Drop Everything And Read (2)

For our second Drop Everything And Read post, we hear from one of our English teachers, Mr Harrison, who writes about his choices for the day: Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, The diary of a young girl by Anne Frank, and The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald:

“I read the opening of the final chapter of ‘Cider with Rosie’ to my Lower 6th students  – here is a snippet of Lee’s wistful conclusion to one of my favourite narratives of all time:

“The last days of my childhood were also the last days of the village. I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years’ life…Myself, my family, my generation, were born in a world of silence; a world of hard work and necessary patience, of backs bent to the ground, hands massaging the crops, of waiting on weather and growth; of villages like ships in the empty landscapes and the long walking distances between them; of white narrow roads, rutted by hooves and cartwheels, innocent of oil or petrol, down which people passed rarely, and almost never for pleasure, and the horse was the fastest thing moving. Man and horse were all the power we had – abetted by levers and pulleys.” 

My Year 11 boys listened to the final diary entry of Anne Frank… they related so much to Anne’s musings on adolescence: ‘I know exactly how I’d like to be, how I am… on the inside. But unfortunately I’m only like that with myself…’  

 My Year 9 boys were treated to the ‘whisperings and the champagne and the stars’ with the much-celebrated opening of Chapter 3 from Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’.

All wonderful books to read, and beautifully described…  Each makes me want to read them again.

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Enjoy indeed!

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Drop Everything And Read (1)

For World Book Day, we asked members of staff to tell us what they would recommend to their classes and each other on World Book Day, Thursday 1st March.  It seems like an age ago now, but to librarians World Book Day happens every day and we like to share, especially when the books are not necessarily on our radar.  It was a snowy day, and the following day, when we hoped to continue the celebrations, our school was closed so unfortunately we weren’t able to share as much as we’d liked…  Here are a selection that we received:

Mr Moore, History teacher said: “I had a great time with my year 8 History class who told me their favourite books. I read the opening of True grit by Charles Portis (my favourite book) and for good measure showed them the trailer to the recent film adaption. Hopefully I have converted a few Year 8’s to trying a western!”

Mr Ottaway, who teaches Economics and is a Head of Sixth Form House at Berkhamsted replied: “I am reading, and have recommended to Economics Society, the following book: The black swan by Nassim Taleb.”

Mr Cowie, Head of Economics, is further increasing his knowledge of twentieth century history, particularly World War II: “… not much reading at present,  but tucking into ‘The War in the West’ Volumes 1 and 2 by James Holland.”

All fascinating titles, and good reading – of this I am certain.  Do let us know what you think.

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More Spring reading…

Mrs Braint, who works at Berkhamsted as a Teaching Assistant, has recommended a novel which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015, Anthony Doerr’s All the light we cannot see.   Here are her thoughts when I first asked her what she was reading:

“It is set in the beginning of WWII and the chapters oscillate between Werner, a very bright German orphan, and Marie-Laure  who has been blind since the age of 6. The writing is so clever because it is very descriptive but he draws on all your senses to imagine the scenes, he doesn’t  just describe the sights. I think this is ingenious  because  one of the characters is blind. I’m only a third of the way through and obviously don’t know where the plot is going to go, nevertheless I would highly  recommend this book….”

And when she finished the book, she continued:

“[I] loved it! I would definitely recommend it. It’s his style of writing, I was utterly immersed in the story and setting.”

Other readers I know have also enjoyed Doerr’s book immensely and so, naturally, it will be on my tbr list for the forthcoming Easter holidays.

all the light we cannot see

World Book Day 2018 #inthesnow

Along with many schools around the country, we celebrated World Book Day last week on Thursday 1st March, and managed to squeeze in our celebrations just before the snow hit Berkhamsted!  Both libraries were full much of the day with classes coming in to share with us their favourite books and play a few games associated with reading and learning.

Firstly, we asked everyone (including new members of staff) to tell us about their favourite books on a postcard. There was a prize in each class for the best cards – we judged on the basis of the work put into each card in terms of best review, best reason for liking the book, and best decorated card… Each student undertook this task diligently and put a lot of themselves into their cards, as can be seen by the photographs below:

We then played a word game in which old words not used in common parlance any more were matched to their modern meanings – it was felt that we could bring a few of these back!  It was heartening to see some of the students think hard about what the meanings could be.

We had also lined up a game to test students’ knowledge of ‘Textspeak’ (those abbreviations which we all use, but on the surface look meaningless!), which went down really well. This exercise gave some students the chance to enjoy themselves when they wouldn’t usually,  with books around! Sometimes it’s hard to remember that reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, unthinkable though that may be, to most… I think some of the students learnt a thing or two from us librarians during that session!

Finally, when we had time, we asked students to interview each other about what they were reading which was absolutely lovely!  It’s always great to see young people enthuse about what they’re reading and sharing it with others.

We had a great day, and are already looking forward to next year, but will clearly be carrying on the good work with the other things we plan and do, with reader development in the meantime.

