Category Archives: Reading for Pleasure

Brilliant Books By Jenny Pearson

Jenny Pearson books are properly funny but also manage to tackle some serious issues in a child-friendly and relatable way. Issues like bereavement, depression and Alzheimer’s (amongst others) all crop up and are handled with compassion and just the right balance of good humour. It’s almost like Jenny Pearson is a primary school teacher or something. Her books are a great way to introduce discussions around these serious subjects with children, or you can completely ignore them and just have a good laugh at the brilliant stories.

The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates – Jenny Pearson

This book has more twists and turns than a Super G event. It came highly recommended and it did not disappoint one bit. Jenny Pearson’s writing is very funny, that much is clear, but I also loved the fact that serious issues were covered in a very relatable and empathetic way. Although the main character in the book (Freddie) is dealing with loss and trying to understand it, it’s never dark or particularly sad, it’s more comically poignant.

The story centres around the journey Freddie and his two best friends make at the start of their Summer holiday. It takes them along the south coast of Wales. As they meet an interesting range of diverse Welsh characters, it gives those of use who enjoy ‘doing the voices’ while reading aloud, the perfect opportunity to experiment with a glorious range of hearty Welsh accents.

The Miraculous Journey that the boys go on is absolutely brilliant. It gets better and better with many a jaw-dropping laugh along the way. I can’t recommend this book enough and it will doubtlessly a birthday or Christmas present for years to come.

An added bonus is that the illustrator is, lockdown hero, Rob Biddulph. If you’ve not yet spent time with your children, at home or in school, following a #DrawWithRob video, then you really must.

If you and your children enjoy the books of Jo Simmons, then this one should be next on your list.

Tom, age 7, says: “I really like it because it’s really funny and you can learn facts from it as well. My favourite fact was that pigs can’t look up, so they’ve probably never seen the stars.”

The Incredible Record Smashers – Jenny Pearson

Having enjoyed Jenny Pearson’s first book (Freddie Yates – see below) so much, we’ve had The Incredible Record Smashers on pre-order for months. In both books Pearson manages to take the central character on epic adventures with hilarious consequences while also addressing some very sensitive issues in a child appropriate way. In Record Smashers, the main character (Lucy) has a mother who suffers with depression and the child’s perspective of this is handled brilliantly.

The central premise is that Lucy desperately wants to make her mum happy again and she believes that she can do this by reconnecting her with an old friend. Along the way she attempts a range of world records, with varying degrees of success, gets embroiled with a criminal family, befriends a watermelon and learns an awful lot about herself.

Record Smashers is a heart-warming story of friendship and family and would make an excellent class read across KS2. It’s capable of making you laugh and cry and may even inspire you to break a world record of your own.

Tom, age 8, says: “It was really funny, especially when Lucy made Sandesh wear the gold costume. I really enjoyed the bit where Sandesh played the piano with all of his body parts, it was really fun. My favourite character was Lucy because she kept persevering when she was trying to make her mum happy.”

Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List – Jenny Pearson

Frank Davenport’s son, Frank, finds out that he has a Grandpa (Frank) that he knew nothing about, as well as a sizable inheritance that he is meant to use to look after him. Grandpa Frank isn’t keen on his Grandson’s ideas about looking after him to begin with, but they end up having a wonderful time filled with remarkable experiences.

Frank Junior’s parents aren’t so keen on the adventures, though, and don’t think he should be the one who is entrusted with the money at all. They rather need the money for themselves to help solve their own problems.

The lovely thing about enjoying Jenny Pearson books with my son is that we both chuckle along throughout. There are many laugh out loud moments and some ridiculous situations they find themselves in. Ridiculous, but not beyond the realms of possibility – and it’s this plausibility that helps to keep the story relatable.

As with her other stories, Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List touches upon some serious themes amongst all the hilarity. Pearson sensitively opens the door for conversations with children who maybe experiencing these things in their own lives. Grandpa Frank’s memory is declining and he has a tricky relationship with his son. Children experiencing these things at home will relate to the story but it’s also great for developing empathy in others.

Davenport men might not cry, but I’m not ashamed to admit there was a tear in my eye as we read the last couple of pages. It was poignant and written with real care. I do so love Jenny Pearson books and heartily recommend them to you.

Tom, age 8, says: “It’s really fun to hear about all of the adventures that they go on to spend all of the money. It was really funny when they went swimming with ‘dolphins’. If I had loads of money I’d like to take my Grandad to see Arsenal play because we both love them. My favourite character is Frank (the boy) because he really wants his Grandad to have a good time and he always tries to do the right thing, even when his parents try to stop him.”

Harley Hitch – Vashti Hardy

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest – Vashti Hardy

The Iron Forest is the first in a series of Harley Hitch books by Vashti Hardy. Hardy’s previous books include Brightstorm and Wildspark and I would say that the Harley Hitch series are aimed at slightly younger readers – maybe around 7-9 year olds.

