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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

SLAMIT6: School Libraries as Learning Centres

Part Two

The Future School Library: What will it look it? And how will we get there?

This was the question put to us at the cafe-style seminar. It's a difficult question to answer. The future is unknowable. Yet all the groups on the SLAMIT course came up with answers for this.

These were my thoughts:
The library will be 24/7. It will be open virtually when the physical doors are shut. 
Developments will be pupil driven. How do students want to use the space? What resources do they want to see? What activities?
The library will use data to prove its impact upon student progress.

After we discussed our own individual ideas, we had to share them with our group. The next step was to narrow the future library down to the three most important points:

These were what my group came up with:

  1. Citizenship - the library's role is and will continue to be shaping pupils' as citizens in the physical world as well as the digital role. We must help them discover who they are, what they aspire to be and what they believe about the world.
  2. Leading Learning - the library's role is to innovate teaching and learning. To be a pedagogical centre which embraces new technologies, learning styles and teaching methods. It's a place to take risks and try new things.
  3. Social Equaliser - the library's role to provide an equality of opportunity for pupils. A place where the economic and social playing field is levelled. Every student has equal access to resources and knowledgeable staff which will enrich their social, cultural, moral and intellectual well-being.
When I reflect on this, I think the library of the future is almost the one we have now. Technologies change but the aims stay the same. The library's role is to equip pupils for the future. 

In my own role, I need to stay ahead of new teaching and learning developments. I need to keep up to date using online sources - Twitter, blogs, newspaper articles, websites, journal articles. 

The next step must be to build a framework in my school to develop guided inquiry. 21st century learners must be able to navigate a world full of information overload, sort the information and then transform it for their own deeper learning. 

This is how I see the future of the school library. 

Do you have anything to add to the discussion? 
What other steps do we need to take to meet the aims above?

Thursday, 31 October 2013

SLAMIT 6: School Libraries as Learning Centres

Part One

Last week I  participated in the School Libraries as Learning Centres course in Porto, Portugal. This wonderful opportunity was funded by the British Council as part of its in-service training programme - Comenius.

The week was rich in both academic and cultural education. I was one of two British participants on the course and we both learnt much from our European partners. Other participants in attendance were from Denmark, Croatia, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Romania and of course Portugal. 

It was interesting to discover that in Portugal school libraries are statutory. Which does not mean to say that every school has a library, but every school has access to one. For example, a small primary school may share the library of a large secondary school. In Denmark school librarians must be qualified as both librarians and teachers. I know many school librarians in the UK would love to be qualified teachers too.

One of the most valuable experiences of the week was a visit to a local Portuguese Primary school. We toured the school and my first impression was of how much space they had in the corridors. This is so different from my experience at school. It was so light, airy and spacious.


I was also rather taken with their Dining Hall. I like the splash of colour in the chairs.


We saw pupils in their lessons. The school was very quiet as pupils were focused and working hard. It had lovely atmosphere and pupils were keen to find out where we had travelled from to be there.


These young pupils were finger painting pumpkins. Halloween is as popular with children in Portugal as it is with children in the UK. In the earliest years of education in Portugal, pupils have freedom to choose their activities. They often learn through play. Teachers at this school wore a white lab coat over their own clothes. I asked why and there were two reasons. Firstly, its a uniform. People visiting or around school know they are a member of staff. The second was a more practical reason. All that finger paint can ruin their clothes. It was really interesting to see how each teacher had customised their white coat. Some had sewn colourful trimmings and others had transfered numbers on to the fabric. I got the sense that this was a very creative environment. Just look at their displays below:




These displays are inspired by the books of a Portuguese author Álvaro Magalhães. Across Portugal schools are exploring his books as a celebration of a special anniversary of his work. He is a very famous author in Portugal. On my cultural visit into Old Porto I purchased one of his books to take back and show my pupils.
The work that pupils are doing is led by the school library coordinator in the municipality. There is even a school librarian working with the Ministry of Education. What a wonderful way to showcase our work!

