World Cup 2010 Reading

This week I trained more than 40 students from Meadowhead School in Sheffield to be Reading Leaders. During the training we discussed using events such as the imminent World Cup to engage readers. I've done some research and found a wonderful collection of reading materials on this subject:


Hostage by Malorie Blackman - Barrington Stoke Book 18

I have read Hostage by Malorie Blackman in a reading partnership when covering for a volunteer reading mentor at Parkwood Academy. It is a simple but thrilling adventure story. It worked perfectly in my short reading partnership. By page three the hero of the story, Angela, has already been kidnapped and we know a little of her unstable back-story. It really does encourage you to read on, and tension builds and builds.

Tension is perhaps an understatement. Angela is "choking on terror". But she is smart as well as scared and she out-thinks all the adults in the story.

Malorie Blackman's Bibliography is pretty remarkable, from the urban thriller of Noughts and Crosses series to the novel length poem, Cloud Busting. Hostage is something different again; a perfect short story that grips to the end.


YoungMinds Book Award 2010

I used to work for a fantastic charity called YoungMinds. Whilst I was there in 2003 we started a Book Award, for novels that raise awareness and create understanding of mental health needs of children and young people. It is a super idea, and, despite me moving on, it is obviously going from strength to strength.

YoungMinds are looking for young people to review the 12 books on the long list for the 2010 award. I am sure this is something our Reading Leaders (or any young person) might be interested in getting involved with. If you are under 25 and would like to get involved, there is more information on the YoungMinds website.


Crow Girl by Kate Cann - Barrington Stoke Book 17

I have been reviewing Barrington Stoke books this year so they can be used in Reading Matters reading partnerships. Crow Girl by Kate Cann is a tricky one to recommend for this purpose. It is great, life-affirming story, but the subject matter is maybe a little too sensitive to be explored with anyone else I think it is the perfect book to read on your own in a quiet corner.

Bullied, over-weight Lily finds new confidence by secretly befriending a bunch of mystical crows in her local woods. Lily once dabbled with being a goth and her relationship with the crows re-ignites this passion, and proves a new source of self-worth and confidence.

The story builds to a dramatic scene at a Halloween party at the house of the coolest kid in school. Lily wants this to be a turning point in her life and her mental and physical preparations are beautifully described, for example Lily knows party night is make or break for her; she is "a dark angel of risk".

The crows inspire Lily, but it is her own strength of character and some subtle interventions from family members that make the difference. Including the fitting of a bra with her Gran, one of the scenes I would feel very nervous about reading with a young person.

The story is deepened references to Celtic myths and a name-check for poet Ted Hughes. Lily's transformation is all about her attitude, in this instance, I did not mind the lack of illustrations.

So, a lovely book to recommend to a young person, most likely girls, to read for themselves.


Dr Who and Dyslexia

Did you see Dr Who this weekend (22/5/10), and episode called The Hungry Earth? It featured a boy called Elliot who happens to be dyslexic

Elliot says he's dyslexic and the Doctor replies, 'Oh, that's all right. I can't make a decent meringue!'
I am hoping Elliot saves the world in the second part next week. Amongst the alien information and gadgets the BBC have a nice page about Dyslexia on the Dr Who web pages.


The House With No Name by Pippa Goodhart - Barrington Stoke Book 16

On the surface The House With No Name by Pippa Goodhart is a simple ghost story, but underneath it deals with issues of bereavement, guilt, adoption and they love/hate tensions in families.

Jamie and his Dad arrive from the city to do-up their new house in country. From the start the house seems to have a personality of it's own. When they are visited by Colin, a mysterious boy with links to the house, it is clear the house has history.

Jamie and Colin become friends. After exploring the local area, they spend the night alone in the house. A classic haunted house plot develops into something quite different and unsettling. During their night in the house Colin says to Jamie "I know you don't believe in ghosts, but the ghosts believe in you". And pretty soon history catches up with Jamie and his family.

As I reread the book, I realised how many hints and clues are given early on. On the first read they just added drama to the story, on the second read it is clear a skilled author is at work building the story to an emotional climax.

I must also mention the artwork, which is not just illustrating they story but adding to it and moving it along. Like Luck by Alison Prince there is a dramatic double page spread that shifts the story into another gear. This is a technique that I had not seen before I started with the Barrington Stoke books, I love it!


Guardian List - The best children's books ever

There is a nice set of articles on the Guardian website, making an attempt to list The best children's books ever. Quite a task.

I do love a list, I think this is quite a male attribute, but stand to be corrected. I also love the sort of responses they provoke. People take it very personally when their favourite is neglected.

There is a nice accompanying article which quotes Pie Corbett:
"This isn't just an economic thing – it's across the whole of society. You get a lot of children coming from very privileged backgrounds who've spent a lot of time in front of the TV and not enough time with a good book. The TV does the imagining for you – and it doesn't care whether you're listening or not."
Pie Corbett's approach is very popular at the moment, I have written before about his Booktalk scheme on this blog.

