Reading Recommendations Slide 11: Great Fantasy Reads

Four fab fantasy reads for this week. Three are recent YA titles and there is an adult title (from Pratchett’s Discworld series) for those fancying a bit more of a challenge. 
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: 5 – Fantasy

Last week’s theme was family drama. 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.

Reading Recommendations Slide 10: Family Drama

Four contemporary reads dealing with family drama for this week. All feature non-traditional families, families in crisis and teens dealing with the fallout and/or taking things into their own hands. For those of you working with Learning Power/Four Rs, it’s worth knowing that there’s lots of resilience being shown/developed in these stories, and plenty of reciprocity too, especially in Dead Ends and Orbiting Jupiter, which focus as much on friendship as they do on families. Indigo Donut has friendship as a theme too, but it’s a bit more complicated and there are more obstacles to the teamwork actually working.

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: 4 – Family drama

Last week’s theme was something different (difficult to classify genre-wise/more experimental books). 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.

Recommendations: Great Examples of Friendship in Recent Children’s Books and YA

I thought it might be good to recommend a few books that model good friendships. This seems especially useful in YA, where the relationship focus is so often on romance rather than friendship, although the reality in teen life is that a lot of emotional energy and time is devoted to friends.

Remix, Non Pratt

YA Contemporary about a ‘best friend’ relationship and all the complexities that entails. It takes place over the weekend of a music festival and deals with fandom, loyalty and the ways friendships change as teenagers get older and start to have sexual relationships. Dual narration by the two protags, with convincing voices. Authentic and engaging for KS5 and 4.

Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo

YA Fantasy heist novel about a group of outsiders who are effectively forced by circumstances to work together. Their relationship (as they negotiate it) is what makes this brilliant story work so well. The representations in this book are also fab with a truly diverse cast including in terms of disability and sexuality. Multiple narration, so you get to know each character’s outlook. First in a duology. Good for KS5 and 4

Mind the Gap, Phil Earle

YA Contemporary about a boy who’s falling apart since his Dad died, so his best mate helps him recover something of his Dad to help him cope. A really touching story which, unusually, covers male friendship. This is a Barrington Stoke book, so it’s dyslexia friendly – printed in a special font on yellowish, non-glare paper and using a controlled vocabulary. (If you’re unfamiliar with Barrington Stoke’s brilliant work on ‘super-readable books’, do check out their website.) Good for KS3-4

Murder Most Unladylike, Robin Stevens

MG Mystery featuring a fantastic friendship at the heart between Daisy, a classic 1920s boarding-school girl and Hazel, from Hong Kong, who doesn’t always quite know the social norms of the UK. Relationships with other girls at the school also feature and become increasingly important in this hugely popular murder mystery series, narrated by Hazel who plays a ‘Watson’-type role in the girls’ Detective Society. Great for KS3

Perijee and Me, Ross Montgomery

MG Fantasy focusing on Perijee who is an alien being who appears on the beach one day and is at first kept secret but then must be protected from the world of adults. Perijee arrives just when Caitlin is feeling really lonely as her parents are very busy with important work and school is hard for her, but Perijee grows to an enormous and impossible-to-hide size and then the story becomes a mad chase. This is an unpredictable, zany story with a lovely emotional heart. Great for KS3.

Reading Recommendations Slide 9: Something Different

Both of these are fabulous reads which break boundaries or challenge expectations in terms of genre and/or style. Mortal Chaos is essentially a thriller, but it uses chaos theory as its organising concept, and is told in incredibly short chapters. Every Day has a body-free character at the centre known simply as A, who simply inhabits a different body each day, with no understanding of where the body’s usual inhabitant goes. A is therefore genderless, but they do have an age, as they have progressed through bodies of different ages over time.

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: 3 – Something different 1

Last week’s theme was bullies. 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.

Reading Recommendations Slide 8: Bullies

These all represent good stories which feature bullying, and which I would recommend as good reads on the topic. They do not all have it as their primary theme, and are not solely ‘issues’ books (if we define that as having a primary purpose of raising issues) – all of these are entertaining stories, which also prompt thought and discuss issues.

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 – Bullies

Last week’s theme was multiple narrators. 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.

Recommendations: Outsiders in YA

Although arguably all YA deals with outsiders, I’ve picked four of my recent reads to recommend to you that deal with this theme particularly well and are worth recommending to students. They all have a contemporary setting, but the first is a sci-fi in terms of plot.

More of Me, Kathryn Evans

In this amazing contemporary UK YA sci-fi, sixteen-year-old Teva hides the weirdest secret from her school friends (and, in fact, everyone except her mother): there are literally more of her at home. Each year, she separates and casts off her old self, to leave it behind. The novel mostly focuses on how she faces knowing this is coming up and she’ll have to be trapped at home while the ‘new’ Teva lives in the outside world, all while last year’s Teva (known as ‘Fifteen’) is sulking at her for stealing her friends and boyfriend, and she’s dealing with the normal issues of school, A Level choices and UCAS (how on earth would she go to uni etc?). Fascinating concept, rendered beautifully.

