Recommendations for Black History Month (KS3 to 5)

There will  be a reading recs slide for Black History Month too, but here are some brief reviews for some great BHM books to share with/recommend to classes. Obviously A Change Is Gonna Come also fits into this category, as it does so much to balance representation, and some of the stories could really be used to teach BAME experience (Yasmin Rahman’s and Nikesh Shukla’s are about contemporary BAME experience in the UK while Mary Bello’s and Ayisha Malek’s are also contemporary but with different geographical focuses).

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (spoiler alert: this is next month’s Book Of The Month in honour of Black History Month) is an amazing YA contemporary novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It follows the experiences of Starr, who is with her friend when he is shot by police and has to negotiate the moral minefield that follows. Everything is complicated by the fact that she lives in a black neighbourhood and attends a largely white school. This book is going to be a major Hollywood film and is seriously well written. It teaches loads about contemporary Black experience in the US without a single note of didacticism or bitterness. I’d recommend this for year 9 up.

Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence is a contemporary UKYA novel which is great for reflecting common Black teen experience in the UK. Marlon is 16 and struggling with various things, mostly exacerbated by his social situation. I loved this book for its texture and realism and the sense of ‘oh no, Marlon’ but at the same time, knowing he lacked much choice. It’s great for showing the ‘mind-forged manacles’ that still exist for many (sorry, guess what I’ve just been teaching!!). I’ve also just read Patrice Lawrence’s second book and it’s also fab – both novels also heavily feature music as being important to the characters, which I appreciate as music is central to so many teens’ lives and identities. I’d recommend this for year 9 and up.

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson is a glorious UKYA historical novel based on real events. It tells of a young woman who reinvents herself as an exotic princess after trauma. The novel is a fab demonstration of colonial attitudes in early nineteenth century Britain, with many people keen to embrace Caraboo’s act and to study her ways. Catherine Johnson’s attention to detail in her historical research is fantastic and her characters are an absolute delight. Many students will enjoy this book, but in terms of appreciating its messages for BHM, it’s more suitable for older students. Students from KS3 could read it but I think those in KS4 and 5 are more likely to understand the depiction of imperialist attitudes.

Look out for my The Hate U Give posts during October for Black History Month, especially an extract q for GCSE practice which will enable us to introduce the text into the classroom. It’s a real gift of a book to put in front of young people and I’ve no doubt that bringing an extract in for such a lesson will prompt some to go out and read the whole and expand their understanding of contemporary race issues in the US (and worldwide).

A Change Is Gonna Come Review and GCSE Resources (Book of the Month In-Depth)

Age range: YA (12+)

Themes: as this is an anthology, these are really varied, but include: love, sexuality, racism, islamophobia, bereavement, refugees, OCD, friendship, punishment, fantasy, time travel, fairness, identity.

Narrative style and genre: again, varied by the story/poem – pretty much the full possible range is covered, with first and third person perspectives, present and past tense and genres from realism to fantasy; history through contemporary to near-future dystopian.

The anthology is a showcase of crisp, entertaining writing for young people in a range of styles by today’s top writers from a wide range of backgrounds. It’s great to see the range of ways in which the theme of ‘change’ has been interpreted, some with a political slant, others much more fantastical. For example:

  • Tanya Byrne’s story Hackney Moon is a gorgeous lesbian love story with an omniscient, God-like narrator. If you could read the whole story with a class, you could enjoy discussing the narrator’s character and function.
  • Catherine Johnson’s story Astounding Talent! Unequalled Performances! is a historical story of circus folk dealing with the death of their leader, with a historical note explaining her sources. Again, plenty of opportunity to discuss how writers work with source material there.
  • Yasmin Rahman’s Fortune Favours the Bold is the story of a teenage Muslim girl with anxiety getting through the day after a terrorist attack. This story offers plenty of moral discussion opportunities.
  • Patrice Lawrence’s story The Clean Sweep is a dystopian tale set in a version of Brighton where young offenders have been sent to be watched by the rest of the country/world as they are washed away (or possibly saved by a vote). Reading this story would allow useful exploration of structure, as the plot points and turning points come thick and fast.
  • Aisha Bushby’s Marionette Girl is a diary-style, incredibly detailed journal of a girl with OCD who reaches a turning point in her illness. Lots of chance for empathy-based discussions here, and perhaps to focus on the language we use around mental health and why it’s inappropriate to label behaviours/people ‘OCD/depression’ etc when those labels belong to debilitating conditions.

Obviously, on the whole I am 100% behind this book. As a project to increase representation, it is sorely needed, but it is so much more than that. It wouldn’t work if the stories in it weren’t good and they are GREAT.

 


Here is a set of GCSE-style questions on one of the story openings. These 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 sensible.

Use the first section of The Clean Sweep (to the second paragraph on p. 148: ‘…could hate us even more’) as the full extract.

1. Read again the first two paragraphs. List four things about the boys’ plan.  (4 marks)

2. Look in detail at paragraphs two and three. How does the writer use language here to describe Emo and Daphne?

  • 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 is the opening to a story. 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 paragraph 5 to the end.

A student, having read this part, said: “The writer really shows the characters’ desperation in this extract. It comes through in everything from the description of the setting to the narrative voice.’

To what extent do you agree?

In your response, you could:

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

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

Introducing Reading Recommendations as a Register/Settling Task: Slide no. 1: for Fans of Lemony Snicket

I’m going to be sharing a slide here every Sunday. These are slides I use at the beginning of lessons while I’m taking the register – I simply display them for students to look at and take note of anything they fancy reading. I’ll occasionally comment on/discuss the titles or the reason I’ve chosen this week’s topics, but over time students get used to the idea and I found last year that some started asking me for particular genres or topics. Some of these will be grouped by topic and may be topical (e.g. for Black History Month or International Women’s Day), while others will be clustered around more English-focused ideas (such as multiple narrators). Note that I’ve been using these with KS4 and 5 (I haven’t taught KS3 for a while until this year, but I do intend to show them to KS3 classes too).

This week’s selection is for students who have enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events, whether that’s the book series, or the recent brilliant Netflix show. They are all therefore somewhat dark and quirky.

For fans of Lemony Snicket – download the file here

I hope these slides will be of use to some of you.