BOOK BLOG: Sophy Henn

Edie: adorable, cute and perfect story to read aloud.

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I was very lucky in that I saw this on Bookbairn’s instagram and I managed to get my hands on a copy! Thank you so much Sarah from Penguin Children’s Dept for sending me a copy!

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“Hello! My name is Edie. I am EVER so helpful. In fact I think helping is one of the things i am best at. Edie certainly is a very good helper, whether it’s helping Mummy wake up bright and early, helping Daddy to get everything at the shops or helping her little brother with sharing and knowing what’s what.”

The premise of this book is that Edie is a gorgeous little girl who THINKS she is being helpful, when in fact she isn’t being helpful at all really. I read this with my mam when it arrived and we loved it so much – she told me that there were bits of Edie that were me when I was younger… I THOUGHT I was being helpful. 

I loved the illustrations in this book and the story was one which definitely had me smiling! This would be a perfect story to share with your children – especially those at home! A brilliant story to read at school too… to share with children and see how Edie isn’t being helpful. Edie is adorable and it’s gorgeous to watch her from morning to evening. I imagine this story is a brilliant representation of what it’s like to be a parent, told through Edie’s eyes! 

And the end papers are GORGEOUS.

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Another absolute winner from Sophy Henn – her other books Pass It On is wonderful! A firm favourite at school, I can’t wait to take Edie in to the kids at school and share it with the twiglets.

S x

The great display debate…

Displays in the classroom… what’s the point of them? 

An interesting questions… a very interesting question. It’s one which is debated heavily on teaching forums and twitter and is often something of a dividing topic between teachers. I still am not sure entirely WHERE I stand on the whole “display debate” but I would like to have my 2 cents, so here it is…

I feel like there’s a few different kinds of displays. 

  • Displays in public areas (corridors, hallways etc) which are there to show off children’s work to the world.
  • Displays in classrooms to be used as “working walls” (which is not a term I am particularly fond of but I will use it)
  • Displays in classrooms to do just that DISPLAY things.
Now, before I go any further, I would just like to state that I am more than happy to have a discussion about this should you have something interesting and productive to say. I don’t want you just to rip apart my views.

So here we go… I believe each of these different types of displays has a place in the classroom and would absolutely, will absolutely, have place for all of them when I have my own classroom. They all have a function that is valid and necessary to me as a teacher.

Displays in public areas

Walking down our corridor in school is a mass of colour and creations that the children have contributed to. Yes the teachers and the TAs have put them up and arranged them so they look effective, but the kids are the ones who have done the work that deserves to be displayed. You walk down the corridor and there’s art on display, a World Book Day display, Science display, History display, Poetry… Year 1 all the way to Year 6… there’s a place for all of them in our corridor. And this I think is important. Children need to feel like they’re as important as the rest of the classes in school, and what better way to give each of their accomplishments somewhere public to show them off. 

“Working walls” in classrooms

Ah, hello “working walls”. We meet again. So don’t get me wrong I know these can be a really useful tool and I have seen SO many brilliant examples – I follow one teacher on Instagram and she uses working walls and they always look incredible and I hope that eventually I’ll be able to emulate her incredible walls. On the flip side however, there are so many working walls that are NOT useful at all – they’re not updated regularly, they’re not used to their fullest. I think if you are going to have a working wall then it needs to be one which you invest a bit of time in, you use it and the children use it. Otherwise what’s the point? 

Displays in the classroom

This one is a bit of a vague category but it’s dedicated to those Science/RE/History displays we all have that we use for that essential key vocab/key facts but aren’t updated as regularly as “working walls”. Or they could be displays that you put up with information on for the children – for rules/expectations/helpful hints and tips. They’re still needed in the classroom, they still need their place. 

So to round this all up…

Displays are useful. 
Displays can bring so much life to your classroom.
Displays can ignite a child’s imagination if it’s done right.

BUT

Displays need to be used. Not just by us, but by the kids.
Displays need to be maintained. Don’t get sloppy.
Displays need to be relevant and appropriate. Get the kids involved. 

So yeah… I’m sure there’ll be teachers out there who wholly disagree and that’s OK because I do what’s best for my kids in my classroom and that could be TOTALLY DIFFERENT to what is beneficial to your kids. 

