Frog is a Hero

Frog is a Hero     Max Velthuijs


Frog is one a a group of friends created by Max Velthuijs: Goose, Hare, Pig…..and Rat.  The characters and their relationships and feelings are familiar. The stories open up the possibility of talking about important things. The reader can ask themselves that important question: ‘What would I do?’ In this story, as in the others, the reader has the chance to identify with one of a number of possibilities or perhaps to try them all out for size.


This story was written before Europe began to experience such serious floods so now it may have added relevance to children experiencing these or seeing them reported on the news. However, more importantly the story allows us to reflect on human values –on friendship and kindness and on what constitutes heroism. There is the moment when Frog acknowledges the complexity of heroism, his knowledge that he thought he was going to drown, and his rescue by ‘their good friend Rat.’ If you haven’t already, you should also read Frog and the Stranger. In that story, Rat is regarded with suspicion and hatred by the animals, until Frog gets to know him and they discover what a kind and resourceful friend he is. This, too, is an important story to be reading and reflecting on in these uncomfortable times.


The Red Tree

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

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I was first introduced to this book by the marvellous Marilyn Brocklehurst who owns the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre; that magical bookshop in a Norfolk field.


She told me the story of a head teacher who had the book on the shelves in his room. A troubled child came to see him and somehow they got around to reading the book together. After the reading, the child was visibly restored. Something about the book, the reading of it had touched an important part of that child at that moment. This is a book I would definitely have in my classroom, and it would be on my bookshelf, not in the hurly burly of the class shelves or boxes. It would be a book for certain moments, particular situations.


The book presents a series of images which invite the reader to interpret as they wish. These are often dark and some people challenge Shaun Tan on this. He says, in answer,  that it was simply that he found the more negative feelings more interesting from both a personal and artistic point of view. I find this series of images invites a meditative reading and am glad, that, despite the uncertainty, the book ends on an optimistic note.


However, Shaun Tan is much more interesting on this than me. I recommend his website.

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are                                      Maurice Sendak

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It may seem surprising, now, to learn that for the first two years after its publication in 1963 Where the Wild Things Are was banned in libraries in America. Children have always loved this book. It is adults who are not so sure. I don’t know what it is that makes them wary. Perhaps you can tell me why.


Where the Wild Things Are is about those terrifying feelings a child can have when they are so very angry, when it seems that they are out of control. What is very special to me is that when Max returns home from his voyage his supper was waiting, and it was still hot. The adult can see that the rage is short-lived. For the child the rage is vast and all-consuming. That warm supper is there to reassure the child. Max’s mother is there to care for him. She loves him. Where the wild things are, where we go when we are angry, is a lonely,  place, however much fun it might seem. It is good to know home is safely there.


I read somewhere that it took Maurice Sendak a year to write the text of this picture book. Look closely at the words, read them aloud. They are rhythmic and magical. They remain in the head. They can become part of our repertoire, the child’s repertoire. And the illustrations are wonderful. Wikipedia tells me that these are based on his Yiddish aunts and uncles who frightened him as a child. If you are interested, have a look at the Wikipedia entry, You may also know that Spike Lee made a film based on the story to which he brings his own interpretation.


Enjoy this book. Share it. Travel in and out of weeks and almost over a year………


……. and let the wild rumpus start!

The Firework Maker’s Daughter

A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a firework-maker named Lalchand and his daughter, Lila.

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Lila has learned almost all there is to know about becoming a Firework Maker apart from one last dangerous secret which her father doesn’t think she is ready to know.

Determined to learn the secret, Lila sets off to face the fire-fiend of Mount Merapi on a quest to find the Royal Sulphur.

This is a story of how journeys are often both physical and emotional.

Goodnight Mr Tom

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

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On the brink of World War 2, a small boy is evacuated from his London home with an abusive mother to the English countryside.  At first, he is terrified of everything, including the gruff and prickly old man he is placed with.

Gradually Willie forgets the despair of his former life and forms a close friendship with Mr Tom. Until one day a telegram arrives and Willie must go home to his mother…

This is a fantastic book to read aloud to a class learning about war from the point of view of a child, but be warned, you will all cry!

Stop the Train


Stop the Train is a tense, fastly paced novel set in 1893 during the time of the Oklahoma land run. Ten-year-old Cissy Sissney arrives with her family to establish the new town of Florence. They ,along with other settlers, prepare for business alongside the track of the Red Rock Railroad. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that the railroad company wants to purchase the land for itself- and when the new settlers to sell their land, they are told that the trains will never stop in Florence again. Survival of the town is dependent on the train stopping and so the community resolve to find ways to make the train stop- by fair means or foul.

The skilful plotting of the story makes this a riveting read. But there are other aspects that make this a fine novel. Firstly, the marvellous array of characters in the story including Herman the Mormon and Mrs Loucien Shades , the seriously unqualified schoolmistress, who teaches her pupils the essential life skills they will need to survive on the prairies including: how to saddle a horse; change a diaper, pluck a prairie falcon and how to tell iron pyrites from real gold. The dialogue is vivid and the book shows an impressive attention to historical detail.I think this book would engage a class of Year 5 or 6 children and would make an excellent read aloud.

