Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce tells the story of two young boy refugees. The story is narrated by Julie, now a grown-up with a child of her own. She recalls her final term in primary school when two young nomads who had arrived from the borders of Outer Mongolia and joined her class. Her memories are prompted by a series of Polaroid photographs that one of the boys had taken when Julie became their 'Good Guide'. This funny, original and moving tale takes its inspiration from a true story of a Mongolian child refugee in Bootle, who was eventually returned to her home country after a midnight raid by the immigration authorities. As you read the story, you can't help be touched and moved by the plight of the boys  and the Afterword of the book just adds to that.

We learn about and get to know Chingis and Nergui through Julie's eyes. At first Julie is curious about these new additions to her class and goes out of her way to find out as much as she can about their home country and its traditions. Children reading the story could, like Julie, carry out their own research. The story is set in real locations in the UK (Bootle and Formby) and as such, it lends itself to looking at contrasting locations for geography.

There is one particular incident in the story which is a major turning point for Julie. It's the first time she visits the temporary home of Chingis and Nergui. She is hoping to be invited in but instead is surprised by the reaction of her two new friends and their mother. Her sense of surprise is soon taken over by shock and confusion. She suddenly realises they are afraid but what of she does not know.

The photographs in the book have been taken by professional photograghers: Carl Hunter and Clare Heney. Each of the photographs show a scene that on first inspection appears to be one thing but on closer inspection turns out to be something different: illusions. They demonstrate that often we see what we expect to see rather than what is really there. For Chingis and Nergui they are images that remind them of home, maybe a way of feeling that Bootle is not so different from Mongolia. Pupils could try, as part of an art project, to create their own photographs that suggest other landscapes from familiar surroundings in the same way.

The story speaks about friendship, nostalgia and the enrichment of lives by other lives. It explores in a sensitive and non-preachy way the deeply divisive issue of imigration.

It was the winner of the 2012 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.

Candlewick Press have produced a useful discussion guide which includes pre-reading activities, discussion questions and post-reading activities.

Publisher:Walker Books
Publication Date: 2012
ISBN: 978-1406341541

AR Book Level: 4.4
Lexile Level: 710L

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Awkward Autumn of Lily McLean by Lindsay Littleson

The Awkward Autumn of Lily McLean by Lindsay Littleson is the sequel to The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean. Following her summer of uncertainty after leaving primay school, Lily has now started secondary school. This brings with it further insecurities. She is faced with so many changes: a new school, a new man in her mum's life, a new home, the new friend she made during the summer, new routines and her sister's new friend. Pupils leaving year 6 and embarking on the next phase of the schooling will be able to identify with Lily.

There are a number of themes which permeate the book: change, resilience, understanding, forgiveness and bullying. All of these develop as Lily's character develops throughout the novel. The themes all have a contemporary feel about them and deal with real issues that children face today such as the fear of being ridiculed on YouTube.

Part way through the novel Lily is faced with a dilemma. She has to make a decision and she feels that she needs to make this decision on her own and not involve anyone else. Pupils will have faced similar situations themselves and therefore will be able to relate to Lily. The use of the drama technique 'conscience alley' would be a good strategy to explore the issues that Lily faces.

The story is told in the first person from Lily's point of view. As such the style mirrors Lily's moods. This is particularly apparent in chapter 12 where the sentence length and repetition give a real sense of fear and foreshadowing. A close reading and discussion of this chapter would provide plenty of material for that tricky content domain 'identify/explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases'. Having discussed the literary devices it could then be used as a model for the children's own writing.

The novel is set mainly in Millport in Scotland. As this is a real place pupils will be able to research its location and its amenities which could then be used as a stimulus for non-fiction writing. Part of the book is set in Brodick on the Isle of Arran. Littleson's descriptions of the main town, like so many other descriptions throughout the novel are detailed and help to create a vivid mental image of the settings through the use of personifcation, noun phrases simile etc.. These would provide excellent models for children to use when writing their own descriptions of settings. It isn't just the descriptions of the settings though that place the novel in Scotland. On occasions the characters do speak using items of vocabulary that are a feature of the Scottish dialect.

Children who enjoy contemporary stories with social issues that they can relate to will really enjoy reading this. It would particuarly appeal to those who are in their final term of primary school, first term of secondary school. It is a story which is funny, tender, thought-provoking all at the same time and one which has an important message for everyone who reads it.