S x

BOOK BLOG: Alwyn Hamilton 2

Traitor To The Throne: fast paced, heart wrenching, glorious.

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For those of you who haven’t read Rebel of the Sands (Alwyn’s first book) you can find my review here (Book blog: Alwyn Hamilton). Important to read that before this!

As soon as I had finished Rebel I knew I needed the second book and now that I’ve finished the second glorious book I NEED THE THIRD ONE NOW. But alas, I have to wait an extra year. I DO NOT WISH TO WAIT. But alas.

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“Nearly a year has passed since Amani and the rebels won their epic battle at Fahali. Amani has come into both her powers and her reputation as the Blue-Eyed Bandit, and the Rebel Prince’s message has spread across the desert – and some might say out of control. But when a surprise encounter turns into a brutal kidnapping, Amani finds herself betrayed in the cruellest manner possible.

Stripped of her powers and her identity, and torn from the man she loves, Amani must return to her desert-girl’s instinct for survival. For the Sultan’s palace is a dangerous one, and the harem is a viper’s nest of suspicion, fear and intrigue. Just the right place for a spy to thrive… But spying is a dangerous game, and when ghosts from Amani’s past emerge to haunt her, she begins to wonder if she can trust her own treacherous heart.”

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I didn’t need to read the blurb to know that I would absolutely devour this book and adore it. I was not wrong. It was everything I wanted and so much more. It frustrated me, it made my heart leap and cheer, it made my heart sink at times. There was a total OMG I KNEW IT moment. It was so satisfying to have someone I was sceptical of be affirmed. Bloody kid. It was one of those rollercoasters of a book that I have grown to absolutely love. I used to be TERRIBLE at appreciating books that took my on an emotional rollercoaster but now I will snap one out of your hands. 

Welcome back to the world of sassy Amani – the girl with so much to give, so much personality, so much going on in her head – and her band of rebels. Everything is well in her world until one day she is not the girl of sand anymore, she is ripped of that in the most harrowing ways. She loses her Amani-ness but never loses her sass and her gusto. Amani is one of the few female MCs of the past few years that I have absolutely fallen for. She’s just so gutsy. I love her for that. And then there’s wonderful, handsome, cowardly at times Jin. I was SO happy that there was another book for me to rediscover my love for Jin and Amani together. It’s so lovely to read of a couple who aren’t perfect but who just get each other and they’re made for each other. I adore Jin. Like completely and utterly. Their scenes together are just wonderful, they make my heart happy. It’s never easy going for them, bless them, but they always have each other’s backs. 

So you get those 2 and the usual band of rebels but you’re introduced to some new faces… both rebels and enemies. One of my favourite new additions is definitely Sam. He has a somewhat unique power which makes him an incredible ally to Amani and the rebels. I was suspicious of him at first, but he proves himself very useful to the cause. There’s also some new faces on the enemy side of the fence. One I hated in particular. Kadir. Absolutely couldn’t stand him. I’m not about to spoil it for you wonderful folk, but I would love to share in my contempt towards him. Made my skin crawl. 

You’ll see some familiar faces reappear too. And you’ll be shocked and then have your familiar trust of them reaffirmed eventually. I don’t wish to spoil it because I am so glad no one spoiled it for me. Just know my heart was totally warmed. Good work Alwyn.

I loved this. I can’t WAIT for the third one. In the mean time I need to occupy my brain. And find a Jin replacement. 

I even had to share my opinions on Amazon and Goodreads:
“Absolutely magnificent. So brilliantly woven, written and wielded. Alwyn is a master story teller and I love that this book is very different from the first but it is still so true to the story. The moments of Jin and Amani together made my heart bounce with joy. I laughed, I cried, I was shocked, I was angry… it was so amazing to see old characters resurrected that I thought were long gone, new characters who played an important role in the story – both good and bad. Full of twists, turns and falls… I just want more NOW”

S x

Versatile Blogger Award

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A while back I got a lovely tweet to say that my lovely friend Jess had nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award! What? Little old me and my little old blog? I was very happy and it was so lovely of her! So thank you SO MUCH Jess. (If you want to check Jess’ blog out… you’ll find her here: Bookends And Endings)

So, to start with, here are the rules.