After visiting the classrooms, our guides took us to the library. A fantastic space for many reasons. Firstly, it's divided into two parts. A room with shelves of books, tables and computers. A then a second room which is a truly flexible space. Have a look at the first room:



And now at the second room:


This is a big space. The wall behind the children is white and is used to show presentations, short films or images. Here the librarian sits with the pupils. They are all looking at the same book by the author above and they are discussing their fears (this was at the heart of the story). 

I love that the beanbags and mats can be reorganised in minutes. You could use the room for many purposes - drama, author visits, storytelling. I also love that the librarian is sitting with the pupils guiding their discussions.

After the class had finished the librarian was able to speak with us through a translator. She told us she worked across three primary schools and that she spent a day in each. When she's not there, the teachers use the library with their classes. I asked if the pupils could use the library independently at lunchtime. She explained that they couldn't because there wasn't enough staff. But at the other two schools they could because parent helpers manned it at lunchtime. It was great to hear that Portuguese parents are keen to be part of the school community.

From this visit, I've been inspired to:


  • Share a Portuguese picture book with my pupils
  • Find out if we have many Portuguese picture books translated into English and if so, purchase these for the school library
  • Create displays from pupil responses to a story - share their enjoyment of a story and relate it to their own experiences

Two display examples from the Portuguese school library:


An enchanted garden...


And what makes pupils happy...



This visit has inspired me. I'm sharing it with all of you. 

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Bookette's Guide to... Where we are with children and eBooks and School Libraries

The lovely Katherine Roberts wrote an interesting piece from an author’s perspective about why children may not be reading e-books over on her blog. It got me thinking that I should write a blog post from a school librarian’s point of view as this is a big question for me in school, right now!

In the past year parents have begun to approach me about whether I think it is “ok” for them to buy their children a Kindle. I encouraged this greatly. Use of a dictionary feature is great for developing readers and they can adapt font size to their needs, so why not? Parents sometimes feel they need approval so they know they are doing the right thing. They’ve heard too much criticism in the media about it being the end of the book. Blah blah! I give my wholehearted parents considering purchasing ereaders for their children. But I also encourage close monitoring of the child’s reading choices to check the titles are age appropriate and that they understand what they read. (Exactly what I do in the library when they choose a book.)


But why are sales not taking off? Why does my school library not supply ebooks to pupils?

This is the difficult bit. As school librarians, we are very keen to supply pupils with ebooks for loan. There are a range of platforms which schools can buy into which cost from £95 right up to £2000. Remember some schools will not be allocating that much money to the library budget for new stock in these tough economic times. This platform fee is just the beginning. Then we have to pay per ebook and depending on the platform chosen to host the service, an added download fee for DRM per book. So it is an expensive undertaking for schools. Especially a school like mine where pupils start at 3 and leave at 13.


Once the platform is in place, we then have to advertise the new service to pupils and get them borrowing. (Most school librarians will love this task).


The final hurdle pupils have to overcome is the type of ereader they own. If they own a Kindle, they won’t be able to borrow from the platform because Amazon don’t allow it. So they need either a Nook, a Kobo, a Sony eReader or an iPad/ tablet.


This year I’ve requested money for a platform to loan ebooks and want to run a pilot scheme to see if it’s a popular choice at my school. Maybe a year from now, I’ll be able to add more dialogue to this discussion.


Remember there are generally two big influencers in children’s book buying. Number one: the parents. They often buy books as gifts or control the family spending. They often need to grant approval of book choices. Number two: peer recommendation. If their friends read it and love it, they will. So if you’re an unknown author, it will undoubtedly take a while to get sales off the ground. You need the word of mouth effect and it may take time. But if your book is good, it will happen!



Anyone else want to add to the children and ebooks discussion? Leave a comment.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Review: The Colossus Rises

Author: Peter Lerangis


Release date: 6th June 2013
Target audience: 9+
Genre: Fantasy adventure
UK Publisher: HarperCollins


Review:

The Colossus Rises is the first novel in the Seven Wonders series by Peter Lerangis. It’s a quest story – full of near-death experiences, unimaginable monsters and ancient legends.


Jack McKinley’s life changes when he passes out at school. He’s taken to hospital and when he wakes up he’s been kidnapped by the Karai Institute. Professor Bhegad – leader of the Institute – reveals that Jack is one of the Select – someone who has a G7W gene. The trouble with the gene is that it’s a double edged sword. On the one hand it can turn you into a superhuman. On the other it’s a ticking time bomb and it will kill you. Jack is charged with the quest to save to himself and his Select friends.


