Oh what a lovely year…

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

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

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

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Then the world changed…

The New Normal…

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

The Emptiness

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

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The Never-ending…

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

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

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

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

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

Re-opening bought two challenges

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

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

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Reopening…

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

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

 

So now September… We have a plan…

10 more Picturebooks for Year 4…#PicturebookPage

So here is my second list for Year 4

The aim as always is as follows…

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

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

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

 

The Green Ship by Quentin Blake

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

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

A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin

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

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

One Little Bag : An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

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

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

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

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

Lights on Cotton Rock by David Litchfield

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

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

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

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

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lift by Minh Le and Dan Santat

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

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

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A Stone sat Still by Brenden Wenzel

The follow-up to They All Saw a Cat

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

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

Elvis is King by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studios

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

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

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

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

Finding Narnia by Caroline McAlister and Jessica Lanan

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

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

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

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

Hope they’re helpful.

Other Lists

2nd year 6 list..

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

2nd year 5 list…

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

1st year 4 list

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

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

Booklists (picturebooks)

 

 

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

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

Manhattan: Mapping the story of an island by Jennifer Thermes

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

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

Bonus book

River by Elisha Cooper

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she was never alone.

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

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

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

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

6. You are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim

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

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

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

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

Bonus Book

Child of the universe by Ray Jayawardhana and Raul Colon

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

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

7. Freedom we Sing by Amyra Leon and Molly Mendoza

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

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

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

8. Because by Mo Willems and Amber Ren

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

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

9. Stone for Sacha by Aaron Becker

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

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

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

We used it alongside selected bits of this…

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

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

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

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

Links to other picturebook lists…

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

Booklists (picturebooks)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-asia-48559139/a-telephone-for-grief-after-the-japanese-tsunami

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

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

What is important about Margaret Wise Brown?

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

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

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

It’s just one of those books.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui

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

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

The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold

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

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

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

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000hmxn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wind In The Wall by Sally Gardner and Rovina Cai

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

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

 

Silent Days, Silent Dreams By Allen Say

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

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

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

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

 

Flight for Freedom By Kristen Fulton and Torben Kuhlmann

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

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

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

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

The Bird within Me by Sara Lundberg

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

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

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

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

Mr Galway’s Teacher Notes (Book Island Website)

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson

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

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

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

Below is the first list.

Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage

Booklists (picturebooks)  (Y1-Y6 links)

The Loss…(#PicturebooksAboutLoss)

OK I admit I’m a bit of a stuck record, but I really do love picture books.

Wonderful, amazing, creative, challenging, funny, heart-breaking, tragic, unbelievable, fabulous picture books. They are not just a vital steppingstone into higher level reading. They are the missing link. They can develop in all Learners the ability to explore, notice, question, predict, summarise, theorise and analyse.

Picture book are often dismissed as being for younger children. They’re not! They are written off as easy. They’re not! There are some stunning picture books out there. Many offer us more than first appears.

Picture books can offer us a powerful way in to supporting young people with their feelings and emotions. The following books all deal with loss and grief and would be an amazing resource for helping young people (and some grown-ups) understand and discuss their feelings and emotions.

The following books all explore grief and loss and would be perfect for helping children explore these emotions…

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

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.

This is a book that I’ve not managed to read without crying. It totally captures, the mixture of sadness and anger that comes with losing someone we love. Just a wonderful brave, honest picturebook.

Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubac

Mrs. Badger, an avid collector and naturalist, takes a weekly journey up to Sugarloaf Peak, greeting her friends on the way and sharing her discoveries with them. One day she meets Lulu, a very small cat, who wants to go with her to the top of the mountain. On the way, Lulu learns to take care of the natural world, help those in need, and listen to her intuition. Rich in wisdom and beautifully illustrated, Up the Mountain Path offers a profound story full of lessons about love, generosity, and following one’s heart.

A beautiful, thoughtful and profound book, that explores friendship and loss. The story stays with you long after you have closed its pages. A wonderful exploration of the impact we have on others and their lives just by being us.

What Happens Next? By Shinsuke Yoshitake

What Happens Next? follows a child’s hilarious, wildly inventive train of thought following the death of his grandfather and the discovery of his journal, in which his grandfather had jotted his thoughts about life after death and the ideal heaven.

As a huge fan of Yoshitake, (his books are one of my must buys.) They are always playful, thought-provoking and imbued with an enormous sense of humour and joy. This book perfectly captures the inquisitiveness of children and the questions the want the answers to when they have lost someone they love. Perfect for sharing and discussing.

