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 from a few lovely teacher-types.

Father Christmas – The Truth – by Gregoire Solotareff

(reviewed by James Blake-Lobb)

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.

Pick a Pine Tree – by Patricia Toht

(reviewed by James Blake-Lobb)

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

(reviewed by James Blake-Lobb)

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.

Farther Christmas and Me – Matt Haig

(reviewed by James Blake-Lobb)

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.”

The Empty Stocking – by Richard Curtis

(reviewed by James Blake-Lobb)

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

(reviewed by James Blake-Lobb)

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.

Taskmaster Tasks for School

I have been using Taskmaster in school for a few years now, to great effect. The following is a list of all the tasks I’ve done or heard about. They originate from the TV show, the Taskmaster book, Class Taskmaster, my brain, my colleagues and other teachers who have been enjoying Taskmaster in schools. However, most of the credit must go to the creator of Taskmaster, Alex Horne. If you have any more to add, please tweet me the suggestions and together we can create an extensive list of tasks for children (and teachers) to enjoy all over the world.

  1. Scavenger Hunt
  2. Paint a picture – blindfolded
  3. Take an impressive photograph
  4. Make something big appear small
  5. Make something small appear big
  6. Kick a rugby ball from one end of the field to the other while holding hands. If you let go, you start again
  7. Score a goal from the furthest distance
  8. Work out how long a ball of string is
  9. Cross the playground in the least step
  10. Find all of the playing card hidden around the school
  11. Throw a tea bag into a mug from the furthest distance
  12. Get an egg as high as possible, without breaking it
  13. What is Mr Blake-Lobb’s age in minutes/seconds?
  14. As a team, build the highest tower on the field. You have ten minutes starting from now.
  15. Memorise the Highwayman poem
  16. Set a task for another group
  17. Melt the ice – fastest wins
  18. Draw a flower with your weaker hand
  19. Draw an upside down self-portrait using crayons
  20. Make the most juice from these fruits
  21. Make the best picture, using only this toilet roll.
  22. Unveil a new handshake
  23. Make something spin for the longest period of time
  24. Make the best paper aeroplane. Furthest flight wins.
  25. Score a goal with a shopping bag, each team member must kick the bag at least twice
  26. CONNECTED TASK – Make the shopping bag as heavy as possible in ten minutes. It must then hang, unassisted, for one minute
  27. Make the most impressive throw of something, into something
  28. Do the most brilliant thing on a gym mat
  29. While holding hands, kick a rugby ball from the round house to the year 6 table
  30. Move the pallet as far as possible. You have 3 minutes. Go.
  31. Eat the best picture out of a piece of bread
  32. Guess the number on Mr Blake-Lobb’s left arm (the number had also been written on the cupboard door at the back of the room for 3 days).
  33. Vote for the team you wish to receive 5 points. If you vote for your own team and don’t win, then you will lose 2 points
  34. Write the lowest unique number on a whiteboard
  35. Stand up for 100 seconds
  36. Blindfolded, stack as many objects on top of each other as possible without falling (for at least five seconds)
  37. Bring me someone who was born on the 28th May 2011 (pick the date of birth of someone in your school)
  38. Surprise Mr Allen
  39. Impress Mr Wood
  40. Make Mrs Humphreys say ‘bubbles’. You cannot use the word ‘bubbles’
  41. Make Mrs Rowe laugh out loud. You must not touch her.
  42. As a team, stage a performance of a nursery rhyme
  43. Write and perform a song about this week
  44. Bring in a book to read to a younger child
  45. Tweet a joke to Penguins class, 1st joke wins (Bonus for best joke)
  46. Wear the most unusual hat to school tomorrow
  47. Write the best 10 word story
  48. Make the best Christ-Maths Tree
  49. Make the best flag without using a flag
  50. Decorate your classroom for Christmas
  51. Line things up height order, longest line wins
  52. Make the smallest piece of art
  53. High five the oldest and youngest person, greatest age gap wins
  54. Make the best domino show
  55. Write and perform a tune with E, A and B in it
  56. Create a Remembrance Day tribute
  57. Recreate a famous book cover
  58. Find all of the playing cards hidden around the school
  59. Make the best piece of art using one toilet roll
  60. Make the longest line of things that begin with the first letter of your team/class/school name
  61. Make the biggest circle
  62. Write an epic story in 280 characters or fewer
  63. Create a cartoon character using things found in the classroom
  64. Take a picture of the oldest thing in your school
  65. Make the best snowman
  66. Recreate a famous film scene
  67. Make the biggest splash
  68. Eat the most crackers in a minute