This story is full of great dialogue, snarky one-liners and has a very witty hero. The universal story of a reluctant hero who discovers his (not easy to achieve) destiny always appeals to our inner desire to be special and thus this is a really enjoyable book to read.


However, I did feel that the overall characterisation was weak. The main character was well crafted but his friends and enemies were all very shallow. Although they had great dialogue with their own way of speaking, but I just didn’t find them convincing at times. They didn’t seem to go any deeper than what they said. They needed to feel more physical and alive.


Despite that shortcoming, the book is a good read. The chapter length was perfect for the age group – not too long and not too short. The action is well plotted and is full of drama which will keep younger readers interested.



If you love Percy Jackson, then this is a must-read for you. It has all the ingredients that you enjoy – humour, action and a hero on a quest! The Colossus Rises is the beginning of an epic fantasy adventure.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Review: Dangerous Girls

Author: Abigail Haas


Release date: 18th July 2013
Genre: Thriller
Target audience: 14+
UK Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1471119149

Review:
Dangerous Girls is a contemporary thriller set on the island of Aruba. It’s the worst case scenario for a teen Summer Break. It a taut and sinister read.


A day after finishing this book, I’m still not quite sure what I think about it. Normally how I feel about a book is crystal clear. So this is rather odd. I guess I just feel indifferent. It’s a book that lacks passion and has a cold feeling to it. Maybe that’s why I’m left a little bit unsure.


This is the story of a group of friends who go on a wild partying holiday on an island. Away from the safety and security at home, they let go – they drink, they do drugs and they are very intimate with each other and the locals. (I’m making it sound more passionate than it is). Anna is the main character and she tells us most of the story. She takes us back to when she first met Elise at the posh private school she transferred to mid-semester. They didn’t get off to the best of starts. Elise is a powerhouse of a girl, a lover of the wild and dramatic, flighty and unruly. But they do become friends. They best of friends, inseparable. Anna and Elise soon have a whole circle of friends. And thus the group end up in Aruba. Only by day three of the holiday, Elise is found dead in her bedroom in the villa. She’s been murdered.


The investigation gets underway and Anna becomes the main suspect. The police ignore the groups’ report of two local men who Elise manipulated. Anna is arrested and her life begins to fall apart.


The novel is told in a different format. Its part narrative from Anna – describing her situation now or events in their past – but it is also told through police interviews, media interviews, newspaper reports and so on. This format was interesting but it did make it difficult to feel as if you were living the story. Every time there was a change of narrative device I felt like I was taken out of the story. I do prefer linear narratives. The killer isn’t revealed until the very last pages. I did however see where the story was going and so it wasn’t a surprise.



I guess I thought this book would blow me away and it didn’t. I was intrigued but not hooked, interested and yet not desperate to find out whodunit. It seems unfair to call this book lacklustre but that’s my response. It is well written and well plotted but it doesn’t didn’t set my pulse racing. Dangerous Girls was definitely not in my comfort zone. Thriller readers may enjoy it much more.


Source: Review copy from the publisher. Thank you.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Introducing Maggie Silver: Spy Society Blog Tour

Today is the launch of the Spy Society Blog Tour! This is such a super fun, enjoyable read. So I'm thrilled to have the charming Robin Benway here at The Bookette to introduce Maggie Silver.

Welcome Robin!

Hello hello! Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today!

Photo Credit: Lovato Images
I first got the idea for Maggie Silver back when I locked myself out of my apartment building's storage unit. (Uh, oops.) I couldn't remember the combination for the lock, so I went on Google and learned how to crack it. Twenty minutes later, I managed to break into my own storage unit, which made me realize two things: 1) never use combination locks again!, and 2) it would be really fun to write about a secret spy society and its best safecracker.

Maggie is sixteen. She's traveled all over the world with her mom, an excellent computer hacker, and dad, a gifted linguist. (He can say "You're grounded!" in twelve different languages.) Maggie's special skill is breaking into safes and cracking locks, and she knows she's one of the best in the business. Too bad no one can know what she does, though. She and her parents work for an organization called the Collective, a super-secret underground group that robs from the rich and gives to the poor. As Maggie puts it, "we do the wrong things for the right reasons."