The Circus, Olivia Levez

This great UK YA contemporary begins with Willow running away from her posh boarding school (which she’s attempted before). Her father may be wealthy but his attention is all on his young fiance and Willow decides to run away to the circus to discover her heritage – that her mother was a performer is pretty much all she knows/remembers about her. Most of the novel focuses on her ‘adventures’ on the streets and with the circus, which is a very different life to the one Willow is used to. Great characterisations and lots to think about here.

Indigo Donut, Patrice Lawrence

Patrice Lawrence won the YA Prize and the Waterstones’ Children’s Book Prize last year for her debut Orangeboy, and this is just as accomplished and thoughtful. Indigo is troubled and she sees herself as empty in the middle (hence ‘donut’). The novel uses dual narrative focus and is shared between Indigo and Bailey, who is also an outsider of sorts, thanks to his ginger afro. I really liked that the families in this book were so unconventional in different ways: Bailey’s family are dull and middle-class in lots of ways – his Dad’s a social worker and Bailey tries to help Indigo, but doesn’t always get it right (as teenagers won’t…). (it’s also nice that it’s the girl who’s ‘problematic’ and the boy who tries to do the caring work). Look out for this one on a future slide about families… Fab representations, lots to be eye-opening for students in different situations.

One Of Us Is Lying, Karen McManus

This one was on the ‘multiple narrators’ slide and has been described as ‘The Breakfast Club plus murder’ – do I really need to say more? In terms of outsiders, one of the four narrators/suspects, Nate ticks all the boxes of classic teen misfit: broken home, criminality, drugs etc and is beloved by most readers of the book. Although this is a big US hit and obviously I do love to champion the UK books, I can’t help but recommend this one, as it is beautifully done. Four voices, but they are distinct and separately knowable.

The Hate U Give Review and GCSE Resources (Book of the Month In-Depth)

Age range: YA (12+)

Themes:  race, equality, justice

Narrative style and genre: The novel is contemporary YA, told in first person present tense to maximise immediacy and tension. The blurb tells us that Starr’s unarmed best friend is shot by police, so this comes as no surprise in chapter two, but everything up to this point feels like it’s pulling you there, and everything afterwards unfolds as a mystery, but with a degree of inevitability.

This is a really important novel. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and written by a young black woman with an authentic voice and heaps of credibility, but perhaps even more importantly for this message, this is a incredibly well-executed story with strong characters. It’s easy to lose yourself in and readers (especially those of the target age range) will readily engage with Starr’s moral quandaries as she navigates the uncertainties that follow Khalil’s shooting. There is plenty here for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) readers to relate to and feel represented by, as well as tonnes for white readers to learn from, without feeling preached at or unfairly judged.

Easily one of the best US YA contemporaries I’ve read in years.

The pull quote on the back would make a great starter to introduce the novel to a class. Since the blurb clearly reveals the shooting, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with showing this to a class before using the GCSE qs below, as this would  make their inferences more definite and clearly is the intended reader experience.


Here is a set of GCSE-style questions on the opening to Chapter 2. This can be found in one of the downloadable preview excerpts online if you don’t have the book, but obviously I strongly recommend getting hold of a copy for your school library if not for yourself.

These questions are based on AQA, as it’s what I have experience of, and I’m using Eng Lang Paper 1 as that’s the most likely place for a book like this to show up (and this section is great for structure and tension, so I’ve focused on questions 2 to 4). I’d probably use this as a group task, with different groups in a Yr11 class working on different questions depending on what they most needed to work on at this point. Then we could have a compare and consolidate session with three ‘mastermind’ groups with the aim of between them coming up with every possible point to be made (like a master mark scheme) for the question, before feeding back and explaining ‘their’ question to the class.

Use pages 24 and 25 – the beginning of Chapter 2 – as the full extract (‘When I was twelve,’ to ‘that’s even better.’).

2. Look in detail at page 24. How does the writer use language here to create a sense of Starr’s parents?

  • You could include the writer’s choice of:
  • words and phrases
  • language features and techniques
  • sentence forms  (8 marks)

3. You now need to think about the whole of the source. This text comes near the beginning of a novel. How has the writer structured it to interest you as a reader?

  • You could write about:
  • What the writer focuses your attention on at the beginning
  • how and why the writer changes this focus as the source develops
  • any other structural features that interest you  (8 marks)

4. Focus this part of your answer on the second part of the source, from ‘Momma fussed’ (paragraph 4) to the end.

A student, having read this part, said: “The writer really shows that something big is going to happen. She creates a lot of tension in the narrative voice, the action and the hints she gives.”

To what extent do you agree?

In your response, you could:

  • write about your own impressions of the tension created
  • evaluate how the writer has created tension
  • support your opinions with references to the text.    (20 marks)

I do hope somebody out there uses this. Please do let me know!