  69. Put the most different things beginning with H, A and T in a hat
  70. Show me a picture of a cow. You cannot draw a picture. You cannot use technology
  71. Balance the biggest thing on your head
  72. Eat the most watermelon
  73. Remove your socks without using your hands – fastest wins
  74. Build a den 2m x 1m x 1m. Driest wins
  75. Create a throne
  76. Fly a flag on the tallest, free-standing flagpole
  77. Write a haiku about a task
  78. Build the tallest card tower in 2 minutes
  79. Balance the heaviest thing on the lightest thing. Greatest difference in weight wins
  80. Find the biggest leaf
  81. Line up in age/height order
  82. Make the best entrance
  83. Disguise yourself/team. Most disguised wins
  84. Hide
  85. Touch the door, fastest wins
  86. Make an A4 piece of paper into the longest piece of paper possible in 2 minutes
  87. List the most 5 letter words as you can
  88. Write a verb for every letter of the alphabet
  89. Make the longest paperchain
  90. Build a kite, longest flight wins
  91. Get a celebrity to Tweet about the school
  92. Make a cool video in reverse
  93. Film a slo-mo stunt
  94. Work out how long a ball of string is without using rulers, tape measures, meter sticks, trundle wheels, or other traditional measuring devices
  95. Identify the items in the sock/pillowcase
  96. Carry a bowl of water around the track. Fastest wins. Bonus point for the most water
  97. Throw as many balls of scrap paper over your shoulder and into the bin as you can. You have 5 throws per team member
  98. Get this egg as far from the starting point as you can in 2 minutes. You may not use your hands
  99. Find Miss Burrows. Quickest time wins. You must stay together as a team and ALL find her. You must walk in the school. Miss Burrows is not in another classroom or behind a security door
  100. Throw the ball to a teammate and they must catch it. Furthest throw wins
  101. Using the iPads, your team must take 5 photos around the school. The Taskmaster will try and identify where the photos were taken. You will score one point for each photo the Taskmaster guesses incorrectly. Photos must not be blurry
  102. How much money is in the tins? Closest wins
  103. Knock the heaviest item off the table from the furthest distance
  104. Compose a tune using the pentatonic scale with at least three instruments
  105. Using only natural things, make a picture of the Taskmaster
  106. Using a strip of toilet paper stuck between two tables, balance the heaviest item
  107. Reveal something surprising from under a blanket
  108. Using two materials, design and build a device to move as much water as possible from one bucket to another
  109. Create a device to time exactly 20 seconds using the equipment provided
  110. Estimate the amount of water up to the line in the large bottle using the equipment provided
  111. Create the best window art using the post-it notes provided
  112. RELAY TASK – Choose the order you will go in. Put on the oven gloves, eat the banana, tie your laces and then pass on the oven gloves to the next person
  113. Identify the items in the sleeping bag
  114. Put as many blue M&M as you can in the other bowl, while wearing boxing gloves. 1 point for each blue M&M, negative points for each non-blue M&M.
  115. Decorate the cake to represent what our school means to you
  116. Draw the school crest from memory
  117. Get the potato in the hole. You cannot touch the grass inside the circle with any part of your body
  118. Score a basket with the ball. You may not touch the ball with your hands
  119. Estimate the weight of the fruit (without the bowl). You may weigh anything EXCEPT the fruit in the bowl
  120. Spot the missing item. Study the tray to 20 seconds. The Taskmaster will then cover the tray and removed an item. The winner is the first to spot the missing item
  121. Get every member of another team to say a mystery word, without using the mystery word yourself
  122. Find the heaviest blue, green and red items. You have 5 minutes
  123. Sort a pack of playing cards into suits – fastest wins
  124. Transfer rice from one saucer to another using chopsticks – most rice wins
  125. Put the cover on the duvet, while holding hands
  126. Transfer dried butter beans from one saucer A to saucer B, while a member of the opposing team is transferring kidney beans from saucer B to saucer A. Use straws to suck the beans to transfer them.

If you do your own Taskmaster activities in school, why not use this video from Alex Horne to introduce it? The password is schooltaskmaster. Enjoy.

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.”

My Covid Diary

I’ve had a bit of that Covid-19 that you may have heard about, so I thought I’d keep a little diary to monitor how it progresses. I’m double-jabbed, 40 years old, have no underlying health conditions and consider myself incredibly fortunate for all of the above. The following are my thoughts and reflections on my experiences.

Day 0

During the nightly reading of the bedtime story I started sneezing and subsequently felt a bit achy. Later in the evening I took an LFD test, just to make sure I’m ok to go into work. It came back negative.

