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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review: Dead Ends

Author: Erin Lange

Release date: Paperback 3rd July 2014
Genre: Realism
Target audience: 13+
UK Publisher: Faber and Faber

Dead Ends is the story of an innocent boy and a bully. It’s a story of friendship, anger and a search for understanding. It’s an emotive, compelling read.

Dane Washington uses his fists to say everything. He’s an angry sixteen year old who lives with his young mum. He’s desperate for a car and he also wants to go to college but he’s fists keep getting in the way. He’s on his last warning at school. His future is teetering on the edge. But when Billy D starts following Dane on his way to school, Dane won’t use his fists to get rid of him. At first Dane only sees Billy’s Down syndrome but when the school warden charges Dane with the responsibility of being Billy’s school ambassador, Dane discovers there is much more to Billy than first appears.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is so simply told and the voice hooks you from the very first pages. I read it really quickly. Despite Dane’s anger and aggression, I couldn’t help but like him. Billy charmed the socks off me too. I loved that Billy had his own agenda – there is nothing simple about Billy. This story grows with complexity as the plot unfolds. The depth of the issues the author explores here get bigger and bigger with every chapter. It’s very cleverly done.

You can read this book as the struggle of a teenager who isn’t quite a man but is certainly no longer a boy. You can read it as a story of friendship and how two lonely boys find a comfort in a rather odd relationship. You can read it a book about searching for answers about why people do what they do. Any way you read it, Dead Ends is an excellent portrayal of character and choices, of difference and understanding. It’s a bittersweet novel, moving and sometimes funny. But as a prep school librarian, I only wish it had a little less swearing. It just makes it that bit more teenage when I think it’s the sort of book that any confident reader could enjoy. Without it, maybe it would be a bit less believable, who knows? Anyway, Dead Ends is a fantastic read. I recommend it.

Source: Borrowed from the school library.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Book Talk: Michael Rosen

Last night, I attended a book talk with two friends. It was an evening with Michael Rosen and we were all very excited when we were on our way. When we left the venue an hour later, we were all rather muted. We had gone with the hope of inspiration, to hear the wonders of language and we had a secret hope of some performance poetry. But the evening did not unfold in this way.

Let me be clear, we did enjoy the conversation and it gave us food for thought. But in fact, the evening felt more like political activism than it did a book talk. We work in education. We know it is a difficult time to be a teacher, learner or in my case a school librarian. Michael Rosen had written his new book Good Ideas: How to be your child’s (and your own) Best Teacher for parents. I have yet to read it myself but the anecdotes that were shared last night were certainly entertaining. Rosen wants parents to encourage their children to be curious, to question the world around them. He thinks education should be: investigation, interpretation, cooperation (and one other which I just cannot recall right now). He thinks children should learn how to learn. I do not disagree. We certainly aim for this in our library lessons.

I guess the thing my mind is still trying to fathom this morning is that Rosen told us the government want a low wage economy. They are changing the education system because too many people were achieving too highly. We had too many students going to university so they have to make it harder to do so. The latter I remember hearing on the news.

It’s like I entered the theatre and discovered I live in a dystopian society and it sent my mind reeling. The suggestion that our society aspires to keep a percentage of the population downtrodden is horrifying. 

All in all, I can’t say last night inspired me. I didn't leave feeling uplifted and enthused. If there were any parents in the audience, I wonder how they felt. I think the audience was mainly teachers and other education professionals. Rosen did get me thinking though. Perhaps that was the point.

If you want to read more about Michael Rosen’s desire to transform education, you should check out his blog: http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichaelRosenYes

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review: The Iron Trial

Authors: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

Release date: 11th September 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: 8+
Series: Book 1 Magisterium
UK Publisher: Random House

The Iron Trial is the first book in a new fantasy series for middle grade readers. Full of elemental magic and secrets and lies, it is an intriguing new addition to the genre.

