Thursday, 29 September 2016

Cool as a Cucumber by Michael Morpurgo

Cool as a Cucumber by Michael Morpurgo is a short chapter book about a boy called Peter who discovers something unusual whilst digging in the school vegetable patch and becomes something of a hero.

This title is one from the Walker Book's Sprinters titles.These are Ideal for helping to build confidence in young children who are learning to read alone. 

The storyline is simple to follow and is organised into manageable chapters which makes it ideal for those you have just become independent readers and are beginning to develop their stamina by reading short chapter books. It also contains a number of black and white illustrations which makes it a good transition book for those moving from picture books to more lengthy chapter books. There are also a number of items of vocabulary which most children in year 3 should be able to decode independently but they may not be familiar with in terms of comprehension. This makes it a particularly useful text for developing 'working out the meaning of words from the context'.

The story is told in the first person by the protagonist, Peter. The climax of the story is believable and is likely to appeal to boys as well as girls. There have been many similar stories recounted in the press and teachers could find some of these on the internet and use them to compare the story with one that has happened in real life.

Peter behaves like a real child, the school seems like a real school and the events aren't totally fantastical. This could make it easier for children to engage with, because it's not very different from their own lives. In addition to encouraging children in independent reading it could be used for inspiration in creative writing with students imagining what other things they might find in the school garden if they just dig deep enough.

The structure of the story is clear and as such makes a good text to use with children in years 2/3 who are beginning to analyse the books they read in terms of structure. Characterisation is developed through both speech and action and is done in a such a way that again children who are newly independent can nurture their skills of inference. Peter's thoughts and feelings do change throughout the book and this would be a good focus for study.

The climax of the story involves the emergency services and the media and would make a good stimulus for both drama and writing. 

Reading Activities £2

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

 'I am a Child of Books. I come from a world of stories. And upon my imagination, I float.' These are the opening lines of this beautiful picture book, which follows a young girl as she takes a little boy on an adventure by opening his imagination. As they journey along, she teaches him that you don't need to travel the world to have adventures, you can travel anywhere you like with the aid of a book, as books are the key to letting your imagination flow freely.

Its very simple plot is very effective. The story itself is told through very few words. However, the artwork on every page is an explosion of words from a range of children's literature, which are cleverly presented to create the sea, clouds, mountains and monsters.

The written story and the illustrations visually take you on a journey. The passages have been carefully selected to echo each illustration. The sea is created from texts about journeys: The Voyage of Dr Doolittle, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels (which isn't a children's book but Jeffers and Winston can be forgiven for that).

The little girl leads the boy down the path of adventure which is created from the words from Alice's Adveentures in Wonderland. They climb the mountains of Neverland and enter the caves of Kidnapped before playing in the fairy tale woods and extracts from Rapunzel form the rope from the castle. Many of the illustrations use muted colours but interestingly and significantly the house where the little girl lives is bold and bright. The 2 page spread which features the words ' For this is our world we've made from stories.' is the most colourful of the whole book emphasising the bright, colourful world of stories and books.

It is the perfect book to launch a school book week or reading challenge. Pupils in upper key stage 2 could be challenged to identify all the titles featured. (Apparently there are 42 classic books and lullabies in total - I haven't spotted them all yet!).

It  would also be interesting to explore the 'word painting' that is used. Children could find appropriate passages from books they have read  to create their own images of worlds they have encountered and visited through story. Applications such as wordle , tagul and tagxedo would be useful in acheiving this.

In the back slip of the dustcover, Jeffers and Winston state 'From the very beginning we both wanted to create a tale that celebrates our own love of classic children's literature with an added modern twist. For us it was about capturing some of the magic tha happens when you first get lost in a timeless story, but doing it in a way that readers haven't seen before.' They certainly have done that.

