About smithsmm

Picturebook addict. Creator of Primary Picturebook Club

The Special Relationship #FierceKindness

Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) | Twitter

There is something indefinably special about primary education when it really sings. We all know it, we all know that thing that truly makes the biggest difference in our classrooms yet it sometimes feels like a dirty word. A word that because it can’t be quantified, or bottled, or packaged, or sold often is dismissed. Yet even though it’s pushed into a dark corner with a blanket over it’s head in our hearts we all know that in the primary classroom it’s the thing that makes the biggest difference.


The greatest thing about primary education is the relationship between a class-teacher and their class. It’s impossible to quantify the power of this relationship yet we all know that it truly makes a difference. The problem is we’re talking about voodoo it’s not something you can teach a person to have with a class. You can help people to be better teachers but you can’t magic a relationship.

Wandering our school I realise how lucky our children are. In every class you can feel that relationship. It’s like a frisson in the air, an electricity. There is tangible aliveness to the classes. The classes are like tribes, their routines and systems are second nature and at the centre of that is the beautiful communication from the teacher, both said and unsaid.

I’m struck by how reward systems are largely unused, equally most of the time our behaviour system while displayed prominently in every room is largely redundant, it’s there but it’s rarely needed. (when I first came to the school it was a lifeline). The class teacher’s disappointment is stronger than any sanction for most children.

Watching and listening in our classes the first thing that strikes is the level of expectation in the rooms. I listened to a year 5 have a discussion with their teacher about a piece of writing, ( I’d read the writing, it was great) and the teacher was absolutely fierce with the critique. I have to say I was worried so I spoke to the child after and her response was fascinating and truly summed up what our classrooms are about, she said:

“I know the work’s good, I know my teacher thinks that this work is good, I’ve tried my best but I want to get better, working with the teacher means I know how I can get better.”

She didn’t want stars or points, she just wanted to improve. That conversation worked in the context of a class where there was explicit trust between the pupil and the teacher. It was truly fierce but sat behind it was a confidence and security in the relationships in that classroom. #FierceKindness

Fact is great relationships in our primary classrooms are the thing that is not only a fundamental part of why primary education is special, but they can also move mountains. Sat at the core of them is security, trust, honesty and that sense of tribe.

There is craft and wild magic in the best primary classrooms you can feel it. I’m not sure however that we can ever truly capture it, bottle and sell it. That doesn’t mean however that we shouldn’t value it.

Beware false prophets, silver bullets and the curse of the FAD

Five life lessons learned from 35 years of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

Everyday the twitter-sphere is alive with the next how to teach better bit of advice. Edu-books galore wash across the market. Approaches are lauded and followers proclaim almost to the point of religious fervour, that this book or that book or this person or that person has the answer. The problem with books is invariably they tell us what they think the research tells us from their perspective. This is almost inevitably through a lens.

It’s odd having been in this 27 years to see this repeating pattern this years prophets are next years back-trackers furiously proclaiming that you just haven’t done it right or speedily repackaging to get aboard the next edu-goldrush.

Personally, I think research has real value, questioning what we do, exploring what works, honing our practice but lets pause for a minute. The moment someone proclaims this is the way you should do it we have already lost. The moment research is packaged and sold as an answer we’ve already lost the point of the research.

At the moment the research is being used to stop new research. The best research opens up exploration of new channels and ideas. In education it’s being used to stifle, close down and control rather than open up.

We’ve all got VAK horror stories, lets remember that we were told this is what the science said at that point. Personally, I found the literacy and numeracy hour structures much more damaging to good teaching. Sadly we all lack the time to properly be research-informed, school leaders will jump on the bandwagon and a research idea becomes a lesson tick-list at the drop of a hat. Ideas become display requirements, retrieval becomes a timed expectation.

I’ll be honest the teachers in my school are better teachers for being research informed, what they are not however is automatons with precise lesson structures to deliver. They are all individuals, they are all teachers, with experience and nous to make the decisions ( * a good teacher knows that each class is different on each day of the year too, so many external things influence learning and the research has yet to deal with effective learning when a spider falls off the ceiling onto someone’s book and the after effects of the trauma on learning etc)and choices in their classrooms. We talk and discuss, we hone, we develop. What makes their classrooms great is them and the more I may impose something the less I see of them.

Finally, I want to mention a teacher of ours who is retiring after 39 years working at our school. She is an utterly magnificent classroom teacher. The way she gets children working and the way they learn in her room is astounding. Is she research informed?… a little. Does she know what good teaching is?…undoubtedly. The answers are really in our classrooms.

The true answers to great teaching lie with our teachers. Problem is do they have the time and the trust to find their holy grail or will we force them to choose poorly?

*Thanks Kate you are so right

Life thru a lens… A curriculum led by stories and questions…musing

The first question we should be asking of our curriculum is why? Why do we want children to learn that?

I’ve seen loads of great curriculum resources shared on twitter many of which have made me question and think. I’ve also seen some that have made me flinch many of these being delivered in schools, full of fact without purpose or reason. Children learning piles of fact, knowledge organisers seen as the end of the learning not the start, knowing without reason. Curriculum for the head but not for the heart.

I want our curriculum to do more. A curriculum that gives children the knowledge and then the room to think. A curriculum that encourages children to view the facts through a range of perspectives. The more I think about curriculum the more I want it to do. I want the young people that leave our school to be questioning, curious and thoughtful. I want them to take evidence and apply their knowledge. We run the risk of over-stuffing our curriculum and not really getting to the point of it, a curriculum where loads is learnt but little is signified. A curriculum without soul.

