. “Ask him! Ask him what he did to Hester Shaw!” And with that she jumps down the waste chute to her death. Minutes later Tom finds himself tumbling down the same chute and stranded in the Out-Country, a sea of mud scored by the huge caterpillar tracks of cities like the one now steaming off over the horizon.”

If you have to read one post-apocalyptic adventure novel then make it this one. Breathless adventure, burgeoning romance, a relentless chase,  treachery, betrayal and a beautifully realised world full of Great British quirk. Mortal Engines is a joyous read aloud that leaves you with pefect cliff-hanger moments that will leave your class desperate for more. At it’s core however are two wonderful characters in Tom and Hester that you will love and hate in equal measure. I love it.

4) Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones

Murder mystery meets carnival flair in a rollicking Victorian adventure centered on a boy with a unique appearance — and unique gifts.

In the seedy underworld of Victorian London, a boy is born and abandoned. Snatched up by an unscrupulous and abusive showman, Wild Boy, covered in hair from head to toe, becomes a sideshow freak. Isolated from other children and wickedly abused by the cruel master who bought him, Wild Boy becomes an avid observer, developing Sherlock Holmes–like deductive skills. Although he is tormented and insulted, kicked and spat at, his quick mind takes in everything he sees. When a murder occurs at the fair, Wild Boy is hastily accused. Can he use his powers of deduction to save himself? And will the talented and spunky young acrobat Clarissa be with him — or against him? Readers will be swept along by the cinematic pace, immersed in the vivid historical setting, and gripped by suspense as they wait to find out if a better fate could possibly await someone so very different.

Just a rip-roaring, rollicking adventure. A superhero book without superhero’s. A brilliant buddy team. Fantastic evocative language and setting. Great core characters and sublime plotting make this an absolute joy. A perfect read aloud, with lots of depth for digging deeper. (It’d fit your Victorian topic too :-))


5) Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

A powerful tale that tackles injustices, racism and bullying.  The story is centered around Mia, a young girl working with her parents’ at a motel near Disneyland who discovers that her writing has the power to fight injustice for herself and those around her that she cares about. It is perfect in generating those powerful discussions and opening children’s eyes to the experiences of other. Powerful stuff.  Just a great and sadly much ignored book. I hope its paperback release will bring it to a wider audience.

6 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The celebrated P.J. Lynch captures the spirit of Dickens’s beloved tale in a richly illustrated unabridged edition.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge opens on a Christmas Eve as cold as Scrooge’s own heart. That night, he receives three ghostly visitors: the terrifying spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Each takes him on a heart-stopping journey, yielding glimpses of Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, the horrifying spectres of Want and Ignorance, even Scrooge’s painfully hopeful younger self. Will Scrooge’s heart be opened? Can he reverse the miserable future he is forced to see?

Now in an unabridged edition gloriously illustrated by the award-winning P.J. Lynch, this story’s message of love and goodwill, mercy and self-redemption resonates as keenly as ever.

If there is a better Christmas story to read with your class I’ve yet to find it. A story full of redemption and hope. The P J Lynch illustrations in this version bring the story vividly to life and support really digging into the story and the language.

Bonus Christmas Story...

christmas 3

The Last of Spirits by Chris Priestly

Another  story of redemption  that runs alongside A Christmas Carol and gives an even bleaker vision of Victorian Britian. Great stuff.

7) Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly illustrated by David Roberts

Uncle Montague lives alone in a big house and his regular visits from his nephew give him the opportunity to retell some of the most frightening stories he knows.

But as the stories unfold, another even more spine-tingling narrative emerges, one that is perhaps the most frightening of all.

Uncle Montague’s tales of terror, it transpires, are not so much works of imagination as dreadful, lurking memories. Memories of an earlier time in which Uncle Montague lived a very different life to his present solitary existence.

I had to put all three here. These are fantastically written short stories constructed around a wonderful central narrative. Each short story would make a great stand-alone read but the whole books deliver delightful creepy twists. Rich language and delightful plotting make the perfect for year 6. (Black Ship is definitely my favorite but maybe because I live and work near the sea.)


8) Phoenix by S.F.Said illustrated by Dave McKean


Lucky thinks he’s an ordinary Human boy. But one night, he dreams that the stars are singing – and wakes to find an uncontrollable power rising inside him.

Now he’s on the run, racing through space, searching for answers. In a galaxy at war, where Humans and Aliens are deadly enemies, the only people who can help him are an Alien starship crew – and an Alien warrior girl, with neon needles in her hair.

Together, they must find a way to save the galaxy. For Lucky is not the only one in danger. His destiny and the fate of the universe are connected in the most explosive way . . .

Science-Fiction is a massively underrated genre in primary fiction, thats a real shame as for me it’s always been a go-to genre. (I love John Wyndham). Phoenix is full on brilliantly pure sci-fi. Wonderfully told and crafted with unexpected twists that completely change how you view the story and the characters. It also uses that wonderful deveice that the best sci-fi does and acts as a lens on our world and our actions. Great stuff.


9) The Boy In The Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

When they first arrived, they came quietly and stealthily as if they tip-toed into the world when we were all looking the other way.

Ade loves living at the top of a tower block. From his window, he feels like he can see the whole world stretching out beneath him.His mum doesn’t really like looking outside – but it’s going outside that she hates.
She’s happier sleeping all day inside their tower, where it’s safe.
But one day, other tower blocks on the estate start falling down around them and strange, menacing plants begin to appear.

Now their tower isn’t safe anymore. Ade and his mum are trapped and there’s no way out . . .

Carrying on my mild Sci-fi theme. Boy in the tower is a wonderfully real dystopian sci-fi, echoes of John Wyndham abound but it is totally its own story. Ade is a fantastic narrator/protagonist and you completely root for him. The story touches on family and depression. Just a fantastic book @templarwilson has done some fantastic planning for this book.

10) Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (Graphic novel version by Edith recommended as well)

Lying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .

A Carnegie-Medal-winning modern classic that’s magically timeless.

Possibly one of the finest children’s books ever written in my opinion. Complex and beautiful. What more can I say. Wonderful.It truly is a classic

If you like Tom’s Midnight Garden why not give…

Moondial by Helen Cresswell or Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer a spin.


These are the books I would use in year 6 at the moment but I have no doubt in a years time the list would very different (or maybe not)

Here are the picturebooks I would use in year 6 as well…

Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage

Year 5 list coming soon