Publisher: Walker Books
Publication Date: Sept 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4063-5831-5


Friday, 24 June 2016

The Story Shop. Stories for Literacy. Compiled by Nikki Gamble

The Story Shop is a collection of more than 60 short stories. It contains myths, legends, folk tales, fables, trickster stories, humourous stories, adventure stories, mystery stories, historical stories, fantasy, science fiction, stories with familiar settings, stories that raise issues ...all kinds of complete stories for use during English lessons and would serve as a good introduction to a variety of authors to promote reading for pleasure throughout Key Stage 2.  Authors range from Aesop and Arthur Ransome to  the very best for today's children, including Anthony Horowitz, Morris Gleitzman, Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Rosen, Michael Morpurgo, Philippa Pearce, Jan Mark, Jeremy Strong, Adele Geras, Paul Stewart, Malorie Blackman, Jamila Gavin and Beverley Naidoo.

It would make an valuable classroom resource, providing models for children's own writing in a variety of genres and styles as well as a resource for guided and shared reading where teachers and children can explore together the structure and features of a whole range of fiction genres. Nikki Gamble, author of Exploring Children's Literature, has used her expertise as a literacy consultant, university lecturer and now independent children's bookseller and reading consultant  to compile this selection. 

All of the stories are worth reading in their own right. It is designed to open reader's eyes and minds to the range of writing available. It's a chance to dip a toe into previously untried literary waters. This collection contains something even for the most reluctant reader. 

Publisher:Hodder Children's Books
Publication Date: 2006
ISBN: 0340911042

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Littlest Owl by Caroline Pitcher and illustrated by Tina Macnaughton

The Littlest Owl by Caroline Pitcher and illustrated by Tina Macnaughton is a picture book story about the trials and tribulations of Four, the youngest of four baby owls, who is 'so dumpy and small, a downy white ball.'

His three older siblings snatch the food before he can get to it and trample on him causing his Mum some degree of concern. Soon, the older owlets learn how to fly but Four can't quite manage it no matter how hard he tries.

Despite being smaller than his siblings, he doesn't give up. Like many younger brothers and sisters he wants to be just like his older siblings. This is something that children who have older brothers and sisters will probably relate to.

It would make a lovely read-aloud story for early years/foundation stage and has the clear message that we all develop at different rates. Children from year 1 up, who have successfully mastered phase 5 phonics, will be able to read the text independently. There are some items of vocabulary which children may be unfamiliar with and for that reason it would work well as a guided reading text.

Guided reading would also be an opportunity for teachers to scaffold children's emerging skill of inference. The character of each of the owlets is developed through the dialogue and discussions about how this informs us about their feelings will be instrumental in securing children's comprehension of the text.

The dialogue could also be used as a model for children's own writing. Pitcher makes use of a whole host of synonyms for said which children could collect. 

The illustrations complement the text. The owl's home glows with warm, golden tones. These contrast with the dark blue tones of the night sky.  The storm is depicted in greeny-grey blue tones and the ferocity of the storm is indicated by the sheer movement of the leaves in the trees and the swirls in the dark foreboding sky. The contrast from the warm, cozy glow of the Owls' home at the beginning of the story to the dark, menacing tones at the end would be good to use as a stimulus for discussing setting.

It would also be useful to read this alongside Martin Waddell's Owl Babies. Both are stories about a family of baby owls and whilst the themes and plots are different there are some similarities which could be explored.

Published: 2008
Published by:Little Tiger Press
ISBN: 978-1-84506-622-2

Thursday, 12 May 2016

There's a Dragon in my Backpack by Tom Nicoll and illustrated by SarahHorne

There's a Dragon in my Backpack by Tom Nicoll is a short, action-packed, chapter book illustrated by Sarah Horne. It is ideal for the newly independent reader who is developing reading stamina and making the transition from picture books to chapter books. It is the second story about Eric and his pet dragon, Pan. However, you don't have to read the first story in the series to be able to fully appreciate and enjoy this book as it reads well as a stand-alone story.

It is told in the first person by 9 year old Eric Crisp. Eric has a secret pet: a mini-dragon called Pan. Pan's thirst for adventure gets Eric into all sorts of scrapes and children will enjoy reading about the lengths Eric has to go to in order to keep Pan a secret. He loves his dragon despite this and is willing to put himself in danger in order to rescue Pan.

