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October 2020 Book of the Month | Written with luminous, crackling style, Cane Warriors is an unforgettable account of Jamaican and British history that must be known, with an unforgettable narrator at its heart. In the words of fourteen-year-old Moa, “the hope of our dreamland churned in my belly,” a powerful statement that pulses through this extraordinary story of Tacky’s War. Based on a revolutionary real-life 1760 Jamaican slave rebellion, a visceral sense of the atrocities Moa and his fellow field slaves are subjected to is evoked from the start. Their bodies are lashed and “roasted by a brutal sun”, Moa hasn’t seen his house-slave mama for three years, his papa lost an arm in mill machinery, and his friend Hamaya fears the day predatory white men will “come for me.” Spurred by the death of Miss Pam who “drop inna da field and lose her life”, and led by Miss Pam’s brother Tacky, who “trod like a king” and whose brain “work quick like Anancy”, the uprising hinges on the freedom fighters killing the plantation master. While Moa is glad to be given a pivotal role in the rebellion, he fears that success and escape will mean he’ll never see his parents or Hamaya again - his conflict is palpable, but he’s set on being a cane warrior. Outside the plantation, Moa’s world is immediately transformed, with his life as a freedom fighter evoked in fine detail (I loved the depiction of him tasting creamy, fleshy sweetsop for the first time). There are bloody battles ahead, executed in the presence of Akan gods, and driven by brotherhood and hope for that dreamland. Lucidly lyrical and raw, I cannot praise Cane Warriors enough.
“It was October 1917 when my life truly changed.” So begins this heartfelt true story of unsung heroines and family life during WWI. Though the war was horrific and “the future…looked bleak for most of us” narrator Hettie notes that for girls and women, “in many ways, it was the making of us. For us, it was a new beginning.” Indeed, it kicked-off the ground-breaking events recounted in this top of the league tale, which itself kicks-off a series. Hettie is a self-professed “gangly fifteen-year-old with frizzy hair and barely a sensible thought in my head”. Her slightly older brother (“lovely, gentle Freddie”) has already gone to war, and now it’s her turn to do her bit working in the Dick, Kerr & Co munitions factory. Hettie’s apprehension as she starts work is palpable, as are the details of factory life - the roar and hiss of the machines, the dangers, the banter. In its presentation of social history Kicking Off is brilliantly evocative, and it packs hearty punch as a personal story too. After a tough start at work, Hettie perks up when her colleagues talk of forming a ladies’ football team, though her dad’s gruff warning rings loud in her ears (“Don’t you keep playing that game, Hettie. It’s unladylike. It’s unfitting”). But her new friend Grace is a determined, inspiring ally and, soon enough, “the start of something wonderful happens” when a match against the men’s team is arranged. The story’s a game of two halves, though, with plenty of twists, turns and metaphoric goalmouth scrambles as the pioneering young women persist in establishing their right to play. Female friendship and tenacity. Family love and conflict. Wartime realities that stir social revolutions - what a pitch-perfect story this, and told in a clear, readable style that could hook reluctant readers.
Ada Lovelace: Rebel. Genius. Visionary | At once a passionate portrait of a scientifically seminal young woman, and a fascinating account of the lives of well-to-women in the early 19th-century, I Ada lays bare the many faces of Ada Lovelace. Ada the inquisitive. Ada the adventuress. Ada the visionary genius who defied convention to become the world’s first computer programmer, the seeds of which are sown in this portrayal of her early life. Driven by drama and a spirit of affection, this is as lively as it is informative. Fathered by flamboyant, notorious Lord Byron, it’s perhaps no wonder how easily Ada slips “into the unbordered realms of the imagination” as a child living on her grandparents’ country estate. Ada thinks of him often, and wonders why her mother speaks little of him. But then, Ada’s relationship with her strict, distant mother is often strained. Ada’s flighty tendencies jar with Lady Byron’s more rigid intellectual outlook. But they’re both inspired by their Grand Tour of Europe - Lady Byron seizes an opportunity to research ideas for her progressive school, while Ada’s mind is opened to a world of possibilities. Back in England, Ada’s desires are constrained by societal conventions, though female thinkers and mathematicians are among her circle, and then she meets a revolutionary inventor whose work chimes with her own innovative scientific ideas…
‘Every story is the sound of a storyteller begging to stay alive’, says Khosrou – or Daniel as he’s known to his new classmates in Oklahoma - the narrator of the many wonderful stories that make up this book. Central of course is his own story, how with his mother and sister he had to flee his home in Iran, leaving his father behind, but there are also the stories of his grandparents and great-grandparents, plus the myths that he’s grown up with. Horribly picked on at school and tormented at home by his new step-father, he shares his stories Scheherazade-like with his class and with us, the lucky readers, and because of that we know that one day he will be whole again. Poignant, touching, funny and heart-breaking, this is a book in a million, a story that will connect with every person who reads it and become part of their own.
