Reading Recommendations Slide 16: For Marvel/DC Fans

A selection of comic-book/superhero-themed titles for this week’s recommendation slide, and since last week I offered stretch titles, this week I’ve got a couple of easy-reads/younger titles (Electrigirl and My Brother Is a Superhero). Both of these are books I’ve recommended to lower-attaining KS4 students before, although they’re intended more as upper KS2-lower KS3 reads.

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 2 – For Marvel and DC Fans

The last theme posted was Romance. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Stationery Addict: Organiser Tips

OK, I’ve titled this post organiser tips, but really I’m just showing you my favourite ever bit of stationery/planning tool: my gorgeous personalised planner from Cordwain HIggler. This was a birthday present and I’ve had it for three and a half years now and it’s showing no signs of wear, although it’s popped into my bag on a daily basis.

I’ve loved a filofax-type format for a long time because of the flexibility. Notebooks frustrate me, because you can spoil them (yes, my perfectionism might sometimes be a bit of a problem). In this (and my previous filofax, now housing ‘archive material’), I’ve had various different setups over the years and it’s fine to rearrange at intervals without any crossings out or tearing out of pages. Perfect!

A couple of years ago, I noticed that standard size postcards (such as those used promotionally by publishers, for example) fit perfectly in my organiser (which is ‘personal’ size, btw). I already had the special Filofax hole punch, for printing my own inserts (business is booming on Etsy for designers of such things; I’ve had some beauties over the years). So now, events such as YALC tend to lead to a refresh of my organiser dividers. In case you’re wondering, after trial and error, I can confirm that the easiest way to make them into dividers is to purchase repositionable tabs for folders, rather than force yourself to cut tabs into the side of the postcards…

I think this flexibility and ability to be creative inside also negate the possible criticism some have of having a permanent organiser instead of an array of notebooks – the boredom of always having the same cover. You can be always changing it up inside. And these days, with companies like Kikki K (and an Etsy industry) practically dedicated to planner design and decoration with pre-printed inserts, stickers, cute dividers and so on, it’s very easy to mix it up and make it attractive. I’ve gone for something which cheers me up and genuinely gives me pleasure to look at and use with very little effort to set up, but if your craft skills are better, you can make good use of scrapbooking papers for example and really create something personalised.

So, if you need a notebook by your side and, like me, are frustrated by having ‘ruined’ too many pretties, why not try an organiser?

Writer’s Wednesday: New Year, New Tools – The Maker’s Yearbook 2018 Review

The Maker’s Yearbook is produced by Nicola Taylor, who is a photographer and small business expert. I bought it for the first time in December, after seeing a writer friend with it and thinking it looked useful. How right I was!

Not only does it begin with a useful review of 2017 and goal-setting for 2018, followed by monthly and weekly planning pages for the year, but buying the planner also gets you a year’s membership of Nicola’s online classroom and Facebook group. This is brilliantly useful and I’ve already made major changes to the way I work on my ‘at home’ days (I teach 3 days a week, and write – in theory – 3; of course, teaching doesn’t quite sit neatly in its allocated days…).

Obviously, some of the material does not apply to me personally. For example, there is some talk about selling to galleries, buying materials from suppliers and organising post office runs, but there is an awful lot that does apply to me and many things can be translated. The messiness of a small, creative business, certainly does apply to me as a writer often working simultaneously on more than one commissioned task, a novel that I really want to write and trying to fit in pitches to expand my scope (Nicola would call that working ‘on’ my business rather than ‘in’ my business, and it’s the stuff that most easily gets overlooked – and which then leads to you getting stuck – see? she knows what she’s talking about and makes it easy for creative/artsy/non-business brains to deal with!).

Also, of course, as you would expect from a professional photographer, the yearbook is beautifully laid out and therefore easy to use. The systems and habits ingrained in it are straightforward and clearly likely to ease working and increase productivity, and the camaraderie and support in the FB group is already a highly valuable resource.

Personally, I bought the digital download as I was eager to print and get started, but the physical book is spiral bound and I’ve heard it comes beautifully packaged. To be honest, I’m already thinking I’ll buy a physical copy next year. If you want a closer look, there’s a video flick-through on the front page of the website.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this to kick-start your 2018 if you are a creative. It’s particularly aimed at people producing and selling physical objects e.g. on Etsy, at craft fairs or on their own websites, but I’m certainly finding it useful (and who doesn’t love a pretty planner!)

Reading Recommendations Slide 15: Romance

A selection of romantic titles for this week’s recommendation slide, including one with LGBT characters and some classics offered as stretch suggestions (Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights).

