Why Great School Libraries Should Start in Primary Schools

Something very important happened at this year’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) School Libraries Group Conference. A brand new campaign was launched by CEO Nick Poole in his opening speech. The Great School Libraries Campaign sees CILIP team up with the School Library Association (SLA) to campaign for the end of school library closures across the UK. They are also stating that every secondary school should have a professionally staffed, fully funded library. This is wonderful news and I am determined to provide my full support. However I firmly believe that a well stocked and properly funded library managed by a professional librarian is equally important in primary schools.

Earlier this year a report commissioned by the Oxford University Press detailed the results of a survey of 1,300 primary and secondary school teachers across the UK which found that more than 60% saw increasing incidents of underdeveloped vocabulary among pupils of all ages, leading to lower self-esteem, negative behaviour and in some cases greater difficulties in making friends. The majority of teachers surveyed attributed this underdeveloped vocabulary to a decline in reading for pleasure. Surely this means that we should be prioritising reading for pleasure in schools as a matter of urgency and particularly in primary schools where patterns and habits for a lifetime can be set. If schools are given adequate resources, then great school libraries could make all the difference. Properly funded, stocked and staffed school libraries lead to higher student achievement regardless of students’ economic backgrounds.

Research carried out into the provision of school libraries supports the view that access to a good school library and professional librarian input is vital at this stage of a child’s education.

“Access to library space and School Library Services will have an impact on attainment at a pivotal point in a child’s educational life. Studies have shown that children who read for pleasure from a young age are much more likely to do well throughout their academic life.”
(The All Party Parliamentary Group report ‘The Beating Heart of the School’. 2014)

Seventeen years as a primary school librarian has taught me that a well stocked library managed by a librarian is hugely important. Why try to play catch-up from 11+ when a library and librarian can sow the seeds from early years on? The formative stage has a lasting impact on reading progress and pleasure. The transfer to secondary education can often be a tricky time for children as they adapt to new routines and expectations. Even the best librarians and teachers will find it difficult to instil a love of reading from scratch at this stage. If the groundwork has been done and a reading for pleasure habit developed at the primary stage then at secondary school the huge range of quality literature suitable for teens is available to them.

The primary and secondary schools visited emphasised the school library as contributing markedly to improving literacy skills… The enthusiasm and responsiveness of the librarian generally had a direct impact on the attitudes of the students towards the library and reading’
(Ofsted, 2011. Removing barriers to literacy)

A librarian is vital in ensuring that reading habit is nurtured from early on in a child’s reading journey. Ideally this would be a librarian in each primary school, however funding makes that unlikely in the near future but with the closure of many county School Library Services it appears to me that some sort of local librarian team shared between a small group of primaries is needed sooner rather than later.

An aspect of the librarian role not often mentioned is that of nurturing teachers as readers. It is possible for librarians to make a vital impact here. Running staff book clubs, book swap boxes in the staffroom and email recommendations of new books for both children and adults all raise the profile of reading for pleasure and are initiatives I have had success with. A librarian is able to keep time pressed teachers up to date with new authors and titles that they may want to share in the classroom. Teresa Cremin and the Open University have done a great deal of research work on the importance of teachers as readers and reading role models. Librarians have training and expertise in the areas that  will enable, support and encourage this in primary schools.

This is just a very small part of why school libraries and librarians matter in primary schools and I wrote about other aspects of the many ways in which librarians are educators last year.  These include the importance of information literacy in the age of ”fake news” and the vital pastoral role of both the libary and the librarian.

If you care about reading for pleasure, literacy and children lapping up books from an early age and recognise the vital role that school libraries play in enabling this and so much more please do add your support to the new campaign. The organisers will be collating evidence over the next three years of all that great school libraries do. Add your voice and make a difference.

Thank you for reading.

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After The Fall by Dan Santat – A picture book for all ages

This wonderful book tells the story of what happened after that most famous nursery rhyme fall. How Humpty Dumpty survived and then decided to get back up again with truly astounding results.

After the fall cover

Often as a school librarian I have said that you are never too old for a picture book. A retelling of a traditional nursery rhyme with a twist would, you may imagine, be a treat to read aloud to little ones. Maybe humorous; perhaps it would prompt discussion about the original rhyme and the differences created by the author. This book does all that but  so very much more too. Santat uses the original premise to create a fable with a moral message told deftly using the illustrations to support the text’s impact. This is a book that encourages us all to believe that when life goes wrong we can find the strength to pick ourselves up, put ourselves back together and overcome our fears in order to achieve things we may have felt were simply impossible.