But when Maggie is given her first major assignment, things get a little less perfect. She's assigned to befriend the son of a wealthy NYC magazine publisher because the magazine is about to run a series of articles exposing the Collective. If Maggie can get to know the son (an obnoxiously-named Jesse Oliver), she can gain access to the magazine's files and steal them before the story goes to press.

There's just one problem: Maggie has never been to high school before. She's seen it on TV, though. How difficult could it be?

Answer: Very, very difficult.


She hasn't planned on homework, first of all. Or making her first best friend, a firecracker of a human being named Roux that's recently been ousted from her mean girl perch at school. Maggie also hadn't planned on Jesse Oliver being cute. And nice. and funny. And, it turns out, not obnoxious at all. In fact, she thinks she kind of likes him. 

Uh oh.


With the help of her friend Angelo, an older British gentleman who guides Maggie through the finer points of safecracking and spying, Maggie learns that people aren't safes, that sometimes they can't be cracked. But with her family's safety at risk, she has to make a choice: confess to her new friends who she really is and risk losing Jesse's trust, or continue to live underground and risk losing him forever.


Thank you Robin! As a School Librarian, I see everyday just how difficult high school can be. But you can't beat the friendships. Shame they don't teach "Getting one over on the Bad Guys 101" though.

Spy Society is out in the UK on 18th July. 

You can follow Robin on Twitter @robinbenway - she loves to tweet pictures of her dog!


Friday, 12 July 2013

The Bookette's Guide To... Popular Books this Term

It's that time again. The end of term. The end of the school year. Whoop! So before I spend the next seven weeks relaxing, here are the fiction books that topped the charts in my school library this term:

#1 being the most popular book in my school library since April 2013


Boys: 8 – 12
  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney
  2. Stitch Head (the whole series) by Guy Bass
  3. Captain Underpants (the whole series) by Dav Pilkey
  4. The Curse of Kings by Alex Barclay
  5. Young Bond (the whole series) by Charlie Higson
  6. Monster Mayhem by Guy Bass
  7. The Vengeance of Vinister Vile by Guy Bass
  8. Big Nate (the whole series) by Lincoln Peirce
  9. Tom Gates (the whole series) by Liz Pichon
  10. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien


Girls: 8 – 12
  1. Queenie by Jacqueline Wilson
  2. The Witch of Turlingham Academy by Ellie Boswell
  3. Bad Girls by Jacqueline Wilson
  4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (the whole series) by Jeff Kinney
  5. Dork Diaries (the whole series) by Renee Russell
  6. Tom Gates (the whole series) by Liz Pichon
  7. Gangtsa Granny by David Walliams
  8. Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders
  9. The Worst Thing About My Sister by Jacqueline Wilson
  10. The Lady Grace Mysteries (the whole series) by Grace Cavendish
I'm so pleased to see Guy Bass feature in the boys' reading choices. We had a fantastic author performance from him in February and it has had a direct impact on the boys. Wonderful. 

And look at The Hobbit - shows how influential movies can be. 

It's nice to see some of the girls enjoying fantasy novels again too.



Thursday, 11 July 2013

Review: Spy Society

Author: Robin Benway


Release date: UK Paperback 18th July
Genre: Spy novel
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781471116742


Review:


Spy Society is a super fun read. It’s a story of teenage espionage and the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.


Maggie is an ace safe-cracker. Her parents are spies – her mum is a computer hacker, her dad is a statistician. They all work for a secret organisation called the Collective. They use illegal methods to redress wrong-doing by ruthless criminals. Maggie has spent her life moving from country to country to and never being noticed. Blending in with the crowd and only having imaginary friends is all she’s ever known.
But now she is assigned her first solo mission. She is to infiltrate a New York private school and make friends with the son of a powerful magazine owner. Going undercover is a lot more complicated than Maggie ever expected. The boy is so cute. Her fake friend is really in need of a real friend. And navigating the social landscape is nothing like cracking a safe.


