Man of Steel - Inspired for Life at Magna

This weekend I was at Magna in Rotherham for the Inspired for Life event. We had a little stall and ran some workshops for the carers who came along. One of the speakers was Lemn Sissay, he pointed out that most of our superheroes are foster kids:
  • Superman
  • Harry Potter
  • James (and the Giant Peach)
  • Pippi Longstocking
  • Batman
We celebrate these guys, but as a society are fearful of anyone 'in care'.

I thought it was a great point. Then I spotted one such Foster Carer in 'Man of Steel' Superman T-shirt . How perfect; celebrating superhero foster kids in Magna an ex steel works.


L-L-L-Loser by Catherine Forde - Barrington Stoke Book 24

A common feature of Barrington Stoke books is a short introductory note by the author. Catherine Forde writes one for L-L-L-Loser. You don't have to read it to enjoy the story, but it feels like a personal message from the author to the reader, which I really like.

This personal tone continues in the story itself, which is told directly by John with a sense of familiarity. This is enhanced with some nice use of fonts, punctuation and page design.

John thinks he is incredibly cool, he is in a band and pretty good-looking. In contrast, his brother and his mate are deeply uncool Star Wars geeks. This is true, but John might not have the full picture.

John's one-sided take really adds to the drama of, what turns out to be, a pretty fantastic adventure. The geeks end up on telly, and no one is sure if this makes them cool or not.

The distinctive voice, design tricks and flawed perspective means any reader needs to concentrate to keep up. But if you can, L-L-L-Loser will certainly keep you entertained. If you are reading in a partnership L-L-L-Loser will give plenty to talk about (not least, lots of pop culture references and brands that older readers may need some help with)!


Them and Us by Bali Rai - Barrington Stoke Book 23

As I mentioned in my last post I am taking the books long-listed for the YoungMinds Book Award to Meadowhead school for the Reading Leaders to review. I thought I would sneak a look at Them and Us by Bali Rai for my latest Barrington Stoke review.

I am not surprised
Them and Us is up for an award. Bali Rai, has a deep understanding of how to construct a thought-provoking story in the quick read format. Them and Us is just 85 pages, (all the other long-listed books are about 200 pages or more).

Bali Rai has written five books for Barrington Stoke with more on the way, he is an expert in writing short, powerful books. Them and Us is no exception. Unusually it starts in a low-key way. Page one is mostly concerned with house work. By page three we get drink, drugs, domestic violence and, crucially, racism.

David moves to a new flat and a new school to escape his abusive father. He is a white kid in a black neighbourhood. He suffers racist abuse, and when his dad catches up with him he must deal with intolerance on both sides.

The subtle details really make the story for me. David lives with his single mum and is often on his own whilst she works shifts. He is amazed at his Asian friend's home of three generations. Similarly the real trouble starts with a silly argument about Christmas.

Them and Us is a great read that handles the difficult subject matter perfectly. It seems like there will be no end to the cultural clashes. The book doesn't offer a happy-ever-after ending, but David and his mates definitely point the way forward for all of us.


YoungMinds Book Award Meadowhead School Reading Leader Reviewers

I used to work for a great organisation, YoungMinds, the children's mental health charity. I was with them when their Book Award got started. It was something I loved being involved with (especially as we discussed the books in the local pub).

I am really pleased to get back involved with the YoungMinds Book Award. I have just received a full set of books on this years long list. I will be taking these to Meadowhead School to be reviewed by the Reading Leaders there.

Any young person can get involved by reviewing a book, more details on the YoungMinds website. The 2010 long list is:
  • Dear Dylan, by Siobhan Curham (AuthorHouse)
  • Desperate Measures, by Laura Summers (Piccadilly)
  • Ember Fury, by Cathy Brett (Headline)
  • Ice Lolly, by Jean Ure (Harper Collins Children’s
  • Inside, by J A Jarman (Andersen press)
  • Lottie Biggs is not desperate, by Hayley Long
    (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • No Way To Go, by Bernard Ashley, (Hachette)
  • Running on the cracks, by Julia Donaldson (Egmont)
  • Them and Us, by Bali Rai (Barrington Stoke)
  • The Truth about Leo, by David Yelland (Penguin)
  • When I was Joe, by Keren David (Frances Lincoln
    Children’s Books)
  • Zellah Green, by Vanessa Curtis (Egmont)
I am personally really pleased to see Them and Us by Bali Rai on the list because it is Barrington Stoke book, just like those I have been reviewing this year.

Barrington Stoke have been doing very well on the awards front recently. The Story of Matthew Buzzington by Andy Stanton has been shortlisted for both the Leeds Book Award and the Leicester Junior Book Award. And Night Hunger by Alan Gibbons was voted best Short Novel in the Hackney School Short Novels Awards.


The Beast by Michaela Morgan - Barrington Stoke Book 22

A bit like my last review (Coma), The Beast by Michaela Morgan was not quite what I expected from the cover and book blurb. It looks like it is going to be a scary sort of story. But the actual text, and especially the pictures have a very jokey feel. It does not really fel like a horror story at all.

It is still a very readable book. Robbie is telling his story about 'the beast' to a journalist. He is pretty good at it too, with a nice turn of phrase "the wind in the trees made a soft, sad sound".