The story begins after ”the great fall”. It was just an accident but it had changed Humpty’s life forever. Although he has been put back together physically, emotionally he has not recovered.

”There are some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.”

Poor Humpty has been left with a fear of heights. There is great poignancy in the pictures as we see Humpty asleep on his bedroom floor unable to climb up the steps to his bunk bed. His favourite foods are just out of reach on the top shelves in the supermarket. The illustrations subtly show how his fears are restricting Humpty’s life. He loved being up high in the city watching his friends, the birds, but he is not brave enough to try again. He knows now that accidents can happen. But then one day he has an idea and decides to make a paper plane that will fly up to the sky to the birds he misses so much. He perseveres with his plane and eventually it resembles one of his much loved birds. He tosses his creation upwards and it soars up into the sky. Humpty is briefly happy again. However his beautiful plane then comes to land right on top of the wall. His wall. Distraught Humpty starts to walk away thinking that he can’t risk another accident. But gradually he thinks of all that he is missing and the effort he put into his special plane. Can he conquer his fears and overcome his anxiety to save it? Will he find some bravery when he needs it most?

After the fall inside

The illustrations are so clever and rereading the book you see more detail that you may have missed at first. The use of light and dark to convey Humpty’s emotions is excellently done and I particularly liked the picture of Humpty lit up by the sunshine standing on top of the wall, arms raised in victory. Santat also uses white space and text position extremely well. Children of all ages and adults too would learn much from a close examination of these illustrations and this is most definitely a book that supports the view that picture books are not only for the very young.

Dan Santat won the Caldecott Medal for this thoughtful and intelligent book and I am not at all surprised. Without ever adopting a preaching or didactic tone this wonderful story provides a valuable lesson to everyone. It’s not only children who suffer from fears, anxiety or a lack of confidence. Sometimes it’s not failure that produces these feelings but simply circumstances and it’s not always easy to find the inner reserves to help you conquer these fears. This book’s positive and soothing message would be a comfort to readers of all ages. It would work perfectly in school assemblies about perseverance, finding strength in difficult times or conquering irrational fears. I thought the ending was both unexpected and beautifully perfect. A very special picture book that I am glad to have read. Highly recommended for everyone!

After the Fall can be purchased in all good bookshops, borrowed from your local library or bought online

The Classroom Bookshelf from the School Library Journal have listed a number of teaching ideas linked to this book that would be very useful in the Primary School classroom.

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Peace Lily by Hilary Robinson illustrated by Martin Impey

A beautiful addition to the Where The Poppies Now Grow series this story told in rhyme highlights the contribution made by women during World War 1. The gentle illustrations combine superbly with the text to make this subject accessible to young children.

Peace Lily cover

 

In this moving story we are reunited with Ben and Ray from Where the Poppies Now Grow and meet their childhood friend, Lily.  Named after a flower her father saw in the local lane, Lily has always wanted to be a nurse. Her father tells her that, just like the flower after which she is named, Lily will bring light in the dark and bring hope to a world of pain. He would have no idea when he said this how true his prophecy would be and the manner in which this would happen.

We follow Lily, Ben and Ray as they play joyfully in the woods, gather blackberries and paddle in brooks. This rural idyll is shattered by the outbreak of war and Ben and Ray are called up. Still looking pitifully young they exchange their childhood freedoms for uniforms, army kit, weapons and a journey to the battlefields of France. Lily misses her friends and like many other young women she joins the war effort too as a nurse. She works in the hospital tent and tends the wounded. One day a young soldier is brought in so severely injured that the local priest is summoned. As Lily watches she realises that it is her childhood friend, Ben.

I found this a poignant and moving read. Not only does the book pay tribute to the valuable contribution made by women to the war effort it also depicts the permanent nature of the effects of war on a generation of young men and women. Despite the sadness of the subject matter this is ultimately a story of hope and of peace. It shows how people can overcome dreadful events to create a life of love.

The wonderful illustrations by Martin Impey, as with the previous books in the series, combine utterly perfectly with Hilary Robinson’s flowing prose. The rhyming text lends itself to being read aloud and even quite young children, I think, would understand the story at their own level. The joy of the young friends at play is captured beautifully and makes the contrast with war more effective. I particularly liked the pictures of Lily as a child and adult at the start of the story and the family photo album on the final pages. The photo album is just perfect and the feeling of permanence and life continuing through subsequent generations despite war is reassuring and wise. Both adults and children can be soothed by this message.

