Reading for pleasure

As some of you will know from our twitter, @thisisthe_place, that I have been looking at what I can do as a reading lead to create a reading culture within the staff and promote reading for pleasure within my school.

I had my first taste of this on World Book Week. I wanted to do something a little bit out of the box to entice staff to read the texts but also to think about the links and connections I had created. Some were more obvious than others but staff commented that each day they were trying to figure out why the sweet treat and books went hand in hand.

I have a terrible sweet tooth so most of my ideas involve sweets and chocolate, the perfect way to get me to try something! I put out a tweet to see if anyone had ideas about food that linked to books. I wanted to go beyond the obvious, Chocolate for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and introduce staff to some of the new fiction and non-fiction available. For me, we are in the golden age of Children’s literature and I only wish I could be a child again to enjoy them in such a way.

There were some books I absolutely wanted to share but had to be meticulous about how I could link them to a sweet treat. Others felt more natural, like Thomas Taylor’s, ‘Gargantis‘ and ‘Malamander‘, with Lemon Sherbets to represent the character Herbert Lemon. Sherbet Lemons also fit perfectly with ‘Boy at the back of the class’, by Onjali Q Rauf and the rest unraveled from there.

The highlight of the week for me was a member of staff buying ‘Boy at the back of the class’, to read for pleasure. Just one person choosing to pick up a book and get on board the reading for pleasure train is the start of a journey I can’t wait to go on. Staff said they were looking forward to visiting the staff room each day to see what books and treats were there and staff were choosing to read the extracts in their lunchtime – result!

It has sparked a flame in me that I can’t put out and now I want to do more to build on this. I don’t want it to be a flash in the pan and forgotten about. I want to use this as the first step and continue to build. I asked for ideas on Twitter about raising the profile of reading among staff and was bowled over with the ideas and was pleased to connect with others at the same point in their journey. I am already thinking ahead and have something in mind for National poetry day … watch this space for more on that.

Can you find the links between the books and sweet treats?

Throwback Thursday!

Books we’ve read that we just can’t forget…

Sasha’s Choice…

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

Autumn term, 2017. The Crooked Sixpence had already been out for a year, but that was when I first discovered this little gem. My year 6 class at the time were avid readers, and were desperately pleading with me to put it into the class library, but I kept refusing. I knew that it was a book that should be enjoyed as a group, and so I waited for the perfect time for us to experience it together.

That year, we got through some cracking books: A Christmas Carol, Once (started Then, then quickly realised how harrowing it was), The Secret Breakers: The Power of Three. All of them fantastic in their own right – but by Spring, we definitely felt the need for something that would really trigger the imagination. That was when I pulled out this secret weapon!

I’d never read anything like this book – and I still haven’t. Following Ivy, Seb and Valian’s journey into the Uncommon world of Lundinor, and discovering the secrets of their Grandma’s past, was gripping. The concept seemed so simple, yet it was so effective. Take a common object, like a candle. It’s common use would be to provide light to see things. But in Lundinor, when you blow out an uncommon candle, you turn invisible. This blew the children’s minds and opened up a whole new world of creativity that they had never experienced before. Soon enough, they were coming up with all sorts of uncommon uses for common items. We had rulers that would give orders (they went down the dictator route-of course!), books that whispered secrets, saucepans that un-cooked food so you could discover secret ingredients. The ideas were were endless and it generated a creative buzz in the classroom that was infectious.

The children were hooked from the get go. Laughter erupted when a toilet brush was pulled out as a weapon; cries of disgust at the description of a pustule covered, shrivelled hand; nods of ‘mmhmmm’ during the sibling squabbles between Ivy and Seb; and gasps of shock when The DIrge were finally revealed. This book took them on a journey of a whole range of emotions. It is a fantastic tool to generate discussions from. I’d prewarned the children that there were lots of clues leading up to a big event, so we all became detectives. We would huddle up on the carpet, notebooks in hand, writing down anything that we thought was important, then share all of our thoughts, opinions and predictions with each other. Now, this was a class that didn’t always gel – but you would never have known that during those sessions. That’s the power of a good book – it brings people together.