Finns Feather by Rachel Noble and Zoey Abbot

Finn knows his brother is gone. But he also knows that Hamish sent the beautiful white feather on his doorstep.

Finn runs to shows his mother the feather from Hamish, but she only gives him a big hug. In school, Finn’s teacher responds similarly. Why isn’t anyone as excited as he is? Finn sits quietly, cradling the beautiful, amazing feather. “Why did Hamish give it to you?” asks his friend, Lucas. “Maybe he wanted to say hi?” wonders Finn. “Maybe,” Lucas says, “Hamish wanted you to have fun with it.”

Finn’s Feather is a story about resilience and memory―about a child, his brother, and a friend who meets him where he is.

Just a beautiful story about loss from a child’s perspective. Gentle and heart-warming in equal measure. This book has a rosy glow of love all over it.

The Funeral by Matt James

Norma and her parents are going to her great-uncle Frank’s funeral, and Norma is more excited than sad. She is looking forward to playing with her favorite cousin, Ray, but when she arrives at the church, she is confronted with rituals and ideas that have never occurred to her before. While not all questions can be answered, when the day is over Norma is certain of one thing — Uncle Frank would have enjoyed his funeral.

This sensitive and life-affirming story will lead young readers to ask their own questions about life, death and how we remember those who have gone before us.

This is one of the most truly honest depictions of how children may deal with grief and loss and how that is often so different to how we as adults deal with it. This is fantastic for helping children understand the rituals and ideas associated with funerals. It’s also great for helping adults understand that sometimes children just cant stop being children.

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

There was a cat
who lived alone.
Until the day
a new cat came . . .

And so a story of friendship begins, following two cats through their days, months, and years until one day, the older cat has to go. And he doesn’t come back.

This is a poignant story, told in measured text and bold black-and-white illustrations about life and the act of moving on

A simple story about friendship, time and loss. The wonderfully simple design makes the story ring out and the loss more poignant. A beautiful book.

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic and Oliver Tallec

A little boy responds to his mother’s death in a genuine, deeply moving story leavened by glimmers of humor and captivating illustrations.

When the boy in this story wakes to find that his mother has died, he is overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and fear that he will forget her. He shuts all the windows to keep in his mother’s familiar smell and scratches open the cut on his knee to remember her comforting voice. He doesn’t know how to speak to his dad anymore, and when Grandma visits and throws open the windows, it’s more than the boy can take—until his grandmother shows him another way to feel that his mom’s love is near. With tenderness, touches of humor, and unflinching emotional truth, Charlotte Moundlic captures the loneliness of grief through the eyes of a child, rendered with sympathy and charm in Olivier Tallec’s expressive illustrations.

The Scar is a beautiful, poignant book and so very sad. It deals with death in a very honest and realistic way that is accessible for children but makes no promises, and is all the better for it. My heart ached for this little boy who would never see his mother again. But as all scars do, he eventually begins to heal.
The text is superbly skilled and hits just the right note as do the illustrations.

Rabbityness by Jo Empson

Rabbit enjoys doing rabbity things, but he also loves un-rabbity things! When Rabbit suddenly disappears, no one knows where he has gone. His friends are desolate. But, as it turns out, Rabbit has left behind some very special gifts for them, to help them discover their own unrabbity talents!

This is a stunning debut picture book by author/illustrator Jo Empson. Rabbityness celebrates individuality, encourages the creativity in everyone and positively introduces children to dealing with loss of any kind.

Just a glorious celebration of a life well-lived and the impact we can have on others. Poignant and joyous in equal measure. A true celebration of life.

Mum’s jumper by Jayde Perkins

If mum has gone, how do you carry on?
Missing her feels like a dark cloud that follows you around, or like swimming to a shore that never comes nearer.
But memories are like a jumper that you can cuddle and wear. And Mum’s Jumper might be a way to keep her close.
A simple, heartfelt and ultimately uplifting book for anyone coping with loss.

This book has no silver linings. doesn’t pretend but instead is a simple eloquent exploration of loss, hanging onto memories and ultimately moving on. Who said picturebooks were for children. This is perfect for all ages.

Grandpa by John Burningham

Adorable Grandpa nurses his granddaughter’s dolls, mistakes her strawberry-flavoured pretend ice cream for chocolate, and falls in with her imaginary plans to captain a ship to Africa. It is a friendship that children who read this book will long remember.

A beautiful portrayal of the grandparent child relationship and the hole that leaves when its gone. Simple and touching.