  • Show the award on your blog
  • Thank the person that has nominated you
  • Share 7 random facts about yourself
  • Nominate a few blogs
  • Link your nominees

So, 7 facts about me? Well… 

  1. I’ve never broken a bone. (I say that, touching wood). I have a very slight dint in my forehead from when I was a kid. I was rollerskating down the middle of the road and a car was coming so I veered in to the kerb, got a rock caught in my skate and knocked my head off the corner of the kerb… I was fine though.
  2. I’m a little bit superstitious – I’ll salute one magpie if he’s alone, I don’t walk under ladders, I don’t like walking under signs/scaffolding. Not massively so… just the magpie thing mainly. And there’s always loads of magpies around where I live. I’m sure they’re sent to taunt me!
  3. I love taking journeys by train. I think they’re the most relaxing. There’s something very calming about trains. If I’m at a table, then even better. If it’s a table that no one else is occupying then winner!
  4. I’m not a big fan of London. It scares me. It’s so big and so busy. Once I’ve been tehre for a few days I have to get home. Back to lovely Newcastle. My absolutely wonderful home. I love coming home. 
  5. The seaside is my happy place. Now granted I haven’t been that many times in the past few years (for well, emotional reasons) but the seaside always seems to calm me down and it just helps me right all the wrongs in my world and I come back to the city and I feel better and ready to take on the world again.
  6. I am TERRIFIED of failure. Yep. That’s me. Hello. So much so that sometimes I won’t try something because I’m scared I’ll fail… probably why I’m writing this instead of writing my dissertation… SHHH.
  7. Matilda will forever be my fail safe book. 

So there you have it. 7 facts, some little known, some well known about me!

I nominate:

S x

Kindness?

Is kindness something we teach? Is it something we hone in our children? Is it something which children have to come to themselves? 

Whatever you believe, you need to foster a kind school, a kind classroom and kind children as best you can. Children learn from those around them. Children learn from us. If we aren’t kind then how are they supposed to know? We model everything else (in our literacy lessons, maths lessons, PE lessons) so why do we not put such a focus on modelling behaviour? BUT WE DO, I hear you say. Yes, you’re right we do. But we don’t point it out that THIS IS KIND or that THIS IS POSITIVE. We tend to point out negatives WAY FASTER. 

twinkl kindness week

A while back I noticed on the Twinkl Blog (2 Twinkl posts in one day, I’m not being paid by them I promise! Ha) that they are starting what they call “The Great Twinkl Kindness Week” and I think this is a great idea. (You’ll find that blog post here with loads of information about Kindness Week!) I know as a school we are working on fostering kindness and we are going to try and work proactively on kindness in school this coming week. There is a whole raft of ideas in that blog post with links to resources (such as a kindness week assembly, kindness week stickers, kindness worksheets… EVERYTHING you can think of) and schools who take part are encouraged to put the logo on their website to show they are actively trying to promote kindness in schools.

Kindness sealObviously kindness is something we want to promote all year all around but raising the attention of children to their positive behaviour can only be a good thing, right? I certainly can’t wait for next week, for my school to be taking part. I can’t wait to secretly be kind, to do something for those people who are always kind to me. To model kind behaviour for the children. To try and get them to copy. To make school a kinder place. I think this is a good step in that direction… and hopefully it will last much longer than a week!

Did you know? 

– doing kind things activates parts of the brain that make you feel happy.
– kindness helps people feel that they belong and helps to reduce bullying.
– kindness can help concentration, as the good chemicals are released in the brain.
– kindness increases our sense of well-being.

Let me know if you’re taking part in Kindness Week too! It would be lovely to know what you’re doing in your school to promote kindness – either next week or just ever! 

S x

Ronald the Rhino!

As you all know, I am a huge fan of Twinkl and when I heard they were starting to come out with their own stories I knew I had to give them a look! Man do I wish they had more coming out because this first one is WONDERFUL.

I came across the blog post (Twinkl Blog – Introducing Ronald the Rhino) and instantly knew I had to download it to see what it was all about. 