Callum Hunt has been training to fail the entrance tests to the Magisterium for years. His father has warned him many times of the dangers of becoming a mage and entering the Magisterium. He believes the endless tunnels that make up the school will cause him to die a painful death. But despite his spectacular failings in the tests, one master decides to choose Callum as his student. Callum is forcibly taken from his father and thus his education in the ways of magic begins. Callum doesn’t trust the masters at the school and sleeps with a knife on his bedside table. But not all is as it first appears; there are secrets about Callum that will make him question who exactly he is and where he came from.

The first third of this book felt like a really strange read. It is very much a standard boy going to magic school story and there didn’t seem to be anything exciting or original about it. It followed the reluctant hero plot and it was full of archetypes – the mentor, the bully, the father figure. The beginning lacked energy and humour. The bond between Callum, Aaron and Tamara didn’t convince me in the early parts of the book. It just didn’t leap off the page or really have made believing that they would go to any lengths to save each other. I kept thinking why did the authors write this book? It’s no Harry Potter.

However, it did all become apparent after about the halfway point. They were playing with the traditional hero’s tale and gave it a big twist which suddenly made it very exciting indeed. I couldn’t actually put the book down once the twist was revealed. It became a compelling and darker story. More mysterious and much more what you’d expect from Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.

I’m looking forward to seeing where they take the story next. If it isn’t a hero story, then where will it go? Darker places perhaps. I certainly am intrigued and will read the next book in the series.

Readers who enjoyed the Septimus Heap series will enjoy The Iron Trial. This is tale of twisted fantasy surprised and thrilled me in the end. It has a universal appeal. So well worth a read, if you’re a patient reader who wouldn’t mind learning how chaos magic can be controlled. Maybe it can’t?

Source: Netgalley

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Guest Post: Top Ten Books for Aspiring Naturalists

Today I'm pleased to share with you a guest post from children's author and TV presenter, Nicola Davies.


These are a bit more specific than just scientists - really for kids who already have an interest in the natural world. Some of them are grownups books but things I either read myself as a child or could be enjoyed by a fluent reader, who is still young!

A Buzz In The Meadow by Dave Goulson
This is part memoir, part biology. It describes the life of the insects in a French meadow in lively entertaining prose. It’s fascinating and funny, and also describes the study of insects in the wild in a unique and engaging way. Good for young biologists!

My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
A Greek island full of animals to wander through, and no school. Real life heaven for any child. I adored this book when I was 10.

Garden Creepy Crawlies by Michael Chinery
Great guide to the tiny wildlife in your back garden. Packed with fascinating surprises and written with great style and humour - and some very funny cartoons.

Caterpillar Caterpillar by Viv French
This is a picture book about caterpillars and butterflies. But it’s also about looking and noticing - the two first skills of a field biologist.

Plants That Bite Back by Martin Jenkins
It’s good to remind children about plants and the fact they can be every bit as exciting as animals. This picture book is full of life, enthusiasm and fascinating information.

Can We Save The Tiger? also by Martin Jenkins
Beautiful picture book that explains the problems that animals face in the wild and how we might help out.

The New Encyclopaedia Of Mammals by David Macdonald
This is a huge, huge reference book. I use it all the time, but it’s FULL of wonderful photographs. I would have adored this book as a kid, and spent hours exploring all the little known backwaters of mammals.

Skyhawk by Gill Lewis
A wonderful, heart-rending story that draws together the biology of a bird and the lives of two children.

Halcyon River Days by Philip and Charlie Hamilton James
A real river with real wildlife and a real family, and the way they live alongside each other. Beautiful photographs too.

The Cat And The Cuckoo by Ted Hughes
Poetry helps you to see things clearly. Reading it builds those skills of observation and close attention, analysis and careful thought that all scientists need.

Nicola will be treating young bookworms in Argyll & Bute to a series of free events in September as part of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. For more information visit www.scottishbooktrust.com or follow @booksontour

Friday, 5 September 2014

Review: Royal Assassin

Author: Robin Hobb

Release date: This edition 2014, first published 1995
Genre: Epic Fantasy / Historical Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Series: Book 2 The Farseer Trilogy

Royal Assassin is the second book in the Farseer series. If you haven’t read Assassin’s Apprentice, you should check out my review for that instead.