Duck, Death and the Tulip  by Wolf Erlbruch

In a strangely heart-warming story, a duck strikes up an unlikely friendship with Death. Death, Duck and the Tulip will intrigue, haunt and enchant readers of all ages. Simple, unusual, warm and witty, this book deals with a difficult subject in a way that is elegant, straightforward, and thought-provoking

Strange and surreal, this must be one of the most unique picture books ever.
It is lonely and melancholy  but kind and very gentle. Out of all the books on this list this is the one that has made me stop and think about the life we live and the choices we make. A true work of genius.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Once there was a girl whose life was filled with all the wonder of the world around her. Then one day something occurred that caused the girl to take her heart and put it in a safe place.

However, after that it seemed that more things were empty than before. Would she know when and how to get her heart back?

A beautiful exploration of how we protect ourselves from being hurt, but also how that can stop us truly remembering the joy as well. Locking emotions away will sometimes we lose more than we gain.

Cry Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved and Charlotte Pardi

Aware their grandmother is gravely ill, four siblings make a pact to keep death from taking her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gently, naturally. And he comes with enough time to share a story with the children that helps them to realize the value of loss to life and the importance of being able to say goodbye.

A beautifully told, wonderfully realised, story about celebrating a life well lived and being able to let go.

Fox and Goldfish by Nils Pieters

Fox knows that Goldfish is very unwell. Before it s too late, he takes his friend on an epic adventure beyond the fishbowl. Together they take a splash in the ocean, go for a bike ride in the Grand Canyon, admire Mount Fuji, explore the jungle, go skiing and even make it to the moon. Then time has come for Fox to let go of Goldfish. At least he s shown him the entire world. Some things like friendship, farewells, and the beauty of the world are almost beyond words.

A vibrant, joyous celebration of life and friendship that makes its final moments all the more powerful. Almost wordless yet the opening and closing sentences are all the more powerful for that. Just wonderful.

Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies

After the phenomenal success of The Storm Whale and On Sudden Hill, this new book by Benji Davies deals with the emotional topic of losing a grandparent. Subtly told, this beautifully illustrated book tackles a difficult subject with great sensitivity and depth.

Beautifully illustrated this is a fantastic book to share with younger children to help them understand the loss of a grandparent.  The relationship in the book is one to truly be treasured.

The End of Something Wonderful: A practical guide to a Backard Funeral by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic and George Ermos

With gentle humor and quirkiness, this sympathetic book demonstrates how to say goodbye to a beloved pet and give it a proper sendoff.

Off-the wall and more than a little quirky, this book is totally my kind of book. It approaches the loss of a loved pet with a dash of daftness, and a generous dolloping of love. I blummin’ love this book for it’s sensitivity and humour.

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

The tale of a dependable, reliable and helpful badger who realises that his old age will soon lead to death. His friends learn to come to terms with his death in an enchanting tale. With full colour illustrations throughout.

This has stood the test of time for a reason. Badger’s Parting Gift is a timeless story of the imapct we leave on those around us and how we live on through their memories. A classic.

The Gift by Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan

In a quiet town, of a sort not found nowadays, lives a beautiful young girl. One summer day, she visits the woods with her mother and father. While her parents prepare the picnic, she seeks out buttercups and daisies for a flower necklace. As she does so, a wish forms in her mind–and to her surprise, a silver-haired woman appears, ready to grant it.

A story of celebration for a life well-lived and the impact that life has on those we leave behind.  Ryan’s artwork is beautifully intricate and compliments Duffy’s poetic words perfectly.

Waiting For Wolf by Sandra Dieckmann

Stunning picture book about grief and learning to accept that death is part of life. Absolutely love the illustrations and I totally felt all the emotions poor little fox was feeling when he realised his best friend Wolf was not coming back. Beautiful

Beautiful, beautiful book, both inside and out. A book of friendship and the howling despair of loss that ultimately gives way to treasured memories. Perfect for exploring loss with children.

If All The World Were… by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpays

A moving, poetic picture book about a young girl’s love for her granddad and how she copes when his grandad dies, written by poet and playwright Joe Coelho. This powerful and ultimately uplifting text is the ideal way to introduce children to the concept of death and dying, particularly those who have lost a grandparent.

Joseph Coelho’s delicate poetic story is beautifully complimented by Allison Colpay’s tender autumnal artwork to create a powerful emotional picturebook that treasures the time we’ve had.

Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacobs

A timeless fable of the journey from grief to acceptance that will touch every reader: Rabbit isn’t sure he’ll ever be brave enough to go on an adventure. He’s a homebody who lives in a quiet field of wheat he dreams of leaving every night. His world is enlarged by his friend Dog and Dog’s tales of motorbike adventures. But one day, Dog is gone, and with him, go the stories Rabbit loves so much. Dare Rabbit pick up the motorbike and live his own story?

• A touching tale for those confronting loss and those who are eager to explore and experience the world around them
• Rabbit’s bravery in the face of sadness will console, nurture, and inspire young readers

A book about the life we live and the impact that can have on other. A book about bravery and the choices we make. Deeply profound and moving.

My Father’s Arms are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde and Oyvind Torsetter

It’s quieter than it’s ever been. Unable to sleep, a young boy climbs into his father’s arms. Feeling the warmth and closeness of his father, he begins to ask questions about the birds, the foxes, and whether his mom will ever wake up. They go outside under the starry sky. Loss and love are as present as the white spruces, while the father’s clear answers and assurances calm his worried son. Here we feel the cycles of life and life’s continuity, even in the face of absence and loss, so strongly and clearly that we know at the end that everything will, somehow, be all right.

Probably of all the books above this one is the one that affected me the most. A heart-wrenching exploration of loss and depression. It explores the relationship between a father and son after loss. Stunning

Sad Book by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake

With unmitigated honesty, a touch of humor, and sensitive illustrations by Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen explores the experience of sadness in a way that resonates with us all.

Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.

Sad things happen to everyone, and sometimes people feel sad for no reason at all. What makes Michael Rosen sad is thinking about his son, Eddie, who died suddenly at the age of eighteen. In this book the author writes about his sadness, how it affects him, and some of the things he does to cope with it—like telling himself that everyone has sad stuff (not just him) and trying every day to do something he can be proud of. Expressively illustrated by the extraordinary Quentin Blake, this is a very personal story that speaks to everyone, from children to parents to grandparents, teachers to grief counselors. Whether or not you have known what it’s like to feel deeply sad, the truth of this book will surely touch you.

A brilliant, powerful exploration of grief and depression. This is starkly honest and immensely powerful. It is a hard read but sings out with a truth. Very rarely does a children’s writer so openly shows themselves to their readers. A stunning book.

…This is all I’ve done so far I’ll continue to add to this as and when time allows. (There are at quite a few books I’ve not covered yet)

The Emptiness

As I wander round this shell of a building, each day is a struggle to comprehend the now, to see something nurtured and grown, stripped back. Just an empty carapace. This isn’t “our” school

A school isn’t a building. Great schools are alive. They are vibrant. There is an energy, a togetherness, a common focus, a love and dare I say it a community. Children are the blood the runs through the veins of a school, without them it is withered lifeless husk.

What the last six weeks has shown, is how much a school really does. We have held our communities together, we have supported those of most need, we have been there again and again. The work isn’t just about education, in fact in many cases the education has been secondary to the real issues. School have in the greatest sense of the word been bothered. It’s not just about the home –schooling offer. I have delivered food parcels, talked with parents to help them find solutions, managed staff anxieties and supported them(I’ve seen some ridiculous demands on some staff).  and a thousand other jobs I never thought I’d have to do. I can honestly say I haven’t stopped.

I’ve been lucky to have had the support of an amazing group of headteachers and an incredibly pro-active trust that have supported every step of the way. Equally our staff have been amazing, both those who’ve been in and those who’ve tirelessly worked from home.

When the head of Ofsted states that schools would have been found wanting, I think all it really shows is that she hasn’t a clue what we’ve done. When she talked about parents needing Ofsted because there will be no exam results to judge school’s on, I would guarantee that this crisis has perhaps allowed parents to really see the school their child goes to for the first time. I would say now is the time for Ofsted to support schools, not promote themselves as some ‘Sword of Damocles’ wielding arbiter of false value. I look at the schools and heads I work with and not one has let their children or their families down, not one school isn’t striving to do what they’re doing better every single day.

I said to my staff that the aim was that when we open everybody will walk back in that door. My staff are not expendable they are the beating heart of this place. We want to be open, there is not a headteacher in the land that doesn’t want the children back in their school, but we have to do in a way that is as safe as we can make it. 

What that will look like is anybody’s guess, there will not be a normal for some time.

We won’t be able to start where we left off, there will be hundreds of stories and needs. Every school’s return to normality will be different. Genuinely who is anybody to judge whether that is right or wrong, what I do know is that school leaders and their staff will strive to make the right choices for their families, children, communities, but it won’t be led by the science it will be led by the heart.

