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 Girls – Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie
The Girls is a story about a group of friends who grow up together. They support each other through the good times and the bad and are their to share in each others achievements along life’s journey.
This is a lovely story which celebrates friendship and remembering where you come from, no matter where life may take you.
My Shadow is Pink – Scott Stuart
The boy at the centre of this story struggles to be himself. This particularly becomes an issue when he starts school. Deep down he wants to spin, sparkle and twirl around, but he knows those aren’t things he’s meant to do or like, so he feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. His dad has a blue shadow and thinks it might be just a phase until he learns to appreciate his son for who he is and together they both embrace their passions.
This is a great story for sharing with children to let them know it’s ok to be themselves and that they are loved exactly the way they are.
Somebody Swallowed Stanley – Sarah Roberts
Somebody Swallowed Stanley is a lovely way to introduce children to the need to reduce the use of plastic bags. Stanley goes on a journey over and through the ocean and is eaten by a few animals before washing up on the shore. Stanley meets a happy end when he is found and turned into a kite, but the same cannot be said for the millions of tonnes of plastic that end up in our seas every year. This book was the launchpad for us to discuss with our children what changes we could make, to help protect the oceans and wildlife within.
We Are Together – Britta Teckentrup
This one is perfect for the start of a new year or term. As the title suggests it is a celebration of being together and particularly the benefits of teamwork.
Greta and the Giants – Zoe Tucker and Zoe Perisco
‘Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s stand to save the world’, this story is designed to get children thinking about the changes they can make to look after the planet. While it has a happy ending (when Greta, and those who stand with her, gets the giants to change their ways) Tucker and Perisco acknowledge that Greta’s work in the real world is not done. Some suggestions are made for ways that the children can help Greta, but it’s a great jumping off point for discussions around how we can be more eco-friendly.
My Awesome Guide to Getting Good at Stuff – Matthew Syed
As a deviation from our normal routine, I went for longer non-fiction book this week. Our 15 minute assembly obviously didn’t allow me long enough to read the whole book, but it gave the children a taste of what they could expect should they go and get the book for themselves. Getting the book shouldn’t be too tricky, as it’s one of the World Book Day books either available for £1 or with a WBD voucher.
Matthew Syed is a former Olympic Table Tennis player, who gives his readers some excellent advice on how to get good at stuff (not just table tennis) with funny anecdotes mixed in. This page in the introduction sets the tone pretty well.
The Bear and the Piano – David Litchfield
My KS1 and EYFS colleague have used this one before in class and it’s an absolute beauty. While it’s great for the younger children, those who are older and thinking about moving on to secondary school soon will also find it has an important message.
The bear at the centre of the story comes across a piano in the forest one day and over many weeks, months and years (practice makes perfect) he gets remarkably good at playing it. He is then discovered and moves to the big city to become a famous musician. For all the fame and adulation he receives there is still an empty feeling in his heart, eventually he realises that it’s that he misses his friends and family back home. Quickly, he heads back to the forest only to find an empty clearing. He then follows a bear to find that he’s not been forgotten at all, but they have set up a sort of shrine to him. He is celebrated and gives a concert for all of his friends.
That’s the message for our older pupils, ‘never forget where you’ve come from’ and ‘we’ll always be looking out for you and proud of the things you achieve in your life.’
The Somethingosaur – Tony Mitton
Today is the start of book fortnight at our school and some dragon eggs have been found in the school grounds. Over the next two weeks the children will be looking at a range of dragon-themed books and deciding if our eggs could have come from the dragon in the story.
To start, we have The Somethingosaur. It’s the story of an egg that is dropped and lost and when it hatches the creature inside goes on a long journey to discover who he is and who his mother is. Lo and behold the creature is a dragon. Could this be how our eggs arrived?
The Storm Whale – Benji Davies
Noi is a lonely little boy who lives with his dad in a house by the sea. One day a whale washes up on the beach and the two strike up an unusual friendship that changes both of their lives.
You’re Called What? – Kes Gray
This one features from rather unusual and amusing animal names. Mixing fiction with some non-fiction. Worth a chuckle.
Dogger – Shirley Hughes
This one is an absolute classic and a real favourite from my own childhood. It’s about a boy who loses his favourite toy, but is reunited in the end thanks to the generosity of his sister, Bella. Bella is the hero of the story and a great role model for all children.
Stardust – Jeanne Willis
We are all made from stardust and all have very different qualities, gifts and skills. Don’t compare yourself to others, just be your awesome self.
Perfectly Norman – 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 is for living.
Thankyouplease – Pierre Winters
Nina is being a proper grumpy little madam and so her mum sends her out to the garden for a bit of time out. While there, she visits the circus and the ringmaster teaches her the importance of manners.
This book is great for talking about the importance and simplicity of showing respect for others by having good manners and being aware of other people’s needs.
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.
Pick a Pine Tree – by Patricia Toht
It’s the start of Decemeber, so 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 enjoing 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 Cow Who Climbed A Tree – by Gemma Merino
Tina is a cow who has big dreams. She wants to climb trees and meet a dragon and fly in a rocket into space. Her sisters though, know all of these ideas are, ‘impossible, ridiculous, nonsense!’ as they are only interested in eating grass. Everytime Tina suggests something to do they simply say ‘no’. That is until one day when she is not around at breakfast and leaves a notes saying, ‘Gone flying with the dragon in the woods, Tina’. One things leads to another and the cows find their sister and their eyes are opened to the endless possibilities available to them.
This book teaches the importance of being open to new ideas and saying ‘yes’ to the exciting and wonderful oportunities that can crop up in this world.