Harley lives with her two Grandads and is a keen problem solving inventor who goes to Cogworks School in Forgetown. When a mysterious fungus is discovered in the Iron Forest, Harley is keen to help find a solution to the destruction of this important eco-system, almost too keen. She is desperate to solve the mystery in order to win Pupil of the Term and beat her nemesis, Fenelda Spiggot.

Harley is a likeable central character, but she does have a tendency to rush into things and not take advice from those around her. By the end, she does learn this lesson and, with the support of her friends and family, is able to make everything right.

My boy really enjoyed this one and he’s keen to read the next in the series. As it’s well within his ready capability, I’ll leave it for him to enjoy on his own though. It’s great for an 8 year old, but it doesn’t have enough depth for his 40 year old dad to be desperate to find out what happens next.

Tom, age 8, says: “I liked it because you don’t get many books about inventing and I’m interested in inventing. I really liked the fish that helped Harley understand how to solve the problem in the Iron Forest. I liked Cosmo because he was good at coming up with ideas after going to the library. I also liked the Grampas because they were good at supporting Harley even when she made mistakes.”

Cracking Christmas Books

Christmas is a magical time of year and that magic is only enhanced by sharing festive books with those children in your life at home or in school. Below are some Christmassy recommended reads to share.

How Winston Came Home For Christmas – Alex T. Smith

Written in 24 and a half chapters, this book is designed to be read over the period of advent and I can see it becoming a Christmas tradition in our house. It is also good to read with any primary aged classes as well. If you follow Alex T. Smith on Twitter, I’m sure you’ll be kept informed of which day to start reading, depending on when you break up for Christmas.

Throughout the story Winston visits a number of European countries on his quest understand a vision he has had and his heritage. In each country he encounters a variety of indigenous creatures who are all exceptionally helpful and aid Winston in piecing together the clues he needs to complete his journey. We also learn about Christmas traditions from all over the continent.

As well as daily chapters during advent, there are also craft and recipe ideas for each day. These are all lovely and add to the magic of the book. The only downside is the pressure I put on myself to read a chapter with the children everyday. I find it hard enough to remember to always light the advent candle. Weekends are pretty good for catching up on a chapter or two though, and it really doesn’t detract from the overall loveliness of the story.

Father Christmas – The Truth – by Gregoire Solotareff

I love this book. Mostly because it’s really rather silly, but it also has many other qualities. It is a collection of ‘facts’ and stories about Father Christmas which are organised alphabetically. The book can be read in order, but you also can dip in and out of it, if you prefer. We’ve found it great for getting our young children to practice reading because there aren’t too many words on each page so they enjoy taking turns and making each other giggle.

So it’s a light-hearted, fun book that you can return to time and again, year after year. A perfect Christmas book really. Well worth adding to your collection.

A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a master of his craft. He constructs stories brilliantly and each word is carefully chosen to induce a range of emotions in the reader. A Boy Called Christmas is the true origins story of Father Christmas (it really is, don’t argue) and it’s absolutely pack with festive magic and drimwickery.

While all does end well for Nikolas, the boy at the centre of the story, the book also has moments of real sadness and darkness. Like, at one point, when the boy unwittingly eats his only toy. Or when Nikolas is sent to the tower. To balance the darkness, there are also many warm and humorous moments.

A Boy Called Christmas is the first time Matt Haig introduces the characters of Miika the Mouse and the Truth Pixie, Both characters have gone on to be the central characters in others books, with the straight-talking Truth Pixie being a particular favourite of mine.

As well as a lovely story about Christmas, Haig also manages to mix in some social commentary about the media and how it controls and manipulates the world around us at time.

A Boy Called Christmas is my favourite Christmas book and it will take something very special to change that. I can’t wait to see the film.

Pick a Pine Tree – by Patricia Toht

The start of December, means it’s the start of Christmas books in assembly. Pick a Pine Tree is beautifully illustrated by Jarvis and charts the journey of selecting, decorating and enjoying the perfect Christmas tree.

By using this book we started conversations about why we bring trees into our homes and decorate at Christmas time generally. It was also great to discuss how we all have family traditions. Some are the same as everyone else, others unique to our families, all are special and help make Christmas a magical time of year.

The Girl Who Saved Christmas – Matt Haig

The is Matt Haig’s follow-up to ‘A Boy Called Christmas’, and it is filled with plenty more magic (or rather drimwickery). The first is an origins story for Father Christmas, and it’s good. Really good. And believable. It all makes sense and keeps to magic of Christmas very much alive for all children who read it.

In ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’ the big man goes in search of a girl who has the most hope, to help restore the magic which makes Christmas possible. Unfortunately, the girl in question (Amelia) has had an extremely tough couple of years and proves difficult to track down and has also lost a lot of hope.

