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

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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.

Shackleton’s Journey

Shackleton’s Journey  William Grill first published in 2014 by Flying Eye Books

 

This is a book to spend time with. It is the true story of Ernest Shackleton’s crossing of Antarctica. Filled with adventure and courage, it is an immensely humane story which is reflects the character of Shackleton and his vision for his journey through ice and snow. The story is told with a light touch in prose and in beautifully detailed drawings. The story of Shackleton and his crew is a gripping one and nicely tinged with humour. It is a story ,presented in this form, just waiting to be explored through drama.

 

However, it is also a book to be pored over, either alone or with friends. William Grills has used illustration in such an imaginative and engaging way that he draws the reader in to explore the facts and to want to know more. I like the way he captures the character of certain crew members in just a few words. Sometimes the drawings are in themselves a list –the double page spread of equipment and supplies, for example. Sometimes they tell a part of the story in a series of drawings like a cartoon strip and sometimes there is simply a bold double page illustration that conveys the stormy isolation of the Antarctic.

 

William Grills tells the key elements of the story, but also makes us think about the experience. He lists the names of most of the 69 dogs who travelled with them and chooses stories that intrigue the reader –the sea leopard with its stomach of undigested fish, the way every man was given a dog to care for. This book sent me to the Polar Institute in Cambridge to find out more.

 

http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/

 

Beowolf

Beowulf interpreted by Kevin Crossley-Holland illustrated by Charles Keeping

 

Beowulf is one of our oldest stories and rooted in East Anglia. It is a classic tale of the invading monster and the hero who battles not one, but two of them. These are the monsters of nightmares and the combination of Kevin Crossley-Holland’s robust poetic prose and Charles Keeping’s striking drawings fixes them in the reader’s consciousness. This story pattern, these monsters and heroes, are a part of our literary heritage. They are Anglo-Saxon archetypes which may come to mind as children explore Sutton Hoo and look at the warrior’s helmet there, and later, when they read Shakespeare, Shelley or Patrick Ness.

 

Give children the chance to savour both the language and the illustrations. I have seen Year 3 and 4 children using pen and ink, charcoal and pencil to recreate some of these drawings. I saw them working into the language, soaking up the patterns and then writing carefully within them. I have seen Year 5 and 6 children using this story as a starting point for an investigation of Anglo-Saxon life, looking for primary sources which link with the details of the story, the mead hall, the stiff battle banner woven with golden thread, the adorned cup.

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Linger over this version of Beowulf. Kevin Crossley-Holland is a poet and a scholar, so the language honours the poetry of the original Anglo-Saxon and pays attention to the life of those times and to the tradition of storytelling.