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.

Introducing November’s Book of the Month: The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas (including GCSE English Lang teaching idea)

This gorgeous YA novel, focusing on Grace’s normal teen issues, handled in her atypical way, is a brilliant #ownvoices look at Asperger’s. Grace’s way of engaging with the world is clearly filtered through the symptoms and differences she experiences and these are rendered crystal-clear for the reader right from the start. The plot deals with changes around Grace’s family life and friends – there is a romance plot – and there is plenty to get caught up  in.

It’s very easy to root for Grace, and Rachael Lucas’s first-person narration plunges us into her thoughts and feelings with ease, with some interesting direct address telling about her unique take on the world.

[Note that the cover is very ‘feminine’, but there’s no reason that the lesson tasks described couldn’t be used in mixed classrooms. Some of the book’s content may be of more interest to some girls than some boys, but the book is not ‘unsuitable’ for boys to see – do check out the extract below to help you decide. The issue of ‘girls’ books/’boys’ books will be raised in my next post on this book, by the way…]

The publisher’s website has the opening extract available to download and this could be shown to 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).

The opening two paragraphs are very suitable for an AQA Eng Lang paper 2 q3 type task focusing on language (although I know that this is likely to focus on the older text – the skills are the same, it’s all practice and I’m keen to boost confidence and showcase worthwhile/enjoyable outside-of-lesson reading).

Show the extract and ask ‘Looking at the first two paragraphs, how has the writer used language to present an impression of being autistic?’ The passage in question is brilliant for discussion of the impact of imagery and the verbs used to create a sense of repeated/constant happenings.

The State of Grace is out now from My Kinda Book at Pan Macmillan in the UK.

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

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.

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.

Reading Recommendation Slide 5: Horror (for Halloween)

Four creepy reads to start gearing up for Hallowe’en at the end of the month for this week.

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 – For horror fans

Last week’s was Black History Month (which starts today). Some links will be thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Reading Recommendation Slide 4: Black History Month

Four fab Black-authored texts which educate and entertain in equal measure for this week.

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.

This week’s theme is Black History Month, since that starts next weekend.

Download the slide here:

4 – Black History Month

Last week’s was cathartic reads. Some links will be thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

If you’d like a little more info on these books (including their value for BHM), there are brief reviews for The Hate U Give, The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo and Orangeboy in this week’s main blog post.

If you haven’t already seen it, I have longer posts on A Change Is Gonna Come, as that’s been my Book Of The Month for September. There’s an introductory post explaining why Stripes commissioned this fabulous Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic-authored anthology at the start of the month, along with some brief classroom ideas on the topic of representation. Then, later in the month, I posted more of a review along with a set of AQA Eng Lang GCSE paper 1 questions on the opening of one of the stories. I’ll be using The Hate U Give as October’s Book of the Month and following a similar pattern, with classroom ideas for A Level Eng Lang and another GCSE paper 1 q.

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 September’s Book of the Month: YA BAME Anthology A Change is Gonna Come

This book is a superb introduction to a range of BAME writers working in the UK today. In this collection, they all tackle the theme of ‘change’ in short stories and poems for a Young Adult audience. The collection features many well-known authors such as Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence and Nikesh Shukla, but the publishers also held open submission slots for previously unpublished and and unagented writers and the collection thus introduces new voices: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman and Phoebe Roy. The project demonstrates a serious attempt to tackle the issue of BAME representation in YA writing, and since its publication, the publisher has also announced other proactive measures to increase opportunities for writers in this under-represented area.

The stories and poems cover a range of genres: contemporary, historical, fantasy, mythical and topics from personal loss to dramatic and fantastical transformations. (A fuller review detailing individual texts will follow later in the month.)

Lesson on representation issues and stealth-recommending the collection to students

Starter to highlight the gap in representation: how many Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic writers or characters from fiction can students come up with? In pairs, students could work separately on either characters or authors each, and then pair and share their ideas.


Non-fiction work: the collection features a thoughtful and thought-provoking foreword by Darren Chetty (@rapclassroom).  If you’re considering using this book in the classroom, or having copies in your classroom library, a lesson based on the foreword would be a constructive way to highlight the book to students. This text can be used to open up debate on representation and interventions such as this project. Students could be invited to discuss issues such as:

  • the eternal problem of minority writers being expected to record only the minority experience (e.g. gay lit reduced to ‘coming out’ stories)
  • the question of privileged writers writing from minority positions (but what about imagination?)
  • public perceptions of special collections such as this one
  • how/why increased and improved representation is important to minority or less privileged groups

Additional resource: a further text that could supplement this work is Tanya Byrne’s excellent article for the Guardian on the issue of BAME representation and resistance. (There are a couple of examples of strong language in this piece, so you may want to use caution with younger students). Again, this is a great text to open up debate, and it raises the issues particularly clearly. Students could be asked to trace Byrne’s arguments and/or look at how she gathers and presents her evidence in order to convince her audience. Tracking this through the piece via a flow diagram is a useful way of visualising it.


Creative approach: students could be asked to plan and perhaps also produce their own narrative on the theme of change. This may (or may not) be followed by a discussion of the stories and poems in the collection themselves.


I think if I had the space to use this anthology like a set text, I would teach from the foreword as discussed here, then set a creative writing challenge, then explore the stories. In reality, of course, it’s more likely that I’ll only be able to sneak in one extract as a means of ‘teasing’ the book and hopefully encouraging some students to read it. I think both non-fiction and lit-focused tasks have the chance to do that with different classes, depending on their interests.


A Change is Gonna Come is out now from Stripes, a division of Little Tiger Press. For a poster of the book for your classroom, contact @StripesBooks on Twitter (they did say I should tell people this!)