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This charming and moving story is perfectly timed to coincide with the Centenary of the end of the First World War and would be a welcome addition to school library and classroom shelves. A lovely book to share at home too and one that I think parents may find very poignant.

Peace Lily can be purchased at most good bookshops, borrowed at your local library or bought online

The publishers of the book, Strauss House Productions have created a lovely trailer which you can watch here.

If you enjoyed this book you may like to try The Christmas Truce by the same team which was part of my Book Advent Calendar last year and is a beautiful and moving story inspired by the famous events of Christmas 1914.

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Rose’s Dress of Dreams by Katherine Woodfine Illustrations by Kate Pankhurst

A charming introduction to historical fiction for emerging readers this tale of determination and following your dreams by award-winning author Katherine Woodfine is a delight. The gorgeous illustrations by Kate Pankhurst combine perfectly with the text to create a perfect first chapter book.

Rose's Dress of Dreams

Inspired by the true life story of Rose Bertin, the woman credited with creating haute couture in the royal court of Marie-Antoinette, this is a celebration of determination, imagination and perseverance. As a young girl all Rose thinks and dreams about is dresses. When she draws  pictures of her dream creations she is ridiculed by her family but Rose refuses to give up. More than anything Rose wants to be a dressmaker so she sets off to Paris in the hope that she can make her dreams come true.

This is the author’s first book for these publishers and it is a wonderful addition to the Little Gem series. I’ve long been a fan of this popular series by Barrington Stoke. They are beautifully designed and produced making them hugely appealing to young children. In addition great care is taken by the editorial team to ensure that the stories, written by top authors, are accessible to all readers. The typeface, spacing, paper colour are designed to be suitable for dyslexic children. The bite sized chapters and the wonderful illustrations by Kate Pankhurst ensure that the book does not look daunting or overwhelming for readers still gaining confidence.

This inspirational story is well told and I loved Katherine Woodfine’s use of language, particularly in the descriptions of the dresses and their designs. The mistaken identity episode made me chuckle and I was surprised to learn that this too is based on reality and I think young children will love this aspect of the story. Kate Pankhurst has been a prolific writer and illustrator of books about bold and inspiring women recently and her gorgeous illustrations are simply perfect for this story. They are a real treat and I think this lovely book would be eye-catching on the library or bookshop shelves. The book brings history to life in an enjoyable and interesting way that is just right for this age group.  This would be a brilliant addition to the primary school library.

Truly a little gem of a story and highly recommended for readers of 5+

Thank you very much to Barrington Stoke for providing this copy.

Rose’s Dress of Dreams was published in early April and is available to purchase in all good bookshops or online

I enjoyed this lovely interview with Katherine Woodfine, written to coincide with the book’s publication, about why it’s important to empower children with books.

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Kate Greenaway Award 2018 Shortlist – Under The Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup

This charming picture book, shortlisted for this year’s Kate Greenaway Award, uses a clever peep through technique to emphasise the way in which everyone around the world is united by the same hopes and dreams. It is a timely and thoughtful book.

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Award winning illustrator Britta Teckentrup combines beautiful pictures with a simple yet lyrical text to portray a celebration of global unity in this lovely book. It gently depicts how the world’s communities are united by the same hopes and dreams.

When this book was first published I was drawn to the cover without having known anything about either the author or the title itself. The cover depicts two animals on the front, one large and the other smaller, possibly a parent and child, both gazing upwards at a cut-out of a cloud through which one can read the title. One animal is wide eyed, the other with eyes closed and the overall look is serene and reassuring. As you turn the pages a variety of animals are portrayed in contrasting landscapes with each linked by a clever use of a cut-out through which the reader catches a glimpse of another animal or another place. This technique works beautifully as the connection feels natural and unforced. Despite the simplicity of the text the message of a world united by shared emotions is conveyed with great impact. Beautiful, gentle illustrations combine with the brief but slightly poetic text to demonstrate that we have so much that unites us rather than divides us and that we all share this one world together. In a time of political turmoil this is an important and timely message.

And yet despite the important message this is of course an engaging and lovely picture book that is a delight to share with young children. The interactive element is something that little ones always love and this is done very well as it invites them to peep through and maybe return to previous pages to see how the trick was done. I loved the way in which the shape of the cut-out tied in with the content. The colours are muted and gentle, in keeping with the warmth of the message in many ways. Many types of animals are included so children are able to recognise some and be introduced to others.