The New Normal…

 

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These are strange times indeed. I’m sure somewhere on my job contract buried in the small print there is a clause that covers the last few weeks, I haven’t found it, however.

It felt like a good time to stop and breathe, in fact this is the first moment I’ve had to stop and breathe. It’s been great to pause today, I’ve listened to a lot of Bruce Springsteen (I’m working my way through all his albums…currently on Live 75-85), I’ve read quite a bit. I’ve sat and thought quite a lot.

I stepped away from twitter today, as there was much that was frustrating me.

In education we have had very little time and guidance to create this new normal, parents have had very little time to adjust to this. First thing I have to say is it’s not the same, it can’t and won’t be the same.

We all have a wealth of new pressures on us, parents, teachers, children, everybody. Fundamentally our roles as schools and educators has changed.

Fact is education isn’t our most important job now. First and foremost, our role is about supporting our families to manage their way through this, helping them create rhythms and patterns, helping them find a home balance about what will happen in their homes for what could be quite some time. We have a key role in helping families find their way through this. We also have a key role in ensuring the children are safe.  We are in a honeymoon period now parents are more likely to engage with us, and there is a first flush of enthusiasm about doing this from many. For some this will last from many others this will diminish. As teachers and school leaders we need to remember that it’s not all about us.

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I’ve seen schools trying to run a full timetable, I’ve seen parents stressed, many of whom will have to be working from home while having their children there and children stressed by the demands. I then think of the teachers who may be home with their children and trying to create this plethora of stuff. I’ve seen teachers produce full timetables of internet links to learning videos and saying children must do this (some of these are great however, Joe Wicks has broken me though). I’ve seen demands on teachers to mark and feedback submitted work exponentially increasing their workload. (I now know what exponential means). We need to let go. We can’t control it all.

As time goes on, we need to help families find a healthy balance. In primary, that’s probably a bit of Maths, a bit of writing and some reading every day, (I’d say lots of reading but I’m a bit obsessed) anything more than that and we will create something impossible. We’re planning a more project-based approach for after Easter as way of keeping children motivated and engaged with the work. The key point of the learning is parents spending time and talking with their kids. Cook together, listen to music, draw, do a jigsaw, do some gardening, make the beds etc. Creating home patterns and rhythms is the key bit. We don’t know what will be going on behind those doors, we don’t know the pressures those families are facing, just in the last week I’ve had parents concerned about money, and food and a hundred other things.  One thing we should not be doing is making this harder for families. Equally we should not be creating an impossible job for our staff.

This isn’t school, it can’t be school…there are going to be so many more issues to deal with when the children return into our buildings. Firstly, how do we help these children become used to being with other children again and feeling safe in our care.

People have talked about the “Gap” fact is whether we like it or not the gap between children will grow. I’d love to say it won’t, but the gap will be exacerbated, we have children without internet apart from a data package on Mum or Dad’s phone (Constant video lesson watching probably used that up by Tuesday). We have children, with no tablets or computers at home. The wonders of internet teaching will zoom past these children, how do we make sure we don’t forget about these children.

This weekend is a time to step back breathe and re-evaluate what it is we’re doing and how it helps our families and our communities.

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To paraphrase Professor Ian Malcolm “Your teachers were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Anyway back to the book and the Springsteen marathon. Stay Safe

 

 

 

The Silence… (sat in no-mans land)

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For a couple of weeks now war has waged on twitter. Since The right honourable Gav, dropped his silence bomb, people have planted their flag in the ground and nailed their colours to the post.

This has been exacerbated by an Ofsted report that dismissed a strict behaviour regime due to objections by pupils and parents. We have high profile tweeters sniping  others about it if they don’t agree with them and even a robust response from the Tsar himself criticising Ofsted and the way behaviour was reported. I have to say in this case I agreed with Mr Bennett with his point about schools doing what they need to do. It is sadly, a hopeless, futile war where neither side will give ground and stop to consider the others view.

It is a landscape full of hyperbole, both sides portraying the other as wrong and spinning webs of propaganda to support their argument.

Silence on the corridors = compliance, control and robot children

Talking on the corridors = Chaos and supporting bullying

Exclusions = The greatest evil or the greatest weapon (depending on your side)

All children are Naughty/angelic delete depending on your viewpoint.

 

…and on and on it goes

Isolation booths, restorative practices, warm-strict etc…. Grenades hurled by both sides, good or evil depending on your stance.