As a class/group read, teachers can explore characterisation. There are clear contrasts between the good and the bad characters, whilst at the same time some interesting similarities. Both Eric, the loveable protagonist, and Toby, the loathsome neighbour tell lies. Exploring why despite this, we still love Eric but detest Toby, teachers will be able to further children's comprehension skills beyond the simple distinctions between good and evil.

The story structure is a relatively simple one which is chronologically sequenced over the course of two days. This means that children will be able to comprehend the events with ease. However, the comprehension of the characters will require pupils to focus more on their developing skills of inference. Nicoll utilises the writing technique, often referred to as 'show not tell' throughout the book. The three friends, Eric, Jayden and Min all have their own individual character traits which can be explored through an examination of their dialogue. Likewise, later on in the book when the three friends meet Emily from the La-Di-Da school, children will need to use their inference skills to know that she doesn't believe their story about what is in the backpack and also why she doesn't believe it. 

It would also be interesting to focus on Toby as a character. Eric's views of him change as the story progresses. This makes it a good text to use when introducing children to the idea that character traits don't remain static. They are influenced by the events that occur.

Horne's black and white illustrations throughout the book break up the text making it a good transition text from picture books to chapter books. Children won't be daunted by the number of words on the page. Likewise, there are a number of 'notes/factfiles' which Eric has produced that serve the same purpose as well as providing additional information. The illustrations will also support children who still find it difficult to visualise a story or have no prior experience of some of the settings/events in the story. For example, many children will not have had experience of or know anyone who attends a private school and the illustration will help those children visualise the description of Toby's uniform.

Ideal to use as a class/group text to develop children's comprehension skills in particular inference. It would also make a good text to model various writing techniques or as a Talk4Writing stimulus. The book will appeal to both boys and girls alike.  The fact that the protagonist is a boy and there is a great deal of humour and action in the story means in particular that it ticks all the boxes that have been identified in research about motivating boys to read and this age group has proven to be the crucial age group in developing life-long readers.

Publisher: Little Tiger Press
Publication Date: May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-84715-676-1

Monday, 9 May 2016

Fleeced by Julia Wills

Fleeced by Julia Wills is the first novel in a trilogy about the ram who once was the proud owner of the famous 'golden fleece'. However, it doesn't really fall into the category of historical novel. It is actually a modern day adventure story full of drama, suspense and humour.

We are first introduced to characters from the Greek Underworld: ghosts from the Ancient Greek Myths. Aries (a ram) is disgruntled because Jason has stolen his precious Golden Fleece. He siezes the opportunity to return to Earth in an attempt to retrieve his fleece and he and his friend Alex are transported to modern day London. From this point on, the story contains all the elements you would expect from quest: drama, suspense, excitement and intrigue.

As a long novel, (almost 400 pages) it would suit most pupils in years 5 and 6. However, some pupils who are developing their reading stamina in year 4 would also enjoy reading this independently. Teachers may feel that a novel of this length is too long to read as a class text. Nevertheless, I would recommend it for individual/group reading. Each individual chapter is relatively short and fast paced. 

The main theme of the novel is friendship and loyalty. Throughout the story, the close friendship of Alex and Aries is explored, in particular Aries' perception of friendship. Pupils will be able to track how his character develops and pinpoint events which are critical to that development. If the text is used for group/guided reading, the discussions focusing on Aries' development would provide useful evidence for teacher assessment. 

The structure of the story is a quest and as you would expect, there are many events along the journey: some positive, others negative. Many of the Greek Myths themselves are quests and it would be interesting to encourage pupils to compare and contrast the structure of this modern day quest with one from Greek Mythology, in particular Jason and the Golden Fleece. Pupils could also make links with other contemporary stories about characters from mythology such as the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordon.

Julia Wills' style is interesting. The book is written in the third person and the author takes on the role of the omniscient narrator. However, rather than being the anonymous, unseen narrator, she becomes a character in the story. One who provides a commentary on events, useful snippets of information and humorous asides. You really do get the feeling that she is personally telling the story to you.

The detailed descriptions help the reader visualize the different settings. One of my favourites is that of Medea's shop. Although detailed, the descriptions aren't long and drawn out and do not distract from the pace of the story at all. Even, if the text is not being used as a class novel, any of these descriptions of setting can be used as models for writing. Other descriptions, such as in chapter 25 not only help you visualize the scene but also help you 'hear' it.