Spring reading from Berkhamsted

Further to my earlier blog posts writing about ‘Holiday reading’, we are now approaching Spring (yes, I am probably one of the few who still believe that the first day of Spring arrives around the time of the vernal equinox!), and I wanted to share some more reading ideas which have been sent to me.  Our School Archivist, Mrs Koulouris, has told me about two books she read recently.  The first being Tom Hanks’s first venture into published writing, his book Uncommon type.  Of this, Mrs Koulouris says:

“This was brilliant!  It’s as if Tom Hanks is standing by your shoulder telling you these stories in his own inimitable style, he writes just as he speaks and you can imagine him telling the stories to you.  They are all very different – definitely worth a read!”

I have a copy at home and can’t wait to get stuck in!

Mrs Koulouris collects Michael Morpurgo‘s books, and has lately added his book Lucky button to her bookshelves.  She describes it thus:

“This is lovely.  It’s a story inspired by Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital.  The story revolves around a lonely young boy, a lucky button, a ghostly encounter, and music…  The book is beautifully illustrated by Michael Foreman, another reason for adding it to my bookshelves, since collecting books with wonderfully drawn illustrations is another passion of mine.”

A series of of illustrations from the novel is currently on display at the Foundling Museum in London’s Coram Fields, which would be well worth a visit.  More information  about the exhibition can be found here .  The Foundling Museum is such a wonderful museum for any visitor to London, telling the tale of how Thomas Coram campaigned for 17 years to fund a Hospital dedicated to caring for the unwanted babies of eighteenth century London, some of whom were left on slag heaps by mothers who could barely look after themselves, let alone their babies.  Some were left at the Hospital with a token or keepsake which, when described by a mother when she found herself in less dire circumstances, could be used to reclaim her child.  Is the lucky button of this story one of these tokens?  Handel, together with the painter, William Hogarth were staunch supporters of Coram, and today the Museum holds the original score of Handel’s Messiah, and several of Hogarth’s paintings.  Berkhamsted has its own connections with the Foundling Hospital since it was moved to safety out of London during the First World War, first to Reigate in Surrey, and then when the new building was ready in Berkhamsted, the Hospital and its residents moved here, to the site now occupied by Ashlyns School. The Hospital closed during the 1950s and, today, the work started by Thomas Coram three centuries ago continues with the charity, Coram, whose aim to to help children in difficult circumstances and support them and their families.

If you have read either of these two books, please do get in touch, it would be fantastic to hear from you.

 

Holiday reading (7)

Our seventh post sees a welcome return of the reading of Dr Hundal, another of our lovely biologists, with two titles, again vastly different from each other!  Dr Hundal has sought, this time, to expand his knowledge of another viewpoint of the all-consuming Brexit issue and challenge his own ideas about it with Daniel Hannan‘s book How we invented freedom and why it matters. (Click for a review of the book.)  Dr Hundal says:

“Daniel Hannan is a prominent Eurosceptic and played a key part in the Vote Leave campaign. As someone who is a firm Remainer, I thought it would be a good idea to try and understand the perspective of a Brexiteer.

The book takes a historical look at freedoms, rights and liberty from a very Anglocentric perspective. At times, I found the historical narrative revealing whilst recognising that the perspective is viewed firmly through the lens of ‘English speaking world’.

Nonetheless, Hannan is passionate over his stance and the writing is quite engaging. However, he failed to convince me that Leave is the best option, perhaps, he may persuade you?!”

Clearly, Dr Hundal is still on the Remain side, but it is always good to understand the alternative perspective, if well-written, as opposed to how the issue is portrayed in the popular press!  He is, I feel, more at home with his second choice of book, Sapiens : a brief history of humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. Of this he writes:

“A sweeping historical account of humankind, taking in 100 000 + years in bite-sized, digestible chapters. The science, coupled to the historical narrative, is very good.

I found the concept of how larger populations, which arose as a result of city-living, required a common, shared value system to maintain order fascinating, particularly with regard to the role of myths and religion as the societal glue.

A great read.”

I’m not sure I am quite ready for Daniel Hannan’s book as yet, but at some point I may give it a go.  I think Yuval Noah Harari’s might be quite the thing… What do you think?  it would be good to hear from those who have read either or both of these titles, let’s keep the debate going!

Holiday reading (6)

Today’s second entry, our sixth in the series, comes from Mrs Green, one of our lovely biologists.  Her book for Christmas was The orchid hunter : a young botanist’s search for happiness by Leif Bersweden.  Mrs Green says:

“I was bought ‘The Orchid Hunter’ by Leif Bersweden for Christmas.

It is the story of a young botanist’s search to find all British species of Orchid within a single season – some science and classification of orchids combined with lovely stories of his hunt to find all 52 species within a very short time period.

It is clearly of interest to people who are interested in plant Biology, but it is also a lovely story of this period in his life.”

