Accessing Arsenal

Being the parents to a boy with cerebral palsy, we are well versed in making arrangements ahead of visiting any establishment that we’ve not been to before. We try and give our son a rich and varied range of experiences, but we’d not been anywhere with a crowd of 60,000 people with him before, so out first trip to the Emirates Stadium was always going to pose a challenge. On Saturday 19th February, for the game against Brentford, we made the dream of seeing Arsenal play live at the Emirates Stadium a reality.

Tom is 8 years old and uses a Kaye Walker to assist his mobility. He’s been an Arsenal fan all of his life as he comes from a line of Gooners and is a passionate and knowledgeable football supporter in general. For one reason or another we’d previously watched matches together at the homes of Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth and Havant and Waterlooville, but this trip was on a whole other level.

Booking the tickets

In order to get tickets to watch Arsenal you need to be a member. Adults need to be at least Red Members and children need to be Junior Gunners. We signed him up as a JG and when his membership card finally arrived we called to book some tickets. I spent a lot of time on hold and spoke to a few different people. Everyone I spoke to in the hour long (lots of time on hold/waiting) phone call was very friendly and wanted to help. The trouble was, they all told me slightly different things. The (very) long and the short of it was that he had the wrong kind of Junior Gunners membership. He was meant to have a Purple one. Purple membership is for disabled supporters. It couldn’t just be transferred though, we had to fill in some forms and provide evidence. No problem, just a little time consuming. Sadly though, these took another month+ to be verified, so more games missed. It was only when I chased it up that they then asked me for the information that I’d sent the previous month, so I forwarded them the same email, to the same address. They apologised and everything was approved pretty quickly.

It was at this point that Jacqueline from the disability team got involved. She emailed a few times and asked and answered a whole load of questions. Finally, she called me to book the tickets to make sure everything was exactly how we needed. She was/is great and a real asset to Arsenal Football Club.

Parking

One of the really important things that are offered to disabled members that need it, is the opportunity to park at the stadium. This was crucial in making this whole experience possible because if we had to go on the Tube it would have been considerably more challenging.

I’d read that I had to arrive before 2pm (3pm kick off) because of road closures and the like. As it was the boy’s first game, we wanted to get there early to have a look around and get some food. So we arrived at midday. It turns out we weren’t allowed in until 12:30pm because we’re not diamond members. So we waited. In the car. Looking at the crowd building.

We were waved through at 12:30pm and the man outside the entrance asked to see our tickets, he asked if we were going straight up or leaving the stadium. I explained that we wanted to visit the shop and see the statues so he said he wouldn’t scan the tickets or we wouldn’t be able to get back in. Helpful.

We drove though and found the area we were meant to park. Once we’d sorted ourselves out, we found the nearest member of staff and asked how we get out. He searched our bag, put a tag on it and told us to take a lift upstairs. He was a kind and friendly man, but his advice turned out to not be the most helpful.

Taking the lift up to the ground floor, we found ourselves in a stadium that was not yet open to the public and no way of getting out. I asked how we get out and was repeatedly told that, ‘once you’re in, you’re in.’ Not ideal as that meant we wouldn’t see the stadium from the outside. Wouldn’t see the statues. Wouldn’t see the Armoury. Wouldn’t drink in the pre-game atmosphere.

One member of staff took pity on us and tried to help. He spent a few minutes on a red phone talking to someone (security HQ maybe or possibly Batman) and eventually he came up with a plan. I asked why we couldn’t just go out of the the fire exit, he said, ‘you just can’t, don’t ask why’. We both laughed. Then he found someone with a special pass/key/clearance who opened an airlock for us, which released us outside. It was absolutely pissing it down. I suspect security protocols were broken for our benefit, so that was nice, but it would have been better if there was just a simple way to leave the carpark and the staff in the carpark knew what it was.

The Armoury

We ate a phenomenal pizza at Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria on Hornsey road and then headed to the shop. Busy, tight spaces are always a challenge for us, but once people clock Tom’s walker, they generally give him space. The club shop (the Armoury) an hour before kick off is always going to be busy and challenging, but it’s an important part of part of the match day experience for anyone, let alone an 8 year old at his first game, so it had to be done.

We had two objectives. Tom needed a scarf and some dry socks – it really was very wet outside. The scarf bit was easy, they are all over the shop. Socks were a bit more tricky. We asked a member of staff, he said, ‘they are down that way I think’. The next member of staff said, ‘I don’t think we do them.’ The third guy said, ‘I think they are this way, follow me.’ We found some socks. Guy number 3 rocks – when you need socks.

There was a massive queue, which was well managed. We joined the back of the queue and within a few seconds we were approached by a member of staff who invited us to follow her as, she explained that, we had ‘priority’. She led us a little way up the queue, but we were actually keen to see the merchandise that was on offer through the rest of the shop that you pass in the queue. Consequently, to her surprise, we declined the queue-jump option and lined up with everyone else. She said, ‘ok, but I’m around, so if you need me, let me know.’ A lovely and extremely helpful lady. We eventually got to the till and paid and were given a free copy of Ray Parlour’s book. Happy days.

Entering the ground

This bit was pretty simple. We went to join the line but one of the stewards spotted us quickly and ushered us to the airlock entrance. My printed ticket and iPhone wallet ticket didn’t scan properly on the door scanner, so they checked out our tickets and then just opened the airlock and let us in. Helpful people who looked after us quickly.

Finding our seats

Pretty straightforward. The entrance to Block 7 is just opposite where we get into the stadium. That’s probably why we went in that way. The steward at the top of the steps helped us to locate our seats. The disabled viewing area is up 3 short steps, not ideal, but not a massive problem. I helped Tom up and then went back for his walker. We took a seat and changed Tom’s socks for the new dry ones. The area we were located in was pretty good. Great view of the pitch, a few additional screens because we can’t see the big screens higher up in the stadium and a really good atmosphere because it was at the back of the North Bank lower tier.