This battle has waged and will continue to wage. There is no winning.  So now the mortal enemies stand either side of no man’s land staring across into the ravaged landscape, sniping from their bunkers and ever more it will be.

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Except that some of us are caught up on the barbed wire singing quietly into the night or cowering in shell like craters whispering our thoughts.

We are the middle. Generally, they are people doing the job on a day to day basis rather than the ones telling people how to do the job from the safety of their war-rooms miles from the front.

I am one such person, I have views on all these things, and they have changed and adapted as school has changed. I’m six years down the line here

 

When I walked into my current school behaviour was some of the worst I had seen in a primary school, the chief issue was behaviour. It was challenging and this was impacting on the wellbeing of staff and pupils alike. A new behaviour policy was devised and quickly embedded. Patterns of behaviour were analysed, and minor but high-impact changes were made, we restructured lunchtimes, for example, so all year groups were not on break together. Meanwhile, I made sure I was visible in school, and visibly supporting behaviour. I also spoke to parents and we put the onus on them helping us to get it right.

There were sanctions, there were rewards, we removed children from their classes (Most often to time spent with me. If children are disrupting learning of others, they should be removed IMO) We had clear systems and we stuck to them, as head I backed the staff to the hilt. We excluded; we even called the police.

We set rules and we held the line, corridors were silent, it was reset. It was not the end of the line though. We taught children about behaviour, we were rigorous to the expectations and we stuck to it. All the time we were building relationships and trust. In primary relationships are key, but if there aren’t clear expectation and boundaries you don’t ever give them the chance to flourish.  My teachers are fierce and demanding in the best way. We coined the term #FierceKindness way before warm/strict became a rebrand. We never saw it as end though. It was a moment, as behaviour improved the policy adapted, corridors were silent for about a term, now they are calm and orderly, class behaviour is focussed, children most of the time want to learn. We have some children that need extra. Sometimes behaviour is uncommunicated need, sometimes its children testing boundaries and making poor choices. The behaviour policy is still there, it’s very rarely used now in the way we had to use it. We equally work hard with those children who struggle.

‘The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. What marks it out as being beyond good is how considerate pupils are towards each other and how they remind each other of how to behave without having to be prompted by adults. This does not just happen by chance. Teachers have worked hard to create an ethos in the classroom where mutual respect, tolerance and cooperation are very much the order of the day.’ Ofsted 2016

Ask anybody who’s visited (that includes Mary Myatt) and they’ll tell you it’s a calm, orderly school, with enthusiastic children who want to learn.

The fact is each school should be able to choose what happens in their school and what those rules and routines are. For me too many rules mean that you are creating a battleground, for others I appreciate it’s a communication about values and expectations. (that’s why I’ve never challenged my son’s school on a behaviour policy that frankly I thought was a bit silly, equally I was careful not to say that to my son)

Ultimately it comes down to what our expectations of young people are. I think they can be brilliant, creative, caring, generous, hard-working and will with the right support make the right choices. I trust and believe in children in my school and they repay that in spades.

So, the question is what is it that we want from behaviour in our schools. Personally, I want children who have responsibility for their actions and choices and make them in a secure moral framework. Therefore, if we look at our behaviour systems, we should question what they achieve. Discipline without responsibility will need constant vigilance. Discipline driven by pupils’ own morals is almost self-regulating. Behaviour policies aren’t static, and the aim should be more than compliance.

When children get stuff wrong and they will because lets be honest we all do, do we just punish and expect them to not do it again (it will work for some, my son hates being in trouble he’s spent the last four years terrified he’d get into trouble for the tiniest infraction) or do we do the thing we are good at and teach the children.

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We need a behaviour “Christmas Truce” where we all step into no-mans land shake hands (or just fist-bump now) and listen to each other. I think we’d find that most of us are not as far away from each other as twitter makes us believe.

#StorytimeAssembly

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The idea for Storytime assembly came about when I was looking for a way to give staff a bit of extra-time every week. I’ve always been passionate about the importance of story and children being read to, so it started as a natural progression from that.

There was a purely selfish element to starting it on my part, I missed reading stories to children, I missed the joy, the art of reading a story to a group of children. It’s always been one of things that I could do well. I made an active decision that it would be about sharing stories and to not let it be overwhelmed by the messages from those stories. (generally, that is the case, but you can’t ignore the lessons great stories tell us).

In the first year I had all the children together, EY all the way Year 6. Whilst it was great it was also a bit limiting. I had to make active choices about texts that all could access.

