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 (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 (2)

Welcome to our second blog entry covering our Christmas reads… This time we are featuring books read by Miss Anderson, one of our excellent Drama teachers.  She, too, has been intrigued by history, but her choices are the fictional accounts of two of Henry VIII’s wives by Alison Weir – Katherine of Aragon : the true queen and Anne Boleyn : a King’s obsession.  Miss Anderson says:

“These are the first two in her [Alison Weir’s] ‘Six Tudor Queens’ series, which she is currently writing, and I have been completely hooked! She is a vivid story-teller, bringing the era and the characters to life superbly. A wonderful read for anyone interested in the Tudor era.”

It is said that Alison Weir weaves her well-grounded historical research with her vivid imagination to portray the characters of these first two wives of Henry VIII as full and rich, not only with wealth but also with spirit.  She depicts two young women who are determined, and seek to fight for their rights, and those of their children.  Both destined to be queens, and interesting characters in their own rights, the novels show how they lived, being married to one of the most famous (or infamous?) King in history.

Please send us your thoughts if you have enjoyed Alison Weir’s novels, and leave your recommendations for further reading.

Holiday reading (1)

Happy New Year to all readers everywhere!  We have decided that this is the year to start blogging in earnest again and we have plenty of great books to entertain you!  Apologies for our absence for a while, we have been three people running two busy libraries in a split site school, and now, with an eagerly anticipated new member of staff arriving, we hope to return regularly!

As usual, after the Christmas holidays, we asked our well-read members of staff to provide recommendations for the New Year and so we’ll highlight these over a few posts, and would welcome any comments you may have…

The first reflects the holiday readings of our illustrious Head of Economics, Mr Cowie.  He has suggested both fiction and non-fiction and begins with Peter May’s series of books known as The Lewis Trilogy which comprises The blackhouse, The Lewis man and The chessman.  Of these novels, Mr Cowie says:

“Set on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides – three detective novels. Quite dark in terms of the plots and brilliant descriptions of the locality. It always seems to be raining!”

The stories’ central character is Fin Macleod, born and bred on the island, who returns after a time spent working a Detective Inspector in Edinburgh, and finds himself caught up in investigating crimes on the island which take him back into his past and then on into his present…

Mr Cowie’s second and third choices reflect his interest in current affairs and history.  The first of these is entitled The Germans and Europe by Peter Millar.  Mr Cowie’s thoughts invite further investigation by new readers:

“Of interest to the few Germanophiles around. Written from and about 9 German cities – of which 3 are no longer in Germany.” 

“Based on a lifetime living in and reporting on Germany and Central Europe, award-winning journalist and author Peter Millar tackles the fascinating and complex story of the people at the heart of our continent. Focusing on nine cities (only six of which are in the Germany of today) he takes us on a zigzag ride back through time via the fall of the Berlin Wall through the horrors of two world wars, the patchwork states of the Middle Ages, to the splendour of Charlemagne and the fall of Rome, with side swipes at everything on the way, from Henry VIII to the Spanish Empire…  Not just a book about Germany but about Europe as a whole and how we got where we are today, and where we might be tomorrow.” (Nielsen Bookdata Online, accessed 23 January 2018).

Finally, we encounter Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution by John Morrill.  Of this, Mr Cowie says:

“The French are always boasting about their ridiculous revolution but ours came first and was far superior. Why it is not taught in the 6th form I shall never understand.”

“John Morrill has been at the forefront of modern attempts to explain the origins, nature and consequences of the English Revolution. These twenty essays — seven either specially written or reproduced from generally inaccessible sources — illustrate the main scholarly debates to which he has so richly contributed: the tension between national and provincial politics; the idea of the English Revolution as “the last of the European Wars of Religion”; its British dimension; and its political sociology. Taken together, they offer a remarkably coherent account of the period as a whole.” (Nielsen Bookdata Online, accessed 23 January 2018).

With such an interesting collection of books for reading during the holidays, I think this takes care of my reading list for next summer!  I believe that I’ll need more than the shorter period we had for these winter days.  If you are a reader of crime novels and interested in well-written history books, here’s a ready-made selection for you.  Do write to us with more suggestions and comments on these, if you have read them as well.

The Staff Book Club enjoys the first meeting of term…

We had our first meeting of the term yesterday and, since we were lucky enough to receive ten copies of The Chilbury ladies’ choir by Jennifer Ryan, together with a bottle of Plymouth gin, angostura bitters, oat butter cookies, and bunting, balloons and messerschmidt aeroplanes from HarperCollins to decorate, we had a party!   We held the party in the Chapel at our King’s Road campus…

Chilbury party

Generally, members of the club enjoyed the book, saying it was a relaxing read: humorous, warm, and a little bit shocking, but then we remembered that Chilbury was right in the firing line from Hitler’s air force, times were desperate and really quite awful, especially when the bomb landed. A couple of members didn’t like the novel and felt it was unrealistic in terms of the events described, and attitudes of the characters.  They believed it to be too saccharine at times and felt that we had lost sight of the choir by the end.  They also felt that the ending was predictable.

This being said, we liked the idea of the story being told in diary, journal and letter entries, and felt that this was an effective way to get across multiple versions of the events, getting a full picture of how each individual saw how the story unfolded.  Telling a story in this way somehow seems to make it feel that we are more intimately involved in it by reading the personal writings of an individual.

We felt that the midwife, Edwina Paltrey, should never be forgiven for her actions, being the cold-hearted, calculating creature that she was.  However harsh her background, and despite the forgiveness she was seeking from her sister by trying to make things right between them, her actions were completely reprehensible!

Elements of the story described rather accurately the class system and attitude towards women which persisted at the time, with particular reference to the Brigadier and his treatment of his daughters and wife.

Some members felt that more could have been made of the choir, and felt that more could have been made of its importance after Hattie and Prim died, but the overwhelming feeling that making the music was a joyous act, unifying all those women, and strengthening their resolve to get through the war in a supportive and caring environment.  One also felt that they had gained in confidence themselves.

Read this novel if you like stories such as Call the midwife…

chilbury