Mini reviews: the ones that made me think!

Good morning everyone!

How are you this fine day? What have you been reading recently?

I am here to share some reviews of a couple of books that I’ve read in the past few months that have truly made me think that I can’t wait to share with the children I teach to see what they think of them and to spur on some discussion too!

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On a small island off the Scottish coast, Isla and her family are grieving the loss of her older sister Flora, who died three years ago. Then they’re offered the chance to be part of a top-secret trial, which revives loved ones as fully lifelike AI robots using their digital footprint. Isla has her doubts about Second Chances, but they evaporate the moment the ‘new’ Flora arrives. This girl is not some uncanny close likeness; she is Flora – a perfect replica. But not everyone on their island feels the same. And as the threats to Flora mount, she grows distant and more secretive. Will Isla be able to protect the new Flora and bring the community back together?

Well, that was all kinds of brilliance. A tale of artificial intelligence, family and being given a second chance. I really enjoyed the mystery element of this and all the chat about what it means to be human – this is a deep question that it’s great to see a book aimed at Y6+ discussing: this could definitely bring about a lot of discussions in the classroom. I think if teachers want to read it with Y6s, it would be important that they read it first. This whole ‘bringing someone back’ thing is a moral dilemma and a half – I think this book explores the complexities and the emotions attached to it brilliantly. Isla is such an amazing character and I loved all of the twists and turns in this. This book really gripped me and it’s one I think about often.

New town, new school, but the bully is in Ben’s head…
There are 4 things you should know about Ben:
1. He’s 12 years old
2. He’s the new kid at school
3. His special number is 4
4. He has a bully in his brain

Sometimes Ben’s brain makes him count to 4 to prevent bad things happening. Sometimes it makes him tap or blink in 4s. Mostly it makes the smallest things feel impossible. And with a new school, a moody big brother, an absent dad and a mum battling her own demons, Ben feels more out of control than ever. But then he meets April, and with his new friend, Ben might finally figure out how to stand up to the bully in his brain, once and for all.

Well, this was just brilliant. My fiancée actually read this before me and pestered me to read this… so it moved way up my list because of her glowing review (thanks Rach!). This tells the tale of wonderful little Ben, who suffers from OCD, who is dealing with issues with his parents breaking up, a new school, trying to make friends all while The Thoughts talk to him. The way ‘The Thoughts’ are dealt with is excellently done and I think this is going to be an important read for kids – it’ll open their eyes to so many things! I just want to give Ben a hug and tell him that everything will be OK. I’m so proud of him for being so brave and dealing with some pretty big emotions.

Sam is very in touch with their own queer identity. They’re nonbinary, and their best friend, TJ, is nonbinary as well. Sam’s family is very cool with it… as long as Sam remembers that nonbinary kids are also required to clean their rooms, do their homework, and try not to antagonize their teachers too much. The teacher-respect thing is hard when it comes to Sam’s history class, because their teacher seems to believe that only Dead Straight Cis White Men are responsible for history. When Sam’s home borough of Staten Island opens up a contest for a new statue, Sam finds the perfect non-DSCWM subject: photographer Alice Austen, whose house has been turned into a museum, and who lived with a female partner for decades. Soon, Sam’s project isn’t just about winning the contest. It’s about discovering a rich queer history that Sam’s a part of — a queer history that no longer needs to be quiet, as long as there are kids like Sam and TJ to stand up for it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. A book celebrating LGBT+ history – yes, it’s set in NYC, but all LGBT+ history is important. It’s important that we educate ourselves on the people who’ve paved the way for us. As a queer educator, it’s essential that I educate myself and can pave the way to show the kids I teach the history of queer people. There are lovely messages about being yourself and the importance of chosen family too. Books like this matter so much because it’s so important that queer characters are written and that queer stories are told – knowing Alice was a real person makes it even more sweet. I think Alex Gino is just brilliant and their books are very special to me!

Amy Miller is a very positive person and she is fully prepared to be the star of the Lower School Comedy Review. But evil genius Harry is put in charge and he decides that Amy isn’t allowed to perform or write sketches or do anything fun. Amy can’t understand what’s happening until her sister tells her: Harry is being sexist, and it’s up to Amy to fight back. Armed only with killer one-liners, Amy must go into battle to fight for her right to make people laugh.

This is a gorgeously funny exploration of family, school life and most importantly, sexism. Amy is desperate to write sketches for the revue, but when Harry clearly judges her work because she’s a girl, she knows she has to make a stand. I laughed so much at this! It’s a brilliant exploration of friendship, injustice and family relationships. Amy is a wonderful main character, who I think a lot of girls will take both inspiration and power from. She could take over the world… with her brilliant gang of supporters! I can’t wait for a new batch of kids to meet Amy!

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A massive thanks to the publishers (Nosy Crow, Little Tiger, Hachette and Scholastic) for review copies of these books! My fiancee and I have been thoroughly enjoying them and they will all find a new home in my classroom in the new academic year!

Have you read any of these books?
Are there any of these topics you’d like to read more about?

Talk to me in the comments or on twitter – I’d love to chat!

S x

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