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.
Tales of Amazing Animal Heroes – by Mike Unwin
As it’s Remembrance Day I wanted to share a story connected to war and bravery. A colleague recommended this to me. As the title suggests it is a collection of stories of heroics from animals though history. I’ve selected a couple to read in assembly, but they are all good. Appropriate for children across the primary phase and could well be used to inspire writing and topic work thoughout a school. All of the animals in this heart-wretching book have been through dangerous experiences, going far above and beyond in order to save human life. These true stories of bravery will help us remember the humans and animals who have laid down their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom we have today.
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 is writing on the computer. She is encouraged to go and do something 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.
Imaginary Fred – by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers
I’ve not read any other Eoin Colfer books (yet) before but Oliver Jeffers is one of my absolute favourite author/illustrators of chidlren’s books. I’ve read many of his books with children in school as well as my old children at home, but I hadn’t come across this one until it was recommended for our assembly story by a colleague, and it’s a beaut.
Imaginary Fred is a good (if imaginary) friend to lots of children in need of a companion over the years. However, he gets used to not being needed and then forgotten when the real children get real friends. Eventually he finds a boy who doesn’t want to forget him, even when he gets a real friend. In the end he makes friends with another imaginary friend and all is well.
This book is perfect for celebrating the power of friendship and overcoming loneliness.
Something Else – by Kathryn Cave
Something Else is the story of an outsider. He does his best to fit in with the others. He smiles and says ‘Hi’, he paints pictures and he plays their games. However, he looks different and sounds different and just isn’t accepted by the others. It’s all a bit sad, until he finds someone else who is different and eventually they become friends.
A strong message of treating others how you’d like to be treated and celebrating differences.
Also, I am becoming quite the fan of Chris Riddell’s illustrations. He does another splendid job with this book.
A Book of Feelings – by Amanda McCardie
As the title suggests, this is an excellent book for discussing feelings that all children and adults will feel at some point. Feelings that come and go, feelings that may be strong and overwhelming , feelings that are hard to understand. Amanda McCardie uses relevent, realistic and relatable examples to explain what the feeling is and why the characters in the book might be feeling them. It really is an excellent starting point for discussions around feelings to be used with children right across the primary phase.
The Lion Inside – by Rachel Bright and Jim Field
A really brave mouse wants to better itself and learn how to roar so climbs a long way to get help from a lion. It turns out the lion is actually afraid of mice.
There are a few morals to this story. The mouse is brave for facing it’s fears. But most importantly, the message is that we all are a bit lion and we are all a bit mouse. We can be big and brave but it’s ok to have things that scare us as well.
The Rise and Fall of Claude the Magnificent – by Chris Capstick
If you like reading stories in a dodgy French accent, then you will enjoy this one. Claude is a cat with an artistic flair, so he moves to Paris to follow his dreams and make his fortune. He achieves success, but gets carried away with himself and forgets his humility. The message is to keep your feet on ground and don’t let your ego get the better of you.
The Dot – by Peter H. Reynolds
Vashti thinks she can’t draw. Her 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.
Go To Bed, Doodlehead – by Ian Whybrow
I don’t remember why or when I picked up this book, but it’s become a real favourite at home as well as in school because it’s really rather funny.
It features a rather grumpy and rude cat, and the story is based around how his friends try to encourage him to cheer up, but he’s not interested. It’s all because he’s tired. When his friends help him get a sensible bedtime routine, the cat turns into a smiley cat. An important message for children and parents alike.
There’s Room For Everyone – by 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 at the end of the book.
Leonardo the Terrible Monster – by Mo Willems
Leonardo is a terrible monster, as in, he’s terrible at being a monster. He’s just too small and cute to scare anyone, until he meets Sam. Then Leonardo discovers it’s better to have a good friend than to be good at scaring people.
Incidently, I found these rather useful ideas for teaching philosphy for children using the book. You’re welcome.
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.’
How to Catch a Star – by Oliver Jeffers
As Oliver Jeffers is an author/illustrator, all of his books look beautiful, with the pictures carrying and developing the narrative. The boy at the centre of the story is on a mission to catch a star and although he faces many set backs, eventually he (kind of ) does. ‘How to Catch a Star’, has a few positive messages for assemblies, anything is possible, life is what you make it, dreams can come true as well as highlighting the importance of perseverance.
Beware of the Storybook Wolves – by Lauren Child
You’ll probably know Lauren Child from ‘Charlie and Lola’, ‘Clarice Bean’ and possibly my personal favourite, ‘That Pesky Rat’. She has a very distinctive style of illustration which is instantly recognisable to the children. ‘Beware of the Storybook Wolves’ is the story of a boy called Herb, whose bedtime stories come to life and he has to think fast to get other characters to help him when the storybook wolves turn up in his bedroom. But be warned, it may scare your socks off!
The Book With No Pictures – B.J. Novak
This book is hillarious. The reader is made to read ridiculous words and phrases, much to the amusment of the children listening. It’s full of laughs, but makes the point that the authors have the power to make the audience say, feel, think and see what they want them to.
Here is a clip of B.J. Novak reading the book to a school in Walthamstow. Enjoy.
The Koala Who Could – Rachel Bright
We’ve read a few Rachel Bright books this year and they all have positive messages perfectly pitched for primary children. The Koala Who Could is no exception. I’ve chosen to read this before transition day because it portrays a positive message about facing up to change. Change often comes occurs in life whether we like it or not, but if we embrace it (like Kevin the Koala does), change can be the making of you.