Haig skilfully and sensitively handles themes of loss, trust, love and hope and includes cameos from Charles Dickins and Queen Victoria, but it all works. We hoped and assumed it would all turn out alright in the end, but didn’t really know how it was going to get there until very near the end. It is a gloriously happy ending, but with another adventure to look forward to in the shape of ‘Father Christmas and Me’. Also, rather excitingly, ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ is being made into a film which will be released in December 2020. Can’t wait.

Dasher – Matt Tavares

This is the story of how Father Christmas began to use reindeer to help him deliver his presents instead of horses. Dasher and his family are stuck working for a travelling circus but he longs to escape and head north to the beautiful place his mother has often spoken of. When Dasher’s opportunity arises he quickly grasps his freedom. One thing leads to another and he ends up finding a better life for himself, his family and children all over the world.

Farther Christmas and Me – Matt Haig

This is the final instalment of Matt Haig’s Christmas trilogy and the festive magic is very much still alive in Elfhelm. We’ve read each of the books, in order, over the last 3 Decembers, and it’s been a lovely Christmas tradition we’re sad has come to an end.

On the surface, Father Christmas and Me, is another epic adventure for Amelia, who we met in the second book. She struggles to feel accepted in Elfhelm and find her place living amongst the elves. She thinks about leaving, but ends up trying to become a journalist, an honest one. For a timeless Christmas classic, this book is also pretty topical, exploring themes of immigration, fake-news, Trumpism (Vodalism) and nationalism.

Above all, Matt Haig is just a bloomin’ good writer. The arc of all three books are beautifully created and always leave the reader guessing how the loose ends will be tied up. The loose ends are tied up and although there are a lot of worrying moments throughout, hope always wins. What I particularly enjoy are the moments throughout the book that bring a wry or knowing smile.

Throughout the truth is important. The perceived truth and the actual truth are not always the same thing. But the Truth Pixie is on hand to make the distinction and, as with other Matt Haig books, she steals the show.

The first book, A Boy Called Christmas, has been made into a movie and will be released in November 2021. This means that our Christmas Matt Haig tradition can continued for one more year at least, but I very much hope that the other books will be made in to films as well.

Tom, age 7, says: “It was sometimes scary, but mostly fun. I liked that Amelia went back to London in the end and told the stories to the children in the orphanage that she had built. Father Christmas is my favourite character because he always tries to help everyone.”

A Mouse Called Miika – Matt Haig

We first came across Miika in ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ where he acts as a curious supporting character who narrates occasional thoughts about the extraordinary goings on that he witnesses. Released around the same time as the film of that book, A Mouse Called Miika gives a little more detail to the background of the mouse, but mostly focuses on events that happen shortly after the conclusion of the first book.

Miika is a friendly mouse with human, elf and pixie friends but only knows one other mouse – Bridget the Brave. Through the book, Miika tries to please Bridget and be a good mouse-friend but at the end realises that actually Bridget hasn’t ever really been a good friend to him. He realises, with the help of the ever-wonderful Truth Pixie, that he’s better off being disliked for who he is rather than being liked for who he isn’t.

As ever, Matt Haig writes fabulously constructed books for children with fantastic nuggets of wisdom interwoven for readers of all ages. I particularly liked the quote below which comes towards the end of the book. I can see myself using in when talking to Year 6 children before they move up to secondary school.

Tom, age 8, says: “I thought it was really interesting to listen to. He meets Bridget the Brave and to start off with it was a good relationship, then it wasn’t, then it was again, then it wasn’t again. Relationships can be like that sometimes. It was really courageous of Miika when he said that he was the cheese thief but sadly he got flattened by the troll’s foot. In the end he learned that it’s ok to be who you are and not try to be someone else. It’s a good message for children who read the book.

The Empty Stocking – by Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis, yes that Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings, Blackadder, Comic Relief, etc) is the author of this week’s Christmas book.

I’ll admit I was a little dubious when this book was recommended to me as I’m not overly keen on the whole, ‘if you’re naughty you won’t get any presents,’ thing. But it’s handled really well. The ‘naughty’ girl in the story often misbehaves for innocent, misguided or misunderstood reasons and in the end she is able to make the right choice and receive a stocking full of gifts.

Alfie’s Christmas – Shirley Hughes

Shirley Hughes does heart-warming, nostalgic books, and if Christmas isn’t a time for heart-warming nostalgia, I don’t know when is. Dogger is an all-time favourite children’s book of mine (and my mum for that matter) and Alfie’s Christmas is another beaut.

It’s the countdown to Christmas and Alfie and his sister are preparing for the big day. They experience an exceptionally traditional English Christmas with all it’s chocolate-box awe and wonder.