The main reason for why I have chosen this as my Throwback Thursday hero, though, is it’s value as a model for good quality sentences. As writing co-ordinator, I’ve often been infuriated with some of the texts that we read (I know reading for pleasure should just be about enjoyment!) because they didn’t challenge the children with different writing constructions. I ended up repurchasing this book on Kindle, so that we could all see it on the interactive whiteboard together. As we read each section, we would stop and note down any words/sentences that we liked. I had already taught the children how to use different grammatical features, such as semi-colons and short sentences for effect, but it wasn’t until we began really delving into Jennifer Bell’s writerly choices that I actually started to see them using them properly and within context.

Reading this book gave my children the confidence to be more creative in their own writing choices. We ended up writing a piece inspired by Ivy’s time in the Hexroom. The children had to describe going through one of the six doors and coming face-to face with one of the members of the Dirge. It was collectively our favourite piece that we wrote that year, with every child engaged throughout and proud of their accomplishments. It’s safe to say that ‘The Crooked Sixpence’ has become a staple book in my class reads list, and it’s even safer to say that it never disappoints!


Mim grew up surrounded by secrets. On the day she was born, her mother died and a mysterious curse was cast on her family. Ever since, she’s been isolated in a walled castle, forbidden from venturing to the Outside. But Mim has never been able to stop asking questions – and when her father enlists the suspicious Madame Marionette to train her in the art of being a princess, her curiosity only gets more intense.

Determined to understand, Mim sets out on an epic adventure in which she will break all the rules, encounter strange creatures and use all her cunning to solve impossible problems. But will it be enough to bring happiness back to the lonely castle on the rock?

We saw this book on Twitter and immediately added it to our (ever growing) pre -order list. We felt lured by the intriguing cover and the idea that someone would have to face not one but three impossibles. The Alice fan in me screams that nothing is impossible and I am hoping this is the case for Mim too.

We have read such good things on social media about this book from people lucky enough to have a proof, but we will wait (im)patiently until its release on the 3rd June and bask in the impossibles with the summer sun!

The Hatmakers

Author: Tamzin Merchant Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Release date: 18.2.21 Publisher: Puffin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘Cordelia slid the hatpin into her hair, just as she had seen her aunt do a hundred times.

She could feel the hatpin humming with possibilities; they sang trough her hair, into her head, through her chest and right to the tips of her fingers.


It felt very Alice in Wonderland esque! The whole time I was reading it, I wanted to make a hat of my own!

The front cover immediately drew me to this book. It felt enchanting and the promise of magic had me excited for this to arrive. The colours on the cover are enticing and the light and dark is used cleverly. After reading the story, it is almost a forewarning about what is to come.

Alice in Wonderland is my favourite classic story and I felt this book had some links to Alice with the hat making (Hatter) and a young protagonist trying to put right something that had gone wrong. The links with the sailing and the story of her father strongly link the two together.

I love how this story features links to Shakespeare and Dickens too. For me, this book is so cleverly crafted that you can find elements of these classics weaved throughout. Add to this the two plots that run concurrently throughout and you’re on to a winner. There are two parts to this story that twist and link together and young Cordelia is at the heart of it.


Cordelia, the young protagonist in this story belongs to the Hatmaker family. Cordelia is strong willed and wants to become a prominent feature in the family business, and make hats. Cordelia faces a hardship early on in the story but this does not deter her. Cordelia unwittingly becomes embroiled in a situation full of mystery and deceit.

Goose, Cordelia’s best friend belongs to the Bootmaker family. Goose starts off quite timid and meek but grows in strength throughout the story. There are times when he is a hard character to like but he does redeem himself towards the end!

Sam, is my favourite character. Sam is like Dodger from Oliver and is full of surprises right until the very end. A truly intriguing character who I hope features in ‘The Mapmakers’.

Lord Witloof and Miss Starebottom, characters you will love to hate!

There are a whole host of characters within this story who help make this book a delight to read. Sir Hugo, the Shakespearean performer adds an element of humour. I like how he becomes an integral part of the story.

Features that I love…

I love the illustrations contents at the start of the book. It is a quote from the page of the book that the illustration appears on and it provides some early clues to what will occur later in the book. I also think it gives value to the images which is so important when they are integral in telling the story.

The glossary of ingredients is a LOVELY touch and would make a fantastic teaching tool! Both from the perspective of the glossary itself and what it is used for but also using the glossary to create hats of their own!

I really like when books make the reader a part of it to. There is a ‘notebook’ at the back so you, the reader, can create their own glossary of ingredients for hat making.