Maggie finds herself being pulled in two directions. She actually enjoys being a normal teenager who gets to kiss a cute boy. But the threat to the Collective and her family means she must complete her mission.
It makes for full on fun, feisty reading. Maggie is a great main character – she’s a cheeky, kind kooky and her voice has just the right amount of teen. Her fake best friend is outrageous in a good way which adds brilliant humour to the book.


This would make such a great movie. It’s that kind of book. Sort of like The Princess Diaries – it really reminded me of that but minus the princesses and add the spies. It’s the same dilemma really – deciding if you are ready to enter the family business and the huge responsibility that comes with it.


Charming, adorably cheeky and full of action – this is a feel good read. Spy Society is joyous entertainment.

Recommended for fans of:

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Playlist: Infinite Sky Blog Tour

Today I'm delighted to be hosting the next stop on the Infinite Sky Blog Tour.

Without further ado, over to CJ Flood...

INFINITE SKY Playlist

I usually write in silence, and so I didn’t have a playlist for Infinite Sky, so this is a work-in-progress. A few songs are mentioned in the book, and so they were my starting point. As soon as I started thinking about a playlist for the book, I was flooded with ideas. Infinite Sky is a summery, intense book, about first love and growing up. It is about loss and family and friendship. This is the playlist I’ve come up with so far.


Band of Gold, Freda Payne – this is a Motown heartbreaker, about having nothing left to show for your wedding except your wedding ring. “Since you’ve been gone all that’s left is a band of gold, all that’s left is the dreams I hold…” I can imagine Iris’s absent mother, Anna, and her father, Thomas, feeling achy whenever they hear this song.


You don’t own me, Lesley Gore – an emotional song that Iris and Anna relate to. “Oh, I don't tell you what to say, I don't tell you what to do, So just let me be myself, That's all I ask of you. I'm young and I love to be young. I'm free and I love to be free, To live my life the way I want, To say and do whatever I please...”


Kiss Me, Sixpence None The Richer – a sweet, nostalgic song that somehow manages to get all of the purity and hope of first love and endless summer into a single track. Perfect for smitten teenagers. “Kiss me out of the bearded barley, Nightly, beside the green, green grass...”


Stand By Me, Ben E King – Thomas listens to this after his wife leaves. It hurts him to listen to if, after she has left him to go travelling around Tunisia in a sky blue Transit van. They used to dance to it together in happier times.


Joyriders, Pulp – this is a song that reminds me of Punky, Dean and Leanne, the rebellious teenagers that Iris’s brother, Sam, gets caught up with. “We don't look for trouble, but if it comes we don't run. Looking out for trouble, is what we call fun.”


Killing In The Name, Rage Against The Machine – a classic angry song, excellent for playing when you’re feeling shouty. This is what Sam often played after he’d slammed his bedroom door. (Beware, it’s sweary too. Sincere apologies.)


I Want to Break Free, Queen – this is on the radio towards the end of the novel, and is a moment of lightness between Iris and her dad, before everything kicks off. If Anna heard this on her travels, I think she would turn it up and sing along real loud. Then maybe feel a bit guilty and reflective afterwards.


Please, please, please, let me get what I want, The Smiths – this song reminds me of Punky and Dean, who have had hard lives. “Haven’t had a dream in a long time. See, the life I’ve had, can make a good man bad.” I wish I’d been able to explore their stories a bit more. I was close to a lot of boys like them in my teens. My second novel does this a little, though Punky and Dean have evolved into a new character called Beast.


I’ll Stand By You, The Pretenders – This song is meaningful to Iris in a very bittersweet way. For the rest of her life it makes her think of her brother and Trick.
Sweets, Yeah Yeah Yeahs – there’s an anger and a longing in this song that Iris would respond to. Also, I just really like Karen O.


Ella Fitzgerald, My Happiness – a beautiful song about missing someone, “Evening shadows make me blue when each weary day is through, how I long to be with you…”


Eric Clapton, Tears in Heaven – this is the song played at the funeral of the teenage boy who dies in Infinite Sky. It is a really sad song, and used to make me cry when I was a teenager. (Okay, it still does). It’s pretty soppy, I suppose, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that I am a pretty soppy person. “Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven? Would it be the same, if I saw you in heaven?” (Weep.)