Other members that were on the viewing platform with us were in wheelchairs, and it was clear they hadn’t come up the 3 steps that we had navigated. They had clearly come in through Block 8, where the ramp to the platform is located. It would probably make sense for all members that are using the platform (aka Row 29) to come in through Block 8. Not a massive problem, but it would have been just that little bit easier for us. We’ll know for next time.

The game

Brilliant. We were absolutely part of the amazing atmosphere within the North Bank and we loved every minute of it – apart from some dubious refereeing decisions. Tom’s Match Report can be found here. We chose to stay in our seats during half time because neither of us needed the toilet and I wasn’t keen to leave Tom on his own while I queued for the refreshments, so we didn’t get any. No biggy, we came prepared, but maybe we’ll try it next time to get the full experience and see how it goes.

Leaving

We stayed in our seats and waited for the stadium to empty a bit. We knew there was no rush because the cars weren’t going to be released until around 45 minutes after the game finished. After we’d sung that song about Saka and Emile Smith Rowe a bunch of times, we headed downstairs.

As promised, when the roads outside began to clear, the carpark was opened and we were free to join the traffic jam of North London and begin to make our way home.

Overall

Consistently, the numerous staff members that we encountered before and during our time at Arsenal professional, friendly and keen to help. The tricky part was that, while they wanted to help, they didn’t all know the procedures they and us were meant to follow. This led to a few complications and some frustrations, but nothing that took away the magic of standing on the North Bank with my son when Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka scored their goals. The fact that they all wanted to help and do what they thought was best, is certainly all I can really ask. I know our requirements are pretty unique and I don’t expect every member of staff to be fully versed on every possible eventuality. When we found the right people, we were brilliantly looked after.

My hope in writing this blog is that someone at Arsenal sees it and gets an understanding of the match day experience of one of their disabled members. I’d also like it if those in senior management got to hear how wonderful their teams are across many departments are, but particularly Jacqueline the Disability Liaison Officer. She liaised brilliantly.

It’s safe to say Tom had what he described as, ‘the best day of my life’. You can read his Match Report here and see how he got on in this TikTok video.

Arsenal v Brentford – Tom’s Match Report

My dad and me at our first Arsenal matches

My dad’s first Arsenal match was on the 27th October 1990 versus Sunderland and 31 and a half years later, it was my turn. I’ve supported Arsenal all of my life but on 19th February 2022 I got to see them live at the Emirates for the first time, versus Brentford.

The Line-Up

I was happy with formation but it would have been good to have Takehiro Tomiyasu at right back instead of Cedric Soares. Soares did well in the end though.

Ramsdale

Soares White Gabriel Tierney

Thomas Xhaka

Saka Odegaard Smith Rowe

Lacazette

First Half

Arsenal had some good chances and scored an early goal, but sadly VAR said it was offside. This was annoying. We also had a few penalty shouts turned down by the referee and we still don’t know why. 🤷‍♂️

Overall, Arsenal were definitely the better team in the first half and unlucky not to score at least two goals before half time.

Second Half

In the second half, Arsenal scored two goals and had chances to score more. The first goal was scored by Emile Smith Rowe as he cut in from the wing using incredible control. Despite David Raya getting his fingertips to the ball, it nestled into the bottom right hand corner.

The second goal was scored by Bukayo Saka, who started the move off in his own half, feeding the ball forward to Lacazette who then passed to Thomas Partey as Saka carried on his quick sprint down the pitch. After striding forward into the Brentford half, Partey released the ball forward towards Saka who finished off the move with gentle control and ended the run of passes with a fantastic finish in-off the far post.

Arsenal players and fans celebrate Bukayo Saka’s goal to make it 2-0

Another highlight of the exciting second half was Odegaard’s outrageous dummy. Soares played the ball to him on the right side of the field and he pretended to smash it. Instead, he let the ball go underneath his foot and let it roll through to Saka so he started another attack.

In extra time in the second half, Brentford scored within the final few seconds with Christian Norgaard basically passing into the net.

The final score was 2-1 to Arsenal and we’ll be back at the Emirates for the game against Leicester in a few weeks.

Player Ratings

My Man of the Match was Emile Smith Rowe because he was great on the wing and his goal was really good. Although, the ‘keeper should really have saved it.

Ramsdale – 6

Soares – 6 White – 6 Gabriel – 7 Tierney – 7

Thomas – 6 Xhaka – 6

Saka – 8 Odegaard – 8 Smith Rowe – 9

Lacazette – 6

Here is my TikTok of our trip to the Emirates.

And another of the amazing Saka and Emile Smith Rowe song.

Harley Hitch – Vashti Hardy

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest – Vashti Hardy

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

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

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

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

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

Cracking Christmas Books

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

How Winston Came Home For Christmas – Alex T. Smith

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

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

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

Father Christmas – The Truth – by Gregoire Solotareff

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

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

A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig

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

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

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

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

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

Pick a Pine Tree – by Patricia Toht

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

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

The Girl Who Saved Christmas – Matt Haig

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

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

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

Dasher – Matt Tavares

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

Farther Christmas and Me – Matt Haig

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mouse Called Miika – Matt Haig

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

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

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

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

The Empty Stocking – by Richard Curtis

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

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

Alfie’s Christmas – Shirley Hughes

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

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

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.

A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth Pixie Goes To School – Matt Haig

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

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

The Girl Who Saved Christmas – Matt Haig

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

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

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

Farther Christmas and Me – Matt Haig

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evie and the Animals – Matt Haig

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

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

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

Evie in the Jungle – Matt Haig

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

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

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

@JamesBlakeLobb