Become a leader like | Not only does this lively, smartly designed book tell readers lots about Michelle Obama’s story, it also conveys brilliantly her attitude to life and work, making it thoroughly inspiring reading. Beginning with a description of her schooldays, it lists the family members, people and events that shaped her early life, and the path that led to her becoming a top lawyer and influential First Lady of the United States. Her story reinforces her message that you can do whatever you want if you’re determined, focussed and confident in who you are and what you believe. A fascinating book with something to say to all readers.
October 2019 Book of the Month | Here’s another inspiring, information-packed picture book in what’s becoming something of a series (see also Great Women Who Made History and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World). It tells the stories of pioneering women who achieved amazing things, often in the face of prejudice or downright hostility from society. There are familiar names – Rosalind Franklin is included – plus lots that are lesser known, but just as fascinating: balloonist Sophie Blanchard for example, and Sarah Breedlove, beauty entrepreneur. Their stories are told through lively, engaging text and pictures, it’s a treat to read. Kate Pankhurst is something of a fantastically great woman herself, and there’s lots for all readers to marvel at and enjoy in this book.
The partnership of Mick Manning and Brita Granström has undoubtedly transformed the approach to non-fiction over the past 20 award-winning years and here they have illuminated that tricky curriculum requirement of studying Britain in the Stone Age with their trademark information picturebook style. This book actually is much more than that; it defines the start of history, which is from the point at which humans began to write and record and asks the reader to take a bold and imaginative journey through the millennia that came before. From the very formation of the Earth and Moon to the beginnings of life and the slow progression and development of our planet, through dinosaurs, extinction events and to the eventual appearance of man. The lively text does not talk down or patronise and is highly educative in the use of correct terminology for naming the epochs and creatures as they develop. The inclusive characters that accompany the reader on the journey help to ground us in the familiar and personify our curiosity. The images are striking and informative while being gently amusing. A very informative glossary and a Timeline Game to help test your understanding complete this valuable package. An exciting book which will be picked up for reading pleasure as well as being a real asset for the curriculum.
The tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 1800’s constitute the greatest amassed from oral tradition in the western world and no classroom study of traditional tales would be considered without them. Many are set in the animal kingdom, like the ones translated here by Carnegie medal winning author and poet Kevin Crossley Holland. Some like The Bremen Town Musicians are extremely well known but others are much less so. The authors reveal in the afterword that they have particularly tried to keep the flavour of the different voices telling the tales and they have succeeded brilliantly. They are short, pithy, often funny and perfect for reading aloud. The animals exhibit human traits such as arrogance, greed, cunning, and less often kindness and will provide plenty of food for thought and discussion. I was particularly taken with a tale new to me, The Fox and the Cat, where an arrogant fox boasts that he has 100 tricks. The cat modestly replies that he has but one: ‘When the hounds are after me, I can leap into a tree and save myself,’ which he then does. The fox is killed by the dogs! This beautiful hardback edition, with lively pen and ink drawings from the award-winning Susan Varley, will survive many years of classroom use.
Every young person will have heard of Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl whose strikes for the climate have developed into a world-wide movement and put young peoples’ voices at the heart of the efforts to protect our planet. This book tells Greta’s story, explaining how a wary, quiet girl from Sweden has found the courage and determination to stand up for what she knows is crucial to the future of every one of us. It’s an inspiring story, and unique to Greta, but it also demonstrates how together we can all make a difference, and work towards the future we want. In addition to Greta’s story, there’s a chapter explaining the science of global warming, notes on what we can do as individuals and suggestions for further reading. This could be the most important book your children will read all year.
Just like the award short-listed title Once Upon a Raindrop, this is a wonderful topic introduction, but this time revealing the origins and essentials of music in all its forms. A colourful visual treat from the notation themed endpapers to the irresistible, exuberant and inclusive depictions of the drumming, dance and song that have been a vital part of human life since ancient times. We journey through songs originating around the campfire and passed down through the generations, the development of instruments and musical notation right up to the genres which we enjoy today. Engaging and informative and ending with an acrostic poem, based upon the word Rhythm, of useful information about musical history, this book begs to be read aloud. The page design using bold text and red for emphasis ensures that nobody could fail to catch the beat. It is a real celebration of rhythm designed to inspire young musicians everywhere to get involved. Music has always been a part of James Carter’s school performances so he is absolutely the perfect match for this topic and this poem would be great piece to use for choral speaking performances in assemblies and the like.
This series describes itself as the ‘true life stories of the most amazing people ever!’ and already has several volumes available, including Emmeline Pankhurst and Ada Lovelace. This life story of Malala is both very instructive on the political turmoil that led to her shooting, and in portraying Malala as a very engaging, brave and dedicated young person. It is written in an easily readable text using side panels to explain situations and traditions without interrupting the flow of the biography. It also contains a timeline taking us from 1947 – Pakistan’s independence – right through to 2018. A very useful glossary explains unfamiliar words and a well detailed index all add enormously to the value of this biography. I particularly liked the explanation panel on the mechanics of writing this book (verso title page) – so that readers can know which are Malala’s actual words (in italic) and which are the authors interpretations – vital to students in this world of fake news. The line illustrations add a graphic novel feel to parts of the story – all making this a fascinating, well-written biography that will find a well-deserved place in many classrooms and libraries.