What do you think of my playlist? Does it make you want to read Infinite Sky? Or perhaps you have already read it? If so, do you have any suggestions? I would love to hear from you, and will consider adding any songs you think a good fit.

Thanks for sharing your playlist with us CJ. Now I'm not really one for music. Would you believe me if I told you that I only had 18 songs downloaded on my iPod? It's true. I really need more because I'm getting bored of them in the gym. Speaking of the gym, I happened to notice that a group of travellers have arrived on the public green across the road. As I was on the treadmill, I was watching closely to see how the police reacted to them. It was all very calm. But I only paid attention because I'd read Infinite Sky. It made me stop and take notice and observe rather than judge. What a great book! I wish I could offer comments on the playlist. A song that always makes me think of summer is Fields of Gold. (No idea if that's even the title or who the artist is!)

INFINITE SKY is out in paperback now. 
You can follow CJ Flood on Twitter @cjflood_author.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Review: Infinite Sky

Author: C J Flood


Release date: UK Paperback 4th July 2013/ Hardback February 2013
Genre: Contemporary / Realism
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9780857078032


Review:

Infinite Sky is a beautifully written story of first love and loss. It’s a bittersweet read which squeezes the heart and fills you with a longing for something that’s just out of reach.


From the very first page, the most striking thing about this book is the quality of the writing. It has a beautiful simple sound to it. It reads as if the author considered every beat, every single word, every simile. It doesn’t come across as flowery language or particularly poetic. It’s more an earthy, honesty in the words and the main character’s viewpoint that spoke to me.


This is the story of Iris. She’s desperate for school to be finished and the summer to begin. She wants to escape her self-centred, shallow friend Matty. She wants peace and I got the sense that she wanted to let nature wash over and embrace her. Things haven’t been great in their rural home since her mum left. Her older brother Sam’s been acting out of character – getting into trouble at school, avoiding his best mate. And dad is drinking more and more.


As the summer arrives so do a group of Irish travellers who set up home in one of the family’s paddocks. Iris’s dad is furious – he spouts prejudicial comments about them being scroungers, a scourge on society etc and warns Iris to stay away from them. But as Iris watches out the window at the family living a completely different way of life she becomes more and more curious about the boy who disappears off into the wilderness.


Iris and Trick connect because they listen to each other. They ignore the prejudice that their parents would have them believe and instead discover their own truth about friendship, honesty and love. But of course, they’re blossoming relationship cannot stay secret and soon the conflict between their families turns to tragedy. So it’s also a story about forgiveness.



Infinite Sky is a book that you can lose yourself in. It’s poignant, moving and has a life all of its own. Highly recommended.

Try it if you enjoyed:

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Review: Wonder

Author: R J Palacio


Release date: This paperback edition 3rd January 2013
Genre: Contemporary, Coming-of-age story
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Corgi
ISBN: 978-0552565974


Wonder is a contemporary coming-of-age story. It’s heart-warming, it’s sad but above all, it’s a story which can teach us something about life.


August was born with a facial deformity. He’s been home educated until one day his mum suggests that he should join the Middle School nearby. She thinks it is time for him to go to school because he needs to find his way in the outside world. August thinks of himself as just an ordinary boy but when other people –adults and children alike- react like he is a freak, he feels alone and I guess misunderstood.


What I really liked about Auggie is that he never really felt sorry for himself. He wanted to be ordinary and he wanted to treated like every other student but he never pitied himself. He was a lively boy with a love of Star Wars and a keen mind. Though at first the idea of going to school is terrifying for him, his dad refers to it as a lamb to the slaughter, once he starts school he discovers that he loves learning – he does well in all his subjects.


The story is told from multiple viewpoints. We read his sister’s thoughts and her boyfriends, August’s friends Summer and Jack and then we return to August. 


This story is so so easy to read. I read it in just a few hours as the voice pulled me straight in. It’s not a story with a huge amount of action. It’s more about people and how they interact with one another. If there is a single weakness in this book, it’s that the character don’t really sound that different from each other . They don’t have the difference in voice and dialogue which is done so well in books like Party by Tom Leveen. Having said that, I would still wholeheartedly recommend it. Because really it’s a book about how we are not all that different from each other. It isn’t what we look like that’s important but what we do – to be kind, to care for others, to take risks in life and to belong – these are the things that make us different and if we do them, then we stand out and are special.