At the beginning of Royal Assassin, Fitz is considering not returning to Buck Keep. He is suffering from seizures and is greatly weakened from the confrontation at the end of the first book. But return he must, for he is a King’s Man and he has sworn his loyalty to both King Shrewd and King in Waiting Verity.

Poor Fitz, he goes through so much. He is beaten physically. He is assaulted mentally by the Skill. And his emotions are fraught for he has finally realised that he loves Molly. Being an assassin is not a nine to five job and keeping his exploits secret are taking their toll. Then consider, he must also keep his Wit hidden for if anyone finds out; he may be burned like a witch at the stake.

The Red Ship Raiders are not put off their decimation of the villages and townships in the coastal duchies. The winter only stopped them for so long. The marriage between Verity and Kettricken offered hope to many but now the people see that the Raiders are winning.

This book was darker than the first. It is violent and brutal. It is full of tension. It stopped me sleeping. Robin Hobb has really got her hooks into me. I’m not sure it is entirely healthy. Honestly, I would rather be starting the third book than writing this review but I’m not sure that’s good for my mental health.

This is an epic fantasy series; the emphasis on dark deeds and deadly foes. Read it if you like your fantasy books long, tense and full of raw emotion.

Source: Borrowed from the public library.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Book Trailer: Black Ice

This is the creepiest book trailer I've ever watched. 

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick.
Out on 7th October!

Don't forget to check out the brand new website too: http://blackicebook.co.uk/

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Library Resource: Poster and graphics maker website

I came across a fantastic website for creating posters, blog graphics and Twitter posts. It's https://www.canva.com/. There are great tutorials to try out to understand the basics. You'll see one of the blog graphics which I made here.

This year I want to share a lot more of the library resources I make on my blog. So here is the first one.

Three posters to encourage pupils to use the computer for different activities. You'll find them at this link. They are PDFs and you're welcome to download them and use them in your school library.

Here is a small  version as an example: 



Friday, 29 August 2014

Review: Grace

Author: Morris Gleitzman

Release date: 3rd Feb 2011
Target audience: 8+
Genre: Realism / Family story
Themes: Beliefs / Religion / Family
UK Publisher: Puffin

Grace is a contemporary story of belief, faith and family. It’s about being true to yourself and your beliefs and standing up for your religious freedom and right to think freely.

Grace and her family are part of a small religious community. Her Uncle has just been made an elder. A special role in their church and it is a time of celebration. But sadly for Grace, she seems to sin despite her good intentions. Her school project sparks outrage from their leader Mr Gosper. It sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the very foundations of Grace’s world.

As always, Morris Gleitzman delivers a powerhouse of a story in a beautiful simple way. The voice of the main character Grace leaps off the page and carries an important message without it ever feeling like a lecture or sermon.

At the heart of this story is a girl who believes in God. She is raised in a small religious community which is a branch of Christianity. Most likely a sect but the author never states the exact group. And in essence that is irrelevant because any system of belief can be corrupted and abused by man. I think I liked this book so much because it didn’t shy away from such a big topic. It explored it through the eyes of a bright, innocent, loving girl and made it easy for me (and young readers) to understand.

It was fun to read about a character who used words like “afflicted” and “wrath”. There aren’t many contexts where a Middle Grade character could use this dialogue and make it work but it really does here and it is rather endearing. There are also many references to bible stories which make this book really great for discussion and exploring Christian beliefs.

I admire Gleitzman for the risks he takes in this book. He puts Grace amidst extremely dangerous situations and deftly resolves them so satisfyingly.

Overall, Grace is a wonderful novel for readers 8+. Some children who have questions about faith will find this book comforting. Those who have no beliefs will understand those who do a little better. And those who love a great thrilling story, full of love, which undoubtedly enjoy this book.