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 1 – Romance

I only post these up in term time, so the last theme posted was in December and it was novels with a particularly interesting/effective Narrative Voice. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Introducing January’s Book of the Month: Asking For It by Louise O’ Neill (including A Level Lang classroom/homework task)

This contemporary YA novel is a sharply written introduction to the complexity of sexual consent issues, particularly around intoxication. It also explores how victims and culprits are treated in social media and school hallways, often in harrowing detail. (It’s probably worth pointing out here that there are graphic aspects to this novel and it isn’t suitable for younger students. I personally would (and have) recommend(ed) it to some yr11s to read, but it isn’t suitable for all KS4 classes).

In my experience, readers of this novel invariably find it powerful and persuasive because it is involving and gripping as a novel. I would strongly recommend anyone teaching teenagers to read it and consider recommending it to as many teens as possible. It’s an important one and sometimes a difficult read emotionally, but by no means a book you have to force yourself to read. I’d love to be able to discuss this with a class, but I also recognise that it would be difficult to set for GCSE (although I’ve seen it selected for Lang/Lit NEA successfully).

The opening few pages can be found on the Irish Times website (I would still recommend purchasing a copy or two for yourself and the classroom) and this can make the basis for an interesting discussion of class and gender representation for AS Level English Lang:

Writers have to use shorthand and common assumptions, even stereotypes to create aspects of character quickly, especially at the start of a text (as this is). The more individualised the character, the more important they are. (Stretch/more able addition: the more individualised way a category is treated such as gender/class/race, the more important that category may turn out to be as a concept in this work). What can we infer and what stands out about the class/gender identities of the characters introduced in this extract? (NB the novel is set in ‘a small town in Ireland’ in 2015).

Look out for more in-depth comments in a fortnight and another teaching activity using this text.

Recommendations: Witches in YA

There’s something about dark, chilly nights and great witchy titles that just go together well, so I thought I’d share a few recommendations for some good ones for YA readers across a few genres.

A Witch In Winter, Ruth Warburton

This kicks off a contemporary-set trilogy (all of which are now out) which starts off ultra-modern with typical high-school, new-girl issues and quickly heads into beloved fantasy tropes with warring witch clans and centuries-old battles over power. The story kicks off with kids playing around with spells and the main character casts a love spell which works dramatically well, showing that she has power which she was previously unaware of. Fab, pacey writing with a keen ear for dialogue from the author who also writes adult thrillers as Ruth Ware (In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10).

The Graces, Laure Eve

Another contemporary-set novel (with a sequel, The Curses, coming out in 2018), based heavily around high school. Inspired by the film The Craft, this book focuses on the Grace family and the town’s legends about their being witches, which inspire a new arrival to be obsessed with them. Teen readers will lap up the creepy vibes and good sense of school hierarchies and politics.

 

 

Crow Moon, Anna McKerrow

Near-future dystopian set in an England that’s been split by ecological disaster, this novel kicks off a trilogy (of which the last was released recently). In this version of the world, Devon and Cornwall form the Greenworld, an eco-pagan, self-sufficient community separated from the rest of the world (the Redworld), where resources are scarce. Magic and mystery rule as young Danny comes into his witch powers in a world ruled by women. The trilogy is a great read, with each novel focusing on and narrated by a different young witch.

Witchstruck, Victoria Lamb

Start of a historical trilogy about a witch set in Tudor times, with royalty and a witchfinder thrown in for good measure. The young witch, Meg Lytton, is also charged with looking after the imprisoned Lady Elizabeth at her half-sister, Queen Mary’s request.  She also has to hide her powers. These are pacey reads with plenty of historical detail and a good deal of intrigue, romance and suspense.

 

How To Hang a Witch, Adriana Mather

Contemporary-set high school paranormal drama with historical resonance. A new kid in school scenario, only this one is  set in Salem, and the new kid finds herself instantly unpopular simply because of her family name and its meaning in relation to the seventeenth-century witch trials (but yes, this is set in the 21st century!). The author makes interesting links between historical witch hunts and modern-day bullying in this novel packed with ghosts, witches, high school politics and a dash of romance.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter Review and GCSE language analysis practice task (Book of the Month in-depth)

Age range: YA (12+)

Themes: folklore, justice, truth, fairness

Genre: high fantasy/second-world fantasy

Narrative style: first-person present tense (with passages in past tense as she provides backstory/history) and often lyrical.

This is the first in a trilogy set in a fantasy world with a clearly-defined religion/folklore system which is explored and questioned through the books. Each book is narrated by a different character, but their stories definitely lead on from one another and need to be read in the correct order – it is a series.

As well as being exquisitely written and therefore suitable to show to students as a model of good writing that is likely also to engage them, I particularly appreciate a fantasy story written with underpinning feminist principles. There are great examples of female friendships here and positive models for romantic relationships – no romanticising of stalking or other abusive behaviour here. In this instalment, some have criticised Twylla for being a little passive at the start of the novel, but personally I find that realistic for the context that she is in – her social status is laid out clearly and she is relatively young and naive. She makes mistakes and grows through the novel, which I think is what characters should do. A supremely capable protagonist from the start leaves rather less room for character development!