The book would complement a history topic of Ancient Greece, as not only do you learn about the myths but also about the architecture. Rose's mother works at the British Museum and as such Rose spends much of her time there. Chapter 7 describes in detail the exhibits in the Parthenon room of the museum and provides a short history lesson about the Elgin marbles. This is done in a very natural way from Roses's perspective and is not at all didactic. In the same way readers learn about important aspects of conservation and restoration.

The book is likely to appeal equally to both boys and girls, in that there are two protagonists: one male and one female plus of course Aries the ram. Also, the drama, action and humour ensure that readers are swiftly carried through the story which will help children who tend to lean towards shorter texts. Definitely, one for the class library.

Publisher: Picadilly Press
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 978-1-84812-476-9

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Bravo, Mr. Shakespeare! Seven Plays presented by Marcia Williams

In Bravo, Mr William Shakespeare!, Williams presents accessible and entertaining retellings of seven of Shakespeare's plays. Included in the book are four comedies (As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Much Ado About Nothing) and three tragedies (Antony and Cleopatra, Richard III, and King Lear). The plot of each play is condensed into four to six pages.

Williams presents the plays in three distinct, but complementary ways; each contributing to the overall reading of the play.  First, the actual words Shakespeare wrote for the characters to say are reproduced in cartoon-like strips on the page, some in “bubbles” above the character’s heads. Second, the plot of the play is narrated below the image in modern-day Standard English. Thirdly, the pages are bordered by pictures of members of the audience, who comment on the plays as they take place, much in the way they would have done in Shakespeare's time.   The commentary ranges from humorously personal to illuminating observations on the plays as well as providing comic relief. "They're mummies, you dummies!" explains a member of the crowd, as Antony and Cleopatra are buried together in a tomb. "Cantankerous harpies!" declares a King Lear attendee, of Cordelia's sisters. 

By reading both Shakespeare’s own words and the paraphrased plots side by side, children will be able to understand the plays and get the sense of Shakespeare’s English. 

Each page is jam-packed with intricately detailed, comic-book styled cartoon panels, done in pen and watercolour, which move the action along. Despite each page being 'busy', the text, black set against blocks of white, is easy to distinguish and read. The artwork does invite scrutiny and although it is comic in appearance, it does add to the mood of the play. In the comedies: As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice, and Much Ado about Nothing, the illustrations are bright, colourful, and have a sense of fun to them. In Antony and Cleopatra the illustrations have a definite Egyptian feel to them through the use of the gold and turquoise colours and the clothing and ships. The tragedies: Richard III and King Lear have the appropriate darker feel to them through the use of blacks, greys, and more sombre tones.
The front endpaper reproduces a Playbill as it may have appeared to the audience at the Globe Theatre. It contains the table of contents for the book. 

Teachers at Key Stage 2 will find that this is accessible for all children. It is an ideal early introduction to Shakespeare's plays. It will help children understand the plot of each of the plays and provide opportunities to explore and experiment with Shakespeare's dialogue.

publisher: Walker Books
publication date: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4063-2335-1

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman

The Mozart Question is a short illustrated novella, suitable for pupils in Years 5 and 6.

It is the story of a young journalist, set in Venice in approximately the year 2000. She has been sent to interview the world renowned violinist Paolo Levi with strict instructions not to ask 'the Mozart Question'. During her visit, we learn not only of Paolo's life but that of his parents who were prisoners in Auschwitz during the Second World War. Secrets which have been kept for almost 50 years are revealed as Paolo recalls being told that all secrets are lies, and now 'the time has come...not to lie anymore'.

The book would make an excellent class read for any year 5 or year 6 class who are studying World War II or as part of a class collection of books linked to the topic such as A Candle in the Dark, Goodnight Mr. Tom, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Carrie's War. Taken as a group these stories each provide a slightly different perspective on World War II. This allows children to vicariously experience the war through different eyes.