A lovely book and highly recommended for all ages from early years onwards.

As this book is shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway award there are a range of brilliant teaching resources available on the Shadowing website prepared by the Centre For Literacy in Primary Education. Please click on this link to access them.

You may also enjoy watching this interview with Britta Teckentrup.

This book is available to purchase in all good book shops, can be borrowed at your local library or can be bought online

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Kick by Mitch Johnson

An extremely impressive debut, this book has at its heart a lead character with whom readers will readily engage. Despite his difficult and at times distressing life 12 year old Budi is a boy with friends, heroes, hopes and dreams just like youngsters his age the world over. This is an important story told in an accessible way and is highly recommended.

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Budi is a football loving Indonesian boy living in Jakarta. He dreams of becoming a footballer like his hero, Kieran Wakefield of Real Madrid, and every evening he trains with his best friend Rothy and watches the important matches whenever he can. In many ways this could be describing football mad boys in the UK. But there is a big difference. Every day Budi works for up to 10 hours in a sweatshop making football boots and earning very little for it. The working conditions are harsh and some of the descriptions of the conditions are upsetting. But Budi has a quiet strength and humour which combined with a loving family help him to cope with his situation. Until one day, when playing football one unlucky kick changes things forever. Now Budi has upset The Dragon, the most dangerous man in the city and he may have to pay a high price for doing so.

Both the characters and the setting felt very real to me. Mitch Johnson has a knack of describing the heat, the smells, sounds and colours of the city in a way that brings them vividly to life. This is a world away from the life most of the book’s readers will know and the reality of this difference is important and sobering. Despite the poverty in which Budi’s family live and their shame at Budi’s uncle’s prison sentence this is a family that love and support each other. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Budi and his storytelling Grandma. That love across the generations is an important part of family life and her stories contained pearls of wisdom.

As I read this I was repeatedly reminded of my own football loving sons. When they were Budi’s age they were in many ways so similar to him. Little things like the need to turn any everyday object into a football and the copying of their hero’s celebrations at their team’s successes were strikingly familiar. However I was also reminded of shopping trips to buy new boots and trainers. I despaired at the high price of these and as my sons grew taller and bigger the replacements were needed so often. I knew and had read about the manufacture of my boys’ favourite boots and although I tried to buy from reputable stockists there was a nagging worry at the back of my mind. My sons, now adults, have grown up in a very different world to Budi’s and have been lucky to be able to see their heroes play at Wembley and stadiums in Europe. For Budi this was a dream that is so unlikely to come true and yet he never gives up hope. His resilience and optimism is something that young readers can learn much from.

Kick is an important story that I will think about and remember for a long time.

This would be an excellent read for Year 6 age and above. It can be purchased in all good book shops, borrowed from your local library or bought online

It says a great deal that this special book has been endorsed by Amnesty International and a range of teaching resources and links to information about Amnesty’s work can be found on the website here.

Fairtrade is a simple way to make a difference to the lives of the people who grow and make the things we use. They do this by changing the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fair deal for farmers and workers in developing countries. Fairtrade have produced a range of resources to help teachers explain their programme to children. Among these are a film and presentation on The Story of  Fairtrade Footballs which would link well with Kick. The film can be found on the official website here.

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Children’s Books Helping Readers Find Courage

One of my favourite debuts last year was The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson so I was very much looking forward to reading The Light Jar, her second novel, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed by this thoughtful novel about finding courage and friendship in unlikely places.

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In the middle of the night Nate’s mum wakes him and together they drive away in the darkness to a tumbledown cottage in the middle of a forest. When Mum heads off for more supplies, and then doesn’t return, Nate is left alone and afraid. How will he cope? But then Nate discovers comfort can come from the most unexpected of places. He meets a mysterious girl trying to solve the clues of a long forgotten treasure hunt and an old friend reappears from his past too. Will they help Nate find the courage needed to conquer his fears?

Lisa Thompson shows some courage too by tackling the subject of domestic abuse in a book aimed at children of about 10 plus. Yet she conveys the situation with such care and sensitivity for her young readers that this subject is dealt with in an entirely appropriate manner for them.

This is another well plotted story by this author. Readers will enjoy solving the treasure hunt clues alongside Nate and Kitty and the air of mystery surrounding both the characters and the setting should keep children gripped. As the details of Nate’s family history are gradually revealed I grew to care more and more about him. As a Mum I just wanted to give the poor lad a hug. Although, thankfully, most readers will have no experience of his situation Nate is a character they will empathise with and learn from.