Something to get excited about… a sequel coming in Spring next year!

I know I will be pre-ordering it!

Ideas for this book:

Design and create your hat. This would link well with fashion and textiles and could be linked to many topics or as a stand alone unit using this book as a stimulus

Design an outfit fit for the king!

Write a letter from Princess Georgina to King Louis or vice versa

Create a wanted poster for Sam

Write a review for the show performed by Sir Hugo

Make your own 3D hat shop

Create an invitation for the show at the Guild at the end of the story

Create a map of the city

Write the story of Sam

A unit on Shakespeare or Dickens!

Share any ideas you have with us in the comments below!

Other books you might enjoy:

This book has a Brighstorm feel to it with the Guild and the different families. Also, the exploring element makes this a good match.

Throwback Thursday

Books we’ve read that we just can’t forget…

Amie’s choice…

This book arrived on the 5th November last year and I spent a good amount of time just admiring the front cover. The questions and connections that can be derived from it, make this book the perfect choice to share in an UKS2 classroom. Couple the fascinating illustrations with a love of Dickens and you have me hook, line and sinker!

I used this text for a guided reading session with my year 6 class. I have recently altered the way we deliver guided reading (a blog post on that soon!) and felt that this would be a great fit. As part of our guided reading system, we look at a text over a week but make further connections as frequently as possible. This text allowed us to make direct comparisons with Dickens’ Oliver Twist as well as Victorian Britain and the rights of women. It also allowed us to delve deeper into the way people were treated and the changes we have made as a society.

I have to admit, I was unsure if the children would take to it but boy did they?! They couldn’t get enough of it. The children also enjoyed making links between the classic Oliver Twist and Another Twist In The Tale. There was a BIG waiting list for the book but I made sure I was at the front of the queue.

I took the opportunity that weekend to get stuck in to it. I devoured it. For me, it felt so close to the original, it was almost as if I was reading a sequel from Dickens’. I loved getting to know Dodger in a completely different way and also thinking about how the story had almost come back round full circle with Fagin and Mr Bumble up to their old tricks, trying to swindle Oliver out of what is rightly his. It was easy to get lost in the streets of London and become part of the ‘crew’.

I love the character of Twill Twist and the way her life almost mirrors that of Oliver. The chance encounters she makes are so cleverly crafted. I am so glad she got the ending she deserved as as we know, that wasn’t the case for many, particularly girls, during the Victorian period.

The author, Catherine Bruton, so cleverly followed the layout of the original Dickens’ novel of Oliver Twist. Catherine has an amazing skill of storytelling with ‘No Ballet Shoes In Syria’ being another book that is never in the class library for long!

I would recommend this book to any UKS2/KS3 teacher, a lover of Dickens or anyone who loves a good story told with heart, fire and passion!


The breathtaking adventure continues in the sequel to the much-loved Orphans of the Tide. Orphans Ellie and Seth have crossed an endless ocean in search of freedom and peace. Arriving on the shores of a colourful tropical island ruled by a mysterious queen, it seems they might just have found the perfect new home.

We’ve had Shipwreck Island on pre-order since last May, so to say that we’re excited about this book being released tomorrow would be an understatement! We’ve literally cleared our diaries for the weekend, warned off family members and started setting up our comfy spaces so that we can fully indulge in this little treasure. If the pre-released chapters are anything to go by, then we know we’re going to be hooked! (Fishing pun fully intended!)

During the first lockdown, we read Orphans of the Tide to our year 6 bubbles. The children were so enthralled that they actually gave the story a round of applause when we finished it. We’ll forever be grateful for the escapism Ellie and Seth gave us during that time…but they left us with so many questions!!

Will Ellie be able to resist asking The Enemy for help? Will Seth ever be reunited with the other Gods? And will they both finally find a place that accepts them, to call home?

We can’t wait to find out!

Can Bears Ski?

Author: Raymond Antrobus

Illustrator: Polly Dunbar

Release date: 4th February 2021 Publisher: Walker Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.
An activity I did with my bear
My 3 year olds interpretation of young Bear
Theo’s hearing aid moulds – City of course!

Dad Bear stops and looks directly at me.

“Your friend was saying hello. Why did you ignore him?”

“I didn’t.” I didn’t.

Is that really what he’s asking me?

Then Dad Bear asks again, “CAN BEARS SKI?”