Meet Ronald the Rhino

“Ronald feels sad and lonely, he doesn’t think he is special in any way. He tries his hardest to make himself look like the other animals but it just doesn’t work. Luckily, Ronald’s new forest friends are there to help and take him on a journey to discover how wondrous he can be… just the way he is!”

The thing I love most about Twinkl is that the resources are made by people who work in education currently or have worked in education in the past – these are resources for teachers by teachers and this story is no different. It is written by a KS1 specialist (aimed at KS1) with lots of the curriculum in mind. As well being specially written to fit in with the curriculum it is, as everything from Twinkl is, designed with exceptional illustrations. Just look at him… he’s gorgeous! I mean who wouldn’t want to be his friend? 

Ronald the Rhino Ebook

I can’t wait to read this story to some of the KS1 children that I teach and see what they make of it! I have read it a few times and I love it. It is a brilliantly written story which reads out so well, in that very sing song and rhyming way you want a great story to. 

If that wasn’t enough there’s a whole host of resources to go along with this story too! Resources varying from reading, writing, maths, to songs/poems… everything you could possibly think of! 

Twinkl never fails to amaze me – they’re always thinking of new and innovative resources and ways to capture the children’s imaginations! And they always have a resource before I even know I need it! 

This would be the perfect story to use in PSHE, in a safari topic, or a topic about animals. 

Kids learn a lot through stories… and this one will be no different!

Download the story here – it comes in pdf version, ebook for ipads/tablets or as Powerpoint! Perfect for all different needs. It also comes with Twinkl#’s brilliant ink saving Eco variety for those of us who like to print things in colourbut also need to save on ink ha!

Find the related resources here 

Happy downloading!

S x

Book tasting…

Book tasting? What? Eating books? How can you be suggesting something so ridiculous? 

NO.

Not that kind of tasting. A bit like wine tasting… you get a taste of new wine (or books in this case) before you commit to them. You get a whole host of wines (or books) to look at and you judge them and then eventually you pick the one you like the best. 

Book tasting is something that we’ve been wanting to try in school for a while. The reading co-ordinator in school saw it on Pinterest (or something similar) a while back and wanted to give it a go. The basic premise is expose the children to the different genres we have in the library, to some books that they won’t have read, and give them the chance to talk about them, look at them before choosing a new book/genre/author they may not have read before. 

She tried it with her class and they really enjoyed it! We have since rolled it out into Year 6 and there will be a Y5 and Y4 book tasting before the end of the term. 

We had a staff meeting about this last week and it was wonderful!

On each of the tables was a different genre of texts (non-fiction, WW2, mystery, adventure, poetry, general fiction, historical) with some books from the genre in. We’re very fortunate in that we have an incredible library, a wonderful reading co-ordinator and lots of pro-reading members. Each of the children are given a “book tasting menu” where on the front they write their name and circle their favourite genres of texts – in the hope that by the end of the session they’ve chosen something from a different genre. The children are given 5-7 minutes at each different table looking at the books (reading the title, looking at the cover, reading the blurb/first few pages) and talk to the people around the what they like/dislike and if they would like to read it. It was great because the children are encouraged to give their honest opinion and they were told that it was OK if they didn’t fancy that book, or if that cover didn’t appeal to them as long as they could justify their opinions. They had to fill in their menu which asked them Title? Author? What do you like about this book? Do you like the cover? Would you like to read it? Read a few pages/the blurb, do you still want to read it? Once they’ve had the 5-7 minutes on the table they are then encouraged to move around to the next table and repeat the process – choosing another book on that table and discussing it with the people around them. Once you get to the end of the session the children get to pick 3 of the books to take out from the library (not at the same time, obviously). 

We’ve had lots of positive feedback from the book tasting sessions we’ve done so far… Year 6, Year 3 and the teaching staff had 2 sessions too. I thoroughly enjoyed when we did it as a staff. I think it’s a wonderful idea. Anything that gets children reading is great in my opinion. I am the biggest pro-reading for children supporter in the world. 

What reading strategies have you used in your school? Have any worked a treat? Have you tried book tasting?