Bought: Purchased at SLA Conference

Friday, 22 August 2014

Review: Assassin's Apprentice

Author: Robin Hobb

Release date: This edition 2014, first published 1995
Genre: Epic Fantasy / Historical Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Series: Book 1 The Farseer Trilogy

Assassin’s Apprentice is an epic fantasy novel. It’s set in a world of kings, princes, allies and assassins. It’s an epic tale – rich on historical world-building.

This book absorbed from start to finish. It wasn’t a quick read. It was a slow burner that had me wanting to read into the wee hours because I was just so engrossed. I liked that it was sumptuous in the detail. This book felt like a fantasy rite of passage. Robin Hobb is obviously a huge name in my favourite genre and yet I had never read anything by her. I’m so glad I came across this book in the public library.

Fitz is the illegitimate son of Prince Chivalry Farseer. His earliest memory is of being dumped by his maternal grandfather at the feet of Burrich - his father’s loyal servant. Fitz grows up in the stables where Burrich tends to the horses, dogs and hawks. He grows up an outsider – always being viewed as “the bastard” child. He feels acute loneliness and yet great loyalty to the King and his uncle Prince Verity. There comes a time when he charged to learn magic known as the Skill. It is a dangerous pursuit under the instruction of a vile and cruel teacher. It tests him to the limit and it could break him. But without the Skill, the kingdom of the Six Duchies may fall to the evil Red Raiders and their mysterious soul-stealing.

The novel is told from Fitz’s point of view. At the beginning of each chapter there is an excerpt from the history of the Farseer and their kingdom of the Six Duchies. It’s the story of Fitz’s many roles in Buckkeep. He assists Burrich with the animals. He spends time training with weapons. He, as the title suggests, becomes the assassin’s apprentice. Not something a person might want to be but is driven to out of loyalty. It is a book about fate – sometimes our name dictates our nature, sometimes our circumstances. Sometimes it is merely that we are a pawn in other peoples’ games.

The characterisation is excellent. You feel every single breath Fitz takes but you also come to love Burrick, admire Verity and fear Galen. It is quite something the way this book is written. It really haunted me when I wasn’t reading it. I kept wondering about what would happen next. I loved that the author didn’t take the easy route. Characters are maimed, killed and utterly tormented. It made reading this book surprising, full of anticipation and an absolute nail-biting pleasure. If you haven’t read anything by robin Hobb, then begin with the Assassin’s Apprentice. You will not be disappointed. It was incredible!

Source: Borrowed from the public library.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Review: Crash

Author: Nicole Williams

Genre: Contemporary / Romance
Release date: First published July 2012
Target audience: New Adult
Publisher: UK Paperback Simon and Schuster
Publisher: Ebook edition Harpercollins

Crash is a contemporary romance. It’s a story of first impressions and the truth behind them. It’s a sweet love story.

Lucy has recently moved with her family to their lake shore cabin after losing their family home. She’s trying to make the best of it but things at home are difficult. She’s not looking forward to starting her final year of school at a new tough school either. As she reads on the beach, her attention is grabbed by a muscular young man playing a game of football. It’s the beginning of a friendship which could break them both in two.
This was not the most well written of novels. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure read rather than a thought-provoking one. I did enjoy it though. I was smiling while reading it. It’s sort of like I read it with one eyebrow raised the whole way through.

There were some things that didn’t quite work for me. The first is that Lucy and Jude seem to connect a bit too quickly. I’m not convinced that someone who has suffered as much as Jude would let someone enter his life so easily and so whole-heartedly. It seemed almost instantaneous. Then there’s the fact that Lucy was so passionate about dancing. At least we’re told that but we’re never really shown it. There just aren’t enough scenes with her actually dancing and feeling the movements and the music.

Having said all that, I wanted to know how it ended and I really wanted them to be together by the end of the novel. I read it really quickly too. So if you like a quick romantic read, then give it a go. I preferred Easy by Tammara Webber. There was more substance to that new adult novel and the writing was less cheesy. But hey, I did have fun reading Crash and I kind of want to know what happens next. Guilty pleasure, indeed.