The story ends up being 3 stories in one, a little like a set of Russian dolls. We begin with Lesley's story: the young journalist who is given the assignment of interviewing Paolo. Next we hear Paolo's story as told to Lesley and finally the story of Paolo's parents as told to Paola. This makes the structure of the story an interesting one to examine as it involves two specific time slips as the different stories are told. We are never throughout the story told what the actual 'Mozart Question' is, although we can infer what it might have been by the end of the book.

Despite its short length, this book may still prove to be a challenging read for some pupils in year 5 and 6 due to the vocabulary that is used such as machinations, incongruous, obsequiousness, reticent and tutelage. This though, makes it ideal for developing pupils vocabulary, particularly during small group discussion such as guided reading.

The book is set in three different places: London ,briefly at the beginning, Venice and Auschwitz. The latter two settings contrast starkly and these are depicted beautifully in Michael Foreman's illustrations. Pupils could use these detailed images as stimuli for descriptive writing.

The book does not contain Lesley's newspaper article and this would make an interesting follow-up piece of writing for the children. Lesley has been given a great deal of detail in her interview with Paola and pupils will need to decide what to keep and what to discard. This would necessitate a careful examination of the difference between newspaper reports and biography/narrative.

At the end of the book Michael Morpurgo includes an Author's Note. This provides a brief factual summary about how some Jewish prisoners were selected to play music in the concentration camps and a short paragraph about his stimulus for the story.

Publisher: Walker Books 
Publication Date: 2015 (this edition)
ISBN: 978-1406366396

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Winnie in Winter by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul

Winnie the witch and her cat Wilbur are fed up with feeling frozen and sick of the sight of snow. Winnie casts a spell and turns everything into summer. That is a big mistake. Her neighbours invade her garden and Winnie realises summer’s shortcomings. So she decides to cancel her spell and bring back the winter.

Winnie is a loveable witch who lives with her cat Wilbur. Children will enjoy reading about her antics and as there are so many titles about her, these make a great resource for an author study.

In this particular story, the contrasts are made between winter and summer in terms of clothing, weather, flora and fauna. References are made to animals who are hibernating and flowers that only grow in Spring/Summer. This makes it a good story to read aloud to any class who are studying the Seasons. There is also an interesting PHSE lesson in the story about respecting other people's property.

In terms of English, the story is simply told, making it ideal for those children who have successfully achieved phase 5 phonics. The text can also be used as a stimulus for a number of the spelling, punctuation and grammar objectives identified for year 2; in particular, apostrophes for omission, adjectives, noun phrases, the use of commas for separating words in a list, commands and sentence structure.

Korky Paul's illustrations give a certain charm to the story. Wilbur's facial expressions are wonderful and the detail in each of the full page spreads means there is always plenty to talk about. 

In Year 2, children will be able to explore the similarities between this story and other Winnie stories and will enjoy composing their own Winnie story, which they could illustrate in the style of Korky Paul.

A lovely, picture to share with children aged 3-7 as a read aloud book and as a literacy resource in year 2. Every Key Stage 1 library should have these on their shelves.

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 1996
ISBN: 978-0-19-273689-5


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Operation Eiffel Tower by Elen Caldecott

Operation Eiffel Tower is a modern day, family drama. The story and characters are all believable and as a reader you very quickly get drawn in and involved in the family that is at the heart of this story and the events that unfold. 
In the first chapter we are introduced to the family, who live in a seaside town, where, Jack (the main character) helps out at the crazy golf course. The story opens as Jack hits his golf ball triumphantly into the final 18th hole, right between the feet of the Statue of Liberty, whilst his older sister Lauren sits nearby, engrossed in Teen Thing magazine. Caldecott's style in this opening chapter lulls you into thinking that this might be a likeable, lightly amusing tale of a family with little money to spare. However,  the final sentence though suggests otherwise 
“Her shift was officially over. She smiled and waved at Jack and Ruby. Now they could all go home. Jack felt his heart sink.”
We soon learn that the children's parents argue. Sometimes it's so bad that Ruby gets afraid and goes to sleep in Jack's bed. In fact it becomes so bad that Dad moves out. Then, the four children fear that Dad will never come home and so they launch Operation Eiffel Tower - a surefire plan to get their parents back together...
Jack's email correspondence with Paul and the concluding events in the story make some interesting points about conflict and reconciliation.
The story itself is beautifully told. Caldecott really does use her style of language to create mood and emotion. As a reader, through the writing you can at one minute be relaxed and enjoy the gentle and often touching scenes between brother and sister, next you are jolted into a sudden foreboding much in the same way as a film watcher anticipates events through the music. For example, in chapter 10 Caldecott creates a light, fun-loving atmosphere, in her description of Jack.
'Jack Froze. He was stiller than a moon rock. He was more frozen than a moon rock in a fridge-freezer. He was more silent than a sulking moon rock in a fridge-freezer.'

