As you know, I work as a teaching assistant in a local primary school. Specifically, year 6, the SATs year. It was a big year for these 10/11 year olds as we prepared them for taking their tests, as well as getting them ready for moving up to secondary school. It could be high pressured and stressful. However, there were so many other positives to this year group that for me, outweigh the negative. At the school I currently work in, we try to make sure that the kids aren’t just focused on tests and the results. There were many opportunities for them to be kids. That is before the pandemic that shifted everything so drastically.
However, one of the ways we encouraged the children to explore was facebook. Outside the two classrooms were two walls dedicated to the books recommended for their age group. They can attach a picture of their own face to the book they have just read- facebook (get it?).
There was a range of books from the classics like Charlotte’s Web, The Hobbit and Watership Down to modern fiction like The Light Jar, The House With Chicken Legs and The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair.
So when I was told back in September, that I had to read to help set a good example I was over the moon. I didn’t have to be told twice!
Before I go into what I have read so far, it is worth mentioning (actually confessing) that I was not expecting much. I think I had grown far to “adult” in my reading and to my shame, I looked down on them as easy reads. I was swiftly corrected and I was astounded by many of these books. I began to quickly devour them and the kids looked on with amazement as I went from book to book to book. It sparked real conversations about characters, writing and who can beat Miss Alves. Currently, I stand the champion with 14 books read and in the middle of my 15th since September. They used to come to me and ask which book I would recommend, they would ask me questions if they didn’t understand something and they shared their joy of reading and getting their face on the wall. It truly was an honour, especially for those that didn’t naturally take to reading for pleasure.
In part I am writing this blog post to share with you the stories I have read so far and recommend them to you if you have found your reading to “adult” and want stories that are alive with the wonder of the world- through eyes of kids. Personally, I can say that it has reinvigorated my love of reading. The other part is to acknowledge that I miss those kids and our conversations about books and I truly hope that they are reading during this unsure time.
I have decided to do it in parts to give credit to each book and to share my thoughts and feelings on each one.
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
In one word: Sophisticated
This is a story about a boy called Nobody Owens and this boy grows up in the most unlikely of places: a graveyard. What impressed me most was how Neil Gaiman expertly combines the world of the living with the world of the dead. How both co-exist and interact with one another through Nobody, as he grows up and navigates both worlds. It is such a beautifully written story and the illustrations add to the other worldly atmosphere. It was a book that thrilled me and took me on an unexpected journey as Nobody battles the Jack’s. If you want a story that will leave a mark on your and your children’s imagination when you finish, this is the one for you.
The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In an Armchair – Lara Williamson
In one word: Emotional
If I am honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I kind of had to read it because no other books were available at the time. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I found it to really pull on my heartstrings and I am sure it will do the same for you. It is about Becket Rumsey and his younger bother Billy and their longing for their family to be whole. In this story there are themes that are certainly mature: domestic violence, loss, the nature of hope and learning to live again. This is one that challenges perceptions as we see that their father is the survivor of abuse, but it is also one where the story is is driven by the experience of children, you definitely see through their eyes. Becket and Billy Rumsey are memorable characters and if you want a story that will help to change how you look at things, this is the one for you.
Cogheart – Peter Bunzl
In one word: Adventurous
The first in a three part series, Cogheart is a story for those who love a page turner and makes you say, “just one more chapter.” Set in Victorian England, Lily, the main character, is on a journey to find out the truth behind what she thought was her father’s death. With her trusted mechanical fox friend, Malkin and the unexpected friends Lily makes along the way, it is definitely a thrilling ride. Lily is a strong protagonist and Peter Bunzl is great at weaving together the how the past affects the present and the future; with a fantastic sense of drama and action.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr
In one word: Necessary
First published in 1971, this story has never been out of print since and rightly so. This is an important story for children and adults to read. We all know that books allow us to step into the shoes of others, to feel what they feel and to follow the ups and downs of life. This is so true of this story and through the eyes of a child we encounter what it means when a nation changes for the worst and a family has to leave. It is honest, authentic and true in ways that only lived experience can offer. If you haven’t read this story yet, please do.