Brilliant books by Jenny Mclachlan

The Land of Roar – Jenny McLachlan

We LOVED this book. It’s a magical adventure featuring dragons, a wizard, mermaids and a particularly scaring scarecrow. The journey Arthur and Rose go on is truly epic as they venture through a portal in their Grandfather’s loft into a realm created by their own imaginations.

The adventure they go on in order to save their Grandfather is incredible and full of danger and excitement. However, it is how the relationships between the characters develop that I really enjoyed. The twins at the centre of the story are growing apart at the beginning. This is often the case with siblings, as they mature at different rates and find different interests. It’s lovely to see them grow closer together as they find a new respect for each other and remember how much fun they can have when they believe.

The Land of Roar is a modern classic and I’m sure it will be made into a major feature film at some point soon. The follow up, ‘Return to Roar’, has recently been published, and it’s already in the pile of books next to my bed, waiting to be enjoyed.

Tom, age 7 says, “It was very, very dangerous at times, but I liked it lots.”

Return to Roar – Jenny McLachlan

This is the second in the trilogy of Roar books which we were desperate to read as we had enjoyed the first one so much. Expectations were high, and I’m relieved and delighted to announce that it did not disappoint.

Arthur and Rose have now started secondary school and are navigating their way through Year 7 and the changes and challenges it presents. The friendship issues are brilliantly handled by McLachlan who excellently describes the complexities of relationships within peer groups that are familiar to us all.

Back in Roar, the children are looking for an adventure over their half term break, and they certainly find one. Their nemesis, Crowky, is back as well as a new dark, character of Hati Skoll (a nod to Norse mythology). Both are menacing characters and just the right side of terrifying for KS2 children.

Fortunately for the twins, they are joined on this adventure by their friends Win and Mitch. This is the first time we meet Mitch (a mermaid/witch) and her particular set of skills prove to be most useful along the way. Win (wizard/ninja) is back and is probably my favourite character. He can be over enthusiastic at times, which leads to more than more problems, but his enthusiasm and humour make him particularly loveable.

Return to Roar is all about facing your fears and standing up to people who try to control you. Everyone with children should buy these books and read them together. They are simply brilliant.

Tom, age 7 says, “My favourite character is Arthur because he is really brave. I enjoy the books because they are quite scary, but they have loads of adventures along the way. I can’t wait for the next book.”

The Battle for Roar – Jenny McLachlan

We adored the first two Roar books, so the third in the series had a lot to live up to. However, we’ve come to trust Jenny McLachlan’s writing, so we knew it wasn’t going to disappoint.

The first hundred or so pages are a pleasant journey where the main characters get back together and explore, as yet unvisited, parts of this imaginary world. All the while there is the looming sense of uncertainty surrounding Crowky and the reader just knows he’s out there somewhere. The biggest twist in this story though, is that he turns out to not be the greatest danger to our heroes.

I won’t give anything more away, just to say if you’ve not yet discovered Roar for yourselves, it’s definitely time you gave it a go.

Tom, age 8, says: “Wow, that’s an amazing book, I hope there’s a fourth! It’s fun because it can be scary (like when Arthur gets trapped with Crowky) but it always ends up fine. There were loads of best bits but I loved it when they flew on the Crowgon. Win is still amazing and it was brilliant that he ended up with a dragon.”

Brilliant Books by Andy Stanton

You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum – Andy Stanton

The first book about the absolute grimster that is Mr Gum. And Polly. And Friday O’Leary. And that great big whopper of a dog, Jake. It’s not the first Mr Gum book we’ve read as a bedtime story. I couldn’t find my copy of this one for a while, so we’re reading them in a random order. Not ideal, but not really a problem. Although, my son didn’t get too worried when it sounded as though Jake might be dead because he said, ‘but he’ll be ok, he’s in the other two Mr Gum books we’ve read.’ Fair enough.

Andy Stanton has a real penchant for silly characters and delightful similes making this book great fun to read. Mr Gum and his sidekick Billy William are proper baddies and are truly disgusting and evil. The plot centres around Gum trying to poison Jake the dog because he keeps on trashing his garden and that makes the fairy angry. Eventually, Polly saves the day and all is well. But, there is a secret, hidden, bonus story at the end, much as Stanton will try to deny it.

Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire – Andy Stanton

Although this is the second book in the series, this was the first Mr Gum book I ever read when I was a trainee teacher. I loved it, and have since read it to both of my children and many of the classes I have taught.

It’s the story of a very wealthy gingerbread man with some curious ideas about friendship. The evil Mr Gum and his side-kick Billy William, steal the money and try to escape to France. Fortunately, a little girl called Polly and her friend Friday are on their trail to save the day. Despite a few set backs (and a lot of laughs) along the way, all ends well.

Bella, age 5, says: “I liked that Jake showed up in the end, because Polly was missing him and she was worried. I also liked that Alan Taylor and that he got his money back and threw it in the air.”