Day 1

Following the negative result, I went to work. I felt pretty rubbish as I was congested and had a headache, but no temperature, no sore throat, no cough, so I thought it was just a cold.

I got home and went straight to bed. I woke up a few hours later and did an LFD test. It was positive. I did another. Positive again. I booked a PCR, told everyone I needed to tell and logged it on the app. It’s all a bit scary. I’m not sure how bad it might get and how my body and mind will react to what it coming my way.

Day 2

Woke up this morning feeling very ropey. Headache, bunged up nose and aching all over. We told the children that I had tested positive with Covid-19 and their responses were interesting. Both were a little sad and worried, then the 6 year old asked, ‘do people die from coronavirus?’ We explained that some do, but most don’t and I wasn’t likely to. They then got very worried that they might need to have a test themselves (they really don’t like the idea of the swab down the throat and up the nose). The 8 year old coughed a few times, so we gave him an LFD test, and it was positive. With the exciting news that her brother has Covid, the 6 year old then starts bouncing on the bed with joy and laughter as she doesn’t need to do a test (yet!).

I walked to the test centre because it’s less than a kilometre away and it could well be the last time I get outside for the next little while. The staff were efficient, thorough and compassionate but it still felt like a completely weird, dystopian place.

I managed a Teams meeting with some lovely people I didn’t want to let down, and then spent most of the day in bed feeling thoroughly rubbish.

I wear a Garmin Forerunner 45, because I run. It tracks lots of things fitness and health related, including my ‘body battery’. My battery normal fills up while I am sleeping and empties during the day. Today it flatlined.

A normal day’s body battery compared to today’s, quite a stark difference.

Day 3

Headache still hanging around all morning. Got up at lunchtime, had a shower and felt a bit better. A couple of hours later I got dizzy and began sweating, so went back to bed.

I spent considerably more time than a 40-year-old man should watching TikTok videos today. It’s not just for the kids, honest. It might well be a colossal waste of time, but it does make me chuckle. It’s dangerously addictive though, so I will be doing my best to not be opening the app for a while. However, if you want to lose some time, here are some content creators who are brought me a little joy @stage_door_johnny, @leelochip, @lvworkshop, @tiredandtested, @mjudsonberry, @arroncrascall, @celinaspookyboo, @collinurrmom, @sheenamelwani and @hayleygeorgiamorris. There are probably also some great educators on there, doing great things, but I’m just in it for the laughs at the moment. However, if you’ve read this far and want to recommend someone worth following, do let me know in the comments.

In other entertainment news, a new series of Taskmaster started tonight. That’s always a good thing.

Day 4

Woke up feeling much better today. Although I have discovered that whole ‘loss of taste and smell thing‘, is not a myth. Weird. Not sure why, but I now can’t smell stuff. I tested this the only way a man knows how, and couldn’t smell a thing. My wife assured me that I had indeed made a smell though. Now I’m wondering if I can make use of this new lack of ability to my (or humanities’) advantage in some way. But, as I can’t leave the house, I’m not sure it’s much use at all really.

The boy and I have decided to call ourselves the Covidboys. This has lead to us writing new lyrics to the 1998 Vengaboys classic, Vengabus.

The Covidboys are coming and everybody’s coughing,

The kitchen to the bathroom, the lounge up to the bedroom,

Now we can’t smell a thing, But haven’t stopped farting,

It’s all going a bit wrong, Let’s hope it doesn’t last long.

We may record a version of this if we get bored/inspired enough.

The 6-year-old went off for her test this morning, and I can confirm she was not happy about it at all. Still, being supportive parents, we made her do it anyway and incentivised her (after protracted negotiations) with the promise of a magazine, a toy and a movie day (like a movie night, but with lots of films and it lasts all day – we’ve not got a lot on this weekend to be fair).

My body battery seems to have fully recovered today and this allowed me to get a few things done. A bit of home-schooling, some weed spraying in the garden, some work, a bit of playmobile and I hung a picture in my daughter’s room that had been unhung for a very long time. But most of all, I watched the Ryder Cup while I continued to convalesce.

Day 5

Right. I’m better now. I’d like to get out and about. Go for a proper run. Live. But I can’t. I might still be contagious. Dangerous! So I’ll stay at home.

As it’s Saturday, I completed a Parkrun this morning, although I couldn’t go to my usual park to run, so I ran around my garden. Many, many times. In keeping with my TikTok obsession this week, I made this TikTok about the run. Remember Parkrunners, always thank the marshals.