Next, when the children return home, the use of the short sentence - 'Then Jack stopped' - creates a sudden and abrupt change in mood. At this point, and throughout the whole book, Caldecott uses style of language to echo Jack's emotions. This makes the book ideal for using in years 5 and 6 not only for guided/independent reading but also as a model for children's own writing when looking at varying sentence length for effect.

This book is just so brilliantly observed. Each of the children react slightly differently to the crisis in their parents' marriage. Jack, the central character, is old enough to fully understand the implications for the family and he is in denial. He wants his parents to stay together at all costs and he'd do anything to make that happen. Ruby, on the other hand,  is much younger and still jealous at being supplanted by Billy as the baby of the family. So her idea to raise cash for the trip to Paris is simply to sell Billy to a prospective adopting couple. Again, the characterisation throughout the book lends itself to whole class and/or group discussions. As a read, the book is accessible and a relatively easy read but this is what makes it the ideal text to use when discussing more complex issues such as author's use of language, themes and characterisation.
It is easy to read and it is funny at times and desperately sad at others: a real roller coaster for the emotions. Eventually though, despite a change of plan, the book arrives at what is probably the best ending possible;a note of realistic hope for everyone.
The cover of the book includes a booksellers caption ' perfect for Jacqueline Wilson fans'. Whilst I do not disagree with this, there is a chance that children who are not Jacqueline Wilson fans (and many boys aren't because the protagonists of most of her stories are female) might be put off. This book will appeal to a wider range of readers, boys and girls alike, as the protagonist is male; the drama is fast paced and there are references to the army as well as themes that many contemporary children will be able to relate to.

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4088-0573-2

Friday, 22 January 2016

Charlie Crow in the Snow by Paula Metcalf and illustrated by CallyJohnson-Isaacs

Stories about the Seasons
Metcalf's story Charlie Crow in the Snow is a lovely picture book story about friendship and the changing seasons.

Charlie Crow loves him home in the tree and enjoys visits from his friends Bear and Swallow. However, things begin to change, much to Charlie's surprise. Charlie Crow hasn't seen snow before and when he does see it for the first time he panics and goes to find his friends. He can't find bear and Swallow. However, he does bump into Squirrel who is just as confused and between them they set off to find Bear and Swallow who will surely know the answer to what is going on.

The story beautifully introduces children to the changing seasons from Autumn through to winter. Children will learn about how leaves fall from trees, water turns to ice, snow, hibernation and migration.

It would make a lovely read-aloud story for Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1. It would also make a lovely guided read for children who have mastered phase 5 phonics. In terms of comprehension there are ample opportunities to teach wither through shared or guided reading each of the 5 domains that are identified in the Key Stage 1 Reading Tests, in particular 1a vocabulary, 1b identify key aspects of fiction and 1d make inferences from the text.

The dialogue within the story uses a wide variety of synonyms for said such as squawked, whimpered, cried, shrieked and exclaimed allowing teachers the opportunity to develop children's vocabulary, consider characterisation and further children's grammatical knowledge in context.

The illustrations are bright and clearly depict the different colours and tones associated with the different seasons. Also, the expressions on the characters faces are an absolute delight. The positioning of the eyebrows on each of the characters emphasise the emotions felt by each of the characters at any one particular time and would therefore support the teaching of comprehension  and emotional intelligence. My favourite, I think is the page where Charlie Crow and Squirrel attempt to hibernate with Bear.