Source: Bought and read on my Kobo.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Review: NYPD Red 2

Author: James Patterson (and Marshall Karp)

Release date: 5th June 2014
Genre: Crime thriller
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Century Random House
Series: NYPD Red #2

NYPD Red 2 is another fast-paced crime novel from the frighteningly prolific James Patterson. Think: cops, car chases, elite team, good guys, bad guys and city politics.

In this instalment top NYPD Red team Detectives Jordan and MacDonald are after a serial killer vigilant. This criminal mastermind has decided to become jury, judge and executioner. The media call him “The Hazmat Killer”. The case ends up with the Red team when a young rich socialite is found dead on a carousel wearing the calling-card Hazmat-esque suit. It’s a race against time to locate the bad guy and save the mayor’s political career.

Though I don’t normally read crime fiction because I’m a big wimp, for some reason the NYPD Red series is just not scary. It’s fast-paced and involves horrible torturing and murder but I guess it’s just a little too tongue in cheek to take seriously.

The voices of the main characters are so snarky and a little daft with their witticism that it makes the book more light-hearted entertainment than edge-of-your-seat thriller. And yet, I enjoyed it. The chapters are so short that you can speed through it.

If you’re looking for a quick, light read which is entertaining, then give it a go. If you love cop shows like me, but hate being scared, it’s just the thing.

Source: Borrowed from the public library

Monday, 11 August 2014

Review: Attachments

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Release date: 2nd Feb 2012
Genre: Contemporary / Modern
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Orion

Attachments is a contemporary romantic comedy. It’s a cute funny read that’ll warm your heart.

Lincoln works at The Courier as an IT guy with a difference. His job is to check that the staff are not abusing the email system. They are not meant to send personal messages and he has to send them warnings when they do. It’s not a great job. He works the nightshift and he feels kind of weird snooping on other people. But it is a job. When he starts reading all the emails sent by Beth and Jennifer things get complicated. Reading about their lives touches something in him and soon he can’t stop. He’s falling for Beth and her witty charm. But now he’s been reading her emails, how could he ever ask her out? Oh, and she has a boyfriend too.

Oh, how sweet this book is! I loved it from the beginning and I read it so quickly. Time just seemed to disappear when I was reading it. Lincoln is an adorable character. Still healing from the broken heart he got in college, he can’t move on. He’s back living with his mum and letting her make him backed lunch. Beth is a funky girl with her movie reviewer job but she’s also a fun friend. Of course, you want them to be together. But soon you’re wondering how they’ll ever manage it. The book keeps you guessing and hoping for love.

Told through Lincoln’s narrative and the emails, the book has a lively style to match its quirky characters. Even the other characters like Doris are endearing to read about. This book charmed the socks off me. It's a story about embracing who are and letting go of the past. It's about just being yourself. If you love a good love story, then read this. Attachments will leave you with a big dorky grin on your face.

Source: Borrowed from the public library.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Review: Spy for the Queen of Scots

Author: Theresa Breslin

Release date: 6th June 2013
Genre: Historical Thriller
Target audience: YA
Publisher: Doubleday, Random House

Spy for the Queen of Scots is a story of political unrest, spies and betrayal. It’s a historical novel set in the late sixteenth century in both France and Scotland.

Lady Ginette – known as Jenny to her friends – is a one of Mary Queen of Scots’ ladies. They spent much of their childhood playing together and now as young women, they are close friends and confidants. Mary is soon to marry the Dauphin Francis and his mother Catherine D’Medici does not look kindly on her future daughter in law. Living in Catherine’s court is a dangerous place for Mary. Jenny as her closest friend begins to fear Catherine’s ruthless hand. Jenny is soon witness to the horror of Catherine’s cruel and tyrannical power. As a loyal friend to Mary, she secretly begins to spy to protect the Scottish Queen. Sometimes aided, and sometimes thwarted by the mysterious Sir Duncan Alexander, Jenny must decide who truly supports the true heir to the Scottish throne and who is at the heart of her betrayal.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The turbulent history of the late sixteenth century came to life and I learnt much about the reign of Mary Queen of Scots as well as the rule of France under Catherine D’Medici as a regent queen. There was also the conflict between the Protestant and Catholic religions in Scotland and England to try to comprehend and I enjoyed musing over it all even when I wasn’t reading the book.