Mr Gum and the Goblins – Andy Stanton

The third book in the Mr Gum series sees Polly and the gang go in search of retribution for the lovely Mrs Lovely, who has been duffed up by some wrong’uns. Their journey takes them to Goblin Mountain, where they overcome some deadly(ish) challenges to make it to the cave where the Goblin King and his goblin army are making plans to attack and overrun Lamonick Bibber.

As ever, Andy Stanton’s surreal and silly humour appeals to both children and adults. There are many nods to literary and wider pop culture throughout the book that bring a range of wry smiles and chortles along the way.

I love Mr Gum books. The humour and loveable characters make them a joy to read and share with my children. I must confess though, if there was one thing I’d not that in to, it’s the Spirit of the Rainbow. I really don’t like the do-gooding little fella.

Bella, age 5, says: “It was really good because it was all ok in the end. I liked that Polly and Friday O’Leary kept going and didn’t give up.”

What’s For Dinner Mr Gum? – Andy Stanton

This is an old favourite for me but new to my boy. We’ve enjoyed many an Andy Stanton book together, and this one was no different.

It’s an unusual story of love, war and friendship. Mr Gum finds a new friend and Billy William becomes rather jealous. This jealously leads to all out meat wars which nearly brings an end to Lamonic Bibber as we know it, only for Polly and her friends to save the day.

Mr Gum books are always a pleasure to read with laughs for the kids but also enough random asides to keep the parents more than interested.

The Paninis of Pompeii by Andy Stanton

This is the first in a new series of books by Andy Stanton who is the author of the Mr Gum books. There is a lot more to it than the Mr Gum books and it’s more of a collection of short stories set in a ancient Pompeii. It would kind of work if you’re looking at the Ancient Roman Empire in class, but you’d have to get the children to work out which bits were historically accurate and which bits were artistic license and pure comedy value.

Like Stanton’s previous work, this book is chocked full of very silly humour (the main character is literally a fart merchant) and some fantastically named excentiric characters including Barkus Wooferinicum the family dog and a personal favourite Atrium Jamiroquai Tannicus. We look forward to the next installment in the Paninis series.

The Story of Matthew Buzzington by Andy Stanton

This story is great if you want to address bullying issues in class. Matthew Buzzington and his little sister move to the Big City and start at a new school. Starting at a new school can be tough at the best of times, but when you think you can turn into a fly and tell people that on a few occasions it doesn’t help you make friends. The trouble is that he fails to turn into a fly so is widely mocked. However, one thing leads to another and Matthew goes on quite the journey with the bully and his little sister.

While there are certainly funny parts to the book, it’s a departure from the usual silliness of Stanton’s books. Very much worth a read though and unlike most of his other work, this book has an important message too.

Brilliant Books by Matt Haig

Matt Haig’s writing is brilliant. He creates beautifully constructed stories using warmth and humour and is not afraid to tackle sensitive subjects in a child-friendly manner. Each of them has it’s own charm and could be used as with any KS2 children as a class read.

A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a master of his craft. He constructs stories brilliantly and each word is carefully chosen to induce a range of emotions in the reader. A Boy Called Christmas is the true origins story of Father Christmas (it really is, don’t argue) and it’s absolutely pack with festive magic and drimwickery.

While all does end well for Nikolas, the boy at the centre of the story, the book also has moments of real sadness and darkness. Like, at one point, when the boy unwittingly eats his only toy. Or when Nikolas is sent to the tower. To balance the darkness, there are also many warm and humorous moments.

A Boy Called Christmas is the first time Matt Haig introduces the characters of Miika the Mouse and the Truth Pixie, Both characters have gone on to be the central characters in others books, with the straight-talking Truth Pixie being a particular favourite of mine.

As well as a lovely story about Christmas, Haig also manages to mix in some social commentary about the media and how it controls and manipulates the world around us at time.

A Boy Called Christmas is my favourite Christmas book and it will take something very special to change that. I can’t wait to see the film.

The Truth Pixie Goes To School – Matt Haig

I adored the first Truth Pixie book and loved sharing it with my children and class. Then buying copies for friends and family and hearing how they enjoyed it also, was fantastic. The follow-up, as the title suggests, sees the Truth Pixie start at school with her friend Aada.

The trouble is, Aada just wants to fit in and be normal and make friends. Tricky when you’re hanging out with a small pixie who keeps dropping truth bombs all over the place. Aada goes on a rather emotional journey of discovery and learns a lot about herself and how to treat others. Another warm-hearted book from Matt Haig with a moral message at it’s centre to help children work through and understand some feelings they may be experiencing.