Curriculum isn’t just facts it’s the lifeblood of how we teach the young people in our school to be people. What kind of young people do we want our school to produce

A great curriculum is one that is full of stories. Story in my opinion should run through a curriculum. Curriculum is a narrative, both in its small stories but also in its huge sweeping arcs. Story is threaded through our curriculum but the curriculum isn’t completely set in stone, a curriculum requires flexibility to embrace the world around it, history is important not because they know the past but because it truly helps children think about the now.

A curriculum should also be one that asks young people to think deeply about the things they know and apply that knowledge to their understanding. A great curriculum is about perspectives it’s about how we ask children to think about what they know, its about creating a lens to look at what they’ve learnt but also to look at the world around them. Curriculum isn’t black and white, its about creating nuance and seeing the stories within the facts.

Increasingly I’ve seen curriculum that ask children to be timid receivers of knowledge, to take our word for it, not to question but to regurgitate it like some overstuffed baby-bird.

If you looked at what we teach ( the knowledge ) it’s pretty similar to everyone else, it is however only the start. We look for the stories hidden in the facts, the perspectives with which to explore. Key Questions lead our thinking and provide angle they ultimately bring the purpose increasingly they don’t have one answer. Key threads run through our curriculum and these are broader than the curriculum area they are about the things we think are important for our young people.

It’s not perfect and it’s very much an ongoing work in progress, but when it works it truly sings.

Sat listening to children discuss a question and argue their point sums up what we’re trying to do.

Sorry for the waffling…I’m not sure what I’m getting at but just that curriculum needs to be needs to be more not less and we need a reason for it being.

Is there room for a maverick in our school team?

Watching the England versus Austria friendly yesterday I was struck by the fact that Jack Grealish was playing. As a Villa supporter that made me really happy. Grealish is part of that longline of mercurial talents that normally an England team doesn’t find room for, (Le Tissier, McMannaman, Merson etc) a player who is considered too much of a risk, they may provide you with brilliance but at other points they may not. Instead watching the national team we’ve often ended up watching a load of meat and potatoes players who have way more caps. Safety first. Sadly this may well be the case when we hit the tournament next week but yesterday Grealish played. The best team mangers will build a team around that talent, the worst leave them on the bench.

I was struck by the comparison to schools, increasingly there is is no room for the Mavericks in our schools the risk takers, those teachers in our schools who we remember. There is increasingly no room for the cavalier teacher, flamboyant and exciting. The one that carries a child on that educational rollercoaster. They are either to big a risk or we increasingly seem to be beating the maverick out of them with an homogenised educational soup. Educational gruel.

As school leader I want a Jack Grealish or two, a teacher who makes things happen and gets the audience to their feet.

Surely schools are a team game and we need a full squad..

Picturebook Biographies… The Power of a Story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her are a few others I love…

The Anger…

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

Pressure builds…

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

PRessure builds…

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

PREssure builds…

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

PRESsure builds…

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

PRESSure builds…

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

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

PRESSUre builds…

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

PRESSURe builds…

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

PRESSURE builds…

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


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


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


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


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


We Never Closed!


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

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

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


What am I doing?…logistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Attendance Conundrum.

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

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

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

Our pattern of attendance goes roughly like this 

Autumn 1 90-91% 

Autumn 2 93-94% 

Spring 1 97-98% 

Spring 2 95-96% 

Summer 1 95-96% 

Summer 2 92-93% 

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

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

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

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

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

Do I think I’ve cracked attendance? Nope. 

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

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

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

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


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

Year 6 list 1…

Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage

Year 6 List 2…

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

Year 5 List 1…

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

Year 5 List 2…

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

Year 4 List 1…

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

Year 4 List 2…

10 more Picturebooks for Year 4…#PicturebookPage

Year 3 List 1…

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

Year 3 List 2…

10 more picturebooks for Year 3…#PicturebookPage

Year 2 List 1…

10 picturebooks for year 2 – Leaps of Imagination #picturebookpage

Year 1 List 1…

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

Best picturebooks 2018

My Top 10 Picturebooks 2018 (actually 13)

Best picturebooks 2019

#20BestPicturebooks2019 Numbers 20-16

#20BestPicturebooks2019 Numbers 15-11

#20BestPicturebooks Number 10-6

#20BestPicturebook2019 Numbers 5-1


10 more picturebooks for Year 3…#PicturebookPage

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


Small in the City by Sydney Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oldest student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora

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

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


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

Teacup Rebecca Young  and Matt Ottley

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

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

The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho and Jess X Snow

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

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

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

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

Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look Up by Nathan Byron and Dapo Adeola

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

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

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

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

Black Dog Levi Pinfold

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

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

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

How to Solve a Problem by Ashima Shiraishi and Yao Xiao

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

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

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


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

Counting on Katherine by Helen Becker and Dom Phumiruk

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

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

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

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

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman

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

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

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

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


Year 3 List 1

10 Picturebooks for Year 3…list 1

Picturebook Lists Year 1 -Year6

Booklists (picturebooks)

Year 4 list 2

10 more Picturebooks for Year 4…#PicturebookPage

Year 5 list 2

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

Year 6 list 2

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