I would add that we should not restrict ourselves to fiction books (Literature!). One commenter suggests the local paper, what a great idea. I get a bit nervous about strict age bands for books. I guess it is inevitable, but if you are a great reader at 11 some of the books on the 12+ list would be perfect and similarly if you are a little less experienced 12 year old reader, you shouldn't feel be embarrassed to try the books listed here for 8-12 year olds.

For what it is worth I am devastated that Holes by Louis Sachar is not included.


Barnaby Grimes and the Phantom of Blood Alley by Stewart and Riddell - Random House Review by Reading Leader, Sabeela Mahmood from King Ecgbert School

The fith and final review of Random House books by Reading Leader, Sabeela Mahmood from King Ecgbert School.

Barnaby Grimes and the Phantom of Blood Alley

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell


Barnaby Grimes is a tick-tock lad, high stacking his way across the rooftops of his city in search of adventure and mystery. In a fiercely competitive world of early photography, the rewards are immense but so are the risks. After an experiment goes disastrously wrong, Barnaby finds himself on the trail of a mad chemist with a talent for disappearing into thin air…


The main characters are Barnaby Grimes, Professor Pinkerton-Barnes, Will Farmer, Clarissa Oliphant and Laurence Oliphant.


I thought the book was a very good Mixture of gothic and adventure themes. I particularly liked the fact that it was set in early Victorian times. It made the book seem very real. Wrote by the same authors of The Edge Chronicles I didn’t expect any less. The book didn’t disappoint me because of the well thought plot and interesting character. The only bad thing was the book was the fourth in the series! I hadn’t read the first three. But I would definitely recommend this to all my friends. A well thought out book.

By Sabeela Mahmood


Mutant by Theresa Breslin - Barrington Stoke Book 15

Mutant by Theresa Breslin is a pulp-style shocker. It was inspired by the cloning of Dolly the sheep. Dolly was cloned in 1997, so I thought the book might feel a bit dated, but the ethics of cloning and genetic modification are still relevant and controversial.

We are thrown into story very quickly, by page 5, Brad, our hero is chased down a corridor by a sinister shadow. Fires, entrapment, sabotage, robberies and fights quickly follow.

New characters are dramatically introduced throughout. We soon learn one of them is up to no-good, and the suspension builds. Brad seems quite a passive observer throughout. At one point he is rescued by the only female character, this shouldn't have surprise me, but it did.

Despite the havoc in the Clone Unit's Mutant Human Parts Room (!) the research goes ahead. This is the most thought-provoking part of the story; are the scientists motivated by excitement, enthusiasm, financial gain or some other agenda? Whatever it is their naive persistence leads to a a classic horror movie ending, "slowly, slowly the lid began to open..."

Fantastic Sheffield Reading Leaders

Over the last few days I have been meeting some of the Reading Leaders from Sheffield schools. I have been helping them gain the National Open College Network Qualification that they get for their Reading Mentoring work.

I visited Wisewood School a little while ago. This week I visited Seven Hills, Firth Park and Fir Vale and next week I am off to City and Silverdale Schools.

It has been great to hear about the really successful reading partnership work that has been going on. Well done to everyone.

At Fir Vale they had a great display about the project:


The Immortals by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell - Random House Review by Reading Leader, Sabeela Mahmood from King Ecgbert School

The forth in our set of reviews of Random House books by Reading Leader, Sabeela Mahmood from King Ecgbert School.

The Immortals
Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell


The story is about a boy called Nate Quarter who lives on a floating rock called the Edge. He is a miner who mines for powerful phrax crystals. One day he finds out that the mine owner is stealing crystals. He takes them back but then is on the run with his best friend Slip.


The main characters are Nate Quarter, Slip, Professor Eudoxia Prade, Weelum and an old sky pirate.


The book was a fantastic mixture of fantasy and adventure. The Edge is a brilliant world and the description makes it seem very real. This is no ordinary book and I can see why a lot of people have bought copies. The plot is intriguing and mysterious and you don’t know what come next. The writers are total genius’s to come up with a whole new world and write then books about it. The only thing I regret is that I wasn’t able to read the other Edge Chronicle books. A brilliant read.

By Sabeela Mahmood


Tod in Biker City by Anthony Masters - Barrington Stoke Book 14

The last three Barrington Stoke books I have reviewed have all had elements of non-fiction. With Tod in Biker City by Anthony Masters, it was nice to get a book that is pure story-telling.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Tod and his family struggle to survive as the world's water runs out. The Bikers dominate the landscape and make for excellent enemies. There are plenty of chases, fights and other adventures as the story races along.

The setting owes a lot to the Mad Max films, but it all feels very plausible, especially with the increasing threat from climate change. Pretty amazing because Tod in Biker City was first published in 1999. I think this fact is also reflected in the cover art, which looks a little dated, it doe not do justice to the exciting, contemporary story.

It is a quick, gripping read, exactly the sort of book Barrington Stoke are so good at.