The Girl Who Saved Christmas – Matt Haig

The is Matt Haig’s follow-up to ‘A Boy Called Christmas’, and it is equally filled with magic (or rather drimwickery). We read the first book last Christmas so were eager to read the next one this year. The first is an origins story for Father Christmas, and it’s good. Really good. And believable. It all makes sense and keeps to magic of Christmas very much alive for all children who read it.

In ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’ the big man goes in search of a girl who has the most hope, to help restore the magic which makes Christmas possible. Unfortunately, the girl in question (Amelia) has had an extremely tough couple of years and proves difficult to track down and has also lost a lot of hope.

Haig skilfully and sensitively handles themes of loss, trust, love and hope and includes cameos from Charles Dickins and Queen Victoria, but it all works. We hoped and assumed it would all turn out alright in the end, but didn’t really know how it was going to get there until very near the end. It is a gloriously happy ending, but with another adventure to look forward to in the shape of ‘Father Christmas and Me’. Also, rather excitingly, ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ is being made into a film which will be released in December 2020. Can’t wait.

Farther Christmas and Me – Matt Haig

This is the final instalment of Matt Haig’s Christmas trilogy and the festive magic is very much still alive in Elfhelm. We’ve read each of the books, in order, over the last 3 Decembers, and it’s been a lovely Christmas tradition we’re sad has come to an end.

On the surface, Father Christmas and Me, is another epic adventure for Amelia, who we met in the second book. She struggles to feel accepted in Elfhelm and find her place living amongst the elves. She thinks about leaving, but ends up trying to become a journalist, an honest one. For a timeless Christmas classic, this book is also pretty topical, exploring themes of immigration, fake-news, Trumpism (Vodalism) and nationalism.

Above all, Matt Haig is just a bloomin’ good writer. The arc of all three books are beautifully created and always leave the reader guessing how the loose ends will be tied up. The loose ends are tied up and although there are a lot of worrying moments throughout, hope always wins. What I particularly enjoy are the moments throughout the book that bring a wry or knowing smile.

Throughout the truth is important. The perceived truth and the actual truth are not always the same thing. But the Truth Pixie is on hand to make the distinction and, as with other Matt Haig books, she steals the show.

The first book, A Boy Called Christmas, has been made into a movie and will be released in November 2021. This means that our Christmas Matt Haig tradition can continued for one more year at least, but I very much hope that the other books will be made in to films as well.

Tom, age 7, says: “It was sometimes scary, but mostly fun. I liked that Amelia went back to London in the end and told the stories to the children in the orphanage that she had built. Father Christmas is my favourite character because he always tries to help everyone.”

Evie and the Animals – Matt Haig

Another Matt Haig book. I’m never going to apologise for that, they’re all great. This one came out last year and I was particularly keen to read it now because the follow-up (Evie in the Jungle) is released shortly as one of the World Book Day books.

Evie is a girl with A Talent. She doesn’t just like animals, she communicates with them. This Talent gets her into all sorts of trouble, but ultimately it’s the Talent that helps her to solve all of her problems too.

My son and I both enjoyed this book. Animals are a popular subject matter for many children’s books and when you add in a super power, you have the recipe for success. I was also kept engaged along the way by the many twists and turns that made the story unpredictable. Haig leaves a few clues through the adventure and then cleverly weaves a few strands together for a pleasing ending. Perfect for lower key stage 2 children.

Evie in the Jungle – Matt Haig

The follow up to Evie and the Animals from last year. It’s not vital that you’ve read the first book before reading this one, but it probably makes more sense that way.

Matt Haig is certainly a socially and environmentally conscious person and that is event in this book. Evie and her father take a holiday to get away for a bit following all the excitement of the last book. Evie being Evie, she chooses to go to the Amazon rainforest where she meets a world-renowned scientist and a number of interesting animals who she interviews.

This one is great for children who are fond of animals and interested in the environment, which in my experience is rather a lot of children.

Brillitant Books by Jo Simmons

Jo Simmons writes brilliant books with brilliant titles that entice the reader in. All have great humour with leading children who, although they go on fantastic adventures, are also realistically written.

The Dodo Made Me Do It – Jo Simmons

I’ve only recently discovered the books of Jo Simmons and I’m really enjoying them. I let the year 4/5 class I’m working with pick which one I read to them and they went for I Swapped My Brother on the Internet, which is hillarious. While my son picked The Dodo Made Me Do It.

TDMMDI is a charming book about a boy called Danny who spends his summer holiday in a small village on the west coast of Scotland with his Granny Flora. He is looking for adventure to liven up an otherwise tedious summer. Adventure comes along when he finds a dodo. Danny spends the next few weeks learning how to look after the dodo at the same time as trying to hide it from everybody else in the village. Much heatwarming hilarity ensues.

We have really enjoyed this story and very much look forward to reading more from Jo Simmons. Her characters and their capers really spark the imagination and draw the children in.