Publisher: Kelpies
Publication Date: 2017
ISBN: 978-1782503545

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is a moving and uplifting story of 10 year-old August (Auggie) who was born with a facial deformity. The book would make a good class novel for pupils in years 5 or 6.

Auggie lives in New York with his parents and older sister.  In many ways he is an ordinary boy. He rides a bike and likes to play on his xbox. However, Auggie was born with deformities of the face and looks very different from other children.  At the beginning of the book, he tells us 'My name is August. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.' Auggie's appearance shocks people. People stare at him and others look away as soon as they see him. 

The predominant themes which emerge throughout the novel are: kindness, difference, family, courage and friendship. All of these make it a powerful story to read with children and provide opportunities to discuss at length the way individuals and society treat those who are perceived as 'different'. As such the novel would make an ideal choice for numerous areas of the curriculum: anti-bullying week, British Values, Diversity...

The story is told in the first person from a range of points of view. The story begins with Auggie and is told through his eyes. We see first hand how his deformity has impacted on his life and how he feels about the way others treat him, both strangers and his own family. There are also chapters narrated by his sister, his friends from school, his sister's boyfriend and his sister's friend. Pupils will, as they read the accounts from the different characters, see Auggie's life from those different perspectives. These perspectives would be good stimuli for looking at character motive and could be used in drama activities such as hot seating. The way the story is told helps pupils understand why the different characters behave in the ways that they do.

The vocabulary in the book would be accessible to the vast majority of year 5 and 6 pupils. What provides the challenge is the multiple perspectives we encounter of the same event. Pupils will need to realise that as we move from one section of the novel to another, we often go back in time to view the same events again but they are told to us by a different person. For those pupils who have not read widely or have ony just begun to read independently this may be challenging but with guidance and support not insurmountable.

A significant amount of the dialogue in the novel isn't tagged and as such some pupils may find it difficult to follow. These excerpts could be used for readers' theatre to: explore and identify who is saying what; consider characterisation (identify how each of the characters feel at that point and therefore how they might be saying the lines spoken); thought-tracking and playscripts.

There is also one section of the book which is told through a variety of means of communication: letters, facebook posts, texts and emails. The difference in register of each of the communications is interesting. The 'shifts in formality' are clear and could therefore be used as a model when discussing and teaching this aspect of writing.

Although the majority of readers won't have experienced Auggie's medical problems, you can identify with each and every one of the characters which makes it such a compelling read. It is a story which is funny, sad, moving and uplifting. 

The film is due to be released in the UK in December this year. I strongly recommend that you read the book with your classes before they see the film.

Publisher: Corgi Children's
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 978-0552565974  


Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Revenge of Tirpitz by M. L. Sloan

The Revenge of Tirpitz by M. L. Sloan is a thrilling WW II story about a boy's role in the sinking of the warship Tirpitz. It would make an exciting class read for any year 6 class who are studying WW II, looking at 'time slip' novels or adventure stories.

The book cleverly interweaves stories from two different time periods and places: Norway, in 1944 and Shetland in 2014.

The opening chapter of the boook is pacey and launches the reader straight into the drama and intrigue of the novel. The descriptive language creates a real sense of atmosphere and many passages would be ideal for teachers to explore author's use of language for the reading content domain ' explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases' and as models for children's own writing.

The language and vocabulary used would be challenging for most year 6 pupils and therefore makes it an ideal text for developing vocabulary in context. Each of the chapters is fairly short and as such can be easily read during a single guided reading session.

The story itself ties in with real historical events. It introduces the reader to 'The Shetland Bus', which was the nickname given to a clandestine special operations group that made a permanent link between Shetland, Scotland and Germany-occupied Norway from 1941 until the Occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany ended on 8th May 1945. Sloan has carefully researched the sinking of the Tirpitz and the detail provided will provide an excellent starting point for additional research. There is a website where information can be found (http://shetlandbus.com/) A google search will throw up numerous links to information about the Tirpitz.

The characters are well developed. There are a number of issues raised through the friendships that emerge, which could form the basis of some very interesting and thought-provoking class and group discussions.

The ending is brilliantly satisfying, and ties up the story nicely. 

Sloan provides a useful glossary which defines some of the Shetland dialect. This could be used as a starting point for discussion about Standard English and dialect. In addition, includes some 'author's notes' about the inspiration for the story and the research she undertook.

All in all, this is an exciting, brilliantly written page-turner of a book and one that I would recommend without hesitation to all teachers in Year 6!

Advisory Note

There is one single use of the word 'crap' on page 87. Other than that there is no language or content that would cause any issue in the book.