Jenny’s character was both likeable and courageous. I found her mistrust, as well as affection, for Duncan Alexander compelling to read about. Of course, I was hoping that this would be a love story and not a tragedy. The prologue gives the reader a glimpse of Mary moments before her execution which makes it clear that this story is not going to rewrite history. It is partly Mary’s story. It is sympathetic portrayal of a young queen trying to find a way to prevent all out civil war in her country and war with its closest neighbours. But this is also Jenny’s story. She is the eyes through which we view momentous events and the more private moments of the life of her monarch friend.

The plot is thrilling to follow. Uprising, military coups, poisoning, explosions – there is death and danger around every corner. I found myself enthralled by it all. And also charmed because there is also the story of romance for Mary and for Jenny, and as a hopeless romantic, I was hooked.

Spy for the Queen of Scots was well-written and brilliantly paced. It was an educational read as well as an engaging one. Another excellent historical novel from Theresa Breslin!

Source: Borrowed from the public library.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Review: The Queen of the Tearling

Author: Erin Johansen

Release date: July 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Random House

The Queen of the Tearling is an epic fantasy, it's almost a fairy tale story of a great monarch. This is the story of how a leader comes to be a legend. It's full of tension, secrets and the dark deeds in the search for power.

Kelsea was raised in the forest hidden away from all in her kingdom, the heir to the throne of the Tearling she had a price on her head. She never knew her mother but always imagined she would have been a great queen. When Kelsea turns nineteen, the Queen's Guard come to take her to her kingdom. There are many who stand in the way of her coronation - her letch of an Uncle, the Caden (a band of assassins) but her biggest enemy is the Red Queen of Mortmense. The Red Queen is rumoured to be a witch who is has all the surrounding realms in her suffocating grasp. Kelsea's heard of The Mort Treaty but she knows nothing of the terms. Her Guard have made a vow of secrecy to her mother so there are many secrets which Kelsea must discover. They will obliterate any idea of her mother as a great ruler. But will her own reign last long enough for her to change things?

I loved reading this book. I found it so compelling and well written. Kelsea is an interesting character. Living a life with foster parents and being educated to make a great queen, she should know all there is to know about the Tearling but there are many things she is unaware of. She has to learn quickly in order to survive.

The characterisation in this novel was excellent. The author gave each character a strong motivation to drive their actions: vanity, pride, rage - the characters were dynamic and convincing. I thought the Mace and the Fetch were both strong male voices and their relationship with Kelsea made great reading.

I really liked the exploration of the theme of monarchy and leadership and the idea of nature versus nurture. The setting for the Tearling realm is a land which is depleted of resources but almost felt medieval. It was like reading a historical fantasy yet the book is in fact set in the future. Many years ago there was the Crossing to these new lands under the idealist William Tear - he had hopes of building a utopian society but sadly that dream has long since been lost. What actually happened pre-Crossing was a mystery to me but I think that is also how it is for Kelsea. I'm sure that this will become clear in future books.

The magic is also just beginning to reveal itself by the end of the book. This is not Hogwarts. There's no spell-learning. The magic comes from a mysterious source and has the potential for good or evil deeds, I think.

I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling immensely. I can't wait to read the next instalment. If you enjoyed Trudi Canavan's Age of Five series or Kristen Britain's Green Riders, then you'll love this. I know I did. A thrilling read indeed and everything you want in a fantasy novel for adults.