Wonder is a life affirming read but also a book which will make you walk in another person’s shoes. It will make you think and want to be “kinder than is necessary” and that can only be a good thing. A really fantastic read that left me with a lump in my throat.


Source: Borrowed from the school library

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Review: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson


Release date: 23rd May 2013
Genre: Gearpunk Fantasy
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Orion Books
ISBN: 978-1444009538


Review:

The Rithmatist is imaginative fantasy novel set in a clockwork-powered world. Think gears, cogs and tick, tick, ticking.


Joel attends the prestigious Armedius school as a scholarship student. His mother is a cleaner at the school and his father was once their chief chalkmaker but he passed away in a terrible accident. Joel wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatist. The exclusive group undertake their special training at the school. But Joel is just an ordinary boy. He doesn’t have the Rithmatic power which the Master grants to a chosen few. Instead he spends his time studying Rithmatics from books and sneaking into the lectures of the Rithmatics Professor Fitch.


When Rithmatic students begin to disappear under suspicious cirmustances, Joel suspects the new teacher Nalizar. He arrived from the frontline in Nebrask where he was regarded as a hero. But Joel doesn’t trust him. Why would he leave the battle ground fighting wild chalking creatures to come and teach at a private school?


This book is startlingly original. I have never read a fantasy book like this. The magic is imbibed in the chalk drawings created by the Rithmatists. These drawings are so hard to describe and one of the main challenges in this book was to put across this complicated idea in a format that readers can understand. It achieves this through two ways. The first is the use of diagrams to convey the different Rithmatic lines and how they can be used in offense and defense. Think trigonometry and geometry – circles, angles and lines. Then there is the drip feeding of back story to explain how Rithmatics works, its history and discovery.


This book will definitely appeal to readers who love mathematical problems. I also see a huge potential for trading card duels using the different Rithmatic strategies. Of course, it would work well on the big screen. So there’s movie potential too. You wouldn’t think chalk drawings could be scary but when they are 2D rabid chalklings who you will eat the skin off your body, then they are terrifying.


It did take me a while to get into this book. Joel really needed a sidekick a bit sooner as there was a lack of humour to lift the story in the first 100 pages. My single other problem is that for the reader it is a bit dissatisfying that the main character can’t partake of the magic. Thus it lacks that wish-fulfilment quality that you expect in this type of novel. I think the author may have something up his sleeve to get around this problem in future books so I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes next.



It really is an imaginative tour-de-force!

Source: Bought from Foyles

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Review: Things I Can't Forget


Author: Miranda Kenneally


Release date: 1st April 2013
Genre: Contemporary YA / Romance
Target audience: 13+
US Publisher: Sourcebooks
ISBN: 9781402271908

Review:

Things I Can’t Forget is a contemporary story set in a Southern American state – I think it was Tennessee. The story takes place over the course of one summer. It’s a story of faith: in God, in yourself to make the right choices, and in love.


Kate is a strong believer in God. She has always gone to church with her parents and worked hard to follow the teachings she learned there. But when her friend Emily becomes pregnant and then decides to have a termination, Kate finds herself torn. She supports her friend but she cannot forgive her for ending the baby’s life. This summer Kate has her first proper job. She’s going to be a Camp Counsellor at Cumberland Creek. But when she arrives, she’s withdrawn and broken. Her friendship with Emily is at breaking point and she can’t reveal the secret that burdens her. This summer she will question everything, discover things about herself she never knew and find that love is the greatest gift you can ever receive.


I found this book so easy to read and a really honest portrayal of teen life. I think the fact that the author chose to tell the story from Kate’s viewpoint was a brave choice. Some people may have asked: why are you telling Kate’s story? Shouldn’t you be telling Emily’s story? The real story here is the girl having to choose whether or not to have a termination. But they’d be wrong. Kate’s story is an important one to tell. I think young people do begin to question life, deeper meanings, their family faith and search for their own understanding of the world. I think an event like that happening to a close friend would challenge you emotionally and physically. It would undoubtedly challenge your beliefs. It was fantastic to see a YA novel explore faith and beliefs. It’s not something you come across often and I for one found this so interesting as well as enjoyable. All great books make you walk in someone else’s shoes and this book did just that.