For me, this book is full of heart, emotion and a plot which will encourage us all to be more deaf aware.

I stumbled across this book by chance when I commented on a Tweet on Twitter. I was sharing my frustration about the lack of representation deaf children have in stories – particularly stories for younger children. I have a 3 year old, profoundly deaf, cochlear wearing superhero and I wanted to share with him stories where he could see himself. A lovely tweeter told me about, ‘Can Bears Ski?’ and I instantly pre-ordered a copy and sent the link to all of my family and friends with children. For me, it is important that they understand what Theo’s ‘magic ears’ do and it helps them see their value – in the same way we do.

When the book arrived, I was super excited but I wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional reaction I would have when reading it alone for the first time. For a moment, I was back in audiology , cradling my precious newborn and hearing the words, “He’s deaf”, for the first time. It was a shock and though it sounds silly now, I was upset that he may never hear me read a story to him!

I loved how the sounds of movement were shared in this story and how Young Bear was ‘aware’ and ‘alert’ to these movements. It is quite surreal when you learn to communicate with a deaf child as you have to re-learn things we take for granted such as being at eye level to speak and even learning some sign language.

I found parts of the story, such as when dad asks Young Bear if he is ignoring his friend and when he is sat at the table with laughter all around him, quite difficult to read. It was almost like my worst fears on paper. It shows just how important and integral this story is for children, to help them to see and understand and become more ‘deaf aware’.

The inclusion of tier 3 vocabulary, ‘audiology’ and ‘audiologist’, helps people understand the journey Young Bear goes on whilst finding, in this case, his plastic ears (hearing aids). This also provides an opportunity for discussion. In my house, it was a way to conversate with my son about his hearing journey and a chance to share pictures and the process to cochlear implants (I could even shows him some old moulds). The conversation felt natural and the book was a great referencing tool which allowed us to go further than previous conversations about his ears.

I really enjoyed the relationship that Dad Bear and Young Bear had in this story. For me, their relationship evolved throughout and they both learned how to communicate and be part of each others worlds. Dad reading to bear at eye level and Young Bear finally learning that he could ‘ski’ felt triumphant!

I was lucky enough to attend a session with Raymond and Polly run by the NDCS ( In the session, both Raymond and Polly shared their hearing stories as they are both hearing aid wearers. It was nice to hear Raymond share the positives of being deaf such as being part of the deaf and hearing community and the rich experiences and stories that could be absorbed through this. I also liked how they shared that everyone has a different relationship with sound – which I hadn’t ever considered before but is so true!

How would I use this book in school?

Science: How do we hear sounds?

Music: Exploration of sounds, tempo and dynamics – response to sounds – noticing sounds or vibrations of movements

Wider world: Visit the local library – what do you notice? Why do you think Young Bear might have enjoyed visits to the library?

Sign language: An opportunity to introduce BSL or Makaton

Teacher notes available from Walker books and CLPE:

Teaching Notes for Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar (

Draw along with Polly Dunbar in partnership with Moon Lane Bookshop:

Other books you may enjoy:

The protagonist in this story wears hearing aids.
A book Raymond enjoyed as a child. ‘A story in conversation with ‘Can Bears Ski?’

The Valley of Lost Secrets

Author: Lesley Parr Release Date: 01.01.2021 Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Other books to use when studying WW2…

September 1939

When Jimmy is evacuated to a small village in Wales, It couldn’t be more different from London. Green, quiet and full of strangers, he instantly feels out of place.

But then he finds a skull hidden in a tree, and suddenly the valley is more frightening than the war. Who can Jimmy trust? His brother is too little; his best friend has changed.

Finding an ally in someone he never expects, they set out together to uncover the secrets that lie with the skull. What they discover will change Jimmy – and the village – forever.

You know that a story is good when you’re flipping the last page back and forth, desperately hoping for another chapter to appear!

If you haven’t heard about this book, then which rock have you been hiding under? It has been all over the edutwittersphere – smothered in rave reviews from teachers and fellow authors alike. And, rightly so!