Click here for a great review from Isabel Hardman at The Spectator.  Bersweden is indeed a young botanist, having carried out his search for orchids during the gap year between school and university, a year spent in a vastly different manner from those of many students. As a cataloguer of books, I find the idea of a young person classifying  and cataloguing plants, especially ones he has searched for himself, fascinating, but it sounds as though there is much more to this book than that act in itself. Another to add to my ever-increasing to-be-read pile!

orchid hunter

Holiday reading (5)

For our next instalment of our ‘Holiday reading’ series, we are considering two books read by possibly the two most avid readers I know: Ms Wylie (Drama) and  Mr Harrison (English).  They have each enjoyed reading very different novels during the holidays; Ms Wylie’s recommendation being A little life by Hanya Yanagihara and Mr Harrison’s, A pocketful of crows by Joanne Harris.

Ms Wylie describes A little life as “one of the best books I have ever read” and this is echoed in reviews of the book in newspapers and book review sites such as Goodreads… Such reviews have provoked much weighty discussion and forthright views! Here’s a synopsis:

 “When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.” (Picador, accessed 31 January 2018.)

Of his choice, Mr Harrison says:

One of my favourite books over the Christmas holidays was  A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris – an enchanting tale which structurally follows the seasons of the timeless English countryside. The central figure is a ‘wild girl’, one of ‘the travelling folk’, who falls in love with a man of ‘our world’. It is the most graceful evocation of woodland folklore entwined with the agony of heartbreak. The composition is a dark fairy tale based loosely on one of the legendary ‘Child Ballads’. The hypnotising illustrations by Bonnie Helen Hawkins of hares, foxes and stags are as delightful as the prose. If you are someone who finds beauty in nature, wonder in storytelling and mystery in white magic, I recommend this. Best enjoyed by the fireside with a hearty chalice of mulled wine and guitar melodies dreamily serenading you… “

Two intriguing novels, vastly different from each other, but equally arresting – which one to choose first?  Possibly A little life, with A pocketful of crows as a respite to follow? Do tell us what you think.

Holiday reading (4)

Today, as part 4 of our Holiday reading series, we are looking at books read and recommended by Ms Rossington, one of our inspiring English teachers.  She enjoyed Sarah Perry‘s second novel, The Essex serpent,  and Zana Fraillon‘s book which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature 2017The bone sparrow.

Of both novels Ms Rossington says:

“I thought the first was an extraordinary piece of writing and the second made me cry. Quite a lot.”

Ms Rossington has since recommended the latter to girls in their library reading lesson. I have been meaning to read both of these titles for ages, and now feel spurred on to do so.  Here’s a little more information on each:

The Essex serpent

“London, 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s controlling husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Along with her son Francis – a curious, obsessive boy – she leaves town for Essex, in the hope that fresh air and open space will provide refuge.

On arrival, rumours reach them that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for superstition, is enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a yet-undiscovered species.” Serpent’s Tail, publisher, accessed 29 January 2018.

The bone sparrow

“Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he’s at least 19 fence diamonds high, and that the nice Jackets never stay long. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence. She carries a notebook that she’s unable to read and wearing a sparrow made of bone around her neck – both talismans of her family’s past and the mother she’s lost – Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie’s family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures.” Zana Fraillon, accessed 29 January 2018.

Holiday reading (3)

For our third entry in the Holiday reading series, we are looking at two non-fiction titles of a more worldly nature which were read by our new Economics teacher, Ms Rauh-Wasmund, and our new Head of Sixth Form, Mr Walker.

Firstly, let’s consider Ms Rauh-Wasmund’s choice.  Her book is entitled Traders, guns and money : knowns and unknowns in the dazzling world of derivatives by Satyajit Das.  Ms Rauh-Wasmund says of her Christmas reading:

“Over the holiday I started to read Traders, guns and money by Satyajit Das.  It focuses on simplifying the complexities of derivative trading.”

Nielsen BookData Online has this to add : “A sensational and compelling insider’s view that lifts the lid on the fast-paced and dazzling world of derivatives… ‘Traders, Guns and Money’ is a wickedly comic exposé of the culture, games and pure deceptions played out every day in trading rooms around the world. And played out with other people’s money. This sensational insider’s view of the business of trading and marketing derivatives, explains the frighteningly central role that derivatives and financial products played in the global financial crisis. This worldwide bestseller reveals the truth about derivatives: those financial tools memorably described by Warren Buffett as ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’. ‘Traders, Guns and Money’ will introduce you to the players and the practices and reveals how the real money is made and lost.” (Accessed 26 January 2018.) Sounds like a fascinating business, and this book is the one to introduce you to it…

Mr Walker’s book of the holidays is Daniel H Pink’s title Drive : the surprising truth about what motivates usIt seems that we are not essentially motivated by money, but instead are fundamentally wired to search for a deeper satisfaction, the need to direct our lives.  Mr Walker recommend this book for students of Psychology, but perhaps we could all learn from Pink’s assertion, that we have a need to ‘learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world’. (Click on the link above for more information.)

Reading anything, we learn so much, and one of the best things about writing these blog entries to discover new reading lists and recommendations for others.  I hope that you will be as interested and find something here to make you think.  Do let me know!