This morning’s ‘Parkrun’ compared to a normal one. 20 minutes slower and loads more calories burned. It turns out running slower is better for you.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve felt any worse this week than during other bouts of illness in the past. I realise this is because I’m fortunate enough to have been given the vaccine. The main difference between this and other times I’ve had cold/flu-type illnesses is that other people take it far more seriously. If I’d described my symptoms to friends, family members or colleagues in the past, most would say that I had ‘man-flu’, and patronise me. When you say you’ve tested positive for Covid, they react in a very different way. Given that I’m double-jabbed, I wonder if I’ve just had a heavy cold (man-flu) and also happened to test positive. Were any of my symptoms because of Covid or just coincidental? I’ll never know of course.

My daughter got her result back today. She’s positive, so it’s no longer just the Covidboys in our house. My wife is still negative, very negative some would say 😂😂😂. She needed to get out of the house as we’re driving her crazy, so we sent her on some Mummy Missions. One of them was to ‘Knock-and-Run’ one of our neighbours while we watched from the upstairs window. We’re really trying to keep our spirits up.

Day 6

Sunday. The day of chilling at home and watching sport on TV – which is just as well. My wife went for another PCR test this morning because Test and Trace told her to after getting the positive result for my daughter. She’s not feeling 100% today so this could well be the beginning of her getting the ‘rona. It’s seemed inevitable, but hopefully she’ll not get to poorly with it.

The ladies in the house spent the morning crafting – making an Autumn wreath (apparently that’s a thing) and Christmas cards (seems a little early). The boy and myself made this TikTok video. We’ve now got a follower, so it’s all starting to kick off for us as content creators!

This afternoon my wife deteriorated and took to her bed. It all looks a bit ominous.

In lighter news, the North London derby was on and we thoroughly enjoyed that. A neighbour delivered a few beers to our doorstep just before kick off, so obviously I live in a rather lovely area and never need to move house.

Day 7

I’m bored now. Home schooling is back on for the kids. My wife and I managed to get some work done as well. She’s feeling better today. Her PCR was negative. Not sure what all that was about yesterday, but she seems to be getting away without catching Covid.

Progress was made today when my son farted and I smelt it. The sense of smell is returning so I can enjoy the finer things in life again.

Day 8

Home-school is in full swing now and today involved making some clay leaves to replicate Andy Goldsworthy’s work. We did a great job.

Covid-wise we’re all good. It does seem to me that there isn’t some great conspiracy. It’s been exactly as I was led to believe it would be. A few days of heavy cold and then all fine. I assume the vaccine helped with that, so I’m glad I took it. Test and Trace are very thorough as well. I get a phone call every couple of days thanking me for isolating and then asking if I plan to continue to stay at home. I ask if I have a choice, then they say no. It’s a fun little dance we do.

Day 9

More of the same.

Day 10

And again. Test and trace phoned again today to thank me for helping to stop the spread of Covid.

Freedom Day

I celebrated by going for a run this morning. I thought I’d be fine, but it turns out that sitting on a sofa for the best part of two weeks has a negative affect on my fitness and stamina. Still, it’s good to be back.

Things I’ve learned…

  1. For this double-jabbed 40 year old, Covid was like having a bad cold for a couple of days
  2. NHS Test and Trace are really rather thorough. Almost too thorough.
  3. I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to isolate for 10 days without losing out on pay. I’m also lucky enough to have a garden and reasonable living space. If the two points above were not the case, I would certainly have struggled to isolate more than I did. I really sympathise with those asked to stay at home who are in a less fortunate position than me. Especially when all symptoms have gone and they feel perfectly healthy.
  4. I married well. I’ve always known my wife to be supportive, compassionate and caring. However, she’s clearly also made of sterner stuff than me as she’s still not tested positive despite living with three people who have had Covid for the last two weeks. Impressive.
  5. Lateral flow tests work. I had been sceptical having taken so many over the year, but when it came to it, they did the job.
  6. If Covid is in the household, children really do need to get a PCR test before going into school. I would not have said either of my children were unwell at any stage and would have sent them into school had I not tested positive myself. Sending them into school if they aren’t showing symptoms is not helping to stop the spread.

Do unto yourself as you would do unto others

The verse in the Bible, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is commonly known as The Golden Rule. It’s found in both Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. Jesus said this Golden Rule “sums up the Law and the Prophets.” It is a pretty good rule to live by, and one I find quite easy. Sort of.

