Tag Archives: teaching

UKYA Review: Mind The Gap by Phil Earle

Mind The Gap, Phil Earle, (Barrington Stoke, Jan 2017)

Genres in the mix: contemporary

Age target: YA

Story basicsWhen Mikey’s dad died, something in Mikey died too. He loved his old man and he never stopped dreaming that one day his dad would land the role of a lifetime, prove them all wrong, and rock back up to the estate in the flashiest car anyone had ever seen. Now there’s just numbness, and not caring, and really, really stupid decisions. He says the worst of it is that he can’t even remember his dad’s voice any more. Eventually Mikey’s best mate can’t bear it any more, and so he sets out to give Mikey the memories – and his dad’s voice – back.

Review-in-a-tweet:  Gripping and emotive tale of mates and choices. ‘Super-readable’, sharply contemporary, realistic; will strike a chord with many teens.

The emotional ride: Obviously, at times this is tough. Mikey’s pain over losing his Dad is clear, but it is generally quite understated. It’s more about the immediate problems of Mikey acting stupidly because he doesn’t care about things any more, and about his mate’s quest to find a way to give Mikey his dad’s voice once more.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: The biggest opportunity this book (and others from Barrington Stoke) offers teachers is the chance to get students reading for pleasure. It’s a genuine gift in that department.

At Yr 11 Parents’ Evening last week, I had this along with The Liar’s Handbook and Unboxed from Barrington Stoke, (and some other YA titles of various kinds) on my desk ready for the ‘but I don’t know what to read’ moment, and it was brilliant to be able to show them the fantastic package that these little books are to make them super-readable:

  • clear sans-serif font
  • tinted pages (one mum said ‘I have dyslexia and I can see those words – I couldn’t on the sheet of exam dates you just showed me’)
  • short chapters and overall book length
  • stories by authors already successful for this age group, not teachers or ‘dyslexia experts’
  • topics and themes found in other YA novels, nothing simplified in content, only in readability

Several students took photos of the books, to be able to buy them later/find them in a library – yay!

Main character: I’d say it’s impossible to read this and not be behind Mikey 100%, even when he’s being an idiot (and he really is, at times). Phil Earle makes you understand why he’s being an idiot, so you just feel for him even more (that’s part of the ‘not simplified content’ thing about these books – they require an emotional maturity, but the reading age is only 8. No mean feat!)

Hearthfire rating: 9/10 A scorcher!

Mind the Gap is out now in the UK from Barrington Stoke, who kindly provided me with a review copy.

Accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and I only finish and review books that I feel able to recommend.

I’m counting this review towards the British Books Challenge 2017: my third for the challenge.

UKYACX Blog Tour Post: Killing Books from Dan Smith

It’s almost time for this year’s UKYACX event (formerly known as the UKYA/UKMG Extravaganza). This year, it’s headed north to Newcastle. I’ve been to the last two and they have been brilliant experiences.  A day celebrating reading and writing for young people: what could be better?

UKYACX

Dan SmithTo celebrate this fantastic event, two blog tours are running simultaneously, with YA and MG authors discussing books, writing and libraries. Here at the hearthfire, we’re fortunate to have Dan Smith, author of Big Game, My Brother’s Secret, My Friend The Enemy and latest book: Boy X, about a boy who wakes up to find himself kidnapped on a tropical island – and he’s been injected with a mysterious chemical. Anyway, without further ado, here is what Dan wanted to share with us today on the theme of creating readers.


As she moved around the room passing out the new class reader, my English teacher told us that we were about to read a classic novel. It was brilliant, she told us, and we would love it. I was twelve-years-old, an avid reader of adventure stories and thrillers, and I looked down at the cover with excitement. This new book, with its jungle scene and roughly drawn, spear-carrying boys, held so much promise. Where was this story going to take me? A jungle island? A survival adventure?

Well, as it turned out, it took me through weeks and weeks of dull English lessons as my classmates and I took turns to read a few lines or pages. From time to time we would stop to discuss the themes and messages and . . . blah, blah, blah. And when the weakest readers took their turn, stuttering and stumbling, every word saw my eyelids grow heavier. The pages dragged through autumn term and into spring term. It took a LONG time to read that novel and I thought it was The Most Boring Book. Ever.

School killed that book for me, as it killed many others following it, and it could have killed the very idea of reading for pleasure. If those lessons had been my only contact with books, then I would always have associated books with the boredom of sitting in class. But I was lucky enough to have parents who read a lot. My background was one in which reading had become a major source of entertainment, so I was able to walk away from that classroom and pick up another book which I could read for myself. For pleasure.

I was also lucky that my school ran a monthly book club. Mr Johnson would sit at the back of the school ‘library’ beside a table laden with books of all kinds, and I would look through them and choose which ones I might like. Mr Johnson would smoke his pipe (we’re going back a few years) and talk with enthusiasm about the books. He would make recommendations, and helped me to be excited about books and about stories.

For me, that’s the importance of a school librarian. It’s the importance of an English teacher (or any other teacher) who knows the difference between reading for study and reading for pleasure; who understands that we need to encourage young people to read books they want to read. I appreciate the importance of studying novels, of teaching young people to be analytical and to ask questions. I understand the stress of targets and literacy levels, but we need those librarians and teachers who also haven’t forgotten what novels are really for; that there are no ‘right’ books or ‘wrong’ books and that, yes, novels develop our empathy, encourage creativity, help us to see a new world, and so many other things besides, but that their main function is to entertain us – to make us laugh and cry, to gasp in excitement, or tremble in fear.