Reading Recommendations Slide 7: Multiple Narrative Voice

Most of these have more than two narrators, and there’s a good spread of genres too, with a twin-perspective romance, a family drama (with an incredible array of narrators that somehow is not confusing) and two thrillers – one action-focused and one more of a whodunnit. All demonstrate great character-building through voice.

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 – Multiple narrators

 

Last week’s theme was contemporaries, coded for students as ‘for fans of series like Gilmore Girls and/or Riverdale). 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.

Recommendations for Teachers for Downtime

With half-term on the horizon, I thought it might be timely to share a few recent adult books for a bit of escapist joy of our own. These cover a range of genres, so hopefully there’s something here that will appeal no matter your reading tastes.

Contemporary UK-set Urban Crime (Police Procedural)

Someone Else's Skin (DI Marnie Rome 1)Someone Else’s Skin, Sarah Hilary. OK, this is not so recent (2014), but that’s only because I have to recommend the first in this excellent series (we’re up to the fourth now). These books follow the career of DI Marnie Rome and her DS Noah Jake. I love them because they’re brilliantly written, totally absorbing and the representation they offer is a breath of fresh air in terms of diversity. To be fair, that is something found more in UK than US procedurals (hat-tip to Val McDermid, for example), but these are strong examples of something very ‘now’, very British and very moral. Hilary always raises an issue in her Marnie Rome books – I’ve always learned something, and always been gripped by the story. Her narration features the odd chapter from the perpetrator’s perspective (without giving away their identity), which intensifies the action. Beautifully done, and well worth a look. [Teacher hat on: also worth showing to students if you’re doing the Crime incarnation of the AQA Lit A Level. Sorry, couldn’t help myself…]

1980s US-set Nostalgia/Coming-of-age

The Impossible Fortress, Jason Rekulak. This book is about 14 year olds in 1987, which made me almost the same age as the protags at the same time, so the heavy references in the first couple of chapters to anchor the text were an amazing memory blast personally. The book is chock-full of early computer gaming and coding (with tapes!!), teen boy obsessions (Playboy, for example) and terrible ideas (because teen boys) and I should probably warn potential readers that the early part of it felt really ‘blokey’ to me but it’s much more intelligent and sensitive than it initially presents itself to be. It’s a well-done coming-of-age set firmly in a specific time-frame which I enjoyed a lot and would definitely recommend for its 80s nostalgia and its exploration of masculinity and growing up.

Romantic Comedy (with a splash of magic realism)

If You Could See Me Now, Keris Stainton. This hilarious novel features Izzy whose life is not quite what she’d wish for and whose boyfriend rather takes her for granted. And then something rather unexpected (and magical) happens and she’s forced to re-examine everything. I really enjoyed this – the characterisation is warm and easy to accept, and the crazy magic twist works in context. I found myself laughing often, with too many oh-so-familiar small details. I’ve always enjoyed Keris’s YA and children’s titles in the past – this is her first book for adults, but her trademark warmth and wit and keen ear for dialogue make it just as successful.

Black Comedy/Thriller (from serial killer’s perspective)

Sweetpea, C J Skuse. This irreverent and hilarious novel had me trying desperately not to laugh out loud on the bus, which is not what you expect from a serial killer novel, but the voice is superb. Rhiannon narrates and also shares snippets from her diary, often lists of people (or types of people) who annoy her – some of which you can easily understand and others are way beyond reasonable. The portrayal of her psychopathy is fab because you are happily nodding along with her complaints about other people and then suddenly it takes a turn and is all way too much. I should probably mention that there is quite a strong level of violence (and sex, for that matter) in this novel, and the language is also very much adult.

Folklore/Fairytale Retelling

A Pocketful of Crows, Joanne Harris (publishing 19 Oct). This is a treat of a book. Based on a Child ballad and featuring gorgeous line illustrations, it’s a feast of love, betrayal and revenge. I enjoyed getting lost in this and felt that it was something that Angela Carter would have taken real pleasure in – a delightful textural weaving of elements out of a relatively short original piece.

What will you pick up over half term?

 

Reading Recommendation Slide 6: for fans of Gilmore Girls/Riverdale

(in other words, here’s some great YA contemporary reads with plenty of drama)

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:

6 – For fans of Gilmore Girls or Riverdale

Last week’s theme was horror to look ahead to halloween. Some links are thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

So far this half term, themes have been: For fans of Lemony Snicket; comedy; weepies (for catharsis); Black History Month and horror. Next week will be multiple narrators. I’m trying to vary the titles offered, but I think across the year some titles will appear in front of students twice (The Hate U Give will be one of those, for example – titles I’m seeing as really valuable, and also perhaps likely to appeal in more than one category). Across this half term there has been one ‘classic’ (Gatsby), two other adult titles (Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black), but the majority are recently published teen/YA titles (mostly last 5 years – I think Geek Girl is potentially the oldest I’ve included, but that series has only just wrapped up and I wouldn’t rec the last in a series) to keep students’ faith.