As a school librarian I’ve been asked by teachers and occasionally by parents whether I think difficult social issues are appropriate subjects for children’s books for this age group. When they are handled as well as this my answer would be yes. It is just possible that a book like this could offer help to a child in a similar situation and make a vital difference.  Also, reading about such subjects in the safety of the pages of a book is a learning experience for young readers promoting an understanding of and empathy with those with very different lives to their own.

The opening of The Light Jar reminded me in some ways of the lovely picture book, The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones. In this story Caro and her mother arrive at their new home in darkness. Once inside, the house is white, bare and empty. Caro wishes that she has someone to play with and feels a little lost and small. Then one day she hears a noise and a gentle voice asking to play. She has a new friend and a very special one. The Snow Lion has appeared as if by magic to help Caro learn how to make friends of her own and maybe find the courage she has been hiding inside.

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Although we are never told why Caro and her mum have moved house both Nate and Caro find courage and friendship in ways that are reassuring to and understood by children. Class teachers may find a study of the differing ways in which these books depict this and the comparisons between the two interesting.

These books have made me wonder if children’s stories act in a similar way to an imaginary friend, being a reassuring guide to young readers, helping, comforting and walking alongside them as needed as they learn about life.

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I’m looking for a book about… Shakespeare for Primary School Children

Shakespeare’s birthday is remembered on 23rd April and this is a good time to introduce primary school children to the Bard.  There are several websites providing resources to enable teachers to produce lessons about some of his greatest plays and I have linked to a couple at the end of this post. However there is also a great selection of books available for children to read themselves that provide a taste of both the man and his work. Here are just three that I think will kindle an interest that can be built on later.

Mr William Shakespeare’s Plays by Marcia Williams

Marcia Williams has written and illustrated numerous books for children and many of these have been re-tellings of classic stories, illustrated in her distinctive cartoon-strip style. In this book she presents seven of Shakespeare’s classic plays, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Macbeth and Julius Caesar, in this accessible format. The dialogue boxes include quotes from the plays making this an excellent introduction to the language.  The wonderful illustrations and humour add to the appeal.  This engaging book is the perfect place to start an interest in Shakespeare.

What’s so Special About Shakespeare? by Michael Rosen

The style and format of this biography of Shakespeare by former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, has great child appeal. Presented in clear sections and answering questions such as ‘What was it like to live in Shakespeare’s time?’ plus a helpful timeline, this book encourages children to browse and discover. Sarah Naylor’s illustrations add to the appeal and readers will learn both about Shakespeare’s life and have an introduction to some of his plays including King Lear and The Tempest. This is a book that has been a hit in the school library.

 

The Boy and the Globe by Tony Bradman and Tom Morgan-Jones

Last but not least this lively and enjoyable story published by Barrington Stoke combines fact and fiction wonderfully.

Set in early seventeenth century London where young orphan Toby Cuffe is living on the streets.  In order to survive, the resourceful Toby joins the gang of boys who work for Moll Cut-Purse as thieves. Moll sends Toby to the Globe Theatre to do some pick-pocketing where Toby becomes so engrossed in the play being performed that he forgets about his own safety. Caught by the theatre’s owners Toby meets the writer of the play he has just seen performed, the famous playwright William Shakespeare. Then our young hero is given an opportunity that he had not expected and he rekindles the Bard’s enthusiasm so that together they team up to save the threatened theatre.

There is enough historical detail to give a sense of time and place and yet this exciting story never has the feel of a history lesson. By depicting Shakespeare as a world weary man with writer’s block and a wish to go home to see his family Tony Bradman cleverly brings him to life in a way that children will probably enjoy. The wonderful illustrations by Tom-Morgan-Jones, slightly cartoonish in style, work well with the text too.

This book has the added attraction of funne activities for boys and girls at the end of the story. These include double page spreads of both London and The Globe with items for readers to spot, some Shakespearian insults to try out on your friends and guidance on making your own puppets

All of the books above should be available at good bookshops or your local library. They can be bought online by clicking on the images above.

There are also many websites with resources to help teachers engage children with Shakespeare and his plays. One of the best for the primary age group is Shakespeare Week. Click on the image to visit their website.