I did not find this book at all preachy. Kate does cling to her beliefs and judge other people who don’t follow them. But that’s an important part of her journey. The author was right to explore it in this way. Kate’s journey isn’t easy. It involves a lot of soul searching and heartache. But there is humour and joy in this novel – the friends Kate makes at camp uplift some of the darker personal moments.


Things I Can’t Forget is meaningful, romantic and emotive. A recommended read for anyone who wants a summer romance with a twist or who wants to read a novel where personal faith is at the heart.


Source: Personal copy bought at Peters Booksellers

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Review: Greyhound of a Girl


Author: Roddy Doyle

Release date: This UK Paperback edition June 2012
Genre: Contemporary, Family story
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: Scholastic (Marion Lloyd)

Review:

Greyhound of a Girl is a story about family and about becoming a woman. If you’re feeling philosophical, you might say it’s a story about letting go and being open to change.


Mary is upset when her best-friend moves away but she’s consoled by the arrival of a woman in her street. But the woman who speaks like an old lady and dresses like she’s from an old movie is in fact youthful in appearance. Mary is not surprised to discover she is related to this lady and that the lady is in fact the ghost of her great-grandmother (not a spoiler, it states this in the blurb). Mary’s own grand-mother is in hospital – she’s dying of old age - and so Mary and her mum are trying to come to terms with the sad events to come.
This book has a lovely tone. The author has a distinctive voice and that shines through the setting and the characterisation. Each of the female figures has a similarity and yet a quality which sets them apart from one another. Mary has her cheekiness. Tansey has her old-fashioned dialect. Emer’s voice is from her childhood-self and then there’s Scarlett who likes to emphasize everything with exclamation marks. This seemed like a real skill to create four different sounding characters of a shared family and gender.


But at times I was still confused. I was a little overwhelmed by the four generations and all the grandmothers, mothers, great-grandmothers.I liked that this story was more about characters than action. It wasn’t a fast-paced, plot driven story but in essence is a story about being part of family, the history of your family’s past and also becoming a woman.


I didn’t quite understand why it all begins with Mary’s friend moving away. I do like things to come full circle in a book and so this felt to me like it was left hanging. I would have liked someone to move in next door or for Mary to get a letter. Just a tiny something to round it off.


Overall, Greyhound of a Girl is a beautifully written novel which has a heartfelt storyline and an unusual style.


Source: Borrowed from the school library.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Review: Endless Summer


Author: Jennifer Echols

Release date: This paperback bind up, US 2010
Genre: Romance, Contemporary YA
Target audience: 12+

Review:

Endless Summer is a contemporary summer romance set by a lake in the USA. It’s a romantic-comedy and was originally published as two separate novels – The Boys Next Door and Endless Summer.


Lori has lived next door to the Vader brothers all her life. She grew up wanting to be one of the boys but this year things are different. This summer she will do anything in her power to make the boys notice she’s a girl. She’s making an effort to give up her tomboy-ways and find her inner femininity. This year she will make Sean fall in love with her. She has a plan and she ropes Sean’s younger brother Adam into helping her. The course of true love never did run smoothly and this novel is no exception. It’s a funny mess that Lori winds up in but she risks heartbreak if she doesn’t work things out.


This is the third book that I’ve read by Jennifer Echols and it is by far the best. This storyline is at times a little melodramatic; however, the overall plot elements are much more plausible than say Forget You. The characterisation is also stronger in Endless Summer as it the quality of the writing. This book felt very polished and like the finished article which I think is lacking in Forget You and Going Too Far. But perhaps what is lacking in this book is the real sizzling chemistry that you find in the books I’ve just mentioned. I think this book is aimed at a slightly younger audience and it works just fine for them.


I loved the way the story all took place around the lake and over a short period of time. The landscape and the people really came to life and I felt that I could see everything in my mind’s eye. I think if you are looking for a sweet summer romance with a touch of comedy, then this is the book for you. It’s easy to read and it’s entertaining. Perfect beach reading.

  
Source: Books from Waterstones