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August Literature Review

With the summer holiday in full-swing, some of us are away, planning to be away or about to return home and so there is something of a theme to this month’s Literature Review - there’s no place like home! And this is in every sense of the word: all three books that we’ve selected have, in some way, themes of home and belonging and two of the books have been written by authors we have written planning sequences for. Doesn’t it feel like coming home when one reads something that has been written by a familiar author? This month’s review comprises: Cat In A Box- a picture book by Jo Williamson; our children’s novel selection - Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen and a new non-fiction publication from the timeless Dorling Kindersley - Food Like Mine (Children Just Like Me). Rather auspiciously, all three books we selected were published on the same day!

Picture Book:

Cat In A Box byJo Williamson (Scholastic, 6th July 2017)

Jo Williamson, author of How to be a Dog (Scholastic, 2nd July 2015), has used her characteristic two-tone illustrations to bring to us this gorgeous picture book that takes us through the typical day of a pet cat, all narrated by the puss-cat, protagonist: ‘I am a cat and I have a busy, busy life. Looking after my family is a full-time job. They just couldn’t do it without me.’ Of course, the mis-match between the mog’s perception of his behaviour and that of his family, as seen in the illustrations, has hilarious results as we see this ‘helpful’ pet finding his usual breakfast spot (sitting upon dad’s head), and doing all sorts of very helpful jobs. We think that this book will be loved both by cat-lovers and those who are indifferent to feline friends and it would make a delightful read-aloud book for 3-6 year olds or supplement our Dogs Project teaching sequence very nicely.

Children’s Novel:

Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen (Corgi Children’s, 6th July 2017)

There is something so erudite about Polly Ho-Yen’s authorial style that reading this third novel of hers (Boy in the Tower, 2015; Where Monsters Lie, 2016, both Corgi Children’s) is like being swaddled in a warm, yet slightly stiff jacket where you are comforted but kept alert from start to finish. When Leelu emigrates to London along with her brother Tiber and their mother, she is unprepared for such a dull and grey landscape. She misses her father and she misses the warmth of the sun. But not long after they move into their house, with the cupboards that never seem clean even though they’ve been scrubbed several times, the sofa that sags in the middles and the litter-dropping neighbours around them, Leelu discovers some treasure wedged into a small gap. And this treasure has magical powers, it would seem: Leelu only has to hold the treasure and strange and wonderful things begin to happen. Then she finds more and realises that someone is leaving these gifts for her and so begins an unlikely friendship. School is a less-friendly place though and it is the description of how isolated and bewildered Leelu feels on those first few days and weeks in a strange school that really struck a chord with us: we have all taught children who have not long arrived into the country but reading this section gave us such insight into just how awful and frightening this experience may be for a child. And- all the more poignant- as the story unfolds Ho-Yen draws upon her own father’s experiences and feelings of not belonging anywhere, losing that sense of home and it is this near-memoir through the eyes of her father that makes for powerful reading: people searching for a way to make a strange place home, navigating their way through unfamiliar territory, customs and situations. A lumpy mattress; fear and loneliness; a dread of school where everyone seems to know what they're doing and where Leelu sits in silence feeling stupid and frightened; the unimaginable cold and a man called Bo with his pet- called Dog: can his 'wonders' really help Leelu? What is her brother hiding? Where does he go each night? And when Leelu's own secret is discovered, her mother forbids her to see Bo and forbids her to see her only other friend, Betsy. With Leelu's dad unable to join them- for reasons unknown- the trio struggle to settle and find their way. And then the landlord arrives to collect unpaid rent: what will become of Leelu and her family? Will Bo help? Will Leelu ever be allowed to play with Betsy again?

An extremely sensitively and insightfully written novel with a beautifully moving scene in chapter 39 where all the children come together to share their own experiences of trying to fit in (and where the author sneaks in a brilliant fronted-adverbial related reference...touche!) leaving Leelu with 'a lightness in every step' and a sense that 'my shoes were made of something different, something that made me taller'. But there is magic in this book: the power to make the harder things in life work; the power of friendship; the power of finding a place that feels like home and the power to fly… all through the use of moss, acorns and the like. A moving yet quirky read that would suit any 9-12 year old and would make a brilliant guided reading text or whole-class reader.


Food Like Mine (Children Just Like Me) by Dorling Kindersley (DK, 6th July 2017)

What could be better during what is proving to be a bit of a wet summer than embarking on a journey of discovery from ones couch to find out about food from around the world and the children who eat it? With the characteristic beautiful photography that DK so frequently uses, this book is a riot of colour whilst simultaneously giving us a wonderful insight into the eating habits of children across the world. Staples such as 'Perfect Potatoes' take centre stage as we are taken on journeys to Ireland, Canada and India to learn about cottage pie, delicious stews and one potato dish that has piqued our interest: Canadian Poutine... 'a combination of chips, cheese curds and gravy ... voted one of the best Canadian inventions of all time.' Delicious!

As well as exploring the differences between what is eaten by children around the world, it looks at the commonalities in diet... did you know that rice is eaten in every country in the world? It also includes a wealth of food-related facts: did you know that rice was even used to strengthen the Great Wall of China? A range of easy-to-follow recipes, such as the Tex-Mex favourite- fajitas- are included, introduced by children who hail from each recipe's place of origin.

Food really is the stuff that can define a country, its culture and customs. It brings people together, is used in celebration and the comfort that it brings- well, that's the true taste of home.

We think that the combination of information about children's lives, production and usage of foods from around the world and the inclusion of several recipes make this a gorgeous choice for any child aged 6-9 and it would support many a class-project.

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