Before anything, reading should be a pleasure.

Oh, and that book I read in class? I have since read it for myself, many times, and it’s now one of my favourite novels. If you think you know what it is . . . put your guesses in the comments below!


Thanks Dan (and I’m pretty sure I’m familiar with that book, having had a similar experience…).

If survival in the jungle type adventures are your thing, and you haven’t read Dan’s books, you should definitely add his titles to your wishlist. His website is here. He also writes thrillers for adults.ASh McCarthy

Check out the UKYACX MG BLOG TOUR POSTER and @UKYACX for more info on the blog tour or event.

 

UKYA Review: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

Every so often, one book will make you cross, make you cry and make you smile – and then you know it’s a winner. Apple and Rain is that book most recently for me. It’s an absorbing and emotional read which I simultaneously wanted to race through and linger over.

Here’s the Goodreads summary:

Apple and RainWhen Apple’s mother returns after eleven years of absence, Apple feels whole again. She will have an answer to her burning question – why did you go? And she will have someone who understands what it means to be a teenager – unlike Nana. But just like the stormy Christmas Eve when she left, her mother’s homecoming is bitter sweet, and Apple wonders who is really looking after whom. It’s only when Apple meets someone more lost than she is, that she begins to see things as they really are.

Like a brilliant hybrid of Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson, Sarah Crossan entices you into her world, then tells a moving, perceptive and beautifully crafted story which has the power to make you laugh and cry.

and here’s my speed-review on finishing:

Really loved this. There’s so much of value here. Firstly and most importantly: it’s a great story, well-told (without that, nothing else matters all that much…). Secondly, some interesting representational issues: non-typical families, working class/money issues. Thirdly, some great bookishness: an inspiring English teacher (gotta love that!), the power of poetry as a theme, libraries as a tool. What’s not to love?

I loved the quirky characters and had so much sympathy for (most of) them throughout the book. There were times I shed the odd tear, times I wanted to tell Apple she was making a mistake – and I always think that’s a positive sign of being really invested in a book.

Definitely recommended to fans of UKYA contemporaries: this is a great example.

Actually, on revisiting those initial comments, I don’t have much to add. You all know I hate spoilers, and almost everything I would want to go into detail about would be one.  I will say that I suspect I read a different book as an adult to the one I might have found as a teenager (don’t you just love that about books?). I desperately wanted to hug Nana and slap Mum more than once (I’m pretty sure that’s no great spoiler) and I definitely loved the English teacher angle although I do feel that there isn’t time to be that kind of teacher now, so those kind of depictions are bitter-sweet for me…

Anyway, this is all getting a bit personal.

This book is fabulous and I would absolutely recommend it. I think comfy-cosy-safe YA readers will enjoy it and warm to Apple, and YA readers with less-than-perfect lives will also appreciate another good contemporary story that doesn’t focus only on the shiny happy kids – something that I think UKYA does particularly well. Sarah Crossan is a great writer and this is a beautifully written book, which presents some challenging ideas wonderfully well. Read it – it’s out now from Bloomsbury (and was nominated for the Carnegie and the UKLA awards, so it’s not just me who thinks it’s good).

Linking everything together: how my textbook writing draws on my life

You may think that writing English textbooks would be very dull and unimaginative. In my experience, however, writing textbooks and school resources is just as creative and personal an endeavour than writing stories, just in a different way.

There are of course restrictions and certain things that have to be included. You couldn’t have a GCSE English Language textbook without work on persuasive devices or writing descriptively (in the very specific ways that GCSE requires), for example – but this is where the creativity can come in. One of the beauties, for me, of writing this kind of material is in choosing the texts and data for students to work with.

Lang textbook

This past week, there was quite a bit of excitement in my department at work as sample material from the new AQA A Level English Language book was given out, with my name on the cover. For many, this was replaced by hilarity when people spotted that I had pulled together a batch of texts about dogs (I’m quite a doggy person…) for students to work on, not least a photo of my own dogs featured in a tweet.

UKYA recs
L-R: KS3 student book, KS3 teacher book, IGCSE student book

This made me think about how some of my other textbooks have drawn on my own experience and interests. Running this blog, and more specifically, being plugged in to the UKYA publishing world in a small way has certainly has a positive effect on my usage of texts in the teaching resources I have written.

I think it’s brilliant that I can be a blogger and a textbook author, as blogging has made me aware of some fabulous YA (especially UKYA) texts that other teachers might not be familiar with, making them known to the students using these textbooks in class. Obviously, I am also including the staple Dickens and Bronte passages, but how lovely to be able to also show students great recent writing, which they may wish to investigate further!

Books referenced in this post:

  • A-Level English Language for AQA, OUP, 2015 (Dan Clayton, Angela Goddard, Beth Kemp, Felicity Titjen)
  • First Language English for Cambridge IGCSE, Nelson Thornes, 2014 (Beth Kemp)
  • Essential Anthology for KS3: Communication and Information (Student Book), 2014, Nelson Thornes (Christina Brookes, Caroline Davis, Ken Haworth, Beth Kemp, Nicola Williams)
  • Essential Anthology for KS3: Communication and Information (Teacher Book), 2014, Nelson Thornes (Christina Brookes, Caroline Davis, Ken Haworth, Beth Kemp, Nicola Williams)