S x

It All Started In September…

Welcome to the first of many fortnightly guest blogs! The first comes from one of my most recent twitter pals Jack. Without further ado…

It started in September. Sitting at a forty-five-degree angle in a hospital bed, having recently undergone the most uncomfortable seven minutes of my life to date. I won’t go into too much detail, but it ends in ‘-oscopy’. After being informed that the pain I’d been suffering on and off for the previous three years was fistulating Crohn’s Disease, I wasn’t in the best of places (mentally or physically). Enter Darren Shan.

I read sporadically in primary school, enough to get my parents off my back and pull me through the year six tests with a level four. Less in secondary, apart from a spike when Horowitz’s ‘Power of 5’ series dropped. I read when I had to, rarely for pleasure. Throughout my time at university, I obviously read for assignments/dissertation etc. but it was never for ‘pleasure’. Even through my first three years of teaching, despite incessantly banging on at the students I taught to read, preaching about how crucial it was – what a hypocrite! 

That all changed at Leicester Royal Infirmary. The fellows I shared a ward with largely slept, the Wi-Fi wasn’t free (I know, I was appalled too), and I ended up filling my time with random, inane activities. 84 tiles on the ceiling, in case you were wondering. A year five child I had taught the previous year recommended a series of books to me, The Saga of Darren Shan. This child’s writing was some of the best I’ve seen at primary, and I’d noticed how darkly descriptive it always was. I wasn’t far through the first book before I realised why.

Anyway, I rinsed through the entire twelve-book series, the following four-book series explaining the life of Larten Crepsley (a huge character in the Shan series), and RJ Palacio’s ‘Wonder’ in the space of two weeks. A reader was born.

I took this new, overflowing love for reading into my classroom. And boy have the children responded to it. I was so proud to hear that lots of them had received books for as Christmas presents, and many of them brought them to school to show me. Reading has become an integral part of our learning. We’re constantly talking about books. There isn’t a groan when I say that we’re reading more of our class book (currently ‘Sweet Pizza’, thank you to Mr. Booth).

However, hospital made me a reader. Reading Rocks ’16 is where the reading teacher exploded. I spent the day listening intently to the likes of Mat Tobin, James Clements, Neill Cameron and Michael Tidd talk about reading. The venue itself breathed reading (nods towards The District CE Primary School). I met people such as Simon Smith and the enigmatic That Boy Can Teach, both inspirational teachers with a passion for reading and its effect on a child’s education.

So, from September to December, I read like a lunatic. It was December when I first heard about the ‘52 book challenge’, where people were attempting to read fifty-two books during a calendar year. This sort of thing resonates with me for a two main reasons: 

  • I love reading.
  • I love counting and recording things.

Yes, I love counting things. I love keeping records of what I’ve done. I count and record the different football grounds I’ve visited. I count and record the countries I’ve travelled to. I even count and record, with the help of last.fm, the songs I listen to. So, this challenge appealed to me greatly in that respect.

In practice, I’m aware that it’s going to be difficult. I make time to read before bed. How much I read varies wildly from two words to one hundred pages. But I want to do this. My class have loved hearing about the challenge, and have all taken sheets home to record progress for their own challenges.

I’m writing this blog two weeks into the challenge, and roughly 80% through my second book. It’s been difficult. It’s been hard to read on school nights, and I haven’t read as much as I would like to on those nights. However, it’s important that this challenge doesn’t become a ‘Oh, I must read x number of pages tonight otherwise I’m not going to reach y target’ type of thing. Sleep is important, and being as fit as possible to teach my children is important.

My Twitter feed will be updated every time I finish a book, as will my Goodreads page (if you aren’t on Goodreads, get on it! There’s a group for teachers doing the challenge). Thanks for reading my first ever blog. Thanks to Steph (@eenalol) for allowing me the space on her fantastic blog, check out her other posts if you’re stumbling across this page for the very first time.

Keep reading.

@Mr_P_Hillips

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Thank you so much to Jack for agreeing to be my first guest blogger! 

This blog is important to me in so many ways. It promotes reading, it promotes teacher reading and it shows that reading really is one of the most amazing things. Jack is so right that there are some wonderful book loving educaters out there on twitter. The conversation is always there to be had, just tweet one of us!

Go and follow Jack on Twitter, his handle is in the post.

S x