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.

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.

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…

Pass The Pigs

The summer holiday is the perfect time to stop rushing around and start spending quality time with my own children. When we get bored after the first week and/or the weather takes a turn for the worse, we start playing games. Card games are simple and a deck of fits easily into luggage if you are travelling, but so does Pass the Pigs!

Pass the Pigs is a family favourite and has many develpmental benefits when playing the game with children. It helps with maths, but also with learning resilience and perseverance.

The aim of the game is to score the most points by rolling a pair of pigs. Your score is calculated depending on the position the pigs land in. The first educational benefit is simple addition. The children need to add up the score of the two pigs they have rolled, then they must add it to their total score. It’s a good bit of mental addition practice. But that’s not the best bit.

The best bit is the losing. As you play the game you accrue points, but you can also lose your points. All of them. If your two pigs are touching (making bacon) or you roll a double sider with one dot up and one dot down, your score goes back to zero. What I’ve found to be particularly valuable are the converstations I’ve been having with the children when they do lose their points.

To start with there were a few tantrums and then not wanting to play EVER AGAIN! Then they would play if the were in a team with an adult. This gave us the opportunity to model our reactions to losing points. It’s ok to be disappionted. But we’re trying to teach proportional responses. Eventually they were happy to play on their own, with/against the rest of the family. Great fun ensuses. WARNING – avoid playing the game if your small child is too tired, it’s easy to go back to square one!

There is immense pleasure to be found in rolling a leaning jowler or a double razorback. But that pleasure is heightened by the jeopardy involved. I like the fact that you can be winning the whole way through the game, only to lose all of your points at the last moment. Equally, you can be floundering in single figures and surprisingly be the last player with any points.

The, rarely seen, double leaning jowler. The top score in Pass the Pigs.

Ready, Respectful and Safe song

I’ve always been a bit wary of playing my guitar in school as it feels like it can get a bit cringey and David Brent when you inflict your music on other people. Conversely, I also think it’s important to share your passions with the children and music is such a powerful and enjoyable form of expression I do try to include it where I can.

As part of my role of music lead, this year we will be recording a school album. We have done this before, but this time we will be recording and producing it ourselves, any profit will be returned to the school and can be reinvested in music education for our children. Each class will sing a their own songs as well as some whole school songs and a couple solos.

This seemed like the perfect opportunity to write and record our own school song! So I got writing. We have 3 simple school rules of being, ‘Ready, Respectful and Safe’ so that became the theme of the song. The idea is to explore the meanings of these words a bit more and to be used as a reference point throughout school when talking to children.

You may not be surprised to know that these 3 rules were inspired by the excellent book ‘When the Adults Change Everything Changes‘, by Paul Dix. Simplifying to these 3 school rules has had a really positive impact for both children and adults in our school. Previously we had 7 learning behaviours and 7 learning values and no one could really remember what they all were or what they meant. Ready, respectful and safe seems to cover everything and is simple enough to remember, especially with a catchy song!

Ready, Respectful and Safe by Sidlesham Primary School

To find the lyrics here and feel free to use them to make your own Ready, Respectful and Safe song for your school. Although a credit would be appreciated and if your making money out of it, I’d like a cut!

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.