Source: Netgalley.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Book Review: One Dog and His Boy

Author: Eva Ibbotson

Release date: March 2012

Genre: Animal/ Adventure/ family story

Target audience: 8+

UK Publisher: Scholastic


All Hal has ever wanted is a dog, a loyal companion to keep him company and to love. Hal’s life is really rather lonely. His parents are rich, busy people. His dad often works away and his mum is obsessed with their clinical house and posh possessions. She will buy Hal anything he wants but not a pet. When Hal’s birthday arrives, he gets his hopes up that he will finally get a dog but he’s disappointed. Hal’s dad thinks up a secret plan: to rent Hal a dog for the weekend from Easy Pets Agency. But Hal has no idea that he’ll have to give his new best friend back. Will his heart break or will he find a way to keep his best friend?

One Dog and His Boy is a fantastic read. It's a tale of friendship and the bond between dog and boy. It's also a sweet adventure story. I selected it for our Year 4 book club. We have 7 boys in the group and 1 girl. They all loved it and so did I.

Hal’s story is really emotive. He’s a kind and sweet boy but his experience of being lonely must be familiar to many children who have busy parents. His mother is shallow and I didn’t like her at all. The dogs are the star performers in this book. Fleck is a hero of a little dog and so loving. Otto is a leader among dogs. They all have distinct personalities and there is a dog for everyone. We discussed which dog was our favourite and Otto was a popular choice.

There are lots of themes to discuss in One Dog and His Boy. We discussed the morality of keeping animals as pets, why people like to have their fortunes told and even the difference between stories and lies.
The movement between Hal’s story and the story of the Easy Pets Agency took a little bit of getting used to especially for my pupils. But the weaving between the two plots was cleverly done.

This book has the most satisfying ending. You find out how things work out for every character and it leaves you feeling content. I recommend this for all young book clubs. It has a universal appeal and is exquisitely written. A modern classic. Fantastic.

Source: Borrowed from the school library.

There are some great book group activities suggested on the Teaching Ideas site. I used the Sprocket Rhymes idea with my Year 4s and they really enjoyed it. Here is the LINK.

There are also some helpful reading group questions on the Scholastic website. Here is the LINK.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Audio Books: Hunger Games Book 2 and 3

Author: Suzanne Collins

Reader: Carolyn McCormick
Publisher: Scholastic Audio
Source: Borrowed from Essex Libraries

Over the past six weeks I've been listening to the audio books of Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I read The Hunger Games ages ago and I found it pretty grim. I wasn't inspired to read the following two books. But then I watched the first movie and wanted to know how it all ended. Now I know. The ending wasn't nearly as depressing as I expected it to be. 

Listening to the audio book was a really different experience to reading the book and I enjoyed it much more. Obviously when you're driving, you have to concentrate on the road which means you're not as focused on the grim-ness of the story line. Also, it was really cool to hear the different character voices. There were some annoying parts like when Katniss has her huge dramatic speeches. They came across as long monologues on the audio version. Sometimes I just wanted her to "get on with it already" but otherwise the audio books were highly enjoyable. 

I recommend trying out a different reading format now and then. 

Which audio books have you enjoyed recently?

Monday, 21 July 2014

Review: The Execution of Noa P Singleton

Author: Elizabeth Silver

Release date: Paperback January 2014
Genre: Modern Fiction
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Headline

The Execution of Noa P Singleton is a story about a woman on death row, her crime and her conviction.

Noa is awaiting her death date. She is one of the few people in this world that knows exactly when she will die and by what means. It will be lethal injection on November 7th. It is ten years since she committed her crime. Noa is resigned to her death but yet another young lawyer believes he can win an appeal or at the very least get her clemency. You see the deceased’s mother has decided that the death penalty is wrong. But the relationship between Noa and the deceased’s mother is not what it first appears.

I won’t go into the plot anymore because this really is a novel with twists and turns and you need to read it without expectation to be drawn into Noa’s small cell and her mind. But I will say I never felt all that much sympathy for her character. For her predicament, yes. I do not believe in the death penalty. We abolished that in the UK years ago. Now I reflect on this book, I actually don’t think any of the characters are very likeable but of course, you see them all through Noa’s eyes.

Overall, The Execution of Noa P Singleton is a good, thrilling read. It’s full of ways that situations, actions, words can be manipulated. I got a little bored in the middle. After all, this is an account in retrospect. The action has already taken place. It’s really interested in the how and the why. But I’m glad I read it. A book which makes you think about life and death, crime and punishment, justice and injustice is always worth reading.