I’ve always loved history, especially WW2 as so many of my family members served during it. I grew up listening to my grandparents tales of their youth, cuddling up next to them on the sofa, soaking up every word. Both of my grandads were evacuated to the countryside during the second world war, and had very different experiences. Grandad James was the rebellious type, and after ignoring several warnings to not jump in the local canals, he was sent back home to his parents in Manchester. Grandad Frank, however, struggled to settle into his new ‘temporary’ home. He was very close to his mum and brother, so found being away from them both quite distressing – much like the main character, Jimmy, in Lesley Parr’s cracker of a novel. In fact, Jimmy reminded me a lot of my Grandad Frank, who is sadly no longer with us, and so reading ‘The Valley of Lost Secrets’ felt like a warm hug , taking me back to those treasured story-telling times.


This book was a real masterclass in middle grade storytelling. You can tell that Lesley Parr used to be an UKS2 teacher, because The Valley of Lost Secrets contains all the themes that we fellow educators want our children to be reading about. It has a main character who’s own fear stops him from moving forwards. (I’m sure we’ve all got pupils who will relate to this!) It highlights the fact that a family doesn’t need to be blood-related for them to become a tight, loving unit. It shows how real friendships can be found with the people you would least expect to connect with. And, it depicts beautifully why we should always choose kindness, because everybody has their own demons that they are trying to overcome. Yes, this book is set during WW2. Yes it is about evacuating to the countryside. However, if you’re just looking for air-raids and soldiers, or a tick list of WW2 buzz words, then this isn’t the one for you. Because this story is a whole lot more than that. This story has heart.


I love how each character, however seminal they are to the story, provides a talking point for discussions with the children.

  • Jimmy – the stubborn lead character, who loves his sibling more than anything, but out of loyalty to his father, hates the ease in which he has slotted into his new life. His journey shows us how fear of the new can hold us back and blind us from the happiness in front of us.
  • Ronnie – Jimmy’s brother. He shows us what can be achieved when we open ourselves up to new experiences.
  • Mrs Thomas – Shunned by the village because of her husband, ‘Aunty Gwen’, depicts the kindness several families showed during the war whilst facing their own adversities.
  • Mr Thomas – The mysterious element of the plot centres around this character and his journey to overcoming the internal tornado of guilt and grief.
  • Duff – Jimmy’s ‘best mate’. He shows us how fickle friendships can be when thrown into unfamiliar territory.
  • And finally, my favourite character of all, Florence – a young girl who finds true happiness in realising her own self-worth. She is the classic example of ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ in literary form. I’m putting it out there Lesley Parr, let’s give the readers what they want – the story of Florence!

How I would use this book in school:

This book is perfectly suited to supporting the year 6 curriculum. There are several opportunities to use it across an array of subjects. Here’s just a few examples:

  • Writing opportunities: Without a doubt, I’ll be using this book to inspire creative writing. One of the first activities I would do is to create setting descriptions of both the Welsh village and a London street. This would be a fantastic way of introducing positive and negative intent when creating atmosphere in their writing. I’ll also be setting my children the task of writing two diary entries -one from the viewpoint of Jimmy, and the other from Florence – describing their first day in the village. Again, this allows for positive and negative intent to become a focus, as well as showing a deliberate change of tone from different character perspectives – perfect for the greater depth children.
  • Guided Reading: Where to start with the guided reading opportunities! There’s just too many! This story has so many points for children to stop and infer meaning, which is just what a year 6 class needs. To start with, I’ll be creating character profiles, that will be added to as the story develops. This will help to support those 3-mark SATs questions that rely on the children recognising personality traits and linking them to actions. It’s also a great resource to show the children each character’s journey, allowing them to compare what they were like at the start and end. After finishing the novel, I’ll be asking my children to create a story map, identifying settings for pivotal points of the story. This allows them to not only recall what they have read, but helps to support summarising and ordering key events. Obviously, there are plenty of tier 3 words throughout to provide opportunities to teach word meaning, but with the inclusion of Welsh words, this is perfect for honing the children’s deduction skills.
  • History: This book is a great introduction to WW2 and the experiences of evacuees. I’ll be using it as a research basis to compare the differences between the Welsh countryside and London. Why were children evacuated here? What was it about the city that was so dangerous?
  • Geography: Obviously, we would be locating which countries were involved in the war, and how territories changed over the course of it. This story also opens up the opportunity to research where in the world children were evacuated to. How were they evacuated? How long did it take? How long were they away for?
  • PSHE: The Valley of Lost Secrets offers a plethora of opportunities to teach and discuss empathy. One thing I will definitely be looking at is looking at how a child during the war may have felt back then and comparing it with child refugees now.