I Stole My Genius Sister’s Brain – Jo Simmons

One of the things Jo Simmons does particularly well is come up with names for her books. As ever, with a title like this, the children are keen to choose it and find out what happens. Another thing I like is that, even though I start to think I know where the story is going, it takes a whole different turn, and is far from predictable.

The things the children do in Jo’s books are always extraordinary, but the children themselves are always relatable and likeable. The siblings at the centre of the story have a great relationship. They disagree about things and fall out occasionally, but there is really warmth between them and they support each other to be better. The parents on the other hand are rubbish. Almost too much. But they just about redeem themselves in the end.

Keith may not succeed in stealing his sister’s brain, but he certainly improves his relationship with his family and makes them better people. This is a very funny book with some extremely likable characters, not least the wonderful Keith and his lovely grandad.

Tom, age 7, says: “It was exciting and very, very funny. I definitely can’t wait to read the next Jo Simmons book, I hope it’s good. My best bit was when Keith’s fans went into his garden and started chanting his name. I highly recommend this book.”

My Parents Cancelled My Birthday – Jo Simmons

My son and I were instantly hooked with this one because the opening chapter is: very funny; sets up an intriguing story; and leaves you really wanting to read on. It left me with the feeling that I had discovered a book I really wanted to tell people about, like the first time I read Mr Gum. I did then spend the next few days recommending the book to loads of people. I really liked the fact that it was funny and a little close to the bone (WARNING: do not read this book to a child who has recently lost a beloved pet, especially a dog).

It’s not the first Jo Simmons book we’ve read (see below for The Dodo Made Me Do It) and we’ve come back to her because I’ve really been enjoying her writing. Particularly that she doesn’t go for the lazy stereotypes that some celebrity children’s authors tend to favour. I enjoyed the relationship between the brother and sister in the book because it’s real. Yes they have their fall outs, but on the whole they really love and care for each other, like most actual siblings do.

The title is great and made me start to guess why the birthday had been cancelled. My assumptions were all wrongs and this book had many more layers to it than I had imagined. Brilliant for children aged 6-11.

I Lost My Granny in the Supermarket – Jo Simmons

Another humorous and intriguingly titled book by Jo Simmons. Her last few books have centred around four friends and this time it’s the turn of Harry to be the focus of the adventure. Harry desperately wants a puppy and his mum agrees that if he earns enough ‘puppy points’ by doing chores, his dream will come true.

In order to receive a large chunk of ‘puppy points’ to push him tantalisingly close to the required total he has to do one (not so) simple task – look after his Granny. The problem is that she doesn’t want to be looked after, or do any of the things she is meant to be doing.

To be honest, it’s all a bit daft for the most part. However, when Harry finally catches up with Granny and they have a heart-to-heart, the story becomes a lot warmer and sentimental.

Tom, age 8, says: “It’s a really funny book. Harry is trying to look after his Granny, but she keeps escaping from him. The funniest time is when she went to the theme park and Harry ended up as a chipmunk. The book would be good for children aged 6-11. All of the other characters from Jo Simmons’ books are in it too. I think Harry can go on all the rides at Fun Valley now that he works for them and he’s definitely tall enough.”

Dragon Stories

Every year we take World Book Day and turn it in to book fortnight. It’s usually a two week long, whole-school event that aims to encourage reading a variety of different books. This year two dragon eggs have been found at our school and it’s given us a chance to look at stories featuring dragons. It turns out there are an awful lot of them. This is kind of the point. Loads of different types of books that can be enjoyed from EYFS to year 6, which is great for making comparisons and writing for a range of purposes.

Over the different classes, teachers used a range of dragon books to inspire, compare, contrast and enjoy, but we also read a different dragon book in a special assembly at the end of each day. This was an opportunity to enjoy some stories, but also lead to discussion around the evidence that dragon in the featured story may be the dragon that laid two eggs at our school.

Twitter was very helpful when it came to recommending dragon books and I made a list of all the suggestions.

A link to a massive collect of children’s books featuring dragons.

Another fun thing we did was make use of X-ray goggles to make a fake news page about the dragon egg finding.

Then we found some massive footprints…

Next a few bits of dragon poo turned up which contained chicken bones to prove our dragon was a carnivore.

Finally, the dragon came back to collect its eggs and we were fortunate enough to get some footage of the moment it arrived…

Assembly Books

This year I will be reading books in assemblies once a week. Sharing stories, discussing what we can learn from them and encouraging reading for pleasure. The books will be selected because of their suitability to the Primary age group and the time of year and their ability to make the readers reflect and enjoy. Headteacher and children’s book enthusiast Simon Smith pointed me in the direction of the hashtag #assemblybooks which has been a great source of research and inspriation for the books I plan to read every week.