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Here is a set of prompts for analysis on chapter 1, which is shared on the Movellas website (but, again, I would also recommend buying a copy for your classroom/school library/self). This is suitable to use with year 9 students as practice for GCSE ways of working, or in year 10/11 to develop and practise skills. Obviously, reading a whole chapter would never be required in an exam, but it allows for more immersion in the language here and therefore more comparison between the different aspects of the chapter.

  • How does Salisbury use language to present different time periods in this chapter?
    • [this allows discussion of narrative structure as well as grammatical tense; students could literally try to timecode the various sections of the chapter to track the different timings covered, or to plot events on a timeline]
  • How does Salisbury present contrasting senses of control and chaos in this chapter? Which sections of the narrative are concerned with this theme and how does the language used support it?
    • [could discuss semantic fields, listing and/or particular word classes such as adjectives, verbs, adverbs used in key sections]
  • How does the description of the religious/mythological system help to create the fantasy world?
    • [this allows discussion of structure, narrative genre/style, use of invented names/vocabulary]
  • Why do you think Salisbury begins and ends with the references to screaming?
    • [again, directs to discussion of structure but also theme; could also extend to discussions on likely wider themes of the novel – this is the opening chapter so what has the author set up here?]

I might also be tempted to give this text to A Level Lang students as a potential style model for Original Writing. The complex time shifts and lyrical style help it address the ‘ambitious’ label in the mark scheme.

Reading Recommendations Slide 14: Narrative Voice

A selection of books which all feature particularly effective narrative voice for this week: two thrillers and two contemporaries with different tones – both about family but in different ways. All are great reads, and all offer strong voices as part of that experience.

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 8 – Strong voice

Last week’s theme was Christmas. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Book Stocking Filler Recommendations

Want recommendations for book gifts that aren’t necessarily the obvious titles this year? Look no further. I’ve got kids, teens and adults covered here.

The Incredible Billy Wild by Joanna Nadin

Buy it for: any child (7+) who would enjoy this ‘championing the outsider’ story that takes on the cruelties of the dog racing world in a child-friendly way. Also features a class talent show, chaotic parenting and some top-class mayhem (as you might expect when hiding a greyhound from your family…)

The Circus by Olivia Levez

Buy it for: fans of contemporary YA who will enjoy the gritty realism as posh girl Willow is forced to learn hard lessons on the streets, contrasted against the lure of the circus glamour as she hunts for clues to her long lost mother. Atmospheric, gripping and heart-wrenching.

More of Me by Kathryn Evans

Buy it for: those who enjoy YA with a sci-fi element. This features 15-year-old Teva who appears normal to the outside world but hides a weird secret at home: each year on her birthday, she separates and leaves behind a copy of herself. This means that she lives with an array of different versions of herself, including Fourteen, who is upset with her for ‘taking’ her friends and boyfriend…

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne

Buy it for: teen romance fans who may enjoy the gentle (maybe not always so gentle) takedown of romance culture in this brilliant novel which explores – through a great story – how abusive acts are packaged as ‘romantic’ in the media. (The author also works as a teen relationships advisor online and her other novels are equally thought-provoking and promote healthy relationships.)

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Buy it for: fantasy fans who will tear through this ensemble heist story set in a brilliantly realised fantasy universe (the Grishaverse – also featured in the trilogy opening with Shadow and Bone). Strong on diversity and suitable for a YA or adult reader, the story concludes in Crooked Kingdom if you want to be really generous and gift the whole thing.

Sweetpea by C J Skuse

Buy it for: anyone over 18 likely to sympathise with serial killer Rhiannon’s outlook on those who cross her by bruising her produce at the supermarket, getting in her way at work or generally being a creepy bloke. Do not buy for those offended by graphic language, sex or violence. Deliciously black humour.

If You Could See Me Now by Keris Stainton

Buy it for: those who like their romance served up with wryly feminist observational comedy. Sharp, witty and with a light touch. Poor Izzy is just trying to get by, but everything is going wrong and then she decides to go for the big pitch at work and grab a promotion. Of course, just then something awful happens…

Reading Recommendations Slide 13: Christmas

Just the one book this week, as it’s a very special one: an anthology of festive short stories and poems on the theme of ‘home’, and with a donation to the homelessness charity Crisis from every copy sold. What could be more in the spirit of the season? I thought it would be good to push this at the start of December rather than the end of term, as it is a good one for pupils to look out for/ask for as they’re starting to feel festive (or if you’re looking for end-of-term prizes, of course, this would be very suitable for a wide range of students).

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 7 – Christmas

Last week’s theme was music. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.