Journey to the River Sea

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“Those who think of the Amazon as a Green Hell bring only their own fears and prejudices to this amazing land. For whether a place is a hell or a heaven rests in yourself, and those who go with courage and an open mind may find themselves in Paradise”

Journey to the River Sea is the story of an English orphan who is sent to live with distant relatives in the Brazilian rainforest in 1910. Unfortunately, the family are not what she expected and she soon finds herself dealing with very difficult people and an unexpected adventure.

The vivid description of the animals and scenery of the Amazon allow us to really travel on the journey with Maia as she decides if she she do as she expected or as her heart desires.

The Iron Man

The Iron Man

Ted Hughes

The Iron Man begs to be read aloud. It is a spoken bedtime story. And it should be read out loud even if the children who will enjoy it can read it for themselves. Perhaps they would enjoy reading it aloud themselves, also. Hughes wrote of its composition: ‘I just wrote it out as I told it over two or three nights.’ That combination of oral storytelling and the sensibility of the poet are there in the tunes of the text. This is not prose overloaded with wow words. Words are carefully chosen; carefully placed on the page so that the reader can slip into the rhythm of the story and imagine what is evoked there. The punctuation and phrasing is part of the music that makes it so compelling. The single word sentences guide the reader’s pace and draws attention when attention is due.

In Poetry in the Making, Hughes gives this advice to young readers wishing to write a novel:

The one bit of technical advice, to set you off, is this: the novel must be written in chapter and these can be as short as you like. Only a couple of pages, if you like. Chapters make it easier for you to concentrate on one stage of the action at a time, or one incident at a time. And it means that you can make up the whole novel out of the most interesting parts of your story. Any necessary but boring bits, you simply miss out between chapters and mention in a sentence or two at the beginning of the next chapter.

Hughes, T. (1967) Poetry in the Making London: Faber.

Each of the five chapters tells one important event. The story moves from the arrival of the Iron Man to his heroic contest with the space-bat-angel-dragon (there is a name to roll on the tongue) at the end. From the tragi-comic fall and reassembling of the Iron Man to his ordeal by fire, the ordinary combines with the extraordinary. Hogarth, the farmer’s son, is observer and actor. He is the character who is the link with young readers and whose actions invite them to ask themselves: what would I have done?

From the very first chapter we are aware of the vastness of the universe

…the stars went on wheeling through the sky and the wind went on tugging at the grass on the cliff-top and the sea went on boiling and booming.

Nobody knew the Iron Man had fallen.

There is the great wheeling sky but there also is the tender, comic reassembling of body parts on the beach, the half-eaten tractors and the disappearance of an ample picnic down a crack in the hill. And there is the Iron Man’s relish of his scrap heap feast:

He picked up a greasy black stove and chewed it like toffee. There were delicious crumbs of chrome on it.

In the contest of the final chapter so many elements of magic and healing are offered to the reader. Hughes mentions the music of the spheres. If we want to find out more about that we can. Above all we witness courage and heroism. And we learn that the fearful behaviour of the space-bat-angel-dragon was prompted by the fun men seemed to be having, at war with one another. He just wanted to join in. The gift of the space-bat-angel-dragon is to make music, and through his contest with the Iron man, to bring peace to the world.

Look out for these differently illustrated editions. Let us know which illustrations you prefer.



Dogger by Shirley Hughes is one of my absolutely favourite books. I have lost count of the many copies I have owned : most were worn out through sheer love and repeated retellings with one or two copies borrowed but never returned (though I have some hope that they have been read by my former pupils to their own children by now). What is special about this story? A small boy losing his favourite toy which is duly returned by his big sister is an everyday unremarkable happening in childhood. However, this story deals with big themes: conflict; resolution; compassion and kindness. It is the perfect book for reading aloud. If it is not yet on your bookshelf, get it!


How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen

How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen

Russell Hoban


Tom lived with his maiden aunt, Miss Fidget Wonkham-Strong. She wore an iron hat, and took no nonsense from anyone. Where she walked the flowers drooped, and when she sang the trees all shivered.

But Tom is a remarkably resilient boy. Even in the face of the iron hat and the drooping flowers, in Quentin Blake’s illustration, Tom has a smile on his face as, hands in pockets, he catches the readers gaze.  Tom likes to fool around which, as Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong observes, looks very like playing. In her view, too much playing is not good.

Tom is, on the whole, an obedient boy, he learns off pages from the Nautical Almanac and he eats his greasy bloaters. But he won’t stop fooling around. Good for him. All that fooling around means that he is no match for the hired sportsmen. He beats them hands down at womble, muck and sneedball, in that order.

The language is a pleasure, not only the names and invented words but the turns of phrase. They demand to be said aloud; they find themselves into the conversation of those who are in the know.

“Who’s on my side?” said Tom.

“Nobody,” said Captain Najork. “Let’s get started.”

The small boy who fools around triumphs against the rule-bound, know-it-all adults in the most graceful, almost off-hand way. Let’s hear it for continuing to play, even if you have to learn pages from the almanac. And Quentin Blake’s illustrations are integral to the pleasure of this story. Look at the body language of the aunt and her nephew.

“Eat your mutton and your cabbage-and-potato sog.”