The Squirrels who Squabbled – by Rachel Bright and Jim Field

A great story about the importance of friendship and teamwork. When the two squirrles eventually work together they find life much more enjoyable and they are much more successful. The book also touches on themes of laziness and greediness.

There’s Room For Everyone – Anahita Teymorian

At first I was reminded of the ‘Jar of Life‘ story, where the jar appears to be full, but more and more things are added to it. But this story goes deeper into the futility of war in a very child friendly way. There is room for everyone in this world and we should all get along. I particularly enjoyed the message from the author at the back of the book where she gives the reasons that she wrote the book and how angry she got when she watched the news. For assembly it is useful to be able to develop the discussion around the text by hearing directly from the author.

Perfectly Norman – by Tom Percival

A lovely book that encourages children not to hide their light under a bushel, but to be proud of what makes them special and the things they enjoy. When you let your light shine and are proud of who you are, you will give others the confidence to do the same. Life’s is for living.

On A Magical Do-Nothing Day – by Beatrice Alemagna

A great reminder to ditch the digital devices and get outside to experience the world around you. The girl at the centre of the story is stuck in the same old cabin, in the same old forest, in the same old rain while dad is back in the city and mum writing on the computer. She is encouraged to go and do someting by her mum and she reluctently goes outside where she finds nothing much to do apart from loads of exploring of the pond and stones and soil and seeds and plants etc…

Could be good for an assembly before a school holiday, during an internet safety week or to encourade a bit of cultural capital if you like. It certainly goes well with our Sidlesham 101.

The Sea Saw – by Tom Percival

This is the story of a toy bear who is lost at the beach by a little girl called Sofia. The bear goes on an epic journey to get back to Sofia, all the while being guided and protected by the sea. Eventually the bear is discovered in a stream by a little girl who turns out to be Sofia’s granddaughter. All rather lovely, and the moral of the story is, ‘nothing is ever truly lost if you keep it in your heart.’

The Dot – by Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti thinks she cant draw. He teacher thinks she can and encourages her just to try. To start. To make a mark. From the simple beginning of a dot and with some carefully nurtured support from her teacher, Vashti develops a passion for art and becames ‘a really great artist’, who is able to encourage others to take the plunge themselves. The Dot has a great message for pupils and teachers alike, encouraging pupils to be brave learners and take risks in their work to find their own style and enjoyment. It’s the role of the teacher in the story that I really enjoy though, she cares for the child and really values their work, making a special fuss of what they have done encouraging them to greater achievements.

Bedtime Stories

The joy of books

One of the best things about being a parent (and teacher for that matter) is sharing books with children. My children and I particularly enjoy bedtime stories where we have uninterupted time together exploring fantasy lands with fantasitical characters. I’ve written before about reading recommendations for short stories at bedtime, with suggests from a great range of teachers and parents.

The purpose of this blog is for me to have a place to share some of the longer, chapter books we’ve been reading at bedtimes, and add to it over time.

July 2019 – The Paninis of Pompeii by Andy Stanton

This is the first in a new series of books by Andy Stanton who is the author of the Mr Gum books. There is a lot more to it than the Mr Gum books and it’s more of a collection of short stories set in a ancient Pompeii. It would kind of work if you’re looking at the Ancient Roman Empire in class, but you’d have to get the children to work out which bits were historically accurate and which bits were artistic license and pure comedy value.

Like Stanton’s previous work, this book is chocked full of very silly humour (the main character is literally a fart merchant) and some fantastically named excentiric characters including Barkus Wooferinicum the family dog and a personal favourite Atrium Jamiroquai Tannicus. We look forward to the next installment in the Paninis series.

June 2019 – The Story of Matthew Buzzington by Andy Stanton

This story is great if you want to address bullying issues in class. Matthew Buzzington and his little sister move to the Big City and start at a new school. Starting at a new school can be tough at the best of times, but when you think you can turn into a fly and tell people that on a few occassions it doesn’t help you make friends. The trouble is that he fails to turn into a fly so is widley mocked. However, one thing leads to another and Matthew goes on quite the journey with the bully and his little sister.

While there are certainly funny parts to the book, it’s a departure from the usual silliness of Stanton’s books. Very much worth a read though and unlike most of his other work, this book has an important message too.

May 2019 – The Monkey Pirates by Mark Skelton

If you like Mr Gum books then the humour in this one will be right up your street. Emily Jane, the main protagonist, is a girl who goes on a time travelling adventure with a bunch of monkey pirates in a wardrobe. She’s on a round-about mission to find her long-lost Uncle Bartholomew. She may well under up finding him. But she’s not really sure. My son and I both thoroughly recommend this book because it made us chuckle on many occassions.

Previous reads…

Over the years we’ve read a lot of books. Many of the picture books are listed here. We’ve read a few of David Walliams books, a few Daisy and the trouble with… by Kes Grey books and most of the Roald Dahl books.