In many aspects of school life, I consider how I would like my family or myself to be treated, and respond accordingly, in good conscience, to whatever the situation might be. Most school leaders I know are very good at putting others before themselves. It happens all the time, and why we often end the day having achieved nothing on our own to-do lists because we are busy reacting to the needs of children, parents and staff members. I’m good with that. The children should be at the centre of everything we do and their needs must always come first. However, it is also important to look after yourself. A burnt out head teacher is not going to be anywhere near as effective as one who has a healthy body and mind.

If a member of the team is struggling in some way, I will do anything and everything to support them. If a child has a worry or is struggling in some way, I will do all I can to help. If a parent has a concern, I will address it. However, I find it much harder to treat myself in the same way. I can give advice, but don’t always know how to act on it. I find it easy to treat others how I’d like to be treated, but much harder to treat myself how I treat others.

So if I could go back in time to the start of my leadership journey and tell myself just one thing, it would be to go easier on myself. It’s ok to learn from mistakes. You will not please everybody all of the time, so don’t get hung up on the tiny fraction of interactions you have where all parties involved aren’t entirely delighted with you or the outcome. You have good judgement and you will one day be able to look back on all you achieved through an incredibly challenging time with pride and satisfaction.

It’s one thing knowing all of this, acting upon it is entirely another.

But I’ll try.

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.

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.”

Making the Most of the Situation

It’s always important to get transition from one class to another right, but this year has thrown up some unique challenges that we are working to overcome. In recent weeks we have seen increasing numbers of children come back to school to join our Years R, 1 and 6 bubbles, as well as growing numbers joining bubbles for the children of key workers and those in vulnerable groups.

It’s been great to have more children in school, but at the same time we’ve been very conscious of those who don’t qualify to return for one reason or another. We have been trying to orchestrate ways to see them, while also following the evolving guidelines to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Reintegration Days

As a small rural school, we are lucky enough to have large grounds. We’ve been able to make use of our setting to invite children in from years 2,3,4 and 5 for reintegration sessions. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the children come in for 90 minute sessions, where they get to spend time with their friends, take part in a Forest School style activity and play some PE games. Running 2x 90 minute sessions a week for the last 4 weeks of term, means these children are getting 12 hours in school before the summer holiday. The response has been wonderful, giving the children something positive to look forward to and the parents a small break from home learning! Coupled with the priority groups and year group bubbles, we now have over 90% of our children in school at some point during the week.

Summer Send Off

Another opportunity we have planned to get families on to the school site is our Summer Send Off. This is a PTA event, sort of like a miniature Summer Fayre. Year groups are invited to arrive at staggered times to meet their new teacher and pick up a summer resources pack. School uniforms will be available, as many children will have outgrown theirs and there will be a stall of free books that have been donated in recent weeks. Socially distanced games have been devised to be enjoyed, including Play Your Cards Right and a Penalty Shoot Out. It’s also important to us to support local and parent-owned businesses that may have been struggling during the lockdown. We’ve invited a few along to promote their businesses, make a few sales and drum-up some future trade.

Welcoming our new families

In more normal times we would welcome our new families through a series of events at this time of year to help prepare our new Year R class for September. Most of these events have been pushed back until after the summer holiday when we are planning to carefully integrate our new pupils over a few weeks. However, we were keen to make contact before we broke up for the summer to answer questions, allay fears and welcome them to our school community. So we invited parents and children to attend one of two sessions in our grounds to run through the school day, introduce the team and begin to orientate the children to their new surroundings.

Transition Videos

Each class team has produced a ‘Welcome to…’ video. In them, the teacher and TA introduce themselves, give a little teaser of their topic for September and set a challenge or two for the children to work on over the summer. The teachers have also produced summer resources packs containing ideas for practising some key skills, tasks designed to prepare the children for their new classes and #TheSidlesham101.

The Big Summer Dance

Thinking longer term, we wanted to plan something for when we all (finally) get back together. The idea is that we will do a massive dance on the school field in September. We looked at a few dance tutorial videos, but nothing seemed quite right, so we made our own. We chose ‘We Go Together’ from Grease as our music and made the videos below!

Step by step guide to our dance
The full routine

Singing Assemblies

Since the lockdown started in March, I’ve been making singing assemblies at home for our children who are in school or learning from home. The idea was to give them a bit of normality, see a familiar face and have a bit of a laugh. My own children started helping out quite a bit and that helped us not to take it too seriously and hopefully avoid it becoming too cringey.

The singing assemblies have been put together in a YouTube playlist to be shared and enjoyed at our school and beyond.

As the weeks went by, more and more children requested an increasingly eclectic variety of songs and the performances included more and more costumes and props.