Right from the start Robbie and his mate, Gaz, want to be stars. This is their reason for spending more time in the scary woods that is healthy. The fact they are being interviewed means they achieve their aim, but not in the way you would expect.

As well as being scared silly in the woods, the boys have to put up with a lot of laughing. Not only from their school friends but also the police!

Michaela Morgan has written a number of books for Barrington Stoke. They are all quite different. She is obviously very skilled at writing for this particular age and ability level, and The Beast confirms this.


Heritage Park Community School Reading Leader

I have just got back from a Key Stage 4 Assembly at Heritage Park Community School to present a NOCN Certificate to Fiona, a Reading Leader. Fiona, who is autistic, has been a real star and her reading sessions with a younger pupil have been very impressive; organised, fun and really constructive.

As well as her great set of reading sessions and gaining the NOCN qualification. Fiona was visited by the people from Chilypep. They wrote a great article for their Positive Image Campaign [pdf]. She also very nearly stole the show from Alan Gibbons at our Celebration event in December 2009.

We hope to run another Reading Leaders course for Heritage Park Community School with other Special School in Sheffield later in the year. Fiona will be a hard act to follow.

Coma by David Belbin - Barrington Stoke Book 21

Coma by David Belbin was not what I expected. The big bold title and cover illustration suggested a horror or thriller. But Coma is simple love story. There is a lot of kissing and pictures of kissing!

The thrust of the book is how Todd copes when his girlfriend, Lucy, has an accident that results in a coma.

It is quite a challenge for him, as a new girl appears on the scene, will he betray Lucy? There are repercussions for his family life too. At one point his parents "[make] him go to Spain".

I checked out David Belbin's website to find out a little more about him. He is born in Sheffield and has a good taste in music. His other books cover some very challenging subjects which made Coma feel a little simplistic and predictable, for example both Todd and Lucy have very stable home lives with two married parents. I would have liked a few more 'rough edges'. However I am sure there will be an audience for Coma, an easy to read tale with characters to relate to.


Ant God by James Lovegrove - Barrington Stoke Book 20

In my last review I read Lord of the Void by James Lovegrove. It was a different sort of book to the other Barrington Stoke books I had read. I was keen to check out another James Lovegrove book, Ant God.

Ant God is quite a read. Despite being half the length of Lord of the Void it covers much deeper subject matter on a very human level. Dan, the narrator, gives us the 'real' story of his friend Jason's big ideas, not the version he's told parents, teachers or the police. Jason is quite a handful for Dan, "too smart for his own good". But despite being such a difficult friend he certainly makes life interesting so Dan puts up with his mood swings.

Things get out of hand as Jason begins killing ants, this in turn inspires him to new ideas about power and influence. It all builds to a climax as things get out of control. The suspense is built very cleverly. The death of a few ants and a thunderstorm are used to suggest something devastating is about to occur.

The book is quite philosophical, much is left unexplained. If events occur on a scale we can't grasp, is there a god at work? It reminded me of the The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks both books use the torture of insects to explore issues of mental stability and free-will. Ant God is a much simpler book, but if read in a reading partnership, it will certainly provide a lot of talking points.


More World Cup 2010 Reading

My previous post about World Cup 2010 Reading has been quite popular. So I have a couple more ideas [thanks to Louise].

Have fun, remember to practice your penalties!


The Lord of the Void by James Lovegrove - Barrington Stoke Book 19

I won The Lord of the Void by James Lovegrove on the cool Five Lords of Pain website...

As you can see it is the second in the Five Lords of Pain series (the first is The Lord of the Mountain). I usually like to read a series in order, but seeing as this arrived through my letter box I plunged straight in. There is a nice recap, and the story is easy to pick up. I didn't feel to out-of-touch by going straight to book two.

The hero of the series is Tom Yamada, he must fight the demon Lords of Pain in a series of duels. The future of the world world is at stake. Other characters, his mum, friend and tutor, lend support, but Tom is very much on his own. The other characters felt a little stereotyped. Dragon is a wise, old Japanese mentor, just like the Karate Kid's Mr Miyagi, but Tom is well described, he is pretty funny despite his predicament and has the same girl troubles as most 15 year old boys.

For a book based around a big fight, the action took quite a while to come, more than half-way through the story. But there was a nice balance between Tom's day-to-day life and the dramatic battle. The Lord of the Void is a great baddie with black morphing armour and piercing red eyes, he can teleport with a 'Schwoop' noise. Both combatants use tricks and cunning to out-do each other. There is a good amount of gorey detail, which I felt helped add to the excitement.

A central theme is Tom's isolation from the rest of the world, and how he deals with his ordeals on his own. Different characters he encounters effect his morale in good and bad ways.

The Five Lords of Pain feel like a departure for Barrington Stoke, perhaps an attempt to reach a new audience. It is longer than most of the Barrington Stoke books (112 pages and no illustrations), it uses challenging Japanese words (with a glossary to help), there is a taster for the next book that I have seen in other publishers' series, and there is that the stand-alone website. The series' structure and cliff-hanger ending of The Lord of the Void make it clear all the books in the story combine to build a more significant story. This is fine, it's nice to have something new to seek out, and read over a period. But I do worry about the cost, each books cover price is £5.99, so the whole story will set you back nearly £30. This is a lot, I guess you could try and win them like I did!