In times where things may appear rather bleak in our world, literature is always going to be the medium through which beauty, tales of resilience, exploration and discovery can be transferred to readers the world-over. And what better time than the start of a new school year to just stop and think about what's really important and about what we should value and have as values? You know when you've discovered a book that is significant enough to be deemed a Very Important Book and we think we've found a few of these in compiling this month's literature review: the highly evocative and hot-off-the-press The Worm and the Bird by Coralie Bickford-Smith; the fantastic adventure story that is The Explorer by Katherine Rundell and, from one tale of discovery to another, truer story, a delightful new non-fiction book from Bloomsbury called The Story of Tutankhamun by Patricia Cleveland-Peck.
And for other Very Important Books, take a look at our book lists
The Worm and the Bird by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Particular Books, 31st August 2017)
Designer at Penguin Books, Coralie Bickford-Smith's first book, The Fox and the Star, was named as one of Time Out's 100 Best Children's Books of All Time and was awarded the accolade that is 'Waterstones Book of the Year' in 2015, so it isn't really a surprise that her second book- The worm and the Bird - is as stunning. The story features a worm, who dreams of having more space 'deep below the earth ... there's not much room down there...all the earth around me is filled with life'. Bird, however, has a different longing: 'Bird waits, through sun and rain and wind'. But what is it that bird longs for? And will each creature find what they seek?
So simple yet so achingly beautiful is this book that we found ourselves reading, re-reading and then reading again the pages in no particular order. The illustrations are mostly in a muted palette of black, white, grey and bronze and although most pleasing to the eye, there is no assault on ones senses. And perhaps this is rather the point of the book: there has been much in the media recently about worries over children suffering from sensory overload, children who have too much, do too much and of whom we expect too much of and perhaps Bickford-Smith has a subliminal message for us that we ought to pare things back to a simpler time with more natural beauty and, crucially, help our children do this too. In the words immortalised by William Henry Davies' poem Leisure: ‘What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.’ Indeed. This is a book that should be in every book corner and on every child’s shelves and would make a lovely gift.
The Explorer by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury Childrens, 10th August 2017)
'Wind is a trickster. It plays havoc with your courage...' and the four young survivors of a plane crash need courage in abundance when they find themselves stranded, without any adults, in the Amazon Rainforest. Together, Fred, Con, Lila and Max, who is just five years old, work to make sense of a strange and dangerous, yet exciting and beautiful, place in order to survive and, ultimately, return to civilization and get help. Along the way, they rescue an orphaned sloth-baby and name him ‘Baca’ and each child discovers skills they didn’t know they possessed. But then, extremely high up in a tree when harvesting honey, two of the children stumble upon a map: ‘… a small, green miracle.’ Who drew the map? Why did they leave it in the tree? Could the amateur cartographer return for the map and be an unwitting saviour for the children?
Rundell – the acclaimed author of The Rooftoppers (Faber & Faber, March 2013) - manages to inject humour in that wry way that she has when there really doesn’t seem as if there’s anything much to laugh about: ‘Baca’s fur was soaked, slicked down against his bones. He looked as furious as it is possible for a sloth to look.’ had us in stitches…but then we do rather like sloths… The Explorer is an exciting story of daring that has moments of utter charm as the children accept and work with their situation whilst experiencing the unimaginable beauty of such a remote and undiscovered part of the rainforest. A brilliant read that would suit children aged 9 and up and would be ideal for either a whole-class reader or guided reading sessions.
And if you are as obsessed with sloths as much as we are then find our lovely sloth-related teaching sequence available to download here
The Story of Tutankhamun by Patricia Cleveland-Peck (Bloomsbury Childrens, 10th August 2017)
Now this is a non-fiction book that we think could revitalise your school’s Ancient Egypt topic box. Written by much-loved author of You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus (Bloomsbury 2015), this is surprisingly different in style but equally as good. Although things may seem tough for young people today, comparing modern troubles to those of the young Tutankhamun may give us all some much-needed perspective: he became king of Egypt when he was only 9 year’s old, or thereabouts and then he was wedded to his half sister… The book describes the mysterious ritual that was mummification: ‘Ancient Egyptians, including pharaohs, were mummified when they died. The process of mummification was extremely important to the ancient Egyptians, who paid vast amounts of money to have their bodies properly preserved. It was a complex procedure and took 70 days to complete!’ The stark facts that are presented in the text– especially surrounding Tutankhamun’s marriage and the process of mummification – gives scope for rich in-class discussion and we think that there are many brilliant writing-outcomes to be had from what is a fresh-look topic-based book that has been written with a great deal of thought. In terms of supporting the National Curriculum’s Programmes of study for Reading, the rich vocabulary means that the book particularly lends itself to the development of the Word Reading and Language for Effect strands. So, in short, if you are a class teacher or in charge of resourcing History or Literacy in your school or have children between the ages of around 7 and 10, this book is a perfect look at an exciting historical character.
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