Reading Recommendations Slide 26: Revision Season Escapism 2 – Fantasy

This half term, all my recommendations will focus on reading for pleasure, relaxation and escapism during revision season. This week I’m offering three titles featuring fantasy worlds, all of which have at least one sequel to get stuck into (and the one that is ‘only’ a duology are classic fantasy big fat books, so plenty of reading there!

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 – Revision Season Escapism – Fantasy

The last theme posted was contemps not set in school for revision season. 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 24: Witches

A nice set of different novels with witches: two contemporaries (one including mystery, supernatural and historical elements), one historical and one dystopian eco-thriller – something for everyone!

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 – Witches

The last theme posted was for fans of the Big Bang Theory. 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 21: Fairy Tales

These books all borrow from fairy tales, folklore or existing classic stories as their source material. This is a genre of its own with plenty to choose from. (I’m particularly looking forward to Louise O’Neill’s take on The Little Mermaid, The Surface Breaks, due out in May – bound to be an interesting feminist re-interpretation of that problematic story…)

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 – Fairy Tales

The last theme posted was friendship. 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. (Next week I’ve got a nice set ready for International Women’s Day)

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton: February’s Book of the Month in-depth – review and a writing activity adaptable for KS3-5

Age range: YA (12+)

Themes: identity, diversity/ethnicity/race, protest & politics

Genre: fantasy + western 

Narrative style: first-person past tense with plenty of pace and an engaging voice with plenty of ‘sass’ and wit. It’s really easy to root for Amani as she tries desperately to escape her situation by dressing as a boy and entering a shooting competition.

It’s great that she is a skilled shooter and can be admired for that, but she does have weaknesses to engage our sympathy too and her world is all too ready to dismiss her as ‘just’ a girl. With the imaginative combination of the Western setting and the magical 1001 Nights tales as a folkloric backdrop, there is plenty here to get involved in.


Using the opening page, which is available to read on the Guardian website, here is a writing-focused task which can be adapted for years from KS3 to 5:

Paste the opening page into the centre of an A3 page.

Ask students to examine the opening for the different jobs that it is fulfilling. They could highlight sentences in different colours to show this. For example, looking at information that helps:

  • establish setting
  • establish character

This can be further complicated by labelling the techniques used.

A more interesting/complex exercise for older/more advanced students might explore how Amani’s voice is created using a combination of words and phrases (lexis/register) and sentence structure (syntax), further considering how the information chosen to be provided to the reader through Amani helps characterise her by showing her attitudes to those topics. Again, different colour highlighters could be used for lexical vs syntactical techniques with the labels and subject-based comments written on around the text.

This analytical work can then feed into writing of the students’ own, where they introduce a character/setting/situation with attention to the same issues. A scenario could be provided for them, or they could be invited to come up with their own. Some possibilities include:

  • An already-known character from a fairytale/folktale but not the central character (e.g. telling Red Riding Hood from the Huntsman’s perspective)
  • An ‘outsider’ character in a dangerous situation
  • A young person readying themselves to do something difficult (a test, delivering some difficult news, telling a friend a tough secret)

Introducing February’s Book of the Month: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (including GCSE Language prep task on inference)

This fantasy YA novel opens a glorious trilogy (the final instalment has just published this week) exploring identity, loyalty and other eternal themes relating to the classic battles between good and evil. As with many other books I’ve recommended, I love and recommend this series for its genuine feminist principles – not just a ‘strong girl’ lead, but well-rounded female (and male) characters, great examples of female friendships as well as serious moral dilemmas, not just glib ‘this is right, I must do it’ scenarios.

It’s a very popular trilogy, so well worth putting in front of students, as it’s likely to tempt less keen readers in with its vivid and unusual 1001 Nights-inspired setting crossed with the Wild West (at least in this opening section – it’s more fantasy and less western as the story moves on).

The opening chapter can be found here on the Guardian website, but (as ever) I would also recommend purchasing a classroom/library copy. Here’s an activity using the first four paragraphs only to really focus on inference skills. I’d use it with year 9 or 10 students to practice/build these before serious exam-paper-focused work.

Paste a copy of the book’s first four paragraphs into the centre of a blank page (ideally A3).  Students need to annotate the passage with statements to show what they can infer from it. The inference should be written as a statement, with the evidence for it underlined and linked to the inference statement. They might feel that more than one part of the text could be evidence – that is fine.

For lower ability groups, or to start them off, you could pre-annotate with ‘the narrator is a girl pretending to be a boy’ and link it to the clause in the third paragraph ‘but so long as I didn’t seem like a girl it didn’t much matter’. For the weakest students, I might be tempted to provide inferences on post-its that they just match to relevant places in the text, e.g.:

  • the narrator is doing something they shouldn’t be but it isn’t evil/wicked
  • the book seems to be a Western
  • the narrator lives with their uncle
  • the narrator is a girl pretending to be a boy

With more able students, you could then discuss how the writer shows us these aspects, to lead into a discussion of how information is introduced at the start of a narrative (perhaps introducing ideas about structure, or ‘show, not tell’, depending on where you’re headed next).

Look out for more detail about this book in a couple of weeks, and another teaching idea.

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 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.

Introducing December’s Book of the Month: The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (including GCSE English Language practice task)

This YA novel is a fantasy with a large scope set in a beautifully-realised second world. It’s a great choice for contemporary teens, particularly as it’s written with a strong feminist sensibility. This includes some great examples of female community and relationships, as we move through the trilogy.

Beautiful writing and themes of duty, sacrifice and loyalty make this a compelling read, delivered in lyrical prose.

Movellas has the opening chapter available to view and this could be used with pupils as the focus for a lesson activity (although of course I would also recommend picking up a copy or three for your school/classroom library).

Use the first eight paragraphs, up to ‘I have other demands on my time.’ as a practice AQA GCSE Lang Paper 1 Q3: ‘How has the writer structured their work to interest you as a reader? This section has plenty to discuss in terms of building tension, shifting timelines and hints/foreshadowing.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter (together with a further two books to make up the trilogy) is out now from Scholastic in the UK.

Look out for a more detailed review in a fortnight, with another teaching idea.

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.