Source: Borrowed from the public library

Friday, 18 July 2014

Review: Deep Blue

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Release date: 1st May 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: YA
Publisher: Hodder
Series: Waterfire Saga Book 1

Deep Blue is a mermaid adventure where a long forgotten evil begins to stir and a band of young woman must fulfil their destiny.

Seraphina is the heir to the throne of Miromara. At the beginning of the novel she is preparing for the ceremony which will declare her true of blood. And she will also be bethrothed to Madhi, heir to the kingdom of Matalis. As the ceremony approaches, Seraphina doubts her ability to live up to her mother’s expectations. But there are even greater trials ahead.

There were some things that I really enjoyed about this book. The dilemma of the duty one is born to fulfil and challenge of being a just leader were both interestingly explored. The love story between Seraphina and Madhi and the mystery of his strange change in character definitely captured my heart. And there were some elements of this book that reminded me of a Shakespeare play – Twelfth Night perhaps – the disguises, the secret longing, some of the character names, the courtly world of Miromara. These were all the things that I really enjoyed. Sometimes I found myself completely absorbed by the story.

But it was like I was reading two different books. Sometimes the dialogue of the mermaids was so contemporary and it seemed at odds with this magical watery setting. It just didn’t quite fit. The plot had several difficulties. Seraphina was never really leading the action. Events unfurled and she was subjected to action but never really took control which made the story less exciting.

There were also a few typos and that is a real shame in this book because it really looks like a work of art. The blue font is very attractive and so are the chapter headings and maps. I think this book wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. The plot seemed more of a middle grade read. The romance had the potential to make it fit the YA market and the complexity of the world building suggests it fits there too.

Overall, if I’m honest, I was a little disappointed in Deep Blue. I wanted to be swept away on a current into the realm of the mer and I think what I actually got was stuck like a beached whale on the shore. This was just not for me, you may find it reads swimmingly. Also if you love mermaid stories, then you definitely have to give it a go!

Source: Bought from WHSmith.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

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

This academic year has been so full on hence the lack of posts. Anyway, I made it to the Summer Holiday. Yee ha!

HHHHHhHmHere 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 January this year
Boys 8 – 12
  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (the whole series)
  2. Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce (the whole series)
  3. Tom Gates by Liz Pichon (the whole series)
  4. Wonder by R J Palacio
  5. The Spider’s Lair by Guy Bass
  6. Cosmic Calamity by Guy Bass
  7. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (the whole series)
  8. Billionaire Boy by David Walliams
  9. Captain Valiant by Adam Britten (the whole series)
  10. The Ghost of Grania O’Malley by Michael Morpurgo

Girls 8 – 12
  1. Diamond by Jacqueline Wilson
  2. Dork Diaries (the whole series) by Renee Russell
  3. Ellie May is Totally Happy to Share her Place in the Spotlight by Marianne Levy
  4. Tom Gates by Liz Pichon (the whole series)
  5. Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell
  6. Shrinking Violet Definitely Needs a Dog by Lou Kuenzler
  7. Knife by R J Anderson (in fact the whole Faery series is very popular)
  8. Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler (the whole series)
  9. The Naughtiest Girl (the whole series) by Enid Blyton
  10. Demon Dentist by David Walliams

Wonder has been requested so many times this term after our fab Deputy Head spoke about reading it with his son in assembly. You can see that books in a series are still going strong. If you know you like an author, then of course you can’t wait for the next book.

In terms of non-fiction Minecraft has been crazy popular this year. But also the Truth or Busted: Fact or Fiction Behind... series has been going down a storm.

As expected, comics and graphic novels are borrowed lots too. DFC comics in particular as well as the Percy Jackson graphic versions.

We added Match magazines to the library too this year and they have been popular with children from Year 2 to Year 8. I’d like to add more magazines to our stock for next year. Suggestions most welcome.