I just picked stories, there was no real rhyme or reason to it, they were just stories I liked. Sometimes that was not always the best choice, reading for 230 pupils is different to reading to a class. I learnt very quickly that some stories worked much better than others. I also found that authors worked better for me in an assembly context. (I’ll share some of those later)

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Each week I would bring new stories or poems and read, and it was great I did however find my-self returning to stories and books. Some stories began to adapt for the assembly. Revisiting  became part of the structure of the session, returning to stories I often found children joining in and the telling became communal rather than solitary, some stories naturally lent themselves to performance and children now often come and take parts in the story-telling, being characters and helping our youngest children understand the story.

The assembly began to develop its own structure, we would revisit an older story, share a new, have a performance story and share poems. Keep focussed on the joy of the story and the almost tactile relationship between the teller and the audience.

I have a box for Storytime assembly books in my office (mainly so I can find them I have a lot of books in my office). I do read them, and I do practice the storytelling. There is an art to it. Knowing the books well allows yow to craft the telling.

I was lucky enough to get to do a Storytime assembly at #PrimaryRocks last year. There is a video somewhere.

This year I do two assemblies one for Early Years/Key stage 1 and one for Key Stage 2. This has allowed me to adapt the content for Key Stage 2, we now have an ongoing narrative/chapter story where we recap on the story. It means I can also share my love of Paul Jennings stories. We still however have picture books and shared performance, I’ve continued to try to keep the ‘something old, something, new’ mantra.

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Ultimately, it’s a joy for me, the children get to hear brilliant stories. I don’t have any evidence that it develops children’s learning, but genuinely I can’t think of a better way to give teachers and extra block of time above and beyond their PPA every week.

 

Story time assembly tips.

  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • t 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)
  • Go under the ‘spell.’ Allow your book to flow and get lost in it together. Get lost in the power of the story. Those moments when children are literally hanging on your every word waiting for the reveal are just amazing
  • Remember the audience, there is an element of pantomime to reading to a hall full of children.
  • Think about the structure of the assembly, the balance of texts, don’t be afraid of repetition and familiarity.
  • ENJOY!!! Have a blast!!!

 

This is a small list of books and authors; I’m just going to highlight the books that really work for me and form my core #StorytimeAssembly choices. They are mainly chosen because of how they work with an audience.

 

‘That Rabbit belongs to Emily Brown’ by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

Just my favourite read aloud ever… I do voices

‘Read the Book Lemmings’ and ‘Horrible Bear’ by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah O’Hara

‘Dandy’ by Ame Dyckman and Charles Santoso

Amy’s books have a brilliant read aloud rhythm and are fantastically funny (she really knows how to write a joke). The art is equally simple and arresting that helps it work with an audience. Read the book is possibly the best book for shared performance.

 

‘Secret Sky Garden’ by Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers

Perfect for a bit of quiet beauty with a room full of people

 

‘Little Red’ by Bethan Woolvin

Great retelling of Red Riding Hood with a twist

 

‘Grumpy Frog’ By Ed Vere

Genius levels of funny

 

‘Not Now Bernard’, ‘Elmer’ by David Mckee

Just classics

 

‘Oh No! George!’, ‘Shhhh!’

‘Don’t worry Little Crab’ both by Chris Haughton.

Chris is a master of the simple repeating narrative making his books perfect for the join in and read aloud.

 

Would You rather?’ by John Burningham

There is not a better Question and answer response book ever, wild and just a bit anarchic. Perfect, for interaction with just a bit of gross out humour.

 

‘The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors’ by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

Perfect for parts and over the top performance. It’s an assembly fave.

 

‘Look Up’ by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola

This is a new favourite, great characters and a delightful story

 

‘Something Else’ by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell

Just a perfect story

 

‘Diary of a killer Cat’ by Anne Fine

A perfect short chapter read

 

(KS2) Loads of Paul Jennings short stories (favourites are, Exposer, Licked, Wunderpants, Strap Box Flyer, Only Gilt amongst many).

I have relied on Paul Jennings for the last 26 years… He has never let me down

 

Joan Aiken Short stories especially ‘A Necklace of Raindrops’

Just Genius.

 

Also a range of great poetry

Michael Rosen, Joseph Coelho, Allan Allburg, Paul Cookson, Rachel Rooney new this term is Matt Goodfellow.

The Purpose…Part 2

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In almost all curriculum posts I see a focus on the What of curriculum. What is it that children should learn, the phrase by Matthew Arnold ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ is oft quoted. Ofsted use it, Michael Gove used it. However, Arnold’s original quote was a little more nuanced.