Characterisation and emotions

Publisher: Macmillan 
Publication Date: 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4472-8155-9

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The Legend of the Worst Boy in the World by Eoin Colfer, illustrated byTony Ross

Eoin Colfer's book The Legend of the Worst Boy in the World is told in the first person from the point of view of Will, a young boy of 9 who has 4 brothers. Unfortunately for Will, having 4 brothers and 3 of them younger than him means that he often doesn't get the attention he feels he needs and deserves from his Mum and Dad. However, he finds the perfect audience to listen to his tales of woe in the form of Grandad. Children in lower Key Stage 2 will love the ensuing competition between Will and Grandad to see who can tell the story with the biggest problem. They will be able to relate to many of Will's 'problems' and will be amused and engaged by Grandad's tales.

The story contains a second story which is cleverly woven into the main narrative. This story is in stark contrast to the main story which is told through gentle humour. Instead, the second story is full of suspense, tension and action as Will's older brother carries out a plan to get rid of 2-year-old Will. This shorter story within the story is ideal for exploring story structure, identifying the problem, build-up and resolution. Through guided reading children could discuss how Colfer builds up the tension. The sentences are short and simple, thereby quickly drawing the reader into the action. This also makes the text accessible for those who have just gained independence in reading. The text is accompanied by black and white illustrations by Tony Ross, which makes it a suitable 'transition' text from picture book to novel.

Colfer's storytelling is so good that at the end of the book he is able to explain to his readers the meaning of 'moral of the story' in such a way that feels natural and integral to the story itself. This would allow teachers to explore 'morals in stories' with their classes and identify other tales which have morals and what those morals are. The title 'the Legend of...' also provides opportunity to investigate and explore other types of tale/story. So, within this one book we have 3 story genres 1) the contemporary familiar setting story 2) the fable and 3) the legend. Pupils could investigate the features of all three and compare and contrast them and collect examples of each.

There is also ample opportunity for language study from the invention of new words to the use of adjectives to create vivid and funny descriptions, to simile to aid visual understanding.

The fact that the story is told in the first person means that the tale will appeal to a wide range of readers in lower key stage 2, including boys and possibly even those who have not yet caught the bug of reading for pleasure. A great book which deserves a place in the class library for independent reading but also one which has the potential for study both with the whole class and small groups.

Publisher: Puffin
Publication Date: 2008

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Tale of Jack Frost by David Melling

The Tale of Jack Frost by David Melling is a beautiful picture book based on the mythical creature. Jack, somehow wanders into the shielded magical forest. The magical inhabitants instantly take to him and teach him magic. Jack is a natural showing a particular skill for creating ice and snow. However, Jack's presence is also cause for concern as he has left the way into the forest open. This means the magical creatures are in danger from the greedy Goblins.
The tale unfolds in a way which is not dissimilar to many other fairy tales. Jack tricks the Goblins into thinking that the reflection if the moon in the lake is in actual fact the sun. Children will enjoy the humour in the story and the detailed illustrations.
The illustrations in the book are vivid watercolours, which capture the setting of the enchanted forest. As such the text would provide an excellent stimulus for any Key Stage 1 or even lower Key Stage 2 class who are looking at descriptive writing and settings. 
The opening sentence 'It was a crisp and frosty morning.' is accompanied by a beautiful, detailed, full page illustration in cool blues of the boy asleep and two snow-beetles. 

The following two-page spread zooms out from the scene to introduce us to the other creatures of the forest. These are also introduced through the written text 'Shadows came bobbing and gliding towards them from every direction.'

The characters in the story are also vividly described: 'Cowslip, a tall and gentle creature with hairy knees, spoke first.' The descriptions focus not just on the characters' physical appearance but also their traits and children will enjoy reading about the grotesque traits of the Goblins. 
As a story as a whole, the structure is simple for children to identify the beginning, the build-up, problem, climax and resolution. It also includes the features associated with fairy stories: good versus evil, magic, mythical creatures etc. It has also been animated by the BBC and is available on DVD.
Overall, the Tale of Jack Frost by David Meling is a good read-aloud story for foundation stage, Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2 which also provides a great deal of opportunities for studying descriptive language particularly of setting and character.

Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Publication Date: PB edition 2004
ISBN: 0-340-85200-3