Shakespeare Week

James Clements, an educational writer and researcher, has created an extensive website providing units of work for several Shakespeare plays and many downloadable resources. It can be accessed here.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Over the weekend I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, the debut novel by Gail Honeyman. I adored Eleanor and her voice will stay with me for a long time. This is a moving story told with humour and care. It is also a timely reminder, if one were needed, that even the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference.

E Oliphant cover

When I was a member of a book club whenever anyone recommended an ‘’award winner’’ as our next read I would stifle a groan. There is absolutely no logical reason for this bias of mine. As a school librarian I regularly used award shortlists to help me select library stock and often read and enjoyed them too. Yet my inner child clearly views adult award winning novels as something I ‘’should’’ read rather than something I want to read for pleasure. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine won the 2017 Costa Award for a Debut Novel. It is a worthy winner. It is also, I think, a hugely enjoyable book.

I was instantly hooked from the opening pages and found Eleanor an intriguing and very unusual character. She feels so very real that it is almost a little unnerving. Eleanor leads a solitary life, working in an office all week and retreating to her flat at weekends when, following a pizza from Tesco, she will speak to no-one until she returns to work on Monday morning. A creature of strict habit, including drinking two bottles of vodka over the weekend, she is efficient and diligent but does not interact with her colleagues at all. Gradually the author reveals small details about Eleanor’s past and as a reader I grew to be interested in her back story and to care increasingly for Eleanor’s well-being.  The subject of loneliness, which is more and more often being highlighted as a modern day problem, is tackled with great care and perception.

As the story progresses Eleanor’s timetabled and orderly life starts to unravel and yet at the same time her connections with others start to increase and slowly, so slowly, Eleanor learns to trust and to hope that change may be possible.

I found this a moving, thoughtful and ultimately a hopeful read. Eleanor is at times frankly hilarious. She is an intelligent woman and her observations of social behaviour are spot on. One of the most lovely aspects of the book is the kindness shown by others and watching its effect on Eleanor. It really made me think that when we are out and about in our daily routines we have no idea what others are having to cope with and endure. I will try to remember that next time I get exasperated by trivial things.

School librarians and teachers often stress how important reading and books are in developing empathy in children. Eleanor Oliphant does a pretty good job at doing the same for adults.

This book can be purchased from all good bookshops, borrowed from your local library or bought online

The Reading Agency has a scheme called Reading Well that helps people to understand and manage their health and well-being using helpful reading. This includes providing titles to help those suffering from common mental health problems.

 

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The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell is a hugely enjoyable read. Wonderful writing brings a vivid world to life, creating a gripping adventure and convincing characters who develop and grow. This award winning novel combines excitement and quiet thoughtfulness. I loved it and would highly recommend it to young readers.

 

When four children find themselves abandoned in the Amazon Rainforest following an air crash they are forced to pull together as a team in order to survive. Without adult help they must rely on their own limited knowledge and initiative to cope with threats from snakes, piranha, tarantulas and much more besides. The children, Fred who has always found the idea of exploration exciting, prickly and irritable Con and brother and sister Lila and Max gradually learn that they can be braver than they ever imagined.

Katherine Rundell has a gift for creating a world that feels real in her stories and in this book she has drawn on her own personal experiences of the Amazon to do so. This book is packed full of information wrapped up in a very exciting adventure. Readers will learn how important it is to value our environment and to care for it responsibly. Although the story is set many years ago this message definitely has a relevance today and will open children’s eyes to the beauty of the wider world.

The characters are wonderful in their realistic feel, displaying emotions that you would expect such youngsters to feel. Poor snotty little Max is whiny at times, Con gets irritated and angry, Fred makes some mistakes and Lila is so fiercely protective of Max that she may not understand the others attitude to him. As the story progresses these children develop and mature in a manner that young readers will learn much from. There is a sensitivity to the story that runs through all the trials and adventures the children endure.

This is the sort of book that I would have lapped up as a child and even though I’m long past being in the target age group I still loved it. A remarkable story, beautifully told this deserves to be in every school library and classroom.

From a teaching point of view this would work brilliantly as a read-aloud in the classroom and also to link with the topic of the rainforest or conservation. The publishers, Bloomsbury, have kindly created a resource pack for teachers which is freely downloadable here

Katherine Rundell has also featured in an interview talking about the inspiration behind the book.

As a school librarian I have collected a selection of links to websites on the topic of rainforests which may be helpful in the classroom for research projects or to provide more background information linked to The Explorer. Please click on the images below to visit the relevant websites.

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