The whole scope of this essay is to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which must concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.

Matthew Arnold ‘Culture and Anarchy’ 1848

The best that’s thought and said on all the matters that concern us gives it a different slant and perspective. IMO

We’ve spent a huge amount of time defining the WHAT for our school. Our starting point was the national curriculum but a curriculum that denies where we are and the history of the place, we live in is no curriculum at all. We’ve thought long and hard about the things we believe are important for children to learn in our school. We’ve thought about the ‘WHAT’ of each year and how it builds on the ‘WHAT’ of previous years. (This is something under constant review by our Curriculum team) What we were missing however was the WHY? We had a curriculum of learning without purpose. We created a curriculum that skimmed the surface, over-full, teaching lots of things without any purpose for knowing them. We had missed the WHY?

We used to start with a ‘hook.’ Sometimes it was a trip or a visit or some other showy thing to get the children interested. The initial enthusiasm wore off quickly. The buzz lost in a cavalcade of stuff without any reason to learn it. It had no impact and even less retention. Children did the Vikings, the Romans or Space. Facts were taught but not for a reason. Learning had no purpose. We taught everything in a hit and hope kind of way. It was curriculum by ‘Bugsy Malone Splurge Gun’

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We came to the realisation that for our curriculum we needed a purpose, a reason to learn. (I know people will say learning is a goal in and of itself and I would agree.) The purpose however allowed us to focus the curriculum, to do less but better, to really think about what children needed to learn.

We created purpose in two ways, first was the design of a key question that children were going to answer through the learning they did in the subject. This acted as a lens on the thing’s children would be taught. Question design is vital for us. If we got the question wrong, then the curriculum would become unfocused.  The core subject knowledge underpinning the learning would be the same regardless of the question (This is where Knowledge organisers fit for me creating the baseline of knowledge on which the deeper learning sits) but the choice then focuses that learning in to a certain area or aspect, creating opportunities for children to revisit, use and apply their learning.

In the Year 2 example below. The Question  ” Why was the fire of London so destructive?” was the curriculum driver and the learning focused to exploring and answering that question. We still make stuff, we encourage children to use that knowledge and apply. The fire below came after a significant amount of work exploring the factors. The fire helped children crystallise their understanding as is evident in the writing.

The other key aspect was to design clarity around an end-product. The creation of an end-product was very much inspired, stolen from the work of Ron Berger in his book ‘Ethic of Excellence’ an excellent book that has very much stuck with me since I read.

I believe that work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence. After students have had a taste of excellence, they’re never quite satisfied with less; they’re always hungry.

I want students whose work is strong and accurate and beautiful; [I want] students who are proud of what they do, proud of how they respect both themselves and others.

I believe that work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same.

Either way, my role as teacher is not as the sole judge of their work, but rather like that of a sports coach or play director: I am helping them to get their work ready for the public eye.  There is a reason to do the work well, and it’s not just because the teacher wants it that way.                                           

                                                                  Ron Berger Ethic of Excellence 2003

That could take many forms. Clarity around the product allowed us to clearly see the teaching sequence leading to that, both in terms of the knowledge and how we support children in achieving excellence. Sometimes it will be a piece of writing, a piece of art, a debate speech, a letter, a presentation. The product however reflects pupils learning and an application of their knowledge. Part of the teaching therefore is equally about how we support the pupil to create that product. This is still ongoing, allowing children to create work they are proud of, is a key part of the purpose. Effective use of modelling and precision teaching is equally as important. Teaching is the key. Expectation is part of it, pupil’s intrinsic motivation however is key.  Curriculum purpose (when we get it right, sometimes we don’t)  gives our children that in spades.

We’ve been working on this for a while, knowing stuff is one think being able to use it is another for us that’s the point.

Below is a snippet from our Ofsted last June. It’s a work in progress but when it works the impact is powerful.

One typical Year 5 pupil wrote a persuasive argument about the greatest scientific discovery that began: ‘Copernicus ‘theory of the solar system, Albert Einstein’s discovery of the speed of light and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution will be discussed. Upon evaluating the strengths of each discovery, an argument for the most significant will be presented. ‘This is typical of the high quality of writing that key stage 2 pupils produce across the wider curriculum.

Ofsted 2019

We’ve also been exploring how we get children to write in different subjects. This is helping to focus our writing.

Coming soon The Purpose…Part 3